Forget Bologna and Florence - here's the Italian resort favoured by Italians
Skip Bologna and Florence and stay at the Adriatic resort favoured by Italians, says Dee Finnerty. It's an ace base for exploring Emilia Romagna, too
Entering the Old Town of Rimini through its enormous Roman arch, I am swiftly transported into a traditional Italian lifestyle that I have longed to prove true.
Leisurely cyclists weave the streets as their canine companions sit upfront in baskets. Locals sit under canopies outside coffee shops. Boutique windows are lavishly decorated with the luxury wares of Prada, Margiela and Balenciaga.
Forget the jostling crowds of Florence. Here, in the shoulder month of May, I can meander around cobbled streets lined with quaint, pastel-toned houses and window baskets tumbling with flowers. I'm beginning to see why Rimini provided such inspiration for Federico Fellini. The film-maker grew up here, and almost 100 years since his birth, houses and streets are decorated with murals dedicated to him, and to famous works like La Dolce Vita.
It's not all about the town, however. As a beach destination, Rimini is a mainstay of Italian tourists. It also provides an excellent base from which to explore northern Italy - one reason more Irish tourists are awakening to the Adriatic resort. With Ravenna, San Marino, Bologna and Florence all just a short trip away, this is an ideal compromise for city slickers and beach bums alike.
The Emilia Romagna region is famous for its home-grown cuisine, so a trip to a winery is a must. We whisk ourselves away from the fresh morning sea breeze and, after a half-hour car trip, arrive at the scenic Collina dei Poeti winery. Here, we bask in the Italian countryside, snaking through olive trees and grape vines while observing tiny lizards scurrying about the rocks.
At the end of our stroll, the our guide explains the manufacturing process and, needless to say, we take a seat to sample the wares. It's the cherry on the cake for this day out. The only problem is deciding which bottle to bring back home!
Our next excursion takes us slightly further afield, but San Marino is certainly worth the visit.
The 61km2 Republic is in fact a micro state surrounded by Italy, governed by its own laws with a parliament resting atop its medieval walled town. Cobblestones and steep hills lead to remarkable views of the surrounding countryside - even just wandering the streets is a visual treat in itself.
It doesn't stop there though - San Marino is a shopper's paradise with lower taxes making it an ideal spot to pick up some bargains along the way. From pistachio liquor to high-end fragrances, you won't be disappointed discovering each small boutique - that's if you can tear yourself away from exploring the city's many historical sites.
The next day, we venture to Ravenna, again leaving the comforts of a day at the beach to delve into a new city.
We begin by visiting the infamous Basilica di San Vitale, one of the most important examples of Christian Byzantine art. The octagonal church is awe-inspiring - its dome towering above our heads, every inch decorated with golden, glimmering mosaics. Everything is in perfect symmetry. Any art history buff would be at home here.
After this mesmerising excursion, lunch and drinks are in order. We visit Ca' de Vèn, a tavern-like restaurant that gives you a chance to imagine what it would have been like on a night out in this town a few hundred years ago. With a medieval-style structure and wooden beams supporting barrels of wine above us, the restaurant combines old world with new. Here, I am served thick Strozzapreti pasta (that's 'Choke the priest' to you or I), as my guide relays the story behind its name. It was created to deter medieval priests - who were taking advantage of their status by turning up at restaurants for a free feed every day!
Over the next few days, I venture out on some more mini-excursions, immersing myself in the rich food and decadent wine of Emilia Romagna. But the simple pleasures of buying a gelato and taking a wander along the shoreline of the beach in Rimini, with my toes in the hot sand, is enough to make this break memorable.
Dee travelled to Rimini on the Adriatic Coast as a guest of Topflight, staying at the 3-star Hotel de France. Topflight offers packages during the summer months with weekly flights from Dublin, with prices from €529pp, including flights, bags and rep service. It also offers coastal resorts Cattolica, Cesenatico & Bellaria. (01) 240 1700; topflight.ie.