Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city
Photo: Tommaso Pecchioli/Unsplash
As Italy swelters in the early summer heat, writer Richard Hough in Verona shares his tips for keeping cool in the city this summer.

With the temperature in Italy soaring and this year’s first wave of the famed ‘caldo Africano’ sweeping the nation, a number of coping strategies can be employed to try and stay cool in the brutally hot Italian summer.

In Verona the temperature is now well into the thirties, and even through the night it rarely falls below 20 degrees.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and there’s barely a breath of wind in the air. Even performing simple tasks, like putting on a pair of socks (to be avoided at all costs if possible), cause an alarming outbreak of perspiration. Anything as vigorous as cycling to work or going for a jog becomes an energy-sapping endeavour that inevitably results in an unpleasant sweaty drenching. 

READ ALSO: Fried eggs and sweaty underpants: 10 phrases for complaining about the heat like an Italian

With the effective use of blinds, shutters and air-conditioning, some of our neighbours and friends boast of being able to keep their house at a relatively stable 19 or 20 degrees, a feat of household management we’ve never quite managed to achieve.

Noisy, expensive and generally unsatisfying, we tend to use our air conditioning system only as a last resort and instead endure the heat of our apartment like some kind of mildly unpleasant act of self-flagellation.

Ice-cream, of course, is an altogether more pleasant way to confront the summer heat.

To my squirming delight, the local gelateria even offered me a loyalty card earlier this week. On closer inspection, I was somewhat dismayed to calculate that I’d need to consume €100 of ice-cream before I received any reward! When you consider that a cone costs as little as €2 a pop, you have some idea of the scale of the task that lies before me.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Iced tea is another vital source of refreshment in these sweltering days. Before moving permanently to Italy ten years ago, I had always mocked the idea of cold tea. For me tea was brewed hot and strong with a splash of milk. The notion of ice-cold, sweet, peach-flavoured tea just seemed ridiculously self-indulgent. The first summer I spent it in Verona I consumed the stuff by the gallon. It remains one of the few things that can quench that insatiable summer thirst.

Another, of course, is beer. 

Verona is well-known principally as a wine-producing region, but in the summer months that intoxicating blend of barley, hops and water comes into its own, as the full-bodied red wines of the region momentarily take a back seat. Even my wife, who never drank beer before we came to Italy, is known to enjoy the occasional birra media in the summer months. 

Some of the best birreria in town even serve their beer in chilled glasses. If you can avoid getting your lip stuck to the glassware, this is a delightfully refreshing way to enjoy the ancient amber nectar.

As the popularity of locally-brewed craft beers has soared in recent years, a number of new bars have sprung up in Verona to cater for the seemingly insatiable demand. Amongst the best of these new arrivals is the Santa Maria Craft Pub, near Piazza Erbe. Perhaps I can persuade them to introduce a loyalty card?

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Verona’s Piazza Erbe. Photo: Shalev Cohen/Unsplash

The hills above the city also provide some respite from the stifling heat below, and the Verona Beer Garden in the Torricelle hills opens every year from May to September. The Beer Garden offers the standard range of German beers and simple fast food, as well as live music, crazy golf and beer-pong, in the blissfully cool surroundings of the Veronese hills. 

This year has also seen the launch of the Mura Festival which runs from June to October. Mura is Italian for ‘wall’ and this exciting new addition to the local events scene takes place in the green ramparts of the ancient wall that surrounds the city. With everything from yoga and children’s theatre to Thai street food and arrosticini abruzzesi (barbequed lamb skewers), it’s another refreshing place to chill out and cool down after a day under the fierce sun. 

Of course, the best strategy for avoiding the heat is to leave the city behind you and head to the beach. In recent years we’ve done exactly that, exploring Sicily, Sardinia and Elba when the heat of the city gets too much. The region of Puglia, famed for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear water, has long been on our list too, but this year we’ve opted to stay local. With the ever-evolving pandemic situation, we took the decision not to be too ambitious with our travel plans. 

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With three months of school holidays to contend with, many Italian kids have already been dispatched from the sweltering cities, often with their obliging nonni (grandparents). We too will soon be decamping, returning this year to Bibione, a popular beach resort to the east of Venice on the Adriatic coast, where we’ve enjoyed simple family holidays in the past. 

Like many families, we’ve opted for a ‘camping’ style resort, but will be treating ourselves to a luxurious, six-berth ‘leaf tent’, fully equipped with air-conditioning, fridge/freezer and the all-important mosquito netting, as well as two sun loungers and a parasol on the nearby beach.

The only slight cloud on the horizon is that I’ll have to tear myself away from the beach for a few hours to return to Verona for the second dose of my vaccine. As long as I’ve got a supply of chilled peach tea for the journey, I think I’ll be ok. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be back on the beach in time for a quick pre-lunch dip in the cool Adriatic.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His new book, Rita’s War, a true story of persecution, resistance and heroism from wartime Italy, is available here. He is currently writing his next book about wartime Verona.


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