After 21 days of wandering around the Mont Blanc massif on the Tour du Mont Blanc and then all the way to Zermatt on the Haute Route, it’s finally time to bid a fond farewell to the Alps and make our way south to Italy where we can begin one of the classic treks through the Dolomites known as the Alta Via 2. But first, we have to get there, so today is a travel day with an intentional stopover in fair Verona, as Shakespeare would have it, to rest our feet and soak up some Italian food and culture along the way.
In all, we have spent three nights and two full days in Zermatt and really enjoyed our time here, especially the two day hikes that we took just outside of town, where we finally got a few nice views of the famed Matterhorn. Overall, Zermatt is a little too commercial and pricey for our taste and budget, but the beauty of the surrounding scenery can not be denied.
After spending the last of our Swiss francs on croissants, we walk through downtown Zermatt for the final time and board the regional train bound for Brig. We gaze out the window and reminisce as we glide smoothly back down the valley we walked up just a few days ago on the last leg of the Haute Route. We feel fortunate to have caught a glimpse of the Matterhorn yesterday as it is lost again in clouds this morning. The Swiss trains are remarkably smooth and quiet, and it feels good to be out of the hiking boots for a few days.
An hour and a half down the tracks we change trains for Italy. This turns out to be a bit more stressful than anticipated. Even though we have reserved seats, this is a very full train bound for Milan and Venice. When we board, we are able to stow our luggage, but someone is sitting in our seats and lots of folks are crowding in behind us with giant suitcases.
We politely show our tickets and take our seats, but the people behind us are having a more difficult time of it. They are on a whirlwind 10-day tour of Europe from Singapore and carrying suitcases that are far too large (we think) for that short of a trip. There is nowhere for their bags to go, and so they end up blocking the aisle for others including the poor train attendant whose job it is to wheel his snack cart up and down the aisle.
It takes the better part of an hour and several stops before everyone gets sorted and things calm down. This is a reminder to us to travel light and plan ahead, especially in the summer time in Europe. We use the time on the train to jot down our thoughts about Zermatt and the Haute Route and to do some prepping for our next trek. Four hours pass in a hurry, and soon we are cruising past Lake Garda and Sirmione (home of the Roman poet, Catullus) and pulling into Verona Porta Nuova.
Before we head to our B&B for the night, we secure our tickets to Bressanone the next day as well as our to Rome in a few weeks when we finish the trek. Then, with a little bit of asking around, we figure out how to take the bus into town and get dropped off practically in front of our B&B, just across the Adige River from the Centro Storico.
We check in and are shown our room tucked behind the building off a quiet courtyard. It is a pleasant room with shared bath and a small kitchen for use if we choose, much cheaper than hotels in the center and homier, too! We take a quick catnap and, feeling refreshed, head out to stroll around the town and see what we can see. We were here together over 20 years ago when we both lived in Rome, but neither of us has a clear idea of what we saw and did, so we are curious to see if anything jogs a memory.
We take a quiet back road at first that leads us to the Church of Santa Maria in Organo and decide to stop in for a look. We stumble into an organ concert in progress, organized by a Swedish tour group interested in the old organ and get a chance to listen to it and a singer fill this delightful church with beautiful sounds. A helpful female docent eagerly shows us around the church and points out some beautiful frescoes in the sacristy and the gorgeous choir with inlaid wood pictures (intarsia/intaglio).
The detail that the artist achieved using only wood is amazing and reminds us of the Duke of Urbino’s palace in Le Marche. What a pleasant accident to stumble into this church! This is exactly what I was hoping to do with less than 24 hours in Verona…to simply wander and take in what strikes us in the moment.
Energized, we continue through a park where folks are relaxing in the shade to avoid the late afternoon heat, then past the ruins of an old Roman theater still in use (“Stomp” is coming in August!). We cross the Adige River into the Centro Storico, walk into the Duomo with it’s odd hodge podge of art that haphazardly spans multiple periods of art history without much order.
Verona is quite lively with tourists but somehow still quiet and laid back, gritty in a way, but clean, too. We check out a few hosteria that have been recommended for dinner, stop in a cafe for a quick espresso (what a country!), wander into the church of Saint Anastasia (who is she?). It’s so interesting to compare northern Italian churches with ones that we are more familiar with from Rome and Tuscany. My amateur fascination with art history, church design and Ecclesiastical Latin inscriptions is quickly revived! I always leave Italy thinking there’s so much that I don’t know but want to know more about.
We go in search of an enoteca to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner when we turn the corner into Piazza Della Erbe which is packed with happy tourists enjoying a drink in the early evening or wandering the stalls that occupy the center of the piazza. The cheery pink Aperol Spritzer seems to be the drink of the summer and brings back many a fond memory of drinking Shirley Temples in our youth. The light is incredible, and we do our best to snap a few photos. The passegiatta is in full force on the main shopping streets, and yet somehow we are not bothered by the mass of people.
Eventually we duck down a quiet side street and find a pleasant wine bar. We stand outside with a glass of refreshing, crisp soave and soak up the atmosphere, pleased to be back in this country that we love.
We wander through Piazza del Signoria with its statue of Dante and pause to listen to some opera in the piazza which mesmerizes me for a moment. Verona was Dante’s home in exile from Florence for a time, courtesy of his patron Can Grande. He could have chosen worse places, that’s for sure.
Then it’s back to the Hosteria del Duomo, recommended as a place where locals go. When we walk in, there is only one other table occupied. Soon the place fills with Italians, and we know we have found a good place. There are only two people working in this cute restaurant, the cook and the pleasant female owner who seems pleased we have found her place.
The meal is fantastic. For appetizer, we have a plate of grilled vegetables, a grilled soft cheese and (my favorite) an aged asiago. We try a local pasta: bigoli with smoked mozzarella di bufala in a tomato sauce followed by a macheroni with a rucola pesto. We decide to stick around for dessert rather than wander for another gelato: homemade tiramisu and sfogliatelle donuts with a dessert wine called Pasiti di Soave. We stroll back to our quiet B&B pleased by our first night back in Italy.