Sixty miles southeast in Romagna lies the Province of Rimini, which sits upon the Adriatic Sea and lays sway over the Riviera di Rimini and ‚ÄúLa Dolce Vita‚ÄĚ (the sweet life), a title native son Federico Fellini adopted for one of his most famous films.
It is also 60 miles northeast of Florence and chief destination for vacationing Italian families during the summer days. At night revelers from all over Europe turn it into the continent‚Äôs Miami Beach with a throbbing beat pulsing into the wee hours of the morning from the middle of June through August.
To enjoy the beaches and warm, buoyant Adriatic (the sea has a high salt content which makes it easy to float on the undulating waters) in relative peace and still partake in the nightclub scene, visit in the shoulder months of June and September. Otherwise enjoy the presence of millions of sun and fun worshipers who descend on the six main beachfront towns, 4,500 hotels and 900 restaurants, bars and clubs that inhabit the 30-mile span of beachfront.
In the off season the party goes away, but the beauty remains, especially in the Medieval hill towns and castles that cluster in the verdant valleys away from the sea. This is the Malatesta Seignory, where the family ruled from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and built 15 remarkable fortified villages and towns on top of rocky promontories that are all within a few miles of each other.
They often clashed, like the Hatfields and McCoys, with their neighbors, the House of Montefeltro from nearby Urbino, which necessitated the aerie-like structures.
The hill towns now guard lovely green and yellow fields of grains, fruits, vegetables, vineyards and olive groves that lend to the bounty of La Dolce Vita. I had no idea it would be so beautiful and the towns so relaxed and friendly, full of artisans and farmers who will directly sell you their wares, from textiles and pottery to cheese, wine and ‚Äúsalumi,‚ÄĚ and that‚Äôs no bologna.
On several occasions I also enjoyed family run restaurants in the villages, dinning on the local Romagnola cuisine. Products from the nearby fields flooded our table with Sangiovese wine, some of Italy‚Äôs best olive oil, handmade pastas, especially gnocchi made from specially grown potatoes, tagliatelle with meat sauce, and stuffed ravioli, piadina (flatbread served at every meal), dried salamis, fresh seafood, roast and grilled meats and sheep cheeses. Abbondanza!
Federico Fellini immortalized Rimini in his film ‚ÄúAmarcord.‚ÄĚ For many years he lived in room 315 at the Grand Hotel, where such dignitaries and celebrities like the Dalai Lama, Sophia Loren, Sharon Stone and myself have also stayed. It is the area‚Äôs turn of the century five-star hotel. Most of the other beach hotels are three and four star establishments and most close during the off-season.
Much of Fellini‚Äôs inspiration comes from the lusty and vibrant life of this seaside community, which has been a tourist destination for 165 years. You can spot the aging Lotharios, coquettish young women and other oddball characters that frequented his films walking the streets and disrobing on the beaches.
The shorefront is covered to the max in umbrellas and lounge chairs during the summer. To enjoy the comforts you must rent space on the beach, which is either owned by private parties or hotels (between $8 and $20 a day). The expense covers towel and shower services and waiters who will deliver food and drink. The shoreline and sea can be enjoyed free of cost if you just want a stroll and a dip.
Southwest of Rimini near Urbino is the 61-square kilometer Republic of San Marino, the third smallest city-state in Europe next to the Vatican and Monaco.
It is a Mecca for shoppers, numismatists and philatelists. Numerous outlet stores offer tax free discounts to neighboring Italy and the Republic makes a bundle off it‚Äôs stamps and coinage, selling them to tourists for inflated prices (yes, I paid $7 for a page of six stamps). You can enter the old city, which rests precariously on an outcropping of rocks by road or take the cable car ride straight up ($5).
Nearby is the Maranello Rosso, the famous Ferrari Museum. The cars are spectacular and like Walt Disney, Enzo is immortalized in a videotape presentation.
South is Urbino, a beautiful medieval university town with students composing over half the population and bookstores and cafes abounding. Be sure to visit the art collection in the Montefeltro family‚Äôs Ducal Palace.
About 25 miles north of Rimini is the city of Ravenna, whose yearly festival draws music lovers from all over the world. It also has some of the finest early Christian and Byzantine art and mosaics. Eight of its churches and monuments are Unesco World Heritage sites.
If you go:
Rimini‚Äôs fun but make sure you spend time in the surrounding hilltop villages and towns to get a real taste of the area. Country inns and hotels and family restaurants are welcoming and warm. Surprisingly, many of the locals have relatives who immigrated to the Detroit area and those who speak English have a distinct Midwest accent.
Try Hotel il Villino or Hotel della Porta in Santarcangelo or Hotel Oste del Castello in Verucchio and dine at Ristorante Calycanto in Santarcangelo and Alla Rocca in Verucchio, which has great home made Sangiovese wine served in an unlabeled bottle. In Verucchio visit the Malatesta Fortress, home to the ruling family.
Titano restaurant in San Marino has an amazing view of the surrounding valley. In the town of Santarcangelo di Romagna the Tufa caves are a main attraction and the town square is a great place to catch Italians relaxing on benches, meeting friends or strolling in the early evening. La Sangiovesa restaurant is very popular and the series of connecting rooms reminds you of the caves. As in most of this part of Italy biking is a popular way of traveling around town, surprisingly, especially among the older citizens.
Other hill towns not to miss include Montebello and the amazing fortress of San Leo and its cruel torture chamber. In the towns you can purchase local handicrafts, textiles, ceramics and liquors. On the coast, enjoy the sidewalk dinning at la Casina del Bosco or Caffe delle Rose in Rimini and sip one of their special Italian cocktails, like the Aperol Spritz, an apricot aperitif.
In Riccione, Da Carlo restaurant offers local seafood. The restaurant Posillipo rests on the bluff at Gabicce Monte and is a Michelin mentioned restaurant that deserves a star or two. The food was some of the best we had and it comes with a spectacular view of sunset over the Riviera di Rimini every night.
If you don‚Äôt have time to visit all of Italy on your trip, no worries. Drop by the theme park Italia in Miniatura in Viserba and breeze through the whole country in a few hours. This is a masterpiece of design done to scale and you can travel from the Alps, to the canals of Venice and streets of Rome and Naples ($20).
The Italian Tourist Office in Rimini www.riviera.rimini.it and Los Angeles, www.italiantourism.com, 310-820-1898, publish a number of free pamphlets and maps, information on special events, festivals, museums and castles, guided and self-guided tours, and places to stay in all price ranges. Just say you‚Äôre here for ‚Äú La Dolce Vita.‚ÄĚ