On the road to Carnivàle through Italy
Northern Italy has some extraordinary cities, and this 335-mile road trip covers five of the best. Names like Florence, Verona and Venice are up there with the most illustrious in world travel, combining art, architecture, history and romance. And with the route itself leading from Tuscany up to the Adriatic Coast, it’s a car-hire journey that also touches on some of the most scenic parts of the country.
Often held to be the most beautiful city in Italy (although Venice might state a case), Florence still bears the legacy of its role as the birthplace of the Renaissance. The skyline, dominated by Brunelleschi’s soaring cathedral, is an attraction in itself. You could while away days among the city’s bridges, churches and museums, but the Uffizi – Italy’s finest art gallery – makes a logical start point. Be sure to book ahead. Elsewhere, try the truffle-based dishes at Cacio Vino Trallallà, call in at the exquisite Laurentian Library or shop for hand-painted ceramics at MG Design. Bologna sits 90 minutes to the north.
Bologna’s red-brick medieval centre, topped by the Due Torri (“Two Towers”), makes the city an attractive one. And as the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, it’s also renowned for its food. Pasta bolognese? You’re in the right place. Work up an appetite with a wander through Piazza Maggiore to the gargantuan San Petronio Basilica, or take a tour of the Ducati Motorbike Museum for something more modern. To sample the city’s famous cuisine, meanwhile, make a visit to Pasta Fresca Naldi. Moving on, Parma is just over an hour away.
A classy city with a high standard of living, Parma makes for an upmarket stop-off. This was, after all, the home territory of composer Giuseppe Verdi. Must-see historical sights range from the baroque Teatro Farnese to the 12th-century Baptistry, while the excellent Magnani Rocca Foundation is a lesser-known art gem. Parma is, of course, also celebrated for its cheese and prosciutto – call in at the Salumificio Rossi to sample it at its best. Heading north into the Veneto, a 90-minute drive brings you to Verona.
“Star-cross’d lovers” still visit Verona in their droves. Happily, the home city of Romeo and Juliet is as striking in reality as it is in prose, with a spread of Roman remains and pink-tinged medieval buildings. The obligatory visit to the Casa di Giulietta is just one draw; don’t miss the 14th-century Ponte Scaligero bridge or the 12th-century San Zeno Basilica. Tradition holds that Romeo and Juliet’s wedding took place in the crypt. Shop for Italian labels on Via Mazzini or Corso Porta Borsari, then round off the day with an old-style meal at Al Capitan della Citadella. Back on the road, Venice sits 75 miles away.
More than a millennium after the Venetian Republic made its rise to riches, the Venice phenomenon is still a hugely powerful one. Is there a city more evocative of the past? The canals, the bridges, the gondolas, the palazzos: there’s simply nowhere else quite like it. Take in the Grand Canal and the Piazzo San Marco, of course, but make time too for a glassware trip to Murano and an art visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. And if you can, book a table at Ristorante Da Ivo, scene of George Clooney’s pre-wedding meal.