We arrived in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, at the stroke of midnight. When I saw our bed – the size of a small football field – my mind could sing only one song: Joy to the world, the King has come. Our ceilings were high, our wallpaper silk. The bathroom was marble, the mirrors well-placed and there were handmade chocolates, on a little plinth, to welcome us. I pulled back the curtains. ‘A balcony!’ I squealed. ‘Just like the play indeed! I can call up to you, O bright angel.’
Mrs Smith ignored me and shed her clothes, replacing them, in nine seconds flat, with a white bathrobe: one of man’s greatest inventions. We called room service and waited in towelled stars on the bed. When it came, we lifted the silver domes and tore like beasts into tagliata di manzo. The steak was pink as a blush, soft to the knife, and salt and iron to the tongue. We slathered fresh burrata with olio and aglio, and praised the cows, sheep and olive groves from whence they came. After that, sleep came thick and deep. Our room was so soundless that Mrs Smith, a fierce proponent of ear plugs, cast her fluorescent orange friends to one side. When morning broke, we were fixed, and discovery could commence.
Palazzo Victoria is a beautiful unification of three 14th-century ‘palaces’ where the fusion of old and new is flamboyant. Subterraneous Roman ruins peek out from under glass walkways and original frescoes (regularly touched up by the Belle arte di Roma) are juxtaposed with – this bit is more Baz Luhrman than Zeffirelli – living walls, indoor waterfalls, butter-soft white leather sofas and mega light installations featuring short abstract films. Of the 71 rooms, the best have wraparound balconies, bombastic views and ivory bathtubs. Communal charms include an Olympic pool, well, pool table, courtyard gardens, and a bar with a Prohibition-themed cocktail list. (Mrs Smith advised that this was not a good idea before breakfast.)
Verona, needless to say, is a cracking destination for couples – the literary heritage of Romeo and Juliet is profound, and if you ignore the suicide bit at the end, very inspirational. We wandered out of the hotel through the regal, ramshackle Piazza delle Erbe, and within a minute, found ourselves at Juliet’s house, its archways palimpsested with decades of lovers’ graffiti. Later we tell a friend we of course stroked Juliet’s breast for a photo. ‘Didn’t she mind?’ he asked timidly, before he realised we were referring to a bronze statue (whose right mammary gland is supposedly lucky). Another fun thing to do is solidify your relationship’s eternity by writing your names on a padlock and attaching it to Juliet’s trellis.
‘We’ve not done it on the Pont des Arts, and we’re not going to do it here,’ Mrs Smith said firmly. ‘Now take a picture of me stroking the breast. And use the Retrocam.’
Verona’s true charm lies in its delicate size, and such superbly conserved architecture it has Unesco World Heritage status. Facades are high and fringed; some are mustard, others milky turquoise, and more still terracotta and fox red. And Shakespeare was right to big up the balcony. Here, they’re majestic, waterfalling with succulents and Rapunzel-esque ivy.
Another nice thing is, you never have to take the bus. Within a 10-minute amble, you can see the arena, the San Zeno basilica and some of the world’s worst mime artists. Also, there are apparently much fewer tourists per square metre than either Venice or Rome. That’s how we’re measured these days. From Gucci to tabbachi, Veronese shopping is leather-heavy and great. Mrs Smith even bought a whole new outfit, and it featured sequins.
She wore it that night for dinner at the hotel’s on-site Borsani 36, a ‘show kitchen’ manned by six chefs each armed with giant tweezers for precise plating. Homemade ravioli was cloud like and silver lined with smoked aubergine, and a Barbie-coloured beetroot risotto found its Ken in its salty, fiery seafood ragout. Then the beef! Again. What beef! I would marry that beef.
Being a lonely all-male team, the chefs took a liking to two potential Juliets and so divided our shared dishes with flair, elaborate pesto art and the occasional wink. Star-cross’d lovers must feel at ease in Verona: earlier that day, one porter had taken the opportunity of a lift-ride à deux with Mrs Smith to ask for her ‘Facebook name’…
Over dinner, Mrs Smith began to tell me about Roman gesture. She had been to Rome once. ‘We should do this to the chefs,’ she said excitedly, running her little finger down her cheek. ‘It means ‘mmm… delicious!’ ‘ I caught the waitress’s eye and was in the midst of the little finger move when Mrs Smith’s face fell. ‘Stop!’ She yelped. ‘I’ve just remembered. That one means ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Women! You can’t take them anywhere. Anyway. It had been a hard day’s eating; there came a point where we fancied bed again. Not a problem. We enjoyed a deconstucted tiramusu and the last of our local Valpolicella in the comfort of our room, delivered by a team of people, including a chef in a hat so high he had to bend slightly to enter through the door.
In total, we spent 40 hours in Verona, of which 70 per cent was happily at Palazzo Victoria. We never once considered joint suicide. A superb sign. We sped away back to Paris on a long train ride through the Alps after a breakfast of sanguinello mimosas, sugar-dusted sfogliatelli and cappuccini with milk hearts. Give me my sin again.