Unhurried, uncrowded, uncommercial, community focussed - the joy of tourism for visitor+citizens. It could always be like this...
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 scents of Jasmine and the sweet 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 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 Okm food - at extraordinary prices.
The Gurkha squad who liberated the hill in 1945 were amply rewarded too by Massimo and 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 well being tourism.
Donatella Onofri has designed a walk around the hill both to see the unbelievably splendid views outwards for hundreds of kilometers - and inwards to understand the healing power of the massive block of stone.
Organised by Daniela Corrente, helped by Vittorio Belli, and equipped with two dowsing rods - one for water the other for power ley lines- we walked around the hill 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 – as this is Romagna, we ruminated about the best places for mushrooms and other edible goodies.
Properly prepared, 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 uniformed attendants . The lovely little church had been opened and decorated for the occasion and 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 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 and woodland 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 5 kilometer path was muddy after the recent rains but help was always to hand.
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-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 a beautiful young lady (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.
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.
But 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 sculptures 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 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 3rd day cover will include a cherry stamp!
Why a cherry stamp?, Because it's cherry time on the hill of Longiano - and its ancient valley of cherry trees. And at 9am at least a hundred locals were ready for the walk to celebrate this glorious fruit and enjoy the stunning valley - before they send their postcards!
After a briefing by our guide - out-of-uniform local police chief Maurizio Sartini and by local 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 round succulent cherries.
It's no wonder that when we got 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 - 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 is back in uniform!
Three days full of merrymaking in Longiano - and all in honour of plump, ripe delicious cherries!
This is a real experience.
Interested in coming? Just email welcome@BestofRomagna.com and we'll find a way!
Valere is CEO of Best of Romagna and author of 'You Lucky People' the story of travel - the world's most delightful and devastating industry. Find out more about it HERE
More info on Romagna: www.BestofRomagna.com
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.