It is somewhat unfortunate that our culture trip to Italy needs to start with an exploration of the various wine areas around Verona, especially Valpolicella and Soave.
We have settled for a couple of nights in Verona, our first stop in North Italy. But the next day is a Monday, the day that most museums are closed, so we decide to first explore the wine region north of town.
In order to also get a glimpse of the Lago di Garda, we drive to Bardolino, name of one of the well-known wines of Veneto, the province that covers Verona and Venice. But the town of that name, at the lake shore, is a disappointment. There may not be many tourists right now, but all those who are here, seem to have congregated in Bardolino. Which has all the hallmarks of a tourist town, the large terraces with menus in four languages, the pedestrian streets full of souvenir shops. Little authenticity. Besides, the weather doesn’t help, it is dry but cloudy, and then is Lago di Garda just like any other lake. After an hour we have seen all there is to see. But we haven’t tried any wine yet, for that you need to be outside town.
We decide to drive on to Valpolicella. Except that our GPS cannot find a town of that name. It transpires that Valpolicella is the name of the region, not a town. But there is San Giorgio di Valpolicella, Sant’ Ambrogio di Valpolicella, Negrar di Valpolicella, Marano di Valpolicella, and lots more. Especially the area in between Negrar and Marano is picturesque, with many vine plots against the lower hills, and invariably a mansion in the middle, or on top of the hill. French chateau, Italian style.
It is end September; harvest has started, but many of the vines are still full of grapes, dark blue. Compared to France, it looks all a bit more messy, less organized. But here, too, many wine shops, many individual growers that let you taste their products – and hope you will buy their bottles. Most of the day is overcast, no good for pictures, so we do visit a few of these shops. They all make Valpolicella Classico, Superiore, and Ripasso. And they produce Amarone, a wine in a whole different category, not only in taste, but also in price. Unlike France, of each different variety they have only one vintage on offer – and the better the wine, the older the vintage. The Amarones we try are all almost 10 years old. Unusually, for us, we don’t buy a lot, except for the occasional bottle. Four weeks to go….
We drive up the valley, to Sant Anna di Alfaedo. The tourist highlight is the largest natural stone bridge of Europe, the Ponte di Vejo. A five minute drive from the main road, a five minute stroll from the car park. Tick, got the teeshirt. For the rest, it was wine ranks, and more wine ranks. Late afternoon the sun came out, which helped appreciating the landscape a lot more. And helped improving the photos, too.
Later, we do manage a brief visit to Soave, as well. Described as a picturesque village, we are once more disappointed, we have seen much better villages before. Right, the whole village is walled, but the walls have been heavily restored. Inside, there is little atmosphere. But there is a wine house, just outside, where we do try the Soave, a white wine that is underrated because of the many cheap supermarket varieties. Here we learn that there is good quality Soave, too. But we still resist buying in bulk….