Posts Tagged With: urbino

Mantova and the Mystery of the Monstrous Muses

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone? I’ve had a good few days. I’ll start with an earthquake update, as is the tradition of late!

Earthquake update

We’re still waiting for engineers to come around to ‘officially officially’ declare the house uninhabitable. It’s already been ‘officially’ declared uninhabitable but well, I guess they want to be thorough about it. After that, apparently the more expert structural engineers will be around, which could still be weeks away, to tell us what they think needs to be done to the house: knocked down or renovated somehow.

It’s very odd being without a plan. From about the age of 5 I probably had cunning plans of some sort, whether it was to be a chiropodist (I was an odd child) or tattoo artist or whatever. I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of where I’d be living and what I’d be doing. It’s odd suddenly being thrown into a life of uncertainty for a planning sort like me. However, friends have told me that I should be more spontaneous (I do schedule time into be spontaneous but apparently that’s missing the point), so perhaps this is a good, albeit enforced, opportunity!

So, in an effort to improve my spontaneity, my friend and I planned decided impromptu to go to Mantova last weekend. My friend used to live in the area and has fond memories of it. It’s in the region of Lombardia, about 4 or 5 hours drive up north from where I live.

In the past, running towns in Italy was very much a family business and in Mantova it was no different, run by the very influential Gonzaga family for many years. The town centre is a World Heritage Site. Mantova was one of Italy’s hubs for the Renaissance. Artists and musicians from all over Europe were invited here to entertain the ‘powers that be’ and to design and decorate the lavish palaces there. The fictional Romeo, of Romeo & Juliet fame, was supposedly extradited here. Virgil, the great Italian poet, was born here and Monteverdi premiered his great Opera L’Orfeo here.

Travelling to Mantova is very atmospheric as the city seems to rise out of nowhere as you cross a bridge over the artificial lakes that surround it. It has lots of porticoes (covered walkways) supported by columns that usually have apartments above. These porticoes seem quite an ‘Italian’ feature to me, though in my patch I don’t think we have any to my knowledge. There are lots of shops – some chain stores but mostly little boutiques. People have their own style here. My friend calls it “bonbon” whatever that is. I think it basically means simple but chic.

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These are porticoes, under the arches…

We also went to visit the Basilica Concattedrale di S. Andrea which is absolutely spectacular inside. It’s all been expertly painted to seem completely  3D, with the walls that are entirely flat seeming to be great looming intricate marble columns.

We also went to see the theatre, Teatro Bibiena which is one of the nicest theatres I’ve ever been to.  You have to pay 2 euros to visit and it was well worth it because a group of musicians were practicing for a performance there later that evening. I recommend that strategy – you can get front row seats for something that would usually cost lots more!

It’s also nice to have a wander around the lake which had a very atmospheric layer of mist covering it when we visited…

On our last day we spent a few hours inside the Palazzo Ducale where the Duke and his family lived. The palace is interesting in itself – the ceilings are all either wooden, or painted with frescoes and my personal favourite, a maze (bottom left hand corner below).

The Duke had a reproduction of a palace that is in Rome (alas I can’t remember which one!) built inside his own palace but to fit it in everything was done in miniature. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go in during our visit. A legend developed about it being an apartment for dwarfs and in fact in one of the palace’s frescoes there is a picture of a dwarf.

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This is the Gonzaga family.

And this is my favourite fresco in the palace, it was actually on the ceiling of a very impressive room.

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The Palace is also the home to lots of portraits among other treasures. At the risk of sounding like a terrible art aficionado and angering those passionate about art, I would like to pose a question that I have been pondering for months.

Portraits of Italians (and maybe other nations for all I know – this question has only really arisen for me in Italy during my attempts to be more cultured) that lived a few dozen / hundred years ago look like:

 

I challenge anyone to go into any Italian gallery where old paintings are shown and find anyone that doesn’t look utterly horrendous. If anyone had painted me like this….

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…I would have had them put to death (I say this in jest of course because as an aspiring portrait artist myself, I have an unfortunate knack of making everyone look terrible. If I was any good at oils, I probably would have done quite nicely back in the day.) My other personal favourites….

