To those who flock to its 10-mile stretch of biscuit-coloured sand, this is the ultimate seaside holiday spot. But a tale of two cities plays out in Rimini, not least because it’s sliced in half by a railway line. Here, the booming post-war beach resort sits side by side with Roman and Renaissance remains.
To get a handle on it all, start, as everyone does, with the beach, This is your classic Italian resort, with the sand divided into strips of private beaches. At Bagno Tiki 26, you’ll have to pay for a sun lounger but you’ll get access to hot tubs, volleyball, yoga classes and a gym on the sand — plus an excellent seafood restaurant and a tapas bar, where there’s a DJ in the evening.
Head into town, and you’ll see a different Rimini: a compact Renaissance city where clothes shops sit in 16th-century palazzi, a castle looms over a small square and a cobbled fishing village sits on the other side of a gleaming white Roman bridge.
Spliced by that railway track, the two Riminis are connected by a long, thin swish of tree-shaded park, starting at Piazzale Kennedy. Halfway along is a ruined Roman amphitheatre; at the end of the park is the Arch of Augustus, a monumental gateway into the ancient city of Ariminum, and the end point of the Via Flaminia (the original road from Rome), built of blazing-white Istrian stone. The ancient forum, meanwhile, is now the Piazza Tre Martiri, which sports elegant colonnades, a clocktower and a little chapel marking the spot of a 13th-century ‘miracle’. Yet the streets of today are layered on top of the Roman ones. In the middle of Piazza Ferrari, protected by modern glass walls, stands the Domus del Chirurgo (The Surgeon’s House) — a sprawling former Roman home, carpeted with sumptuous mosaics, in which a huge collection of ancient surgical equipment was found. Today, the scalpels, forceps and bone saws are on display next door at the Museo della Città.
During the Renaissance, Rimini was ruled by the Malatesta clan, who conquered the surrounding area as they filled their hometown with resplendent architecture. Fifteenth-century ruler Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta brought architect Leon Battista Alberti over from Florence to rework the gothic church of San Francesco into his grandstanding mausoleum. Today, still half finished — Sigismondo died before its completion — the Tempio Malatestiano is one of Italy’s finest examples of architecture within the humanist movement, which put religion to one side and took its influence from the classical world. Instead of the usual religious trappings, there are zodiac signs, cherubs and even carved elephants, as well as artworks by Giotto and Piero della Francesca. While you’re there, break for a meal at Osteria Io e Simone. Set in a park a short walk from the church, it serves Emilia-Romagnan classics like tagliatelle al ragù and cappellacci with soft squacquerone cheese.
Not even the best Renaissance architects, though, could trump the Ponte di Tiberio – the striking white Roman bridge that connects the city centre to Borgo San Giuliano, an ancient fishing village. Federico Fellini, legendary film director and local lad, adored the area’s pastel-toned houses and cobbled streets; today’s residents have repaid the favour with murals depicting scenes from his films, including the famous Dolce Vita kiss. Once one of the poorest areas of Rimini, today it’s the place of choice for an aperitivo at wine bars like Biberius, which specialises in local wines, including Rebola, a white as light and heady as a day at the beach.
Until recently, that was the only hint of Fellini in his birth city; last year, however, saw the opening of the twin-centred Fellini Museum. The more academic half is round the back of the Cinema Fulgor, where the director got his first taste of Hollywood (today it’s been restored to its early-20th-century glory by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti). The main, interactive museum sits in the 15th-century Castel Sismondo, where scenes from the legendary director’s films play out alongside exhibits focused on his film scores, fixation with psychoanalysis, and forward-looking work that prefigured a number of social movements.
Three to try: beach towns
1. Otranto, Puglia
English writer Horace Walpole hadn’t been to Italy’s easternmost town when he wrote the world’s first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. There is indeed a castle in Otranto — a grand, 15th-century one built by the Aragonese — but it’s not even the town’s biggest draw. Vying for that position would be the Otranto Cathedral, with its 12th century mosaicked floor (one of the finest in Italy), its labyrinth of whitewashed alleyways, pretty little port, and the Baia dei Turchi, one of Puglia’s best beaches, four miles to the north.
2. Trapani, Sicily
Many people arrive in Trapani only to leave it soon afterwards, as this is the jumping-off point for the Egadi Islands, as well as for the island of Pantelleria. But this is no gritty port town; Trapani has been central to Sicily’s history ever since the Aragonese landed here in 1282, and its port has made it a key trading point for centuries. All that history means wealth, and you’ll see evidence of it in the grand palazzi of the old town, the florid churches, the stately, palm-lined gardens of the Villa Margherita park and the sheer mix of architecture, from gothic and Catalan to Renaissance and baroque. Don’t miss the cable-car that whisks you up to Erice (a town founded by the Greeks), 2,460ft above Trapani, for spectacular views of the coast.
3. Pesaro, Marche
Located on the Adriatic Coast, Pesaro is better known for its beaches than its history, but that looks set to change in 2024, when it’ll be designated Italy’s Capital of Culture. Founded by the Romans (you can visit one of their villas here, the Domus di via dell’Abbondanza). It’s an elegant Renaissance town and was the birthplace of composer Rossini (hence the Rossini Opera Festival that’s held here every August). Many visitors are too smitten with the sea to venture into the hills, but if you do, you’ll find knockout views from the Monte San Bartolo Natural Park. Head to the town’s Renaissance-era summer residences, too, like the forest-wrapped Villa Imperiale, or the Villa Caprile, whose magnificent terraced gardens are open for visits.
Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Follow us on social media