Rimini and Ravenna are located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, which is in the centre-north of the country. This is a region very much celebrated for its food (like all of the regions of Italy) such as Ragù sauce and Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese.
This was my third time in Ravenna but my first time in Rimini; a place I had long heard about but knew nothing about.
Rimini is a seaside town located on the north-east coast of Italy, on the Adriatic sea. Cross some miles of sea and you will reach Croatia, just to give you an idea of whereabouts it is located.
Rimini is usually most popular with Russian tourists, to the extent that some signs and menus come in Italian and Russian, however that is not the case at the moment due to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.
My partner was presenting in Rimini at SciVac, the Italian committee for veterinary surgeons of small animals, and I was fortunate enough to be off work for the May half term to go with him. As he was giving two presentations, they paid for two nights for us in the Grand Hotel Rimini.
This hotel is not just an accommodation but it is now categorised as a national monument, such is its beauty and history. It was built in 1908 and has survived a serious fire and damage inflicted during World War II. It became famous via Italy’s celebrated film director, Federico Fellini, who used to look through the gates longingly as a child who grew up poor, and once he was able to he stayed as a guest frequently throughout his life, always staying in the same suite. He even featured the hotel in several of his films! He even suffered the collapse that would eventually lead to his passing, in that very room. In 1994, the Grand Hotel Rimini was designated a national monument.
The rooms still contain original Venetian furniture from the 18th century and the room we had was quite small but lovely with a small chandelier and a sea view.
The hotel reception is stunning with a massive crystal chandelier and ornate vases and fresh flowers everywhere you turn. I have to say that it is the most elegant hotel I have ever stayed in and I was very lucky to be able to stay for free via my partner’s work.
There is a medium-sized pool that felt like it may have been heated, but that could just be due to the hot sun above. I managed to spend a few hours there before the skies opened and stormy weather kicked in that evening.
Rimini and Ravenna are both known for the piadina which is a kind of flatbread that you can fill with meat, cheese, and salad (the classic one contains scuaquerone, a liquidy milky cheese like the inside of a burrata, and rocket). The subtle difference is that a Rimini piadina is softer than the crispier Ravenna form. I took myself for one in the afternoon as I wasn’t allowed into the congress centre due to Covid restrictions on large gatherings. I ordered a piadina of prosciutto di parma and squacquerone with a fig jam along with a cocktail of Italicus bergamot and lemon liqueur and rosemary. There is just something about Italian flavours; the herbs, fruit, and botanicals, that is almost perfumed, in an edible way! They’re just light and beautiful and synonymous with summer.
I left the last bit of the piedina and a sparrow hopped onto the table and bravely pecked away at the wrap.
The mode of transportation around Rimini is via a mini ‘train’ which we hopped on to go to the restaurant for dinner. A warm wind swept in and the palm trees were swaying under a scattering of rain. The early summer heat of the day had been intensifying to the point of storminess and here it was. The restaurant had long windows all around which would have provided a beautiful view of the sea and sky if it had been sunny but it quickly got dark. We were served a six-course meal (small plates!) which consisted of mainly fish given that we were on the coast, and the most enjoyable Prosecco I’ve tasted to date. I normally find it a bit acidic and sticky back home but this one was light and fresh. In fact, it was the most enjoyble Prosecco I’ve tasted to date.
I was amused by a Venetian colleague of Andrea’s telling me about how the Aperol Spritz (made with Aperol, Prosecco and soda water) was invented where he’s from and he grew up with them costing maybe 2 euros and how shocked he was when he moved to the UK and found them costing around £8-12. He declared, in brilliant Italian dramatics, that it was “like a stab to my heart” when he saw this astonishing price in London (complete with mimicking a stabbing to his heart). It must sting though, having to pay through the nose for something so commonplace and affordable that originated where you did too.
The next day, we went for a long walk around Rimini and there isn’t much in terms of remarkable monuments etc, but it has a nice relaxed vibe: gelato shops and flowers everywhere and a cute Sunday antique market. It seems a wealthy area, and so I was a bit surprised but also pleased to see this piece of sprayed-on graffiti art illustrating the power and control of the patriarchy (for all genders).