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Creepy cherub on steroids (apologies to the artist – please don’t roll in your grave – I really do like the painting)

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World’s first Renaissance Drag Queen?

I find it all very puzzling. I’ve come up with 4 theories for this anomaly:

  1. Italians in those days had bulgy, un-expressive eyes, chubby cheeks, bulbous lips and a completely missing jaw line. The artist’s representation was accurate. I’m not at all convinced of this theory because I have never seen an Italian or indeed anyone else (that doesn’t have an illness), look like this. I think it would take a while for genetics to change to the point where Italians look like they do today, particularly given the evidence seems to point to them all looking equally horrific at that time, leading to presumably similar offspring.
  2. The artists were terrible portraitists. I don’t believe this for one minute. All of the paintings are technically brilliant: the way the light is reflected off clothes, the luminescence of the skin, the detail… Some of the paintings we saw were painted by the renaissance’s greats. It feels almost blasphemous to suggest they weren’t any good at capturing a likeness (apologies Greats, I take this theory back).
  3. The artists have basically edited their portraits to make the subject more ‘attractive’ (where attractive in this instance, is ‘nightmarishly’ ugly). In the same way that in these days with the marvels of photo editing software, one can make jaw lines and cheekbones more pronounced, give people healthy glowing tans, make them skinnier, smooth their skin, perhaps back in those days, they ‘edited’ their paintings to make everyone’s eyes bulge. It’s already widely established that in the past being on the pale chubby side was considered beautiful (because it showed you were rich enough that you didn’t have to go out to work in the field and you had enough money to eat lots of lovely food) so perhaps that extended to their faces too. I just find it difficult to believe.
  4. Keeping on the editing theme, the artists were instructed to deliberate paint their subjects to be a bit scary and odd looking for the purposes of intimidating the peasants. Personally, I can’t imagine that. If it were me and this had been my goal, I’d still insist the artist make me look attractive but maybe add in an evil cape, trident and/or some rabid dogs.
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This is Montefeltro. His painting is displayed at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. Who knows whether he looked like this in reality but I think as the artist, I might have left the country immediately after the unveiling just to be on the safe side.

Does anyone else have any better ideas because I really am absolutely flummoxed!

On that note, have a good ‘rest of week’.

x

 

 

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Painting attempts, Lost Temples and Cat Sagas

Buongiorno a tutti!

Well it’s been another busy week or so. On my way back from the blog tour a couple of weeks ago, I finally stopped at a few places that have been on my list to see for ages. Firstly there was….

Urbania

I’ve heard good things about Urbania. It’s near Urbino, in north  Le Marche, which is a beautiful town well worth a visit. Urbania is less quaint than Urbino. Still, I was glad I had the opportunity to go there and have a wander around. Here are some photos…

Gola di Furlo

Now, you’re probably reading this and pronouncing Furlo like, well, an English person would pronounce it. You’re wrong. There is no way of pronouncing this word that an Italian person will understand. You actually have to spell it out (and even that’s traumatic because I must have told you before how the Italian’s spell? They just say the word very slowly and consider that spelt! It clears up absolutely nothing.) Anyway, the Gola di Fuuuuurloooo, is a beautiful gorge between the mountains where a river runs through. It’s difficult to get a good photo – the gorge also has a road but that’s closed to cars so you need to either walk or cycle through. However the road is lined with trees making it impossible to get a good view of the river. In the end I had to jump over a fence to take a picture and even then it didn’t do it justice!

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Tempio del Valadier

The next stop was Tempio del Valadier in Genga, built in 1826. I’ve been seeing photo’s on the various tourism websites for this temple for ages and was curious to see it in real life. It was just as impressive as it seemed from the photos and I’m just awed that we have it in Le Marche. In fact, Le Marche really is in my opinion one of the best regions in Italy (the world?!?!?!) – it has such a mix of different things to see in terms of the landscape, towns and history. Really I don’t think you could ask for anything more!

