Earlier this year, I received a phone call from a fellow blogger, Alessandra from 21grammy, inviting me to join her on a blog tour of her region. She was working with a local tourism cooperative to bring writers from all over the world to their little corner of Italy; a charming beach town on the Adriatic Coast, she assured me. It didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to get me onboard, although I wasn’t entirely certain of what I was agreeing to at first.
“So you’ll come, then?” she asked me.
“Sure. Where is it exactly?”
“Great. Where the hell is that?”
Back in 2008, I lived in Bologna for a short while. For those who haven’t visited “la dotta,” (“the learned one,” so-called for its university, the oldest in Europe), “la grassa” (“the fat one,” so-called for its heavy cuisine), or “la rossa,” (“the red one,” so-called for its red-tile roofs or communist leanings, take your pick), it’s worth adding to your next visit to northern Italy. While living there, I also spent a good bit of time in Parma where a few of my friends were studying music. So this was the Emilia-Romagna that I knew—the Emilia half—and probably the side that most foreigners know (if they know it at all).
However, after my weekend in Cesenatico, I feel like I’ve discovered the proverbial “undiscovered Italy.” The truth is, it’s only “undiscovered” to Americans. Italians and Northern Europeans are quite familiar with this area. This is the “right side” of the region (yes, a pun or two was intended there), otherwise known as Romagna. I really knew next to nothing about the area before my visit. It was the pleasant surprise of my summer blog tour.
So what’s so great about it? The short, philosophical answer is that it fits into my “sweet spot” for being not too chaotic and yet not too sterilized. If you read my previous post about Ticino, then you know that this area was just a bit too Swiss for me. And if you read my post about Agrigento, well…let’s not get into that again.
Cesenatico is a hub for sports enthusiast, and is also an ideal location for families. It’s not as crowded or as expensive as other coastal destinations in Italy. Great hotels, pretty piazzas, just enough tourist sites to fill up a relaxed itinerary. Everything you’d want in a vacation destination.
Furthermore, it’s also probably the cleanest area that I’ve ever visited in Italy, with a noticeable attention towards environmental sensitivity and sustainable tourism. Lots of bike paths, and the city government has even made some free bikes available for guests to use. This is a wonderful thing, because Cesenatico is a long, narrow town, and bikes are the easiest way to get around. Plenty of green spaces, too, and shady, tree-lined boulevards that run along the length of the coast.
Plus—perhaps above all—Cesenatico has the sea (which also means great seafood). The beaches have soft sand which slopes down to a shallow sea floor, making it very swimmer friendly. The waves are small, but the seabreeze makes it perfect for windsurfing, kite-surfing, and paddleboards. The water quality is constantly monitored, which has helped this stretch of coastline gain the “Blue Flag” award for environmental protection.
Along this lovely seashore there are over 120 beach clubs, bars, and restaurants. The beach club (stabilimento balneare in Italian) is something that we don’t really have much of in the U.S., especially in my home state of Florida. But I’ve come to really embrace it. You pay a small fee, and for that you get your own little piece of waterfront real estate for the day, complete with beach chairs, umbrellas, and access to all the services. Often there’s a little café if you want lunch, games for the kids, music, drinks, and watersports. For me, this is all a delightful economical convenience; I don’t have to bring anything except my bathing suit and sunglasses. Italy Magazine recently published a lighthearted look at this type of establishment if you want to know more.
People visiting Italy are always amazed by the sheer bounty of magnificent food that is so ubiquitous throughout the country. Indeed it’s one of the main reasons to tour this delicious landscape, from north to south. Really, once you get outside of the main tourist centers in Rome, Florence, and Venice and it’s hard (but not impossible) to have a bad meal in Italy.
Being from Florida, I’m partial to seafood—so the cuisine of Cesenatico appealed to me immediately. Only an hour after my arrival, my hosts at Hotel Lungomare offered me a light lunch with cold beer and my weekend was off to a great start.
All along the canal which cuts through the center of town, there are typical trattorie which feature fresh seafood prepared according to traditional fishermen’s recipes. We ate at just such a place that weekend, simply called, “La Trattoria.” The risotto al marinara was particularly delicious. Fish is also the star of two “sagre” during the year: there’s “Azzurro come il pesce” in the spring, and “Il Pesce fa festa” in the fall.
There are fancier places to eat, too. We enjoyed an extravagant aperitivo in the presidential suite of the Grand Hotel Da Vinci, while sipping Campari cocktails and overlooking the sea. This hotel was particularly evocative for me, because it reminded me so much of the Art Deco hotels along Collins Avenue in South Miami Beach. Besides a great restaurant, Hotel Da Vinci also boasts an amazing spa and a newly redesigned pool area. Very luxurious, but still quite affordable in the shoulder seasons.
As you may have guessed, I really like this area. In fact, I like it so much, I’m going back there in October, this time a little further south to Rimini. I’ll have a lot more to say about this venture in a future post, but suffice to say that this upcoming trip will be focused on getting more directly involved with promoting tourism in Italy.
In the meantime, if you want to know more about Romagna, check out Alessandra’s website. She is a lifetime resident of the region, and a font of great information for anyone interested in visiting. She’s Italian, of course, but writes her blog 21grammy in English.
So if you’re contemplating an upcoming vacation in Italy, do NOT overlook this area. Most Americans do, but the rest of the world is already onto this “undiscovered” location. You might not find a lot of museums filled with Renaissance masterpieces or towering ruins from ancient Rome. But you’ll find all the other things that Italy is famous for: beautiful scenery, nice people, great food, and a relaxing pace of life.