We stopped off for another piadina then it was time to check out of that beautiful hotel and drive the 30 minutes to Ravenna.
I have been to Ravenna three times now as my partner’s mother lives there and I am surprised it is not more well-known in the UK given how pretty it is and the fact it is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ravenna is also a seaside town but is mostly frequented by Italian families. Andrea’s mum lives in an area of Ravenna called San Pancrazio which is small but richly populated with trees of pomegranate, peaches, lemons and hazelnuts and fields of corn and grape vines.
Nearby, right on the coast, is an area called Cervia where we have been for a few meals and there is Punta Marina, a local beach area where we spent a few days last summer. Italians are keen to remind me that this coast is far from the most beautiful area of beaches and sea and that one must venture to the south to see, or move across to the north-west to Cinque Terre or Portofino to experience the stunning, rugged cliffs and sapphire waters for which Italy is famed. However, I used to hear this a lot about Málaga, when I lived in Andalucía, Spain. Right away, people told me that Cádiz and Huelva near Portugal are where you’ll find the best beaches of southern Spain, and they weren’t wrong. It’s true. However, I have come to really appreciate rougher, more shingley and raw, familiar beaches just as much as velveteen postcard-perfect coastlines.
The city centre of Ravenna itself though, is where the history is.
Italy’s most celebrated poet, writer, and philosopher is Dante Alighieri, the equivalent of Britain’s Shakespeare or Spain’s Cervantes. He was born in Florence in 1265 and wrote ‘The Divine Comedy’ which is an allegorical poem that features himself visiting Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. He was exiled from Florence due to ‘corruption’ and spent time living in Bologna, Verona, and eventually Ravenna, where he died in 1321, aged 56. His tomb and remains are located in Ravenna city centre, but Florence built a tomb thinking they could host his remains as his birthplace, however, Ravenna laid claim and he remains there. During WWII, they moved his bones out of the tomb and buried them under a mound of ivy metres away, then after the war, they were restored to the tomb.
Dante died on the 13th September, and so a bell near his tomb rings 13 times at dusk every day.
Aside from hosting Italy’s most celebrated writer and philosopher, Ravenna is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the form of its mosaics.
These mosaics were painstakingly and artfully created across churches and other religious monuments in the 5th and 6th centuries.
Basilica di San Vitale
This basilica looks rather unassuming from the outside with its relatively drab Byzantine style but once you step inside, it is breathtaking. I have been inside my fair share of religious buildings on my travels and I have seen some amazing sights: the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Duomo in Milan, Notre Dame in Paris, and many others.. but I have never been as mesmerised as I was inside the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, with the vast and intricate green and gold mosaics so perfect and still aesthetically stunning in 2022… I couldn’t take my eyes off the walls and ceiling, it was nothing like I’d ever seen before. Of course, photographs don’t do it full justice.
Looking at these mosaics, it is easy to forget that they are composed of millions of tiles when they look like paintings, so fine and sharp is the detail.
Mausoleo di Galla Placidia
This mausoleum was built in recognition of Galla Placidia, a wife and mother of Roman emperors. I love royal blue, it is one of my favourite colours. My own home is largely decorated in royal blue and gold, and so I was so drawn to the blue mosaics here.
Battistero degli Ortodossi
This looks like a plainer ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ from its exterior but the inside is its own.
There are several other mosaic sites in Ravenna, but you’ll get the drift from those pictures above.
Italy is such a sensory place that continues to surprise with its richness and diversity, possibly owing to the fact that it wasn’t always one country, existing in numerous states before its unification in 1861. This means that each region has its own identity, gastronomy, dialects, history and culture, let alone the variations in landscape and climate depending on whereabouts you are. I only visited Italy for the first time four years ago and have been four timers so far, yet it continues to surprise me each time, and I have only been in the north so far!
This August, I will be spending almost all of the month in Italy where I will visit Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Ravenna, San Marino, Lake Garda, Rome, possibly Perugia, Florence and much of the cities and countryside of Tuscany, and trips to Slovenia and Croatia along the way. I can’t even imagine what an experience this will be, but I will be sure to catalogue it on this blog. Viva Italia!