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It looks like a model here but I assure you it’s not! It’s absolutely massive.

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Here it is from the other side.

But, beware the snakes…

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Genga

Then I popped over to the town of Genga. Genga is a pretty little hilltop town but seemed quite deserted when I was there. They do have a museum which looked like it might be quite interesting, talking about the history of the local area but I didn’t have time to go in. The buildings are interesting – they seem to be half carved out of rock strata. It’s very pretty. There was also a room open in what seemed like an old church that had a very impressive picture made of various seeds and grains. It seemed so much like a painting that I had to touch it to check  – I thought the seeds must be glued down. They weren’t. I made a big hole which I hastily tried to cover up.  If any of the artists are reading this – sorry guys!

The weather this year has been generally rubbish on the whole – we have a couple of days of glorious sunshine and then it’s followed by thunderstorms. I took this rather daunting looking picture on the way back from Genga. I did manage to miss the rain though so was pleased about that!

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Walking Group!

I had my third trip out with the CAI (Clup Alpino Italiano) walking group of Sarnano. We were supposed to be going to Monte Bove (still in the Sibillini’s but more central than where I live). It would have been an impressive walk but we had to cancel that because of the storm due that afternoon. Instead, we went out locally, walking from a part of Sarnano called Bisio and then up to a refuge called Citta di Amandola and then on a bit further to the lookout point over Santuario dell’Ambro, a church set in one of the valleys. Our little offshoot of CAI isn’t very well supported (a lot of areas have their own CAI that appear to have more active members). In fact this week, there were only 4 of us. The group don’t appear to have embraced technology to publicise the walks, so I might look into that on their behalf! The Club President is one of the more interesting characters I’ve met here – a sort of hairy naked dude that eats all the plants as he’s walking along but he’s a lovely guy and knows every single path in the area. One of our group was wearing head to toe expensive specialist walking gear…whereas the President was (periodically) wearing a holey vest and shorts and the sort of shoes used for protecting your feet when you’re doing DIY.

I was a bit taken aback hearing a story of some poor paraglider that made a simple mistake and ended up killing himself on that rock face in the pictures below (right hand side). Poor man, I think that was years ago but as an ex-paraglider pilot myself it put the wind up me a bit!

Cycling

On Saturday I decided I would try and make it up to Sassotetto on my bike. Sassotetto is one of my nearest mountains. I packed a sandwich and lots of water and set off at about early morning. Wanting to do a circular route, I went via San Liberato first, a beautiful monastery set in the woods about half way up the mountain. I mistakenly thought that it might be the easiest route. In fact, it was exhausting. I had to get out and push on a number of occasions. The road was empty other than every time I got off my bike, within seconds you could guarantee a troupe of cyclists would come along (all sporty looking men in sporty looking outfits – in fact, there are simply no cyclists that wear normal get fit stuff here, they all seem to have proper racing gear like they’re all doing the Tour de France – they take their cycling very seriously! I don’t think they were particularly impressed by me with my general keep fit gear, a big backpack and a cheap bike!). Anyway, 6 hours and 40 kilometers later and with legs that refused to work anymore, I was back home again. Guess how quickly one of my CAI walking companions does that same route? An hour and a half. I don’t think I shall ever ‘cut the mustard’ as a cyclist!

Cat update

It’s just been an awful year for our little community of cats. A few posts back I mentioned how one of them was at the vets apparently suffering from the same slug pellet poisoning as before. Unfortunately he didn’t make it which was terribly sad. He was less than a year old and had a lovely character, always wanting a chat, albeit the conversation was a bit ‘samey’ after a while: “Meow?” “Meow”, “Meow!”, “Meow?”. Then last week, the lovely Pellosina died. Pellosina was just the sweetest little cat and was about 4 years old. She was really quite shy and didn’t like to be stroked but had such a gentle character and she was a fabulous climber – always high up on some post or other. She had three kittens a couple of months ago and though she didn’t like to be stroked, she was so content with motherhood that if you approached her with her kittens she would roll over onto her back with the kittens still suckling as if to say “look at my little family” and she’d let you stroke her and the kittens. She was the girlfriend of Neve the Evil Cat (he’s constantly attacking my cat Batfink) and it was him that led us, Lassie style, to Pellosina when she was convulsing behind a shed. Slug pellet poisoning is absolutely awful; it’s an agonising way to go and poor little Pellosina died in my arms outside the vets office. That’s 3 cats that have died now and it feels like I’m on a countdown until Batfink is struck down again (he’s already survived one bout). So, I would like to urge everyone – please don’t put slug pellets down. Have a look here for alternatives. Here’s my little photographic tribute to them 😦

