Il Relais Verona – A Review By Punam Mohandas
I am hard put to describe the Il Relais; to call it a ‘hotel’ would not do it justice as it puts one in mind of a sterile, formal atmosphere with no character and to call it a ‘B&B’ evokes the image of simplicity and homely charm. And the Il Relais is anything but the above.
This really small property (it has only four rooms) is the epitome of understated opulence, filled with lovingly collected antique artefacts by the owner.
There is no Reception “area” as such, just a study desk surrounded by books and statue busts. The check-in is perfunctory and one is escorted almost immediately to one’s room by the reliable and helpful Guest Manager, Federica, who handles the business end of things for Il Relais.
Each room is decorated in a different style and categorized as Standard or Superior – although there is nothing so commonplace as the designation about any of the rooms! Each room has a tiny, wrap-around balcony, while only one has a sizeable terrace. All rooms are supplied with electronic safe, minibar, bathrobe, bathtubs and hair dryer. In a particularly thoughtful touch, there are coffee table books on Verona placed in each room. Rather surprisingly, the rooms are all air conditioned too (most often, European homes and homestays do not have air conditioning as the weather does not require it.) Il Relais also provides free wifi connectivity.
Standard room no. 1 offers a side view of the castle and the river. The double bed is dominated by a beautiful antique mirror above the headboard, while cushions in tea rose offset the wooden flooring. Standard room no. 4 has a stunning Venetian glass wall mirror. Colourful paintings take pride of place in this space, which is different from no.1 only in that it has no dining table.
The Superior rooms are bigger in size than the standard. Number 2 offers a direct view of the castle. A round, two-seater table is accentuated by antique urns, statues and other artefacts.
I was in room no 3, a Superior category and the only one with the terrace. However, this terrace, which gives on to the street view, is hidden by creepers and the garden below and so almost completely secluded. With round, dainty tables and delicate chairs in white with high, wrought iron embellished backs, low hanging drapes and table lamps, this space looks more like a replica of a charming lady’s boudoir of the 18th or 19th century than a mere ‘terrace.’
This is also the only unit to have a separate sitting room that is again, filled with carefully chosen artefacts and antique mirrors; the whole effect is one of discreet luxury. The wall paneling and wardrobe doors are done up in a very light pistachio green that complements the wooden flooring, the whole embellished by colourful rugs and cushions in mustard and peach. The draperies in the doorways are very elegant and ladylike. The bed has a pair of really impressive, out-sized urns displayed above it. A velvet covered stool and large mirror form the dressing area that leads to the bathroom done up in brown marble. Bright pink and orange boxes tastefully display the toiletries.
The Breakfast Room is a cosy space with just enough seating to accommodate the room guests. The tables here are made from the ancient flooring of the rooms; nothing that is old and therefore valuable due to its age has been allowed to go to waste. There is a small pantry where guests can help themselves to tea or coffee through the day.
Although no cooked breakfast is served, it is nonetheless quite an elaborate affair, with muesli, croissants and the local biscotti (made unusually with semolina, cornmeal, sugar, butter and almonds) juice and a selection of fresh fruit such as cherries, strawberries, peaches and melon. I may say that the cappuccino served here is even better than the one downstairs in the restaurant!
Il Relais has a hushed, languid air about it; there is no hurry here, be it at breakfast or otherwise during your stay. Quite apart from the fact that it has limited rooms, there is no noise disturbance from outside, which is remarkable given the fact that it is near one of the main roads. While it is the restaurant that faces the castle, the hotel part itself is tucked away in a cul-de-sac.
The 45-covers Locanda restaurant is not part of Il Relais per se, although it is owned by the same lady. Open for lunch and dinner, inside, it looks like any typical Italian ristorante however, as you go into the arbour enclosed by glass windows, you begin to appreciate its uniqueness. This is a truly well done (pardon the pun!) zone, with chandeliers, starched white linen and fine cutlery beautifully complementing the greenery outside. There is also a small garden area set with tables, for those who wish to smoke. Eating is a serious business at the Locanda. Course follows course, all served by smartly dressed male staff who are able to do a flambe as efficiently as chitchat casually with the guests. The grand finale is a dessert array, after which you are further offered a selection of cheeses…or biscotti and meringue…or cherries…or coffee…and one almost feels one is back where one started! The signature dishes during the summer are Risotto with peas or beef tartare, while in winter it is Risotti funghi (mushrooms) or horse meat (yes, Verona is known for and still serves, horse meat dishes.)
The Il Relais Verona has a most strategic location being just across the Castlevecchio, which means it is in the historic quarter of town and not far at all from the centre. The bus (ticket: 2 euros) from the train station stops outside the castle. The 14th castle is definitely worth a wander around and from here, you can head right down to the Adige river too – the second longest river in Italy – and dabble your toes in its cool, running waters. From the castle to the Piazza Bra is a 10-minute walk. The Arena, which pre-dates Rome’s Colosseum by 50-years, is just off this piazza. From the Arena, it is another 10-minute walk to the Piazza delle Erbe which is close to the famous Juliet balcony (Do bear in mind that, while Romeo and Juliet were but imaginary characters in Shakespeare’s play by the same name, there really were families by the names of Capulet and Montague. It is possible to see their homes from outside because of course, these are private residences.) From the piazza Bra, it is almost a 20-minute walk in the opposite direction to see Juliet’s tomb. I do not recommend this strongly however; for one, there is an entrance fee of 4.50 euros to see a plain, almost dilapidated stone grave. For another, Juliet did not even exist!
Verona is a busy stop on the tourist circuit although sadly, most people just do a day run to visit the Juliet balcony and don’t stop to take in the charms of this lovely city. Although Verona does have an airport, you may like to take the train either from Milan, a little over two hours away (roughly 11 euros) or from Venice just about an hour away (8.80 euros.)
IL RELAIS VERONA
TEL: +39 045 8036494
FAX: +39 045 8021039
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author.