A fascinating mixture in a quirky destination for those that want more from their visit
Visiting Forli filled me with a dark spirit. In the main piazza Saffi I could see the lovely, friendly cathedral, the market, the massive pre-war Post Office building, the indoor market even Eataly. Then I realised that there were eagles everywhere – Mussolini eagles. In particular on the lampposts that surrounded the square. Here, I thought, during the war partisans hung from these lampposts; after the war colaborators.
Benito Mussolini was born in Forli and it was here that his rise to political power began. So, it’s no wonder that he chose his hometown to showcase the power and grandeur of his Fascist regime.
The grand avenue of Fascist architecture stretches from the massive railway station to the memorial monument and includes a flying school, an enormous gym, workers flats, two schools and many other buildings all in a muscular Art Deco style now called Totalitarian Architecture.
Of course, everybody is wary of showcasing this architecture but, as it appears all over Europe there are lessons to be learnt. The town council have gripped the nettle with both hands and have been prime movers (with other countries in South East Europe) in a multinational new project to see and learn from these monuments A tourist trail is being created to understand the Fascist, and other totalitarian movements, and their destructive power. In Forli, along with the fascinating buildings, a new art collection has also been shown depicting both pre-war Italian daily life and great works of Fascist art.
To promote the "Totalitarian Architecture Cultural Route" to tourists, a "Festival of the Twentieth Century" was launched, a collection of events which involve the whole Forli area including five towns in the district: Bertinoro, Castrocaro Terme, Terra del Sole, Predappio, Forlimpopoli and Cesenatico. The idea is to create a visit to the area which, starting from rationalist and monumentalist architecture, is able to include all that the cities can offer in terms of art, events and food. Quite a combination!
And, when the war was over, in 1949, as the post-war boom was helping Italy get out of its economic traumas, a rich local art collector and brickmaker, Giuseppe Verzocchi contacted Italy's top 70 artists. His request - paint what you like, and I'll pay but just make sure that each painting has one of my bricks in it! The Verzocchi collection - a unique snapshot of Italy in the early 1950's was given to Forli in 1961. Included in the collection are such world-famous artists as Moreni, Morlotti,, Santomaso, Birolli Capogrossi Turcato Carra, Casorati, de Chirico, Depero to name just a few. See the Verzocchi Collection HERE
Off into the countryside for a bit of happiness and beauty. Just down the road from Forli and still in Romagna, a new discovery has just taken place.
San Leo is simply stunning, from its citadel you can see from the sea all the way to San Marino, Tuscany and Marche. What an inspiring and precious view – no wonder this tiny walled city has been fought over for millennia. The city itself is extraordinarily atmospheric, its paved streets reek of history and religion. And so they should – it’s been a centre of worship since pagan times and now its beautiful cathedral sits atop a pagan sacrifice site. It is said that Saint Francis was a visitor and certainly Count Alessandro di Cagliostro the alchemist and seer was imprisoned in the impregnable escape-proof fortress – naturally he escaped! And, naturally, as this is Romagna they have a wild festival of alchemy here every year!
It’s time for lunch and there is no better view than from the Osteria Belvedere as its name suggests. And there is no better view than one of the Belvedere’s specialities – fabulous truffles and amazing local mushrooms. A resuscitating delight.
The scenery around San Leo is really amazing – as is all the scenery in the Montefeltro area. It will be no surprise that this scenery was chosen by many artists of the Renaissance as background for their subjects. Landscapes that graced many famous Renaissance portraits.
The discovery, in the Montefeltro area, of the background landscapes of Piero della Francesca and other painters, including Leonardo da Vinci, is a real treasure and represents an absolutely unique and original tourist and cultural offer. And a great post-lunch walk.
Conceived by Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci, two local landscape seekers, with the help of a promoter, Silvia Storini, the project is called Montefeltro Renaissance Sights.
The idea is to create a new, alternative and unique unconventional hillside museum concept. The museum will be in the open, in the sun, in the wind, "closer to the sky” they say … https://www.montefeltroveduterinascimentali.it/portfolio-item/montefeltro-renaissance-sights-2/
Dinner – just down the road, outside of Pennabilli, there is a spectacular, romantic little restaurant. It’s inexpensive – and it’s got one Michelin star. Not only was my meal really local and seasonal (it always is in Romagna) – it was beautiful too! Local resident, Oscar-winner, poet, restaurateur, partisan Tonino Guerra says it’s great why not watch the video! HERE
Time for a party? In Romagna it's always time for a party!. And at the tiny picturesque hilltop settlement of Pennabilli (pop 1,500)a massive party recently kicked off. 'Artisti in Piazza' plays host each year to 64 international theatre, music, circus and street art companies. This festival attracts no less that 40,000 guests who enjoy great music and entertainment, fabulous food and wine and astonishing hospitality.
But, Pennabilli had one massive asset - a committed resident in the form of Tonino Guerra, concentration camp survivor, acclaimed film director, poet and friend and screenwriter to Frederico Fellini. He created the magical gardens around Pennabilli, "Places of Reflection" including the "Garden of Forgotten Fruits" and the "Sanctuary for Thoughts". Guerra even enticed the Dalai Lama to Pennabilli to plant a mulberry tree for peace.
Asked "Why do you do this festival" - the organizers replied "To have fun, of course!"
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.