THE STORY SO FAR:
I'd gone back to Romagna with my old friend Angelo and after 40 years we had not only discovered Ravenna but been enchanted by it! The mosaics, the history, the atmosphere, the food, the fun and the gelatos had us captivated!
And I went on to continue my adventure in Romagna, Now to learn much more about this strange and wonderful place.
I'd discovered Christmas in San Marino, Passatelli and Tonino Guerra - and I had been kidnapped to the Magic Mountain! Met both the most powerful woman in the world and the Father of Italian Cookery. And I'd had the most amazing birthday party.
Now it was time to go to Berlin for business and back to Romagna for fun - then we explored the romantic hilltop castles
Down on the plain Rimini was originally created as Ariminum, the port where the Marecchia met the sea. It was a completely new Roman city, prosperous, on a major Roman crossroads and powerful with an ampitheatre, even. Its riches only slightly reduced after the Romans left, the Malatestas must have lusted after it from their mountain base. And, of course, they got it, built their biggest castle and their own temple and heralded in a glorious era of art fuelled by their massive ill-gotten gains.
What a couple of days of castles! And who would have believed that this road all the way along the Marecchia was less than 50 kilometres long?
After this delightful assault on my senses a bit of a rest was in order, but soon my Romagna year came into full swing on Mayday...
The first time I saw the fireflies, I was spellbound. Returning to my rented apartment late at night, I thought that I had become intoxicated with the warmth and the scent of jasmine and lime trees and that these little flying pulsating lights in the garden were another part of a beautiful waking dream.
“No dream” said Roberta Sama the next morning “We call them ‘lucciole’ and we are having a walk tonight to see them in my village, Castiglione di Roncofreddo – please wear walking boots!”
Anyway, I had somewhere else to go over the valley first – I was off to nearby Montecodruzzo (with my walking boots) because I’d been invited on another walk, a walk for landscapes and for my well-being.
Montecodruzzo ranks pretty high in my personal hierarchy of great Romagna places for two reasons. One is the spectacular view of the surrounding countryside – all the way from the Adriatic Sea to the Apennine mountains and Tuscany. And the second is the best place to see this amazing vista – from a window table in the fabulous, unpretentious Osteria di Montecodruzzo. Here, Massimo Monti uses his family’s local farm to deliver sensational ‘Zero kilometre’ food – at extraordinary prices.
The Gurkha squad who liberated the hill in 1945 were amply rewarded too by Massimo – 70 years later they enjoyed a great celebration in his restaurant.
But now I was here on a walk to understand another reason why Montecodruzzo was so great – because of the hill’s healing properties and the opportunities for ‘Benessere’ or wellbeing tourism.
Donatella Onofri had designed a walk around the hill both to see the unbelievably splendid views outwards for hundreds of kilometers towards the Tuscan hills – and inwards to understand the healing power of the massive edifice.
Equipped with two dowsing rods each – one for water the other for power in the form of ley lines – we walked around the hill (and its amazing views) through its hawthorns and oak trees and in and out of its power sites. As we walked we talked about the history of the area, all the way from the Etruscans, through where Caesar crossed the Rubicon to the last war, the Ghurkas and the present day. And, of course – because this is Romagna, ruminated about the best places for mushrooms and other edible goodies.
An afternoon full of food for thought.
Later, properly prepared as instructed by Roberta, at dusk, I found myself a few kilometers from Montecodruzzo, a part of a happy crowd of over a hundred in the tiny village of Castiglione di Roncofreddo in the Rigossa river valley.
A field had been requisitioned as a car park, complete with high- vis-coated attendants. The ancient little church had been opened and decorated for the occasion, was full of families enjoying a guitarist leading children singing and an actor reading poetry. On the lawns outside there was a picnic stand loaded with donated delicious cakes, tarts, fruit juices and wine. Excited groups talked as it got dark enough to start.
And, as a bemused English family of tourists were brought out of their rented villa to join in the walk, an excited hush fell over the crowd. Short instructions and calls to enjoy the walk were given by Roberta and we started into the woods.
Are there woods in Paradise? If so these were they! Great hedges and trees and ferns were illuminated by fireflies performing their mating dance. Lovely valleys took on an otherworld air as sparkling fields came to twinkling life in the dark. The five-kilometer path was muddy after the recent rains but helping hands were always ready.
So the satisfied, chattering crowd enjoyed a truly enchanting walk. As we returned to the village, we were reminded that life was not always so pleasant in Castiglione. The village was under siege in the last world war and our happy group took advantage of the British Army-built Bailey Bridge to get to our penultimate stop – a garden lovingly created by a local resident.
