The Italian Beach Experience - Rimini and Riccione

The beach in Rimini? In winter?

Well no. I want to tell you about our summer vacation to our holiday home in Emilia-Romagna, in between San Marino and Rimini. In August. It was my first Italian beach holiday experience. Ever since we met, my wife has pestered me to go away with her on the classic Italian family vacation. The  Italian beach holiday. Indeed, she hadn't gone herself since we met, so last year, I caved in.

The beach at Rimini

Initially, I wasn't keen. The thing is, I'm simply not built for this kind of holiday. I'm a trekking up mountains, tea and cake, maybe a museum-kinda guy, not a laying by the beach then more laying by the beach one. I'll be honest, I was dreading it.

I shouldn't have bothered. It was lovely. We're very lucky, in that we have access to an old house, nestled on a small hilltop, with views to the sea in one direction, and the republic of San Marino in the other (which I blogged about here). We arrived after a long drive from Lazio, with two short stops - the obligatory caffeine stop at a mountaintop cafe bar, and the charming Umbrian town of Gubbio, which I will blog about one day. Arriving at the house was like arriving in paradise. The rolling fields, the swallows swooping overhead (hopefully hoovering up all the many, many zanzare that were waiting in ambush), and of course, that lovely breeze coming all the way from the sea.

You can just make out the Adriatic in the distance

We didn't have much time to take all this in though, as I'd forgotten one thing. Italy isn't the charming, relaxed place one reads about in those books where people move to Italy and find themselves. Laissez-faire is a phrase borrowed from the French, not the Italians. We had a schedule, and it must be respected. Even if you're English, have no idea of the schedule, and fancy yourself as a bit of a Montalbano, enjoying a moka cafe on the balcony overlooking the (albeit distant) sea. We had a schedule. We were off to the beach at Riccione. We were off to the sea.

The Italian Seaside is fascinating. Honestly. It's like a David Attenborough special about human behavior. We arrive at the beach. Bagno 130/131, the usual spot. The one my in-laws go to every year. Of course, they know the lifeguards, who, it turns out, also run the place. They rent parasols and sun loungers, and know everything about everyone. Pleasantries exchanged, we set off with our chaperone lifeguard to pick our spot. Would we go for a space right next to the sea? No. We went for one that was near the cafe, almost as far from the sea and its cooling breeze as you could get. Nevermind. The reasons for this choice would soon become clear. From then, no time to hang around as it was time to head to the supermarket and then home for a simple yet delicious pasta.

The next few days blurred into one. One regimented day, that is. Why? Because Italian beach holidays have a routine. We get up early, showered, ate, and then head down to Riccione and our Bagno. We arrive, hours after everyone else (it seems), and take our positions at our parasol. After dumping our bags and arranging sun protection (only for the youngsters, the old generation didn't believe it was necessary on a 39 degree cloudless day), I was initiated in the first (and frankly most important) ritual of the day. It was time for a coffee with papa`. We tiptoed over the scorching sand to the bar (every bagno has a bar, serving coffee and cornetti by day, and more salubrious treats by night), and ordered our coffees. While waiting, we check the sport newspapers, catch up on the olympics, the soccer, and generally lower the tone of the place....

After coffee, we lay in the sun for a few hours, before, come 11:20, we head for a walk down the beach. One day we walk up to Rimini, the next day, we walk down towards Cattolica. Then, 12:30, we heed the call over the loudspeaker, that the sun is dangerously hot, and head for lunch. We pack up, get back in the car, and head back home. Once home, we shower, change clothes, eat a delicious pasta, and then have a snooze. Then, come 3pm, it's time to head back to the beach. We go to our parasol, deposit our things. Then it's time for a drink. The same bar. This time a Becks. Come 6pm, it's time to go home. The next day? Well, maybe we can vary it a little, do you want to walk the same way up the beach as yesterday, or the other way?

The beach at Rimini
Rimini is this way. Obviously.

Once you get the routine though, you're golden. I relaxed into the schedule, let it wash over me. I now know that you shouldn't go for a swim until it's at least three hours after you've eaten, and that Italian kids really can do whatever they want at the beach. The beach is great fun, and there's always something going on. So, my advice? Don't just bring a book* and lie on the beach. Wander around, people watch, and simply go with the routine. I mean flow. I mean flow.

Rimini, Riccione, Cattolica - I will be back. To the same Bagno, at exactly the same time....

Salvataggio at Riccione

So what else is there to do besides the beach? 

