Verona at Christmas captured my heart. I had been to Verona in 2012; I had spent four days wandering the streets, trying to avoid the crowds around Juliet’s House and in Piazza Bra. I had enjoyed Verona a lot, but wouldn’t’ve thought to go back anytime soon. But then I saw Verona featured in the ViviMilano section of Il Corriere della Sera (a Milanese newspaper that you can download for free on your Kindle each morning) as having one of the most historic and notable Christmas markets in easy traveling distance of Milan and thought, why not?
Strangely, when I arrived in Verona I felt like I had never left. I knew my way around without needing a map – to not only the major tourist attractions but also to my favorite bakery, my favorite lunch spot near the duomo, the restaurant I ate at on Easter three years ago. And so first thing, I headed to one of my favorite squares, Piazza Erbe. Icicle lights (not yet lit) were strung above the booths and stalls that sit in the center of the piazza year round and at the far end of the square a Christmas tree and menorah drew focus from the winged lion and lovely fountain that usually hold tourists’ attention.
According to ViviMilano, the first Christmas market (”Christkindlmarkt”) was held in Nerumburg, Germany. The guild of craftsmen responsible for that original Christmas market now sends their work to Verona’s Piazza dei Signori during the holidays. Incredibly detailed handmade wooden ornaments, enchanting smokers, music boxes, miniature villages and decorations of all kinds straight from Germany are available in the “Käthe Wohlfahrt” store, one of several dozen booths lining Piazza dei Signori and the small adjoining square in front of Palazzo del Capitano. You can find everything from slippers and winter wear to meats and cheeses to wooden kitchen utensils and artisan soaps. Below the gothic Scala della Ragione you’ll find “The House of Santa Claus” where kids of all ages can meet the jolly ol’ man himself.
But don’t leave without eating! Keeping in the tradition of the original Nerumburg Christmas market, German delights are available from several kiosks in the square. Chow down on sausages or au gratin potatoes, or just munch on a big pretzel as you walk through the crowds of shoppers. Wash it down with a cold German beer or opt for a glass of vin brulé, a warm, spiced wine, to heat you from the inside out.
Christmas in Verona isn’t all about presents and lights, though. Housed underneath Verona’s ancient arena are over 400 nativity sets from all over the world. Big and unbelievably small, simple and incredibly intricate, most of the scenes of Baby Jesus’s birth are from various regions throughout Italy but there’s also a strong showing from other European nations, South America and even China and Africa. It’s a fantastic display, and though I’m not usually the first one to “ooo” and “ahh” over nativity scenes, a strong through these chambers is definitely worth the €7 entry fee.
When I emerged into Piazza Bra the lights of the stalls lining its edge filled the sky and I could hear the faint chime of a carousel from the small park in the middle of the square. Nothing, though, could outshine (literally) the giant star arcing from the Roman arena out to the cobblestones in front of it. The giant, shining beacon of Christmas is the perfect centerpiece for Verona’s Chritmas celebration.
(I feel like you’d never see something like this on a children’s carousel in the States!)
I had a little time before dinner so I decided to walk over to Castelvecchio, Verona’s fortress-museum, and the Scaligero Bridge. To my surprise, I found another Christmas market!
After a lovely dinner near the historic fortress, I took a stroll through the streets of Verona, now “dressed in lights”, as the city’s marketing materials had promised (”si veste in luce”). It was the perfect end to an absolutely enchanting, Christmas-y day. Of all of the Italian cities I have visited during the Christmas season, Verona might just be the most festive!