Not just a garden but Mr Calandrini’s life’s work – everything created by his hands and called ‘Fred Flintstone’s Home’ by locals. A stunning, and very otherworldly setting – particularly under the dark, star-filled night sky.
The guitarist was now sitting in a woodland glade in Mr Calandrini’s garden and accompanying the beautiful young Samanta Balzani singing medieval songs and playing an otherworldly, and very different glass harp made of crystal and metal bowls. And all totally in keeping with the dreamy air of the evening.
But the happy end of the evening was eating tart and cake and cookies accompanied by local wine and fruit juices as we all came back to reality. Sad really.
And the next evening was to take all the sadness away. Still in the parish of Roncofreddo stands yet another soaring hillside – Sorrivoli (my translation – ‘smiling flights’!) is another stunning castellated hill where lots of good things happen.
Resident Ilario Fioravanti (1922-2012) was an extremely prolific and well-known Romagnolo sculptor, but first he was a great architect. And judging by his house in Sorrivoli he had a magnificent eye for a magnificent view, and a great vision for a wonderful home.
Here, in the garden of his house and studio – Casa Dell’Upupa (the hoopoe garden) another event was taking place – an evening in his memory, hosted by his wife Adele. Aptly entitled “Food for the body, food for the mind and food for JOY” and 100 or so locals were joining in the celebration.
A harpsichord and a flute provided the music, local people provided the food and the wine, Adele and her friends provided the warm hospitality and the views were provided by a generous divinity!
Full of divine food and drink and music, we were treated to yet more divinity in the shape of Ilario’s massive treasure-chest of sculp- tures still living in his house. Covering subjects from crucifixion to sensuality and ranging from satire to religion, the sculptures are a remaining memory of a wide-ranging mind.
Back in Longiano a few days later, another celebration was taking place – the unveiling of a new postage stamp with a picture of the castle. First day postmark will include a castle stamp and third day cover will include a cherry stamp!
Because it’s cherry time on the hill of Longiano – and its ancient valley of cherry trees. At 9am at least a hundred locals were ready for the walk to celebrate the glorious fruit and enjoy the stunning valley – before they send their postcards with the new stamps. And I’m joining the walk, nearly-fit as I am.
After a briefing by our guide, out-of-uniform local police chief Maurizio Sartini, and by local culture and tourism boss Cristina Minotti, we make our way down into the ultra-fecund valley.
More amazing views, delightful walks and a happy crowd gorging themselves for 10 kilometres of apricots, peaches, sweet, sweet peas, grapes – and, of course, fabulous, big, ripe, red, succulent cherries.
It’s no wonder that when we get back, the Longiano Cherry Feast is getting ready to rock.
The streets are lined with colourful stalls and much more. Vendors are selling sweets, local olive oils, local wines, kitchen equipment, local honey and local sausage, local meat and local fruit and veg, local handicrafts and local artisan work. And, of course great baskets of local cherries and cherry-related things are on sale – like cherry beer and cherry wood. There are cherries everywhere – even the delicious ice- creams on sale in the local gelateria have cherries on top.
The warm jasmine-scented nights are full of song and dance and entertainment – comedians speaking local Romagnolo dialect take the stage, alongside rock bands and country-and-western singers.
The feast-days are full of entertainment too – from the local historical group through the enthusiastically enjoined tug-of-war to the greasy pole with a great whole local prosciutto hanging from the top as an enticing prize. And, to make sure there is order throughout – Maurizio the police chief is back in uniform!
Three days full of merrymaking in Longiano – and all in honour of plump, ripe delicious cherries!
And, just a few weeks before, we’d celebrated Mayday when what seemed to be the whole population plus a bunch of multi-national cyclists were sitting around in the main square in the sun, waiting to be entertained.
Mayday is worker’s day and all the workers around here are farmers ready to show off all they have worked hard for. Tractors of all sorts, big and small, green and red, make the parade, driven by proud owners, garlanded with leaves, often pulling carts – some full of merrymaking groups and one with a blow-up doll – chug their way through the square and beyond in what seems a never-ending bucolic traffic jam.
The strains of “Romagna Mia” fill the air as the politicians on the podium fight a losing battle in their pontifications.
What could be better than a Mayday lunch with some locals at their house in the valley, in the sun with views of the Adriatic some 10km away. Men and women are competing with each other rolling Strozzapreti (‘Strangled Priest’ – the local pasta), and we’ve already hacked our way into some local hard cheese and olives. Cooked in five minutes, sauced and eaten in less – the Strozzapreti are delicious – one savoury, the other sweet. Then come strawberries with custard and finally the egg whites not used in the custard have made meringues to go with our coffee.
