BY LORI CAPULLO
The next time you’re planning a trip to the most coveted vacation destination in Europe—Italy—cross Rome, Naples and Florence off your list. Not that each of those cities doesn’t hold its own unique brand of fascination—that’s undeniable. But there are parts of Italy that, while not necessarily less traveled, are most definitely less hyped, and have a charm all their own. Which makes them all the more appealing for those travelers seeking an authentic Italian experience without having to negotiate the throngs of tourists (fellow though they may be), long lines, dodgy traffic and pumped-up prices on everything from pizza to Prada. Verona and Tuscany are two such magical places.
A medieval town in northern Italy’s Veneto region, perhaps best known for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona embodies the best of everything a big city has to offer without being a big city. Yes, it has its own tourist traps—a 14th-century residence with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard is said to be the very one on which Juliet would sit and gaze into the night pining for her Romeo, and the site is often overrun with camera-wielding vacationers on a quest to document their presence there—but aside from that, you won’t encounter much such hullabaloo. What you will find, however, are lovely, strollable vias and piazzas, and strolling is something the Veronese are known for. Particularly once night falls, you’ll find local families out and about on the pedestrian-only Via Mazzini, chatting animatedly, popping in and out of the upscale designer boutiques and jewelry stores, or settling in to an al fresco seat at one of the many cafés for a pizza and an Aperol spritz. Nearby, the Verona Arena in the Piazza delle Erbe, an immense 1st-century Roman amphitheater that still bears the scars of the 1117 earthquake that destroyed parts of it but left the interior almost completely intact, hosts operatic performances throughout the summer (opera season) such as Carmen, and Italians and visitors alike come from all around every night of the week to enjoy the performances. Verona is the Italy of daydreams and novels, paintings and lore. The vibe of the city is warm, friendly and peaceful, like the people who live and work here, and the juxtaposition of modern and medieval, minus the mania of The Big City, will most certainly leave you feeling that you must return to Verona again.
If you Go
The Palazzo Victoria hotel embodies the very modern and medieval mix that lends Verona its appeal. Centrally located next to the Porta Borsari and just minutes on foot from the Piazza delle Erbe and the arena (and Juliet’s balcony, if you must), the hotel offers all the comforts spoiled travelers seek, such as plush beds with luxe linens and furnishings, spacious marble bathrooms, satellite TV in the rooms and free Wi-Fi. The views from the rooms of the city streets can keep you occupied for hours, but be sure to spend time elsewhere in the hotel. If you visit during a season when the weather permits, dine outdoors in the courtyard at the on-site restaurant, Borsari 36, but first make sure to peek through the Plexiglas holes in the floor inside at the Roman ruins that run undisturbed beneath the structure.
Via Adua, 8, Verona VR, Italy 37121 | +39 045 590566 | palazzo.grandluxuryhotels.com
Tuscany is famous for its prepossessing landscapes, and home to Florence, its capital city. But every traveler to the region needs to know about the walled city of Lucca and medieval town of Barga, a comune of the province of Lucca. With a population of only about 10,000, Barga, like just about every other village in Tuscany, sits on top of a hill and is known as “the most Scottish town in Italy” for that reason, as well as for its resemblance to Scotland (including the numerous red telephone booths lining the streets). Quieter even than Verona, this region is the essence of charm, with steep roads leading to ancient churches, endless vistas and bustling piazzette with excellent shopping and cafes. Bring your best camera (in a pinch, of course, your phone will do) because this is one of the most picturesque places we’ve seen yet in Italy—and there are more of those than we can count.
If you Go
You’ll want to make your home base while staying under the Tuscan sun the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. From this welcoming, modern hotel on a gated hilltop estate atop the Apuan Alps, you can grab a car and venture out the few miles to Lucca, rent bikes and ride around the walled city, shop for heavenly scented leather goods (and have belts hand-cut for you) at the lovely upscale shops in town and refuel with a plate of pasta and an Aperol spritz for lunch. Then head back to the hotel and enjoy a dip in the pool, which overlooks arguably some of the most magnificent views on the planet, let alone the country. There’s little doubt that during your stay you will meet the hotel’s affable general manager, George Midleje—you may hear him before you see him, laughing and spinning yarns with fellow guests—you’ll know him because his trusty, beloved canine companion, Kenzo, will likely be by his side. Georges demands perfection of his staff, and he gets it—from the servers at the restaurant La Veranda to the desk staff checking in and assisting guests. Wake up early while you’re here and bask in the Tuscan sunrise on the terrace while sipping coffee and indulging in homemade ricotta, fresh fruits and warm rolls. Better yet, sign up to join La Salette Alessandro Manfredini for a trip to the local markets, where you’ll pick fresh ingredients, then return to the hotel to prepare your own meal, from homemade gnocchi to dessert (sipping wine all the while, naturally).
Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa
+39 0583 7691 | marriott.com
While in Tuscany, don’t miss a trip to Podere Concori, an organic vineyard where grapes are still stomped the old-fashioned way (cue memories of Lucille Ball and her grape-stained face). After touring the vineyard and getting the informative and colorful backstory (and sampling the little purple gems, of course), enjoy a home-cooked lunch prepared by the wife of the winery’s award-winning owner, Gabriele Da Prato, and be sure to order a case (or two) of vino to be shipped back stateside home. When that box arrives, it will be not only a welcome reminder of your amazing Italian experience; its contents will help you cope with the wait you’ll have to endure until your next trip to Tuscany.
55027 Gallicano, Lucca, Italy 55027 | +39 0583 766374
Step out of the car in front of this palatial restored villa and former palace situated on 12 acres in Fiesole above the hills of Florence with only 45 guest rooms and just take it in: the five-star amenities include marble fireplaces, handmade Tuscan linens, awe-inspiring ancient mosaics, an on-site spa. Even if you don’t book a stay, visit for an ocean-fresh seafood lunch or a cocktail on the terrace or amid the brilliant gardens…and take a lot of pictures to make your friends jealous.
Via del Salviatino, 21, 50137 Fiesole FI, Italy | +39 055 904 1111