I’m writing this article after a family visit to the new Christmas markets that have just opened in Verona. But first, I should explain what I mean by “new”. For some years now, the city has been a kind of unofficial Christmas capital for Italy, with a whole calendar of events attracting around two million visitors who fill the streets and squares, as they do their shopping or simply enjoy the magical atmosphere of the lights and decorations.
Piazza dei Signori, in the heart of the city’s old town and just off Piazza Erbe, is the traditional gathering point for Christmas shopping. And it’s also where you’ll find the Nuremburg Christmas market, which is the main attraction for tourists. Piazza Bra is the other Christmas hive of activity, with its traditional comet star sculpture surging out of the Arena, and the typical Veronese stalls of the Santa Lucia fair, to mark Saint Lucia’s Day (13 December). But this year, we have some newcomers: Christmas in Verona is no longer concentrated in one or two squares, but has now spread to many other parts of the city.
To start with, there’s the wonderful riverside walkway of Lungadige San Giorgio. It is perhaps the most beautiful of the less familiar parts of Verona. The Christmas stalls have now arrived here too; you can nibble on artisan chocolate or warm yourself up with mulled wine, although the main attraction is a large funfair overlooking the river to delight both little ones and parents alike. It certainly gets my vote.
As you stroll towards the Ponte Pietra bridge in the evening, you can’t help but notice the illuminated funicular that takes you to up to Castel San Pietro. Only a few months’ old, you can take it (thus avoiding the steep but charming climb up the steps) to the top of the hill that overlooks the city, where you’ll find a lounge bar inside an igloo-shaped structure, ideal for an aperitif as you enjoy the best view of Verona.
One of the most undeservedly overlooked places in Verona has, this year, become part of the Christmas circuit. I’m talking about Piazza San Zeno, with its wonderful Romanesque basilica dedicated to the city’s patron saint. A well-known Veronese garden centre company has created an impressive nativity scene, whilst inside the cloister of the church is another nativity scene that is a joy to admire, made from recycled materials. And if you love this kind of thing, this year you can visit the international exhibition of nativity scenes in the Arena, now in its 31st year.
Anyone lucky enough to find themselves in Verona over the festive period should also visit Palazzo Forti, which specialises in well curated and organised monographic exhibitions. Currently – and until 28 February 2018 – it is showing the oversized portraits by the great Colombian artist Fernando Botero. But in one wing of the palace, there’s also another exhibition which, to my mind, is a must, although there’s no comparison in artistic terms. It’s called “I love Lego” and features reconstructions of real and fictitious settings made exclusively from these famous bricks. There’s also a reconstruction of Verona’s Piazza Erbe, which is a feast for the eyes.
Finally, to round off the celebrations, all you need is to raise a toast, accompanied by a slice of Verona’s finest sweet speciality: the pandoro. Merry Christmas to you all.