Posts tagged “winter

36 Hours in Verona – great place for a romantic weekend getaway, or foodie jaunt.

Not a lot of time to do stuff in 36 hours, but that’s long enough for two evening meals, and scoot around the city sites and shops.

verona_night_caustic_candy

We ended up in Verona by chance after discovering rather belatedly (we rarely plan our trips) that the Italian lakes were completely shut up  for the winter. I’m so pleased we were forced to make this switch – Verona was lovely, has great restaurants and is slap in the middle of wine country, (Valpollicella and Soave to be exact).

ampitheatre_verona_causticcandyVerona is a perfect place to wander around for a day (You could spend two with ease). It’s an ancient town, and of course has that world famous Roman ampitheatre where they hold the opera every summer. Couple that with the opportunities it presents for day/evening trips to the Italian Lakes and various wineries and it’s actually a pretty good base for a longer stay.

Outside the old town Verona is pretty grubby, as is most of Northern Italy in between their ancient cities. There seems to be absolutely no planning rules and it’s pretty damn ugly.

Places to stay: I really enjoyed staying at Villa Amista, 10km out of town – fascinating place with superb service.

The other hotel we were offered was Hotel Gabbia D’Oro, a pastiche of an old house. It’s stuffed with antiques, and seems to be medieval in structure, but apparently was put up from scratch in the 1980’s. It’s meant to be a good hotel, but we didn’t fancy trying to drive into the centre of old Verona, and were told that Amista was better.

If I went back to Verona outside winter, then I would probably be tempted to give Villa del Quar a go as this has a 2* Michelin restaurant, is in an ancient building, and is in the middle of a winery. Looks good.

Where to eat: There are a bunch of great restaurants in Verona. Obviously I wasn’t there very long, but I can wholeheartedly say don’t bother with Il Desco, even though it’s 2* Michelin. If you are not staying at Villa Amista, then it’s well worth going out to their restaurant Atelier for lunch or supper. The food is brilliant (without doubt better than Il Desco), the decor wholly unexpected, and the service and sommelier wonderful.

veronatower_causticcandyWe had to make a decision whether to go to Il Desco or Dal Pescatore. The latter is 3* Michelin and has an amazing reputation wherever you look, but it was nearly an hour away from the hotel, and obviously we both wanted to be able to drink. At the time we thought that going to Il Desco was a suitable alternative. How wrong we were. I wish we’d gone to Dal Pescatore. Opportunity missed there.

Pottering: The old town is pretty small and it’s a great pleasure to go pottering about, stopping off for coffee or drinks as often as possible. As well as all the churches, Roman architecture, palazzos, piazzas and museums all dripping in history and romance, there are some great furniture and homeware shops, as well as delis and wine shops.

In fact, if I was traveling around Veneto in summer, I’d definitely go to Verona over Venice, as Venice is ruined when it’s hot, and jammed with far more tourists. I’d also choose Verona as a great location for a long romantic or foodie weekend in Europe.

Venice in winter – the only time to go.

And so to Venice. There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:
Go in winter
Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.
Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.
By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.
Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.
Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.
Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.
Places to stay: I stay in the Ca Maria Adele in Dorsoduro, as it’s stunning, tiny and the area is convenient to the all the places I want to go and is one of the quietest and most residential districts in Venice. I’ve had friends who have stayed at the Cipriani, and loved it, but the only reason to stay there really is that it’s got an outdoor pool, and if you are going in winter, you aren’t going to be taking advantage of that!
A short list of my favourite things:
Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.
Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele).  Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract. Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing.  Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.
Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.
Restaurant: Antica Carbonara, super old-school restaurant serving Venetian cuisine.  The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals.  Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.
Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas.  They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.
Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.
In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigo are both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, and that is a fantastic opportunity that you should never pass by.

Venice

And so to Venice.

It really is mind boggling to think about how bonkers the merchant princes were to build Venice where they did and how they did. I’m fascinated by trading ports (must come from living in HK), and to me Venice is the ultimate collaboration of trade, engineering, art and architecture.

There is no denying that the city is now only a hollow carapace – what I’m trying to work out though is what that symbolises. A stark reminder of the vagaries of trade routes? Or the importance of diversifying your economy?  If the North East Passage becomes fully navigable in the next 15yrs will Hong Kong’s port be suddenly redundant? Anyway, I digress…

There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:

  1. Go in winter
  2. Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.

Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.

By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.

Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.

Venice Canal Caustic Candy

Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.

Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.

A short list of my favourite things:

Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.

Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele). Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract, Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing. Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.

Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside on the terrace of their Do Leoni restaurant, by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.

Restaurant: Antica Carbonera, super old-school, centuries old restaurant serving Venetian cuisine close to the Rialto bridge. The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals. Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.

Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas. They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.

Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.

In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigoare both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, can eat where the Venetians themselves do, cutting out a lot of tourist clutter and the light is so very pretty for photos.

Venice in the winter light