And Sole, one of the survivors from the last batch of kittens has an awfully sore nose from something or other. Here he is having a cuddle from Batfink. It’s never a dull moment with the cats at the moment unfortunately!!!!!!

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Poor little nose!

Lion King!

On a less depressing note, Sarnano had a theatrical production of the Lion King the other week! It was an amateur production but still a lot more impressive than the amateur productions I used to be a part of. I was rather amazed to see that some of the costumes were akin to the ones used on the London stage!  The only problem was, it seemed to go on for a lifetime. The trouble in Italy is that everything is just too late. The show started at gone 10pm and there were little children in it! Why they don’t begin their entertainment events in the late afternoon or early evening, I will never understand. And yet, the Italians don’t appear to be perpetually tired so who knows, perhaps the country just doesn’t need to sleep?

Painting

I’ve been having fun with the watercolour class and painting. There’s a real technique to it. Watercolour is completely different to painting with any other medium. I can’t say as I’ve ever been particularly enamoured with watercolours as I have traditionally veered towards bolder paintings with quite a lot of texture: I discredited watercolours as “painting-lite” for those who just want to paint quaint, dreamy village scenes and flowers. That was until I started my watercolour course a couple of months back and in fact, I really like it. Far from it being a “quaint” form of painting there are some really amazing techniques and it needs a lot of practice even to do what seems to be the simplest of things. The course focuses on landscapes but I’m absolutely inept at those, though perhaps getting marginally better. Portraits seem a bit easier. There was talk about us students having an exhibition. I quite like the idea of that – something to work towards. I think I’ll dedicate July to producing a couple of reasonable landscape pictures. Anyway, specifically for my Uncle Richard who has pointed out on a few occasions that I never post photos up of my paintings, here are some of my least embarrassing efforts to date.  I’ve specifically embedded these pictures in small so don’t look too closely and don’t judge me, I’m still learning!!!!

And to help with the inspiration, I decided to create a little ‘studio’ where a bookcase used to be. I like being up there and it’s good for watercolours because I can pop them out to dry on the terrace. All in all, I’m quite pleased with it.

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I’m looking forward to the weekend – I’m going to be staying in Senigallia (coastal town) with my friends this weekend and then I’m straight off to Puglia (southern Italy) with another friend visiting from the UK. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!

I shall leave you with my tagliatelle making efforts from yesterday. I hope you’re all having good weeks!

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x

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Part 1: Getting the beautiful air in Bellaria Igea Marina…

Buongiorno a tutti!

I had a wonderful few days in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Blog Tour last week. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a packed schedule. I stayed in the lovely “San Salvador Hotel”, a 3 star hotel just a minute’s walk from the beach.  The tour included tours of Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna, not to mention Bellaria Igea Marina itself. We had cooking lessons, we tried our hand at paddle-boarding, we harvested some vegetables (well, mainly flowers in fact!), we cycled and we danced… All in all, it was a busy week.  So as not to overload you with photos and blurb, I’ll split it into parts!

Firstly, the disclaimer: I do love Blog Tours – they’re like little all-expenses paid holidays where you’re fed and entertained for the duration. Their purpose is to promote the area. However, I’m not obliged by any means to write a good review. That being said, I do really like Bellaria Igea Marina and I think it’s definitely a worthwhile holiday destination. Yet, for us English folk and in fact, probably for many other nationalities, Italy as a beach destination offers a very different kind of holiday to that which we’re used to. Indeed, sadly, there aren’t many English people that visit. With that in mind, I don’t feel like I can properly sell the merits of Bellaria Igea Marina without explaining a bit about the Italian beach culture first.

