Festival dates: 11 February to 14 February, 2016
Ok, so it's a bit silly I suppose, to have tens of thousands of tourists a year flock to Verona just to stand under the balcony that Juliette stood upon and gazed down at her love, Romeo... especially since it's all fiction. After all, Shakespeare created the characters in his head.... and I remember reading that there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever visited Verona--or Italy, for that matter--for inspiration.
But thanks to the hype and selling of Verona, the town has become a wonderful place to spend Saint Valentine's Day for lovers from all over the world. The town really puts their heart into it... literally.
For four days each February, Verona becomes "Verona in Love"--a festival all about amore, baci e passione (love, kisses and passion). And the most beautiful of Verona's squares, Piazza dei Signori, is decorated with a huge red carpeted heart and hosts free daily concerts. There is also a Valentine Market with stalls (which define the shape of the heart) selling all sorts of passionate trinkets, souvenirs, necessities and , of course, chocolates. You will also find wines, food, paintings, ceramics and cheeses--much of the products are locally sourced. And you can't go wrong with the stalls that offer wine and chocolate tasting. Yum.
And for the ultimate romantics, one of the more meaningful gestures you can do for your innamorato, is to visit Juliet’s house and attach your own love note on the wall below her balcony. Some people are actually leaving graffiti on the walls of the old structure, but leaving love notes is much less harmful to the history of the place, in my opinion. If you're planning a marriage, place your vows there. If you are alone and hopeful, write a letter to that special someone, somewhere in the world just waiting for you...
Another odd custom is to caress the breast of the Juliette bronze statue and take a picture doing it. There have been so many thousands of people doing this that the patina of the bronze now appears brightly polished. I've chosen not to include a photo with girls, guys, couples or greying old men groping poor Giulietta... after all, she was just 13 when she died! (Oh... that's right... she never really lived.)
The final ritual at the Casa di Giulietta is for you and your lover to put a lock on the courtyard gate and throw away the key into the nearby river. This lock tradition--getting its inspiration from Italian author, Federico Moccia's 2006 novel, Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You)--is getting a bit carried away in places all over Italy, especially Rome and on the Lovers' Walk in Cinque Terre--and catching on in other countries, too. In Rome, bridges and other structures often are in danger of collapse because of the millions of locks placed on them by Moccia inspired lovers. Teams with bolt-cutters keep removing locks, but lovers keep putting back more. It's the same here at Casa di Giulietta... chewing gum littered and graffitied walls and locks weighing down the gates. When did love become following the path of other people instead of your own heart?
Another thing to try when in Verona (if you are fit), is for you and your lover to climb the Torre dei Lamberti overlooking the piazza--during the festival there is a "two for one" special on tickets. And don't miss an arm-in-arm passaggiata up Via Mazzini to see the heart shaped luminaries lighting your way. Every shop is decked out in red for this festival, offering lovers mementos, chocolates, wines and more. If that's too slow a pace for your racing heart, try the Romeo and Juliet Half Marathon, usually held on the 14th. Tens of thousands enter this race.
All in all, Verona in Love does sound like great fun for lovers, young and old. Book a B&B, buy a gift box of Baci chocolates, jot down your best prose, bring your lock and throw away your keys... oh, and don't forget to bring your better half.
Amare per Sempre!
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