In collaboration with Italy M.S.T.ravel
Valpolicella is an area north of Verona, and surrounds the city with rolling hills.
The gentle hills create a landscape where small valleys fan out towards the Veronese plains. Vine rows alternate with olives, cherry, and apricot orchards and groves. The cozy countryside courtyards and sun drenched cobbled streets tell the story of a welcoming land, inhabited by many through the ages. But these hills are best known for the famous wines they produce: the Valpolicella, the Recioto and the hearty Amarone. The Valpolicella Wine Route allows you to taste the products of the local wine-making tradition, while enjoying the beauty and charms of the land surrounding it.
From an architectural standpoint, the landscape in Valpolicella is dotted with grandiose Venetian villas and features decorations such as columns and capitals, small roadside churches and chapels, rural churches (pieve), cobbled streets, alleys and medieval manors, which bear witness to the history of the territory.
Several nobles hailing from Verona and Venice chose these very hills as the grounds to build their elegant villas, often featuring important artistic details, surrounded by large gardens and parks. Here are three of the many locations you could visit.
Nestled among the hills of Gargagnago, with San Giorgio’s Hill as its stunning background, the villa bears an ancient allure and an even more fantastic name, the famous family name of the descendants of Dante Alighieri himself.
The villa consists of different buildings built upon each other, and features dining rooms and bedrooms, decorated by mosaics, coats of arms, frescoes. A peculiar sight is the dining hall, decorated with a faux gallery and fictional sights of woods and swallow-filled skies painted between the arches. Villa Serego also boasts a long-standing wine-making history.
One of the most beautiful and most interesting villas in all of Valpolicella, the original project for Villa della Torre is unattributed to this day; initially thought to have been designed by the architect Giulio Romano, theories then shifted to the famous Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli. Built around 1560 by order of the Della Torre family, the plan is cloistered, reminding of the structure of an Ancient Roman domus. At the heart of it, three inner courtyards are layered over three levels of the villa; the top-most courtyard opens over the large orchard, and the one at the ground level connects to the garden.
The villa merges with the surrounding natural features and the ones brought inside of it. On the topmost courtyard one can find the octagonal temple built by Sanmicheli.
Crowned as an entry on the list of the most beautiful small towns of Italy (“I Borghi più belli d'Italia”) in 2015, we have the township of Sant’Ambrogio, which stands perched on a peak, the parish that gives it its name at the hearth of it. Built with the same calcareous stone that constitutes its foundations, the town is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves; next to its caves, one can enjoy the enchanting sights of panoramas that lead the eye from Lake Garda to Verona, from Valpolicella to the Pianura Padana.
The town gets its name from the church of Saint George, an antique Romanic parish dating back to 712 AD built at the historic center of the town. Within it, there are well-maintained frescoes from the 12th and 13th centuries, and a 6th century AD ciborium. Annexed to the church there is the 12th century cloister, still intact, and a small museum housing a collection of several prehistoric remains from the Iron Age found thanks to the efforts of recent excavations in the surrounding area.
The Valpolicella DOC is a red wine with a dark carmine color, a strong-bodied and pleasant scent, remindful of bitter almonds, and a dry, velvety taste, with a slightly bitter but harmonious body.
It’s characterized by the use of local varieties of grapes, such as the Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella, among other varieties that are sourced in the area.
What makes it unique and typical of this region are the peculiar geological and climate circumstances that allow this wine to be produced, and which mirror the uniqueness and variety of the territory where its grapes are grown.
Here are three of the most prized wines you can taste in one of the several vineyards and wineries open to the public in Valpolicella.
The Valpolicella Ripasso DOC is created when the base of Valpolicella wine rests for 15-20 days on the pomace of Amarone. Ruby red in color with garnet hues, it has a slightly airy scent of fruits with vanilla notes; the taste is sharp, harmonious, dry and soft. For its pleasant characteristics, it’s perfect to be paired with winter first courses, second courses, cold cuts and medium-aged cheeses.
The Amarone della Valpolicella is a dark red wine, and its color eventually turns garnet red with aging. The scent is remindful of raisined fruits, tobacco, and spices, also thanks to the noble-molds that generate with the aging process. The taste is intense with strong notes of raisins; it’s dry but soft, full-bodied, hearty and warm. It has a strong profile and can be kept for over 20 years.
The Recioto is at the core of history and tradition in Valpolicella. This full-bodied wine has a good alcoholic profile and sugary residues that make it sweet and pleasant.
The aging process continues past the harvest of the grapes and well into a period that lasts from 100 to 120 days. With a strong garnet red color, the wine has a complex scent profile, with recognizable notes of rose, violet, prune jam and wild fruits. It can be paired with dry-dough desserts and baked goods, with dark chocolate, and a must-have is to try it with a wedge of spicy cheese.
The cuisine of the territory is known for its richness and the variety of local ingredients employed, as well as for the prestigious wines produced here.
Ever since ancient times, noble families from Verona and the very members of the Scaligeri family had been known for the incredible dishes they had prepared during luxurious receptions and banquets, where they entertained their guests with abundant libations and exquisite food.
This tradition was handed down to local restaurateurs and chefs, who know how to blend tradition and innovation, putting in the first place quality, excellent ingredients and hospitality above everything else. Here are a few traditional dishes that you can’t miss out on.
Gnocchi made in Verona represent a classic traditional dish of the Veronese cuisine. A staple of local households, the recipe originated from Carnival celebrations, and is widely described and detailed in literary and historic accounts. Gnocchi are a type of pasta meant for immediate consumption, while still freshly made and cooked.
This slow-cooked dish features braised horse meat, wine, vegetables and herbs. Originally meant as a sauce for gnocchi made by the housewives who lived in the San Zeno neighborhood in Verona, it’s now widespread in the region surrounding the city and, while it can be eaten throughout the year, it’s a typical winter dish.
This sauce is served exclusively to accompany bollito misto – stew made according to the north Italian tradition, typical of the piedmont and Verona region. The appearance is that of a gravy, it’s light brown or white, creamy and buttery. It has sweet undertones that enhance the protagonist of this sauce: black pepper, added at the end of this unique Veronese dish.
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