And what will April 2022 bring I wonder?

Well – for us it’s VinItaly : Italy’s vast wine fair, based in Verona, returns after a two year absence

Despite being in Italy in the autumn for a month, I still felt apprehensive about travelling, but having had covid, it was perhaps less alarming than it might have been. The news was doom-laden; as so many people were affected by covid (c 5,000,000 in the first week of April) we were warned that airports weren’t coping; queues were interminable, and flights were cancelled.

We left Andover on the train at 08.06 on Friday 8 April and arrived – on time – at Gatwick by 10.50. As David reported to the family, he spent longer in the queue for coffee than we did in security.

Schools finished this weekend, and these Easter holidays are the first opportunity for two years for families to travel without costly testing. Despite the Easyjet luggage check-in warning us of an hour’s delay, the problem (not known to many) was resolved by the use of a different plane which although it left half an hour late, arrived at Verona as advertised. 

Still feeling a tad fragile after the covid fatigue, we cut some slack with a taxi (45 euros) to the Garden Hotel in Peschiera, in time for a stroll along the avenue next to the lake shore. We managed an aperitivo before supper as the sun set on a very tranquil lake in this hospitable town at the foot of Lake Garda, once a garrison town but now a tourist hub for ordinary italian families.

Supper was already booked in an adequate osteria – Il Cantinone – in one of the tiny streets in the centre of the town, itself strung across a series of islands re-enforced and fortified by Venetians, and reminiscent of the Arsenale (in design if not scale) and subsequently the barracks for ever-changing militias. Now defunct, these grand buildings await conversion and domestication.

We had Saturday to relax, and David had pre-booked bikes for us to cycle the E6 route south from the lake along the river Mincio. Given time and energy, Mantova is within reach (45 km) but we travelled as far as Pozzolo, first passing through the very impressive fortified viaduct of Valeggio. This destination ristorante town is where most cycling families’ journeys appear to start or finish

We cycled on, arriving at a deserted DaRita on the bank of the Minchio opposite Pozzolo. This is a cantina type countryside destination with a very basic pool and chalets; a precursor of the agriturismo – where despite being officially closed they produced an excellent pizza and freshly baked foccacia with salumi, which we ate in the sunny courtyard – with a fleet of cats. 

The return journey was much harder work: the wind got up, and a storm brewed. This is where e-bikes have a marked advantage over ordinary pedals… David had to work hard for most of the 20 or so kilometres as the cold alpine wind whipped the willows and bamboo groves. I didn’t.

Having returned the bikes, we walked back along the main route through the town along which all the through traffic crawls, day and night. In contrast to the previous calm evening, the lake was boiling, whipped up into lively crashing waves, causing the small vessels moored in the modest harbour to bounce and buckle in the gale.

The Garden Hotel, 60m from the train station – below – whose platform 1 overlooks our bedroom windows – is recently refurbished, and entirely functional, efficient and friendly. 

We spotted it years ago when under reconstruction.

Our early train on the first, Sunday morning (whose tickets we purchased on line) was replaced by a bus …. This felt too close to Sundays at home for our liking – but we enjoyed seeing the local countryside as we headed to Verona.  

Each year something changes at the Fiera. This year the loss of the entrance Romeo e Giulietta at the back of the site was replaced by the new (and remarkably efficient) Re Teodorico entry.

Its greatest charms were the concrete benches on which one could sit as we waited to enter; and the proximity of the loos. It is easily reached from the route of buses 73 and 24 (which make their way down the Via Roveggia from the bus station). Travelling with Verona’s workers is infinitely preferable to travelling on the Navette – the shuttle buses – which heave with fellow wine visitors.

David had organised a series of meetings at hourly intervals in Padiglione 10 (Piemonte’s) for all three days though Sunday began well with an invitation to Gabriele Gorelli MW’s Historic Super Tuscans tasting at 11. Gabrielle has recently graduated as an MW, and he and David have enjoyed many trips and tastings on the MW journey.

It was a treat to taste so many tuscan icons and to have confirmed one’s fundamental view that Sangiovese knocks spots off the so-called Super Tuscans that have been infiltrated by international varieties – which are better left in France.

We travelled on the 07.58 for the next two days, arriving in Verona station in plenty of time to make our way to the Fiera and to wait patiently for entry. We learn that despite 09.30 being the declared opening time, 09.15 sees those marshalling the crowds consulting their watches, and letting us in. Green passes, and high resolution masks (FFP2) are essential…

The tastings and meetings are hugely improved by booking, and thereby sitting within each little domaine. David was able to pursue so many of his leads, and to develop connections. With perhaps a third fewer attendees, the experience was so much more civilised than in earlier years. Even food is available, when you know where to look! (Thank you Simonetta!)

We made some mistakes. Leaving the fairground by the Re Teodorico exit, we were tempted to hop on a shuttle bus. Fatal! It sat is grid-locked traffic for 40 minutes, and we missed our train.

The take-aways from this year are : always walk back to the station leaving at least 35 minutes from the main exit; and always arrive early in order to get in by 09.20.

Comfortable shoes, planned appointments, and lots of spitting…

We really enjoyed not being in expensive Verona this time, and ate well in two Peschiera ristoranti : Il Gabbiono Locanda di Maria (twice) and the Ristorante Inchiostro (the last night). Both excellent; the latter more adventurous. Special mention should go to Al Ponte Trattoria where two family members served perhaps 30 covers with hyper-efficiency and great food, value for money, and speed.

We flew back on Wednesday morning with Ryanair, leaving the hotel at 10.30 by taxi for the Villa Franca airport. (Verona’s, in other words. Baggage collection in Stansted was complicated by this)

An hour’s delay ( a lost flight plan??) was irritating, but we made it home in daylight.

Always good to be home!! Wood anemones abound, to be followed soon by bluebells…

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