Why choose Italy as a beach destination in the first place?

We English folk do like our beach destinations. What could be more relaxing that lying back in a little cove or bay, with golden sand and nothing and nobody around for miles? Bliss! The reality of course is that unless you fit within some very specific age ranges (or you’re me), there’s inevitably children or old people in tow that require 24/7 entertainment and relentless toilet trips. Nobody takes a beach umbrella on holiday (hardly worth buying one anyway in the UK is it?) so the true Brit will burn to a crisp within the first hour and spend the rest of the holiday bright red and in pain. There will always be an annoying and stubborn pebbly lump under our towels and if it’s a sandy beach; you, your towel and all your belongings will be covered in the stuff within a couple of minutes.

Italians love beaches too but they do them completely differently. On the face of it, they seem to ruin their beaches by piling them with back to back umbrellas and sunbeds. There are bars every couple of meters, volleyball courts, boules, ping pong tables and pop up market stalls on the beach selling everything from towels and sarongs to sunglasses. There are people that take your children away and entertain them (not in a sinister way I should add!). There are even people that take your bikini clad older people away and make them do “aerobics” (I use the term loosely –uncoordinated joint jiggling? Sadly I was unable to obtain photographic evidence without being obvious. You’ll just have to use your imaginations).

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One of the market stalls looking like it might get rained on soon. It was a wet few days on the whole so my photos all look a bit moody!

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On the right is what I think must be “boules”. This is where the elders seem to hang out!

Italy have commercialised their beaches like nowhere else I’ve ever been to. But the thing is, they’ve made it much more relaxing as a result! It takes a while to get used to and in fact, I was scathing for a long time until I realised that actually, it’s nice to spend time at the beach and drink water without fear of not finding a toilet later. It’s nice to be able to buy something to eat or drink. Or relax on a sunbed and not be burnt to a crisp or covered from head to toe with sand within two seconds of applying sun lotion. Or buy sunglasses because I’ve left mine at home. Women of all ages and shapes parade up and down the beach-front in their bikinis and men do the same in minuscule “slips” (“budgie-smugglers” for the rest of us) and nobody cares! To be honest, I think Italy is a worthwhile holiday destination for that alone! It’s a very liberating experience.  Visiting Italian beaches should be used in therapy. Deep seated paranoia about cellulite or batwings just falls away when you’re just one of a million other people who just seem to be content with what they’ve got, whether that be a “beach body” or a stomach that flops over your knees. In fact, covering up just draws more attention to yourself – you’re sort of forced into being body-confident.

Italians often visit the same “bagno” or “stabilimento” (little patch of sunbeds) every year for a life time. Their parents went, their children will go, and their children’s children will go. It’s a family tradition that seems to be passed down from generations and it brings not only the family together but all the people you’ve grown up with who have the same tradition. If I visit the same place more than once, I feel very guilty – I don’t want to miss out on the rest of the world but actually, what the Italians are gaining by having this tradition and culture is much more important in my opinion: friendship and family, and having a lot of fun whilst they’re at it.

And why come to Bellaria Igea Marina?

For a start, the clue is in the name – Bellaria means Beautiful Air! The beach is golden, sandy and clean. In fact, in the morning someone rakes the beach to clear it of debris. Rock barriers stretch along the coast a few dozen meters from the beach to protect it from large waves. The water is shallow for a long way out making it ideal for children. When I arrived on Wednesday morning it was brilliant sunshine and the water was almost at the temperature I might have a bath!

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See the rock barriers… it’s shallow pretty much all the way out!

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They put a lot of effort into their beach cleaning. Someone comes each morning to rake debris into piles and then this tractor and lorry combo come along to pick it up!

There are plenty of “bagni” to take advantage of – for a few euros you can take advantage of the sunbeds, umbrellas, toilets etc. Here are some photos of the beach…

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The advantage of such a busy beach is that there are lots of well-equipped lifeguards!

