Discovering the valleys where the flavour of tradition has been transformed into history to be handed down.
However distant it may seem, the past is kept intact in the Valpolicella valleys thanks to the ancient villages, villas, natural landscapes and, in particular, the excellent wines that have been produced here for centuries.
Important men of letters and leaders have appreciated and testified to the uniqueness of this area located in the Veneto region, precisely north of the province of Verona and close to Lake Garda. One of them was Frederick Barbarossa who, in 1177 by means of a decree, made the name “Valpolicellae” (valley of the many cellars) official by naming the production area of Acinatico wine, the first real predecessor of today’s “Recioto della Valpolicella”, in great demand among the aristocratic class of the Empire.
Today, Valpolicella has not only an enviable history of winemaking, but also historic villas and picturesque villages, parish churches and abbeys, the fantastic views offered by the range of valleys that make it up, an excellent gastronomic tradition, natural attractions such as the Ponte di Veja, one of the largest natural bridges in the world, and the marble quarries for which Valpolicella was once as famous as it was for its wine.
Furthermore, there is a correlation between the two aspects: the greater quantity of calcium carbonate in the soil, due to the corrosion of the marble, gives the wine its particular characteristics such as softness and reduced acidity.
Whether you want to visit Valpolicella for the day, for the weekend or for a longer holiday, it makes little difference: either way you will have many destinations and activities to choose from. And, if you keep following me, we will see together which are the main ones and the most popular with tourists.
What to see in Valpolicella
[ back to menu ]
So that you can get your bearings in the best possible way, I will provide you with a simple and concise guide. Whatever your interests, I bet you will find many places, activities or attractions that suit you.
Ready to explore the hidden beauties in the seven municipalities of Valpolicella? 😉
1. SANT’AMBROGIO DI VALPOLICELLA
This municipality of about 12,000 inhabitants hides within it one of the most beautiful villages in Italy: the village of San Giorgio di Valpolicella, also known as “Ingannapoltron”. The curious nickname is due to the fact that the village is located on a hillock that was once only reachable by a long and strenuous walk, despite the fact that from below it appears to be closer.
Speaking of the village of San Giorgio, you cannot fail to mention the Romanesque parish church that stands there: inside we can see frescoes dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, an ancient baptismal font, a museum rich in historical and artistic artefacts, and finally the external cloister, one of the most photographed spots in Valpolicella.
2. NEGRAR DI VALPOLICELLA
In this town, considered one of the best in Veneto in terms of quality of life, you will immediately notice the centre that preserves the historic Negrar, created between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; moving outwards, then following the ring that surrounds the historic centre, you will encounter a residential area of modern character.
Among the many points of interest in this area, Villa Rizzardi stands out with its Pojega garden. It is one of the most typical examples of an Italian garden, commissioned by Antonio Rizzardi from one of the greatest exponents of neo-classical Veneto architecture: Luigi Trezza. The villa has a horseshoe layout and is the site of weddings, receptions, gala dinners, fashion shows and the prestigious “Antonio Canova” Sculpture Competition.
It is the Pojega garden in particular that gives the structure its relevance, as it seems to “penetrate through the windows of the villa” when one visits its interior. In the garden you can see a statue of Romeo and Juliet in the green amphitheatre, considered the most important architectural element, numerous statues of figures from Greek mythology, the romantic wood surrounded by stone statues of wild animals, the fragrant citrus garden and the fountain rotunda. The latter is characteristic for the pool of water inside it, which makes visitors want to sit and enjoy the wonder of this immense garden.
3. SAN PIETRO IN CARIANO
A town centre capable of enlightening the eyes of tourists as much as those of the inhabitants themselves. I recommend that you visit it on foot thanks to the Sanpietroincammino project: five routes created by the municipality to enjoy the green natural wonders and the numerous beautiful historical villas, to be discovered while walking. Thanks to the lords of the time, today, strolling through this splendid municipality, we can enjoy sumptuous palaces surrounded by immense parks, rich in fountains and statues that certainly do not go unnoticed.
You cannot visit San Pietro in Cariano and miss its vineyards and wineries, among the most renowned in Valpolicella, offering guided tours followed by food and wine tastings.
If your passion is architecture, you should also carve out some time for a guided visit to the Romanesque Pieve di San Floriano, one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the area. The façade has remained almost completely original and, on the northern side, we find the bell tower that takes on a romantic brick-red colour when the sun sets over Valpolicella: an absolutely unmissable sight, not for the faint-hearted!
Gold medal town for civil valour thanks to the solidarity of its inhabitants. Here, in fact, during the Second World War, many people from the town offered care and assistance to thousands of people deported to concentration camps, among whom was Primo Levi, who wrote about it in his book “If This is a Man”.
Here, too, there are many villas and religious sites to visit, among which the Cathedral of San Lorenzo stands out. The name of the city is due to the symbiosis its inhabitants have with the Adige River that flows through it, fundamental in the past for irrigation, trade and navigation.
