By Denise Mattia
North Americans seldom visit this small Italian town on the Adriatic Sea. Europeans know it as the hub of seaside tourism. Most also know that the famous movie director Federico Fellini was born here and has a suite dedicated to him at a famous hotel. (For those who don’t know, or who have forgotten, Fellini wrote and directed films spanning the middle of the last century. One, La Dolce Vita (1960), was updated in 2013 by academy award winner Paolo Sorrentino under the title of La Grande Bellezza. With all its modern notoriety, Rimini is steeped in history as well.
Arriving at Bologna I took a bus to the charming medieval town of Santarcangelo di Romagna. There aren’t mega-hotels here. Hotel Il Villino is a charming, rustic villa converted tastefully into 12 rooms each equipped with a bathroom and shower or tub. The tumultuous history concerning two powerful families, the Montefeltros and the Malatestas started here.
War and treachery, an unsuccessful marriage of unification, a Papal excommunication and immortalization in Dante’s The Divine Comedy exemplified the regions from La Romana to Marche from the Medieval Period to the Renaissance,. The Malatesta Fortess dominates the town of Verucchio, where the political and economic events shaped the Malatesta power and wealth. Today, mansions here are B&Bs and fortresses have been converted into museums. I ducked out of the rain to visit the Archeology Museum in Verucchio, which houses priceless pieces of jewelry, furniture, pottery and armor from the family’s reign.
Urbino to the south had been the economic and cultural capital of the Montefeltro dukedom. The Palazzo Ducal, built in the mid 15th century, is now the National Gallery of the Marche and houses one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world. From this site, I was driven up the steep, winding incline of Mount Titano, where, looming out of the mist at the summit is the fortress, basilica and turrets of the Republic of San Marino, the oldest (and smallest) sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. Once inside the main gate, the towns (there are nine within the walls) become a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets flanked by filigreed wrought iron gates that protect 1700 year-old stone buildings. Even though it was off-season, this colorful city was busy with tourists dawdling in souvenir shops. Climbing higher, I found a stunning view of the valley below at the Titano Hotel and Restaurant, where I stopped for lunch. Everyone loves Italian food and I’m no exception. The restaurant’s signature dish was pasta, cooked al dente, which brought out the flavor of the white truffles. A fresh, organic salad followed and cleansed the pallate. I’d wait for a dolce once I reached the town of Rimini.
Cappacini and the signature sweet dolce al cucchiato (spoon dessert) at the chic Caffe Delle Rose at Viale Vespucci were a refresher I needed to continue my sightseeing. The café also makes homemade pastries filled with cream or sweet rigotta cheese, a sandwich of brioche and ice cream, shortbreads, crepes, tiramisu an and of course gelati.
A tour of the 12th century Malatesta fortress at Montebello took me through the living quarters of the duke and his daughter, Azzurrina, who disappeared in 1375, and whose ghost is said to haunt the apartments. Farther to the north, on a high cliff overlooking the Marecchia Valley is the citadel of San Leo. Arms from the 4th through the 20th centuries are displayed in several rooms here. Toward early evening, I hiked through an underground network of grottos in Santarcangelo di Romagna and emerged at La Sangiovesa workshop, where I watched a demonstration of traditional “rust” painting on fabric, before dining sumptuously at the Sangiovesa Ristorente. It was late evening when I reached the famous Grand Hotel Rimini. The gracious 200-bedroom hotel was built in 1908 and is set in an exotic park with a large private beach. It’s been a national monument since 1994.
Fully rested the following evening (having enjoyed the amenities of the Grand Hotel, their private beach and the area, I took a bus to the south to look over the completely renovated Hotel Posillipo and Restaurant, which offers 30 rooms and two deluxe suites. The Riccione Conference Center there revealed a contemporary, multi-functional center suitable for meetings, exhibitions and all forms of entertainment. Dining at the restaurant was a gourmand’s delight. My fish dinner consisted of steamed lobster, deep fried squid, baked snapper and raw tuna. I made my way back to the Grand Hotel sated and sleepy.
The following day I explored the older historical sites in Rimini, walking under the Arco D’Augusto, the 1st century B.C.E. gateway to the old city, the Tempio Malatestiano, one of the most important churches of the Renaissance, and the Roman ruins at the Piazza Ferrari. Later that day, I toured the world heritage mosaics at Ravenna under the expert guidance of Verdiana Contibaioni and concluded the excursion by meeting the principals of the popular Ravenna Festival.
I ended my trip to this Adriatic region with a gala dinner in honor of Maestro Federico Fellini appropriately at the Grand Hotel. My next stop would be Florence.
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Alitalia flies from most major U.S. cities to Rome’s Flumicino Airport and connects to the G. Marconi Airport in Bologna or the Frederico Fellini Airport in Rimini (visit www.alitalia.com). Train and bus connections can also be made from most major cities in Italy.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.