Well, in Riccione, not so much. There's a lovely promenade along the beach, and two pedestrianised wide boulevard nearby, Viale Dante and Viale Ceccarini. This is where all the teenagers come for their summer romance. What's nice though is that, whatever age or nationality you are, you don't feel out of place. Plus of course, there's that wonderful Italian habit of it never being too late for Ice Cream. There's plenty of shops for late night shopping, events and shows on the streets, plus a water park for the kids. Outside of the strip, there's Rimini old town, the many lovely towns and villages of Emilia-Romagna, and of course, 30 miles from the coast, the Republic of San Marino.

There are plenty of places to eat on the coast, many of which specialise in (excellent) seafood, but here are our two favorites:

Pesce Azzuro - a small cooperative, set-up by the fishermen themselves, serves basic yet excellent seafood in Rimini, Riccione and Cattolica (the one we went to). It's self-service, and set-up essentially like a canteen, but for 12euros you get a tray filled with about 6 different seafood dishes, and unlimited wine. More information (in Italian) can be found on their website: pesceazzuro

Pesce Azzuro plates

La Greppia - about 5km from the Adriatic just outside the town of Coriano, my better half's family have eaten at this restaurant for over 40 years and after one mouthful you'll know why. Tasty Emilia-Romagna specialities (and not just seafood) combined with great service. Book ahead if possible. More information (in Italian) can be found on their website: La Greppia

*If you did want to take a book, I can recommend An Italian Education by Tim Parks (see my review). I was reading while on the beach and it really captures the Italian beach experience, as well as providing a great intro into Italian family culture. Perfect for reading on the sun lounger...

Vino Italiano - The regional wines of Italy - book review

Want to learn about Italian wine? I do. One of the wonderful things about Italy is that every region, every town, in fact, practically every bend in the road, seems to have its own local specialty, its own take on an Italian classic. Wine is no exception. This can make understanding Italian wine, other than in 'Chianti is good, Lambrusco less so'-style terms, pretty difficult. The fact that many regions borrow grapes from other regions and other countries makes the whole thing pretty impenetrable. Thankfully, that's where Vino Italiano comes in.

Vino Italiano book cover

This hefty tome, coming in at just over 530 pages in my edition, goes through every region of Italy, detailing the grape varieties, the geographical conditions and the type of soil. It's pretty comprehensive. More than that, it also provides that all-important context for the wine, with each chapter opening with a vignette taken from the author's experiences and capturing their sense of the region (for example, the Lazio chapter starts with a story about the derby della capitale between AS Roma and SS Lazio). At the end of each chapter there is a small section about the food of the region, about which food goes best with the wines from that region, along with a few recipes to try at home. I feel this works well as these two sections, along with a handy 'key facts' section, sandwich the 'meat' of the chapter, about the wines themselves.

It's a big book, not one to read cover to cover, but more as a reference book, picking a region every night and then reading about the wines from that region. It works well like that. I don't think I'd be able to read it straight through, but I have enjoyed reading about those regions of interest (and other regions I've never thought of in wine-terms - a glass of Chambave muscat from Valle d'Aosta anyone?) and learning more about why each wine has the characteristics it does. Obviously, the wine buff may know many of these details, but I still feel the book is comprehensive enough so that even the most learned sommelier will pick something up. 

Initially, the US-centric nature of the book grated on me. Obviously the authors, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (with recipes by Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali) are American, and the target audience for the book is American, but it would have been good to have more information on where to get the wines in Italy rather than simply relating everything back to the states. However, this is a minor complaint as overall the book is well-researched and it's obvious that the authors have a great passion for both Italy and Italian wine.

It's easy therefore for me to recommend this book. Comprehensive enough for the wino, yet accessible enough for the casual quaffer. I've learned a lot from Vino Italiano. Every time I think I should put it down and move on to another book, I hesitate, not wanting it to end, and I decide, maybe just for tonight, just one more chapter, just one more re-read...

Vino Italiano - The regional wines of Italy, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, is published by Random House and my version was from 2005. I'm not sure how widely available it is outside of the US, although I managed to get my copy from Amazon UK pretty easily. Of course, there is a copy in the Lazio Explorer Amazon Store.

Rome food tour - Trionfale with Tavole Romane

What better way to explore Rome than to be taken round by a local...

Just before Christmas, we had the pleasure of being invited on a Tavole Romane food tour around the Prati district of Rome (just next to the Vatican). Guided by the irrepressible Giovanna (also known as @burroealici), we were taken to the very best off-the-beaten track places Rome has to offer. We ate a lot (and I mean A LOT) and had a great time as Giovanna led us around like an old friend taking us to her favorite spots.
Giovanna, tour-guide extraordinaire