If you visit Pescantina between the beginning of June and the end of August, you will come across the “Fishing at the Table” event. During this event, many dishes based on this sweet fruit will be served in all restaurants in and around Pescantina, as the cultivation of the Pesca di Verona PGI is fundamental to this area. Need I say more to entice you to visit this “juicy” city?
The variety of landscapes is the main feature of this municipality. Starting from the bottom, you will encounter long stretches of vineyards, olive groves and orchards. Moving towards the more mountainous area, you will cross woods and meadows until you come across the natural wall erected by Monte Pastello, characterised by the “scars” of the quarries used to extract the red marble of Verona. The area is rich in watercourses: this peculiarity has led to the town being given the nickname “Valle dei Progni”. There is no lack, especially in the lower part, of typically Mediterranean plant varieties.
In short, a must-visit if you love nature and its wonders, especially the Grotte di Fumane where what is now considered the oldest painting artefact in all of Europe was found: a painted stone. Studies show that this cave was inhabited during the centuries characterised by the passage from Neanderthal Man to Homo Sapiens. The cave is located 6 km north of Fumane and almost the entire road can be travelled by car, excluding the last 600 metres to be covered on foot.
If what fascinates you most is art, you will still find places of interest that suit you: above all Villa della Torre and the Sanctuary of the Madonna de La Salette.
Villa della Torre was one of the fundamental sites of the Italian Renaissance, a place designed as a home for peace of body and soul. Today, it is home to the “Villa della Torre” winery, which bases its principles on the valorisation of two Valpolicella wines with a strong identity: Valpolicella Classica and Lugana.
The famous Sanctuary of the Madonna de La Salette was erected in 1859 after the Madonna appeared to two shepherd children in Grenoble. By erecting this sanctuary, the inhabitants of Fumane were asking for grace from the Madonna, given the complicated historical period they were going through. In fact, in the second half of the 19th century, Europe was hit by phylloxera, which had devastated this town, linked to viticulture as its only source of livelihood. The sanctuary is located on a rocky niche and is considered a panoramic balcony from where to observe the expanses surrounding Fumane. The path leading to the sanctuary is partly asphalted and partly characterised by evocative paths and steps.
6. MARANO DI VALPOLICELLA
In the town of the Tibetan bridge we have, probably, the best example of what Valpolicella was like in ancient times: a town characterised by an enviable hilly landscape, rich in terraces that order the cultivations, without deviating from the natural features of the land. A true paradise on earth full of orchards, woods and above all vineyards, planted, however, only recently.
If it is adventure you are passionate about, you will certainly be interested in discovering the Covoli, caves that can be reached via an evocative natural path, but above all you cannot miss a walk on the Valsorda Tibetan Bridge. Suspended at a height of 52 metres, the bridge is part of an almost 6 km long path that starts from Malga Biancari, reaches the Mulino del Cao locality and then returns to the starting point. An experience, that of the bridge, as singular as it is adrenalin-pumping, to be tried at least once in a lifetime!
7. SANT’ANNA D’ALFAEDO
An ideal destination for trekking enthusiasts thanks to the itinerary that, starting from the town, climbs up to the summit of Corno d’Aquilo. Apart from the almost obligatory stop at a shepherd’s hut (in Italian, “malga”) along the route to taste something typical, the pure air that can be breathed along this route among pastures, wooded areas and caves makes the walk pleasant and stimulating.
If you do not consider yourself a “trekker” and simply want to enjoy the landscape and good food, there is no better stage! In the small hamlets near the borders you will find cosy “malghe”, where you can taste traditional Valpolicella dishes, obviously paired with local wines and some of the most romantic views offered by the uncontaminated nature typical of these valleys.
What to do in Valpolicella: food, wine, events & relaxation
[ back to menu ]
The Valpolicella wine region is famous throughout the world for the fine wines it produces; therefore, one of the main activities I suggest you consider is a visit to the local wineries as well as the food and wine tastings on offer.
However, Valpolicella is also much more: the various archaeological sites for history enthusiasts, the thermal resorts for those who want to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. And, for those who love nature and outdoor sports, it offers numerous destinations and various ways to reach them, including hiking, cycling and trekking.
If your preferences lie somewhere in between but you don’t have much time to do all the activities on offer, I suggest a loophole that manages to combine outdoor excursions, wine and food tasting: wine trekking.
NATURE AND SPORT
In addition to the characteristic historic centres, the seven municipalities of Valpolicella offer the opportunity to immerse oneself in the unspoilt nature of the valleys.
One of the most popular destinations for tourists is the Ponte di Veja bridge in the Lessinia Regional Nature Park in Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo where, amidst the rocky ravines, you can find the “covoli” (hollows) from where prehistoric men traded precious materials throughout Europe. You can admire this majestic natural rock arch by walking on it or from the area below. It can be reached on foot via paths and steps lined with information boards and benches to relax and admire the beautiful landscape.
