The range of hills to the north of Verona form the heart of the region’s wine making: Valpolicella. Bordering the hills of Lake Garda to the west and protected to the north by the Lessini mountains, Valpolicella is a valley of vines and villages.
It is a fascinating region, where the beauty of the rolling hillsides, covered in precious vines, punctuated only by stately villas and charming mediaeval towns, have been shaped by a rich culinary and wine-making tradition, creating some of the world’s most famous wines.
A land which has given us some outstanding wines
Vines have been cultivated here since Roman times but the region’s reputation really stems from a more recent age thanks to one of the world’s finest wines, Amarone, a very intense and strong red wine that was created completely by accident.
The King of Verona’s wines was created in the mid-1830s by the head of the Valpolicella wine cooperative, Adelino Lucchese, who had forgotten to stop the fermentation of a cask of Recioto (a straw wine, where fermentation is halted to retain more sweetness). The wine inside the barrel had completed its fermentation, creating a dry and full-bodied straw wine or, as we say in Italy, a superb “meditation wine”. In astonishment at the resulting wine, he is said to have exclaimed:
"This isn’t bitter, it’s extra bitter” or “amarone in Italian
Amarone from the Valpolicella is strong, with a normal alcohol content between 14 & 17%. It is an excellent accompaniment for braised beef, meaty stews (particularly made with game), or a traditional risotto with Amarone. It is such an important wine that, in my opinion, it deserves to be enjoyed on its own: it is excellent at the end of a meal, or just savoured in quiet contemplation. This is a region which can boast many fine wines, including Valpolicella Classico, which is only made from vines located in the historic part of the valley, Valpolicella Superiore, which is well-rounded and higher in alcohol, Recioto, a sweet and smooth straw wine which pairs well with cakes, fresh pastries and dark chocolate, and Ripasso, a wine which is literally a “re-passing” of the grapes used to make Amarone. .
The marble caves
There's more to the Valpolicella than just wine, it is also famous for its olive oil and since ancient times it has been an important centre for the extraction of valuable marble and tuff stone, evidence of which can be seen across the whole of Verona, giving it the nickname “Urbs Marmorea”, the city of marble. The Arena itself is almost certainly made from the pink marble that comes from this area.
Splendid hillside villages
Valpolicella is full of characterful little towns and villages which dot the hillsides like precious little stones. If you are in the area, do not miss a visit to San Giorgio Ingannapoltron with its magnificent 8th century Romanesque church. One of Italy’s most beautiful villages, San Giorgio owes its nickname of Ingannapoltron which means “deceiver of the lazy” to the fact that the pilgrims of the past coming from the plain would see the village in the distance and delude themselves into thinking they would soon be there, only to find that they had to climb up a very steep, twisting road.
There is another splendid Romanesque church in San Floriano, near San Pietro in Cariano. It dates back to the 12th century but there are records of a religious building here as far back as the year 905. History, nature and tradition live side-by-side in this fascinating region which is the perfect destination for a day trip into the countryside, savouring the colours, flavours and aromas of these beautiful hills.