City Picks: Verona

Verona is a lovely city. It is just the right size for exploration on foot, and there lots to see. Many of its restaurants are justly famous. It is amply stocked with comfortable places to stay. Its Roman theatre, whose tiers of seats rise high above the river Adige, must have commanded one of the finest views of any ancient theatre in Italy. Its churches are magnificent. And then there is the Museo del Castelvecchio.

This fortress of art displays an astonishingly rich collection of sculpture and painting in the rooms of the old brick-built, Ghibelline-battlemented stronghold of the Scaligeri, or della Scala, who were overlords of Verona in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, until overthrown by the Visconti of Milan. At dead of night, the last of the Scaligeri fled this castle, across the bridge over the boiling river, and melted away, fading out of history.

Castelvecchio has one of the finest collections of paintings in Italy. Architecturally the building is interesting too, because its museum space was remodelled by Carlo Scarpa in 1959–73. Concrete now vies with brick. Once so cutting-edge, Scarpa’s arrangements now seem a bit quaint. The equestrian statue of Cangrande I (ruled from 1311) stands on an elevated concrete platform which has all the stateliness of a lift-shaft in a multi-storey carpark. But this means the paintings really have to speak for themselves–and many of them eloquently do. The Pisanello and Stefano da Zevio are of course outstanding. There are some interesting paintings by Francesco Morone. Giovanni Francesco Caroto, the teacher of Veronese, is well represented. His Boy with a Drawing (c. 1515) is wonderfully modern: a grinning, red-headed lad holding up a scribble of a stick man. Any parent who has been called upon to admire a proud child’s not terribly brilliant masterpiece will warm to it.

And what about where to eat? Well, it was pouring with rain when I was last in Verona, so I didn’t spend a long time searching. Sometimes the tried and tested are just what one needs. An Aperol in one of the Listòn cafés overlooking the Arena and then lunch in Antica Bottega del Vino. The lamb with rosemary was excellent. The Amarone even better.

Find Verona in Blue Guide Venice & The Veneto and Blue Guide Concise Italy.