It only takes one look at a map for Verona's reputation as a romantic city to make sense. The walls and the river Adige form a rough heart shape enclosing the old town. Throw in Shakespeare's contribution, setting Romeo and Juliet in the city, and the hearts and flowers image sticks. But falling in love with Verona is more about ambling from piazza to piazza, looking up at picture-perfect balconies and shutters, then suddenly finding yourself faced with a gigantic – and overwhelmingly impressive – set piece.
The Castelvecchio is a sprawling, riverside castle, built from brick and formerly used as part of Verona's defences. The museum inside (museodicastelvecchio.comune.verona.it) hosts a moderately interesting collection of archaeology and art, but the real joy comes from clambering over the battlements and the remarkable fortified bridge leading to the opposite bank of the river.
Head out of the main heart of the old town to Piazza San Zeno, where the newly two Michelin-starred Casa Perbellini (casaperbellini.com) can be found. An open kitchen, wonderfully unstuffy feel, and proper devotion to fresh ingredients are the keys to dining out seriously well. It's degustation menus only, and the nine-course monster costs €135.
The Torre dei Lamberti (palazzodellaragioneverona.it) is the tallest of several towers in the city. Work started on it in the 12th century, and it is now 84m tall with imperious views over the terracotta rooftops, Adige, and several stately courtyards. There is a choice of slugging up 368 steps or taking the lift for lazy cowards that cuts most of the schlepping out.
The Arena (arena.it) is Verona's most prestigious opera venue, but oh what an advantage it has over its competitors elsewhere. It is a staggeringly well-preserved, Roman open-air amphitheatre from the first century AD, seating 30,000 and dominating the city's main square. Built before the Coliseum in Rome, it is effectively a prototype. Performances are staged in the summer months but it is open to wander around in amazement all year round.
The five star Hotel Gabbia d'Oro is not interested in subtlety. Curtains have come from French chateaux, antique furniture is rife, plants and busts cram a gorgeous winter garden, and wardrobe doors are lined with hugely expensive Italian fabrics. Bathrooms come with antique marble artworks and some rooms feature original stonework from the Roman era. It is full on, no-prisoners, eye-popping lusciousness. Doubles cost from €220.
The Casa di Giulietta (casadigiulietta.comune.verona.it) – the traditional house of the Cappello (Capulet) family – is the city's biggest and worst tourist draw. The balcony outside was tacked on in 1920, but that still doesn't stop Shakespeare fans from paying €6 to go inside the terrible excuse for a museum. Take a happy snap outside, then move on.
More information visit: tourism.verona.it.
David Whitley travelled at his own expense.
See also: Europe's new cities of love