Adriatic: In the pink on the Rimini riviera
It is an accident that I was born in Ireland. I was designed for the sea and sun. And Fellini films. And a Ducati. Maybe even a Ferrari. I was definitely intended to be Italian and a few days on the Adriatic, visiting Rimini and Ravenna, confirmed me in that view.
The sun shone. The sea was warm. The beach was comfortable. The food and atmosphere were magnificent. All this only a little over two hours away from Dublin on Aer Lingus to Bologna in time for a late lunch. Then on to Rimini for a sun-soaked swim where the water is a temperature that gives pleasure and not pain. This Adriatic coast, the Emilia Romagna region, has 110km of beautiful coastline that I was made to enjoy.
Well, you could do it that way but I stopped off in Ravenna which is about half-way and well worth a visit. There are winding, walkable streets and in the afternoon sunshine plenty of places to stop for coffee. I committed a faux pas. I ordered a cappuccino. "You never have cappuccino after 11 in the morning. That is as bad as sucking an ice cream cone. You turn the cone and lick," said the charming waitress. Then she brought me my cappuccino! We are a hospitable lot, us Italians.
Ravenna is home to six Unesco monuments. The Venetian square dates to the 1400s. There are cobbled streets and people riding bicycles everywhere. And stylish shops.
Italians take their clothes, cars, food and history seriously. Dante is buried opposite my hotel. He died in 1321 and the tomb was built in 1780, local monks having hidden his bones in the meantime.
Five minutes away, I was open-mouthed at the mosaics in the small mausoleum of Galla Placidia. She was the daughter of a Roman Emperor who died in Rome in 450 and, incidentally, is not buried there. The mosaic of night sky with golden stars and cross depicts the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus has a beard in some and that represents his time on earth. In others, he is clean-shaven and that depicts him in paradise. The Sixth Century Basilica nearby is a regular church and worth visiting for the depictions of peacocks. Wow.
We ate in Al Cairoli and began with a sparkling white Tizzano Frizzante which, at 11pc, is pleasantly light. We didn't seem to order but magnificent cold cuts and bread and raw vegetables were served in a small colander. Vegetables are grown locally and the celeriac was delicious. This was followed by the very local Parmagiano Reggiano drizzled with local 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. Then up the street to the beautiful Teatro Alighieri.
We were in the middle of the two-month-long Ravenna Festival which takes place in June and July and the Chicago Children's Choir were in town. They did a brilliant Michael Jackson routine.
We emerged into the warm night air and ambled to a street-side bar where I enjoyed a cold local beer before closing time which was surprisingly early but then, it was a Thursday. I returned to Hotel La Reunion and for the first time ever, slept in a circular bed in the appropriately named Suite Galla Placidia.
Up early and off to Rimini some 45 minutes away with sunflowers in the fields, polytunnels, and a lot of people working. This is the stomach of Italy. We entered Rimini by the Arco di Augusto which is about 2,000 years old. Rimini has an unspoiled long sandy beach where people fly colourful kites and families play volleyball and beach games. Thirty degrees with a gentle breeze and I got to page 250 of I Am Pilgrim which had been given to me for the trip. I complained loudly about the 900 pages. Now I was devouring it.
Film lovers will know that Fellini was born in Rimini. He made Amarcord (I Remember) here. There is the Fellini bakery, still owned by members of the Fellini family, and a niece, Francesca, is in the process of restoring a cinema just opposite the bakery to show the great man's films. As a youth, he looked longingly at the Grand Hotel and wondered what kind of people stayed there. In later life, he kept a permanent suite there.
I went to the Pink Night party, or Notte Rosa, which happens on the first weekend in July. The whole town turned out for a family party with a pink theme. The hotel was pink. The flower vases were magnificent with goldfish swimming in them. More importantly, the fizz was pink. We began with Rosantico, a sparkling rose. All the great and beautiful were here. Italian rocker Piero Pelu walked past me with his security detail, looking every bit the star. His band, Litfiba, rocked the nearby square and the locals knew all the words.
The atmosphere was holidayish, very family-friendly and relaxed. Despite my best intentions, I was persuaded to take a ride on the ferris wheel. I actually enjoyed it. Great view, and when we were back on the ground, the pink night fireworks display lit up the sea and beach.