In the municipality of Fumane, in addition to the Fumane Caves I mentioned earlier, you will find the marvellous Molina Waterfall Park. This natural oasis of eighty thousand square metres in the middle of Valpolicella is the ideal place for those who love nature excursions among silky waterfalls, varied and protected flora and fauna. Also in Fumane, you can test yourself by tackling the six nature trails of Breonio to be covered on foot or by mountain bike.
If what you are looking for is a relaxing walk with a well-marked route that leads you without any difficulty to your destination, then the “Sentiero dei Forti” is for you. The hike starts in the village of Ceraino and ends in the ruins of the Fortress of Monte. This route crosses several forts and offers hikers the chance to catch a glimpse of other forts in the distance, as well as the suggestive views along the way.
FOOD AND WINE
Not only wine in Valpolicella: thanks to its local specialities, among the enchanting valleys and its majestic rocky mountains, you can fully immerse oneself in the Mediterranean Diet.
First and foremost, we must mention the extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil produced in Valpolicella has a characteristic green-gold colour and is made from olives harvested exclusively by hand in autumn. This typical product with PDO certification owes its special characteristics to the favourable climatic conditions of the area.
The cheese-making tradition is still handed down today on the farms in the high mountains of Valpolicella. Among the cheeses to be tasted is Monte Veronese, a cheese typical of the Veneto region in general. In this area there is a variant whose name alone makes your mouth water: “Monte Veronese ubriaco all’Amarone”. It is produced by soaking the cheese in grape must, which is left to rest for a certain time depending on its size and then matured for about six months.
Let us now move on to the highlight: Valpolicella wine! First of all, the appellations depend on several factors: a wine produced in Valpolicella is called “Classico”, if it is produced in one of the municipalities that are part of Valpolicella Classica, i.e. Fumane, Marano, Sant’Ambrogio, Negrar and San Pietro in Cariano; it is called “Superiore”, if the alcoholic degree on consumption is higher than 12% and it is aged in barrels for a minimum of 12 months; on the other hand, it is called “Ripasso” if, before ageing in casks, the wine is repassed using Amarone marc that has already been pressed and acquires body; finally, it is called “Valpantena” if produced in the Valpantena valley area.
The wine production starts with rigorous hand harvesting, followed by crushing and destemming of the grapes and then fermentation at a temperature of between 25 and 28 °C, and finally maceration for 10 days and ageing in steel barrels for about a year.
If, after many tastings and guided tours among the villas and unspoilt nature, you feel the need for some well-deserved relaxation, there are two facilities that are just right for you: Aquardens and Villa Quaranta.
The first, known as Italy’s largest thermal spa, can help you rediscover well-being thanks to its spa, “harmony grotto”, Turkish bath and numerous relaxation areas inside.
The second, on the other hand, is a villa where you can benefit from both the classic saunas, thermal baths and whirlpools and, if you love to try new experiences and new ways of relaxing, from Vinotherapy and Olivotherapy treatments.
EVENTS IN VALPOLICELLA
Music, accompanied by wine, takes centre stage during Sound Polis Cellae: an event that usually takes place on a midsummer evening with live music, wine and food tastings. Each winery on the Valpolicella wine route (along which the event takes place) offers those with a ticket an evening of music, wine, art and good food through partnerships with local restaurants. Tickets for the event can be purchased online and are valid for all 16 wineries.
Through the collaboration between the municipality of San Pietro in Cariano and the Slow Food Garda Veronese association, the San Floriano Slow Food Earth Market was created. The event, which usually takes place during the second half of November, aims to promote local foods, protect biodiversity and promote the culture of good and fair food.
In Negrar di Valpolicella, at the end of summer, the Magnalonga Settembrina takes place: a food and wine itinerary aimed at tasting traditional local food and wine among vineyards and wineries, all flavoured by the special atmosphere that prevails in these places in the days immediately preceding the start of the grape harvest.
Every year, the second Sunday in October is dedicated to the Val Polis Cellae, probably the most important event among those organised in the Valpolicella wine region with the aim of keeping alive the combination of art, wine and gastronomy. At each edition, some of the most important wineries of the Valpolicella Wine Route are selected. During the wine tasting, they will entertain diners with art exhibitions, visits inside the cellars, typical Veronese specialities and, above all, His Majesty the wine.
How to get to and around Valpolicella
[ back to menu ]
You can get to Valpolicella by car, train, plane or bus. The reference airport is the “Valerio Catullo” in Verona Villafranca, the station is Verona Porta Nuova. From here it takes just 41 minutes by bus (urban line 21) to reach Valpolicella. The service departs from Via Scalzi in Verona and ends at the San Pietro in Cariano station and the timetable may vary on holidays and weekends.
The journey by car from Verona is just 17 minutes for a distance of 14 km. Once you have crossed the Adige River, you will have to take provincial road 4, which will take you to Santa Maria di Negrar.
Now that you finally know what to see in Valpolicella, all you have to do is pack your hiking boots and a glass and set off for the valley of many wineries!