View over Piazza delle Erbe (market square) in Verona, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock
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It's pretty much a sure bet that whenever somebody mentions Verona it will be paired with the adjective "fair". I blame Shakespeare.

For a bloke who never set foot in Italy the Bard had a bit of thing about Verona, setting no less than two-and-half of his best-known plays here (The Taming of the Shrew being set in both Verona and Padua).

The other two, of course, are The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet, from whence comes the line "In fair Verona, where we lay our scene."

Romeo and Juliet house, Verona, Italy.
Romeo and Juliet house, Verona, Italy. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

These days Verona, in a bid to stay fair, has banned coaches so our Country Roads of Northern Italy coach must park outside the centro historico while we take a local shuttle bus.

Milan is behind us, Trento is ahead but for now we have a guided tour and a few hours to discover for ourselves the setting of one of the greatest and most tragic romances of all time.

Juliet's balcony and the courtyard below it are reached through an arched alleyway festooned with paper love notes stuck on the walls with a combination of glue, chewing gum, spit and hope.

Inside, if you can elbow your way lovingly through the throng, there is a statue of Juliet which supposedly brings you luck if you rub its now highly polished right breast, a seemingly popular photo opportunity. If you listen hard enough you can also hear a faint whirring sound which they say is Shakespeare turning in his grave.

Thankfully Roberto, our local tour guide, does a fine job of pointing out that Verona isn't just Romeo and Juliet.

There's the 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre, for instance, the third largest in Italy, which could seat 30,000 spectators in its heyday. Today it is famous for its open-air operas. On the day we visit, Piazza Bra in front of it is peppered with Egyptian statues and motifs from a staging of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida.

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On our hour-long tour Roberto guides us to the Piazza delle Erbe, a former Roman forum now bustling with market stalls, and on into the handsome Piazza del Signori, also known as Dante Piazza thanks to the statue of the great man in the middle.

There is also a statue here, on top of an arch between two buildings, of Girolamo Fracastoro, a little-known doctor from the 16th century. In his right hand he is holding a ball symbolising the world and legend has it that the day an honest man walks nearby he will drop it. Needless to say …

Just past the square, we visit the Scaliger tombs, five elaborately gothic funerary monuments attesting to the power of the della Scala clan who ruled Verona in the 13th and 14th centuries. Tall, tabernacle-style tombs fenced off behind wrought iron gates, they sit cheek by jowl with the church of Santa Maria Antica and are alone worth the trip to Verona.

After the tour I take a solo wander around this low-key but attractive town, strolling by the river and ending up back in Piazza Bra, scoffing cheap pasta, quaffing red wine and thinking that, sometimes, love isn't everything.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

All major airlines operate frequent flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Milan's Malpensa airport.

TOUR

Insight Vacations'10-day Country Roads of Northern Italy holiday costs from $3595 a person twin share. Prices include some meals, airport transfers, travel director and local specialists. See insightvacations.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/italy

italia.it

Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Insight Vacations.

from traveller.com.au