From the house you can see the Leonardo da Vinci port of Cesena- tico so it’s a very short journey.
Of course, it’s still Mayday in the port and here the workers are fishermen (Cesenatico has the biggest fishing fleet in the Adriatic just now). So naturally everybody was celebrating FISH.
The festa is called Azzuro come il Pesce (Blue like the fish!) and there are thousands cramming the port and the restaurants and at 10pm they’re still piling in. Why? Because there is great food here and happy crowds and because the prices are little short of miraculous. Fritto misto of fish, risotto of fish, all sorts of pasta with all sorts of Adriatic fish – there are even perfect fish burgers.
And the May Day weekend still is not over, the next day in Longiano, around the towering castle there is an artisan and craft fair where local workers come to share their talents and their products with locals and visitors. It’s called ‘Mestieri’. It even includes workshops to learn crafts – not forgetting the major local craft of making pasta – an opportunity to try archery and a whole demonstration about the history of radio.
The event was set up by local tourism boss Cristina Minotti together with the extraordinary Folk Museum which is crammed full of local stuff – pictures, looms, Vespas, film posters, books, kitchen equipment, tools, tractors, furniture – everything that was treasured by local households and found no modern use.
The sunset was going to be great and yet another mountain had to be visited.
Naturally back at the top of Montecodruzzo there was a well- attended local Mayday dinner festival at Massimo’s Osteria di Monteodruzzo.
The artichokes are just in season, so today we started with a little frittata, followed by a salad of raw baby artichoke, aged parmesan and rocket before we ate a fabulous Cappellacci (little local pasta hats!) stuffed with fresh local cream cheese and covered with pancetta, artichoke, and parmesan. Followed by Osso Buco of Massimo’s white Romagnolo beef and portions of his grilled rare breed Moro Romag- nolo pork, sausages, back rib and bacon.
Plus the best courgettes, aubergines and rosemary roast potatoes and gratin tomatoes that you are ever likely to eat.
And what’s on next week!
The Mutoids (or Mutoidi as they’re known here) are loved and cherished by the citizens of Santarcangelo. Even though they are largely Brits, this avante-garde collective appear to have been granted honorary Romagnolo status.
About as sustainable as it gets, the Mutoids take scrap metal and alchemise it into great, smack-you-in-they-eye-and-the-laughter- gland art.
Finding it difficult to live in a Thatcherite England, these Acid- House influence travellers first gelled in Berlin creating a massive MIG-jet--based sculpture whilst the wall was being pulled down in 1989.
To cut a long story short, they arrived in Santarcangelo via London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and, of course the Glastonbury Festival. The Mutoidi originally visited to perform at the Santarcangelo Street Theatre Festival in 1990 and liked it so much they wanted to stay. Luckily the local lady Mayor liked them too and offered them an ideal site – a disused gravel quarry beside the Marecchia River.
Here they worked happily for ages, creating their full metal monsters, giving trouble to no-one until one distant neighbour complained and an eviction order was delivered from Rome.
Now, Santarcangelo is a funny place and apart from the fact that they really like the Mutoidi, they certainly don’t like to be told what to do by any bunch of time-serving civil servants. So the citizens of Santarcangelo (pop. 22,000) rose up in their thousands and raised over 120,000 signatures for the petition to keep the Mutoidi.
And now the Mutoid Waste Company has become Mutonia – The Tourism Attraction. Already work is appearing in nearby (and just as vigorously independent) San Marino.
The big event next week was to be the exhilarating Mille Miglia – the thousand-mile drive for fabulously expensive classic cars!
Episode 1 Romagna Mia
Episode 2 Meeting the most powerful woman in the world
Episode 3 The adventure continues
Episode 4 More food and fun
Episode 5 Mona Lisa Mussolini and marvellous meals
Episode 6 Paradise in a bowl
Episode 7 My Big Fat Romagnolo Birthday Party
Episode 8 River Deep Mountain High - Romagna's Fabulous Castles
TO BE CONTINUED...
and more about Romagna at www.BestofRomagna.com
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Valere Tjolle is the travel and tourism insider. An entrepreneur, consultant, developer and journalist, he has been in at the beginning of almost every tourism development for the last sixty years. There is no one better placed to expose the seedy side of tourism nor its enormous opportunities to unite people across the globe.