Italy: Visiting the Adriatic? I'll have what they're having…

Pizza, pasta and pinot grigio. What’s not to love?

Mixed with culture and the sandy waters of the Adriatic, Italy has to be one of my favourite places. The fact that I studied Italian for my Leaving Cert makes me think every time that it will all come flooding back to me. It doesn’t. It’s worse I’m getting but I love trying.

Using Rimini as a base, a recent trip included a mixture of relaxation, sightseeing, indulging in gorgeous food and sipping very palatable wines.

As I get older I know I can’t just do the sunlounger thing all the time. So Rimini was a compromise between beach holiday and day trips. The beach area comprises mostly old-style small hotels backing on to the beach. Fifteen kilometres of sand and beach bars. I always thought that was what Rimini was all about but in fact there is a beautiful old town.

The Arch of Augustus provides an impressive entrance into the old town and building of the ancient Tiberius Bridge was started during the reign of Augustus but completed during the reign of Tiberius. It was the only crossing of the Marecchia River not destroyed during the Battle of Rimini in 1944.

I have never seen so many elegant women on bikes. Seemingly they have the saddles adjusted to the lowest in order to stop easily for a chat with their friends.

The old cobbled streets convene at the Piazza Cavour, and coffee shops and ice cream parlours abound.

In 1450 Sigismondo Malatesta, a descendant of the Malatesta family which ruled Rimini in medieval times, commissioned the reconstruction of the most significant building in Rimini – the Tempio Malatestiano. He was apparently a vile person and the building ended up serving little purpose except as a mausoleum to him.

Federico Fellini, renowned as the director of such films as La Dolce Vita, La Strada and Amacord, was born here and locals are very proud of their famous son. Murals adorn many of the houses in the old town and many of them depict scenes from his films. It’s like a wonderland.

The market is another wonderland purveying all sorts of wonderful fresh produce but the cheeses and pastas are particularly impressive. Pasta galore, including the strozzapreti – or ‘priest stranglers’ pasta, designed, it is said, to choke gluttonous priests who called to houses and expected to be fed back in the day.

After a wonderful lunch of ‘all you can eat’ from a vast array of vegetarian dishes at Osteria L’Angolo Divino, for the princely sum of €10 a head, we departed for the Republic of San Marino.

It is Europe’s oldest republic and has its own stamps, mint and football team and even its own army. I brought a 50 cent piece with San Marino on it home with me. That’ll impress the three offspring when I pass on.

With a population of 33,000 and covering just 61sqkm, the main source of income is tourism. The capital, also San Marino, sits on the slopes of Monte Titano. Lots of shops are tourist oriented and, rather incongruously, a gun shop sits alongside a toy duck shop. Shoot the duck?

The Public Palace is the town hall, and the design is similar to that of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

The capital was protected by three impressive looking fortresses, and the Basilica di San Marino is a beautiful building dedicated to the founder of the republic, Saint Marinus. Round every corner of this picturesque town there’s a treat for the senses, including a Museum of Torture.

The following day we discovered yet another nearby medieval delight – the town of Santarcangelo di Romagna, full of elegant buildings and quirky little shops.

An 84-year-old cobbler, who learnt the trade from his father and still works in his shop, was delighted to greet us. Every time you clap your hands in his shop an array of cackling witches attached to the roof do their thing. Needless to say the bold child came out in me.

The museum dedicated to the poet Tonino Guerra, who was born here, and the tiny Button Museum are practically next door to each other. We visited one of the 150 tufa (limestone) caves which criss-cross the area, and Helga, our wonderful guide and a very good singer, treated us to a hymn to demonstrate its haunting acoustics.

Collina dei Poeti is a tranquil winery just outside the village, and the owners were delighted to indulge us in fine food and fine wines. Vines, olive trees, mulberry trees create a wonderful setting for a wedding. The orchard provides a supply of quinces, arbutus and old-fashioned varieties of pears and apples.

The town of Cattolica is ‘the Queen of the Adriatic Riviera’ and totally deserving of its name. A seaside resort since the 19th Century, it has been recently upgraded and now boasts lovely squares with fountains and flowerbeds and with so much to see nearby.

Ice cream parlours with a vast choice of flavours was the order of the day and then a trip to the classy little port of Cesenatico with its canal and harbour fish restaurants.

Ravenna is another lovely city that we visited. Known for its mosaics from the Byzantine period, the elegant main square of Piazza del Popolo is sublime. Dante came to live here after his exile from Florence and died here in 1321 – and the city has kept his memory alive.

Food is revered in Italy, and the Adriatic Riviera is no exception. Tagliere, or wooden boards, piled with meat and cheeses and always accompanied with the warm flatbread called piadina. I really missed it when I came home. Piadina are often filled with ham and cheese, fish or many other fillings. Homemade pasta with clams, and then a main course of grilled pork or fish and a dessert of mascarpone cream cheese. All washed down with the delicious local Sangiovese wine. Is it any wonder I didn’t want to come home?

To quote Federico Fellini, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta”. Well Italy certainly is.

Getting there

Eleanor in San Marino, located on the slopes of Monte Titano


* Eleanor travelled to the Adriatic Riviera with Topflight, Ireland’s Italian specialist. She stayed at the 3* plus Hotel De France in Rimini.

For summer 2019, Topflight is offering the Adriatic Riviera as part of their bespoke Tailormade Italian holidays programme. Their Tailormade service allows clients to design personalised itineraries to single or multiple resorts and cities.

* A popular Topflight combination is the beach and city option of seven nights on the Adriatic Riviera combined with a two-night city break in Bologna.

* Call 01 240 1700, visit or drop into your local travel agent.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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