Verona’s Arena is a fraction the size of its large Roman cousin, il Colosseo. Taking up a chunk of the town’s main square Piazza Bra, it hosts all sorts of concerts but is at its best when the open-air opera season begins in the summer. However, in this romantic, wintry month of February take to the side streets leading off and feast on the legacy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the balcony to the grave, in a manner of speaking.
And, not twenty minutes away from these bustling streets, along the ancient via Claudia Augusta, an all together different proposition awaits. Set in its own graceful grounds, Hotel Villa del Quar – a listed National Monument, dating back to the 15th century – is perhaps the quietest spot you may ever find (unless getting lost in the Arctic is your thing).
A hotel should always be judged by its breakfast, not the quantity but the little details. In Villa del Quar they offer porridge, and a fine porridge it is too. It’s taken under cover on a beautiful terrace overlooking a citrus garden. I ventured out to work off some of that fine food and found – beyond the garden wall –Villa del Quar’s secret weapon: it has its own vineyard, within view of the long cloister-like main hotel building. Fat grapes hang heavily on the vines and you can walk along the rows and hide from the world.
In the Arquade dining room that evening, just off the grand entrance hall with its impressive reception raised on a dais, I tried the iced foie gras, followed by the pigeon breast in cocoa beans with cream of carrots and ginger, and string beans. The foie gras simply melted away on the palette and the bird was perfect – all helped along as the sommelier introduced me to the delightful product of those grapes. This is Valpolicella country and their Sublitis red was robust but fair, a perfect accompaniment to the pigeon. If the (very) local wine is not to your taste, there is an antique wine cellar just waiting to be discovered.
The rooms are spacious and luxuriously comfortable and throughout the hotel the staff welcome their guests with discretion. There is a helipad just beyond the vineyard – I was told that a Croatian family, from Split, land there in their helicopter once a year to savour five-star comfort and totally unwind.
Even though the Bard’s most famous lovers await in town, it is tempting to just kick back and have one more meander around the vineyard – with perhaps a glass of Sublitis in hand.