Breakfast and a swim in the pool is a good way to start any day. Rimini has good shops and restaurants, and I enjoyed both. There is an area just beside the bridge where the local artists had a field day painting murals with a Fellini theme on the houses.
Back through the main square, there is a statue of Julius Caesar. In 49BC, he crossed the Rubicon, honest, some 18km away. This was essentially an act of war and he gave his famous "The die is cast" speech in the main square where his statue stands. The square is now named Piazza Tre Martiri after three young partisans who were publicly hanged in 1944 for sabotaging a threshing machine to disrupt the grain supplies being shipped to Germany.
Today it is a place to sit and watch the world go by. The pace is leisurely. This is bicycle land. Everyone cycles on boneshakers with baskets for their groceries. People don't even lock them.
We ate a beautiful lunch at La Marianna in Viale Tiberio and I was reminded again that we are in Italy's stomach. Lunch just kept on coming. It began with a 11.5pc Pignoletto, then salad with parmesan and sardines. Next a squid salad followed by mussels. Every time we said, "that was a lovely meal", another course seemed to appear out of nowhere until finally we reached the lemon sorbet. And finally, finally a beautiful wild fennel green digestif.
After that, I needed a walk. But instead we went for a cooking lesson. Agriturismo was growing and we visited the Renzi olive farm where I learned to make piadina (thin flatbread). Just give me some flour, olive oil and a small jug of warm milk and I am away. My rolling pin technique was superb. The Renzis have been growing olives for seven generations, I was told by Cleto Renzi: "In my home, everyone will die under an olive tree." There is nothing this man doesn't know about olives.
The cookery lesson was helped by his son Enrico. Enrico and his wife are both engineers but they help out with the tourists at weekends. Idly, I asked Enrico what he did and learned he was part of the design team for Ducati exhausts. I happen to love my Ducati Multistrada and this was almost as good as playing golf with Rory McIlroy. Enrico and I cooked and bonded and discussed how good Ducati bikes sound.
The following morning, there was time for a little more walking in the beautiful city of Rimini. The House of Malatesta ruled here from 1295-1500 and the family is associated with Al Tempo Di Sera where there is a Giotto cross.
We went into the Holy Virgin Mary Church, which is very plain outside and very ornate inside. Next door are great shoe shops with Baldinini and Casadei which I am told rival Gucci and Prada. There is the beautiful Tiberius bridge where seawater teeming with sardines enters the Marecchia river.
In nearby Romagna, the names of owners are tiled on the houses and there are murals everywhere, some depicting well known scenes from Fellini films.
Ah yes, the Mastersonni clan feels at home in the stylish land of Fermi, Ferrari, Puccini, Armani, Rossi, Pavarotti, Bocelli, Bruni, and of course, Sofia Scicolone, though you probably know her as Loren.
John travelled to the Adriatic Riviera with Topflight, Ireland’s Italian specialist who offers holidays throughout Italy, including Sorrento, Lake Garda, Sicily, Tuscany, Puglia and Cinque Terre, to name but a few. Topflight offers a weekly programme from Dublin to the Adriatic Riviera and features the beach resorts of Rimini and Cattolica. Topflight has also introduced the family-friendly resort of Camping Cesenatico Village.
For 2018, La Notte Rosa takes place on the weekend of July 6. Weekly prices include return flights from Dublin, airport transfers, accommodation for seven nights, 20kg baggage and all taxes.
For further details and to discuss Topflight’s holiday options, call 01 240 1700, visit www.topflight.ie or visit your local travel agent.
TAKE TWO: Top attractions
Power and glory
Rimini streets are very walkable. The statue of Pope Paul V, a Borghese who persecuted Galileo, is impressive. I asked our guide how she felt about non-Italian Popes. She smiled. “We are still in charge.”
Montegridolfo, a hilltop village, boasts the Hotel Relais Palazzo Viviani, a 13th Century castle, that was renovated in 1994 by fashion designer Alberta Ferretti, who has her studio in nearby Cattolica.
Read more:The Italian Bucket List: 25 things to do in Italy before you die!
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