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Two ladies having a morning stroll along the beach front. Later on, the beach front becomes a positive super highway of people doing the same!

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As you can see, the beach is well used!

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And taken from the other side.

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This is what I think of as party pier! Boat trips go from the end of it. When I arrived they were on a loud speaker and sounding like they were having a great time!

For anyone liking seafood, Bellaria is THE place to come to for clam hunting. In the morning, the sea is filled with people wandering around knee deep searching for them.

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One clam picker

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This photo is admittedly not a fair representation of the sea being “filled” with clam collectors but I speak the truth, honestly!

And still on the beach theme, you can rent pedalos, canoes and my new personal favourite, paddleboards! They call it SUP here, pronounced “soup”  (apparently it’s an acronym of Stand Up Paddle). Paddleboarding is amazing fun – it was part of the tour so we all gave it a go. I’ve always considered it a sort of surfing for wimps. You have what looks like massive surfboard, and then you stand up on it and paddle your way out using a long oar like you’re a gondolier. It seemed a very ineffective and unstable means of transport and lacks the excitement of catching a wave like in surfing… Oh how wrong I was! It was hilarious! Trying to stand up on this thing is nigh on impossible. You have to make constant little adjustments to your balance in order to remain above water and it uses EVERY muscle! So, it’s actually an amazing workout and I can imagine it must be relaxing when you’ve mastered it and  you’re not in constant peril of falling in.

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Here’s one of our member having a go with Fabio, our instructor, providing moral support.

Bellaria Igea Marina is flat and with large tree-lined roads, it makes for ideal cycling. In fact, everyone seems to cycle everywhere! Our hotel, the San Salvador Hotel, offered the use of bikes and our first afternoon consisted of a cycle tour of the area.

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This was my bike. I loved it! THIS is how bikes should be. Baskets, a saddle bag area, comfortable sitting position, no complicated gear changing (there weren’t any to change!!!).  Alas, it’s a bit difficult to go up hills!

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Lovely tree lined streets pave the way for cycling.

One of our first stops was the La Torre Saracena, one of six towers built in the 17th century to defend the town from pirates and other ‘baddies’. Only two towers exist these days and one is now a private residence so it’s good this one is kept open to the public. Now it’s home to “Il Museo delle Conchiglie”, a shell museum where you can see shells from around the world.

Our next stop was “La Casa Rossa di Alfredo Panzini” (The Red House of Alfredo Panzini). Alfredo was a writer, born in 1863 and who died in 1939. He’s well-known in Italy, although I admit, I hadn’t heard of him before. He was a keen cyclist and once cycled from Milan to Bellaria (well over 300km), meeting people, stopping here and there and writing about his experiences. He bought the Red House in 1909 with his wife, Clelia Gabrielli who was an artist (all the paintings in the house are hers). The house has now been turned into a museum. You can see where Alfredo used to write, his desk, his bike, some of his notes and lots of photos.

On a less cultural note there are some good shopping streets selling all manner of things and wandering around makes for a pleasant evening stroll.

Just a few minutes walk from the hotel is Gelso Park which is a large green park with a lake, playgrounds, a dinosaur area (seriously) and large trees that grow blackberries (in fact, that’s where the park gets its name – Gelso is the name of the blackberry tree).

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These are some of my fellow bloggers taking a blackberry break! You might just be able to see one of our members up the tree.

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Beautiful lake at the park.

The area was affected quite heavily by the war – or at least Rimini was. Our 14 year old Bellaria Igea Marina enthusiast cycle guide showed us one of the last remaining reminders of the war – a bomb shelter hidden behind a fence and sunken into the sand.

So that’s Bellaria Igea Marina itself. The San Salvador Hotel provide a good description if you want to read it here. What makes it such a good location though in my opinion is its proximity to some of my other favourite places (click the links to check out my blog posts about them): San Marino, San Leo, Gradara, Forli, Urbino, Pennabilli to name just a few and then of course there’s Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Stay tuned!

x

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