Nine reasons Hilton Head could use a friend like Verona

For nine days in June, a delegation from Hilton Head Island traveled to the Veneto region of Italy for a formal Friendship Pact signing ceremony with Verona Mayor Federico Sboarina.

By Carmen Hawkins DeCecco

They also met with the Verona Chamber of Commerce and Veneto officials in Venice to establish goals of the partnership. Why should Islanders care about a Friendship Pact with Verona, Italy? Because there is much to learn and benefit from this ancient Roman city that leads the world in production of wine and marble, and is the fourth most visited city in Italy. The following are just a few of the benefits noted on this initial whirlwind tour, but there is so much more to gain from this town known worldwide for romance.

1. Beating the heat
Positioned at 45.4384°N latitude, and 10.9916°E longitude, Verona temperatures are similar to Hilton Head Island which lies at 32.2163°N latitude, and 80.7526°W. It can be as steamy there as in Hilton Head in the summer, however Italians don’t feel the need to set thermostats to sub-zero temperatures. Most enjoy outdoor seating in the piazzas under umbrellas while restaurants prop doors open, allowing cross breezes through. Many people waved hand-held fans to stay cool during outdoor events. This may sound grueling, but the body adjusts accordingly. And frankly, not subjecting ourselves to the arctic shock going into and out of restaurants seemed much easier on our systems.

2. Water sports
Lake Garda, the largest in Italy, is known for its crystal clear water, and hosts a world-class sailing regatta. For all the water sports Hilton Head offers, a sanctioned boating competition in our future would be a boon to the annual roster of sporting events. Verona could lend guidance on such a venture.

3. Eco-friendly development
Mayor Sboarina is known for his passion for conservation, and Verona is very pedestrian-friendly. Since taking office last year, he has implemented a successful green bus program to reduce carbon emissions around the city, and has plans for more city parks. As everyone here knows, modern-day Hilton Head as envisioned by Charles Fraser back in the 1960s hinges on green-conscious development. There is much we can learn from each other in this area.

4. Arts and culture
Verona knows how to entertain on the grandest scale imaginable. The day of the ceremonial signing was also the opening night of the Opera Festival season, held in the Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater built in 10 AD. Graciously, Verona treated the Hilton Head delegation to La Traviata, a glorious performance in front of a sold out audience of 14,000. It never escaped the Hilton Head group that we were sitting where ancient Romans once sat cheering on gladiators back in the day. Mayor John McCann and town manager Steve Riley were invited to a pre-opening night black-tie gala with dignitaries from all over the region. Later, President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, arrived to celebrate the announcement that Verona had been chosen as the site for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

5. Historical preservation
While Hilton Head continues building on its past with the opening of Mitchelville Freedom Park, and the recent shell ring archeological discoveries, it’s important to note the Veneto region is riddled with amazing ruins, medieval-era fortresses, walled cities, and breathtaking statuary. Awe-inspiring, but also educational, as Islanders learned about how much of Verona has been built on foundations of times past, even two thousand years ago.

6. Exchange student programs
Dean Bob Le Favi at USCB originally presented the sister-city proposal to Hilton Head’s Town Council in June 2017, receiving unanimous approval. Bob and Richard Collins (who also runs Inlingua Verona, an international language school) are exploring exchange programs for both faculty and students at the high school and college levels between Hilton Head and Verona.

7. Food and wine
Verona is the number one producer of wine per square acre in Europe. Thanks to the comprehensive knowledge of Richard Collins, director of World Tours Studio, Islanders were treated to vineyard tours of Zeni and Valpolicella, as well as dining at extraordinary local inns and restaurants.

8. Summer workers
Music to the ears, right? There is no shortage of skilled hospitality workers in Verona, which also boasts a robust tourist economy. An annual influx of experienced summer help for Hilton Head’s food and beverage industry would be a welcomed advantage, for sure, an option discussed with Verona’s Chamber of Commerce.

9. Romance
Known for inspiring several of Shakespeare’s plays, like Two Gentlemen from Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew, Verona is most famous for the romantic tragedy, Romeo & Juliet. A traveling outdoor performance that begins under “Juliet’s Balcony,” and delivered in both Italian and English is irresistible, while engaging the audience to the action and to the city of Verona. Everywhere we dined, flower sellers strolled through the squares, peddling single-stemmed roses to couples. Al fresco dining in Italy, wine, a rose, and Romeo & Juliet.

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