The first time I read Romeo and Juliet at the age of eight I fell in love. I was in love with the story of tragedy and passion, I was in love with a writing style that I could not yet fully comprehend, and, most importantly, I was in love with a city I had never visited.
A few years later, Letters to Juliet starring Amanda Seyfried was released, and yet again I was completely enamoured by the city of Verona. The film became one of my favourites, and Verona was added to the top of my travel bucket list.
In September 2014, my dream of visiting Verona came true for the first time. After spending a few days in Paris, my dad and I travelled to the small town of Peschiera del Garda via a gorgeous train journey through quaint villages and mountains that shone in the Autumn sun. Peschiera del Garda is a perfect heaven on Earth, and is my favourite place to stay when visiting Italy. It is only minutes away from the city of Verona too!
The first time I stepped out of the train station upon arriving in Verona I was breathless. The sun shone brightly in the sky above and, after walking for five minutes, the floors turned to marble and up ahead stood the most magnificent coliseum that I had ever laid eyes on. I spotted a sign and knew exactly where we were heading first: Casa di Giulietta.
Juliet’s house is tucked away down a little stone street, and it was every bit as magical as I could have ever imagined. We had arrived early so the courtyard was unusually empty, with only one or two other people around.
My dad and I took turns posing with Juliet’s statue as we took each other’s pictures, and stood for a moment taking in the beauty of the leafy courtyard. The house itself was gorgeous and quiet, and featured costumes and props from the Franco Zeffirelli film adaption of Romeo and Juliet.
Standing on Juliet’s balcony, I leant with my elbows on the ledge basking in the Italian sun and taking in the surrounding view. It was an experience like no other. This is what I had come for. I was fifteen, and this was one of the most defining moments of my teenage years.
Now obviously I know that the story of Romeo and Juliet is fictional but, standing there in that moment, it felt like the realest thing in the world.
After stopping for lunch in the plaza, we headed into the coliseum. It was breath-taking, but also extremely nerve-wracking, as climbing up to the highest marble steps made me certain that I was going to slip and fall at any moment. The whole arena practically gleamed in the sun, and over on the far side they were setting up the stage for the following night’s opera.
We ended that incredible day with a bus tour around the city, taking in the views and history. We stopped off occasionally to visit museums and bridges (my dad and I are both giant history nerds). The guide on the bus talked of ancient stories of love and tragedy, not unlike that of Romeo and Juliet.
By the time we headed back to Peschiera del Garda the sun was setting and the warm breeze was slowly turning cool.
And thus my first encounter with Verona was over.
We returned again a few years later and plan to go back at some point later this year. Throughout our trips to Italy we have also visited Florence, Milan, Venice, and explored Lake Garda and its small towns. Next on my list are Rome and the Amalfi coast.
Italy holds an extremely special place in my heart. I have fond memories from those trips, such as my dad being repeatedly mistaken for a local thanks to his dark olive skin (a family trait that I, unfortunately, did not inherit) or almost every old woman that I walked past reminding me of my late grandmother, and seeing the recipes that I grew up watching my aunt and dad cook at home being served in gorgeous restaurants. Italy reminds me of the most important thing in my world: my family.
But Verona, more than any other part of Italy, will always represent my lifelong love of everything romantic and magical – everything that the city is.