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115km (71 miles) W of Venice

The affluent city of Verona, with its gorgeous red- and peach-colored medieval buildings and Roman ruins, is one of Italy’s major tourist draws, though its appeal owes more to William Shakespeare than real history. He immortalized the city in his (totally fictional) “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” Despite its popularity with tourists, Verona is not Venice; it’s a booming commercial center with vibrant science and technology sectors.

Founded by the Romans in the 1st century A.D., Verona emerged as a city-state in the 12th century, ruled primarily by the bloodthirsty (and, in Renaissance tradition, art-loving) Scaligeri family until 1387.  (You'll see the emblem of the scala (ladder) around town, heraldic symbol of the Scaligeri dynasty.) After a brief period of Milanese rule, Verona fell under the control of Venice in 1405. During the time of Venetian rule, Verona became a prestigious urban capital and controlled much of the Veneto and as far south as Tuscany. Like the rest of the region, however, the city fell to Napoleon in 1797, then Austria, and became part of Italy in 1866.

Architectural remnants of the Roman era are a real draw, such as the famous Arena and the Teatro Romano. No visit would be complete, however, without a walk around the turreted Castelvecchio, looming over the River Adige. Dubbed the "City of Love," romance is most definitely in the air in fair Verona. The city's most famous residents, Romeo and Juliet, seemed to think so, anyway.

Shopping

Upscale clothing and accessories boutiques line Verona's two most fashionable shopping streets, Via Mazzini and Via Cappello. The designer duds will transform you into a stylish northern Italian signora or sleek and sophisticated signore. Nearby Corso Sant'Anastasia has a browse-worthy collection of antique stores and jewelers, but the most exciting thing to stock up on here are the edible and quaffable goods, such as strong red wines, peppery salamis, and aromatic olive oils.

Nightlife and Entertainment

For something unforgettable, book ahead for a magical Italian opera at the illuminated Arena di Verona, dating to 1st century A.D., or the 18th-century indoor Teatro Filarmonica (for tickets go to www.arena.it) During mid-week, join the after-work crowd for an apéritif in one of the bars on the palace-flanked Piazza Delle Erbe. After dinner, the square comes alive with trendy late night bars.