Beach babylon. Nightclubbing mecca. Hedonists’ paradise. You wouldn’t expect to rock up to such a place on a humble bicycle, but that’s how I first arrive on Rimini’s teeming seafront. Guidebooks are strangely silent on the pleasures of cycling in Italy’s largest beach resort, but the park-flanked paths down to the sea are nothing short of idyllic. Serene fellow cyclists glide past me in a constant stream, their faces beatific in the warm afternoon sunshine.
I hadn’t long got off the plane when I had abandoned my luggage in my room, grabbed one of the hotel’s stout old bikes and pedalled down toward the sand. So I’m still a bit travel-dazed as I dismount and enter the buzzing, pastel-coloured gaiety of the seafront. I can’t see the water for beach huts, children’s playgrounds and chic cafés with corrals of outdoor sofas. I fortify myself with a double espresso, and step excitedly onto the soft pale grey sand, where I plough through forests of brightly-striped beach umbrellas, sidestep hundreds of indolent, oil-shiny sunbathers, and finally arrive at the crowded water’s edge.
Oh my it’s a happy scene down there, with people of all ages wholly abandoned to pure, simple fun. They’re leaping about in the waves, strolling along in the shallows, playing ping pong with comically oversized bats on the firm damp shoreline. Everyone, simply everyone, is smiling and laughing. Some nationalities on a beach secretly resent other people. They prize privacy and space. But Italians make a virtue of a crowd. They want to tumble over each other, move together en masse like people on a busy street. Packed with strollers, this water’s edge is like the pavement of a capital city. And this crowd enthusiastically welcomes every member. All body shapes are here – athletic, sagging, pert, barrel-like, gym-toned and pasta-bloated. No one cares. No one worries about looking cool. They only care about having fun. I realize it’s impossible to be unhappy in a place like this, or to feel alone. There’s too much innocent delight wherever you look, too much friendliness and inclusion. And all of it washed in kind, glowing light, heat and air.
Rimini is one of Europe’s very biggest seaside resorts, with a nine-mile beach and an unending choice of leisure diversions. A safe, clean and family-friendly place, its welcoming hoteliers keep people coming back year after year. Some Italians consider it a guilty pleasure to holiday in Rimini. The place isn’t sophisticated or exclusive; it’s populist and fun. Unashamedly devoted to pleasure, Rimini might be brash, but it’s never tacky. It has its serene and historical bits, too; it has its share of artiness and culture. Among the whopping 1,300 hotels, there are über-stylish ‘boutique’ joints, and there are some gloriously chic restaurants and clubs. Ultimately, Rimini aims to have something for everyone.
Despite now being famed for frivolity, Rimini has been a surprisingly important place in the past. Founded by the ancient Romans as Ariminum twelve centuries ago, the town was a key hub connecting their long Po Valley road, the Via Æmilia, with the even longer Apennine-crossing road to Rome, the Via Flaminia. A few handsome Roman relics still stand in Rimini today – an Augustan Arch, a 1st-century bridge, and the scanty vestiges of a once vast amphitheatre. In modern times, Rimini renewed its importance during World War II, when its ferocious partisan resistance earned the town a gold medal for civic valour. Largely destroyed by heavy bombardments, Rimini was forced to re-build and re-define itself after the war. Tourism was seen as the future, and large-scale development toward this end has proven successful beyond the wildest dreams of the original planners.
Rimini’s other historical-cultural claim to fame, of course, is as the birthplace of Federico Fellini. And the great director’s work was surely influenced by the brightly-coloured fantasy pleasureground in which he grew up. Fanciful, dream-like, lavish and absurd, Fellini’s cinematic vision comfortably blends the real and the unreal – just like his exceptional hometown. (Summertime Rimini’s glowing seafront suggests all the happy superficiality of a film set, while in the winter its deserted façades can seem reduced to two-dimensional stage scenery.) Vaudevillian, smiling-faced Rimini was a perfect incubator for the fantasy-conscious young Fellini, and you can sense the guiding spirit of his hometown in many of his films’ most colourful, phantasmagorical moments.
Rimini’s vibrant seafront might shut down in the winter, but the old town centre does not. The ancient heart of town lies a mile or so from the water, yet it’s a world away from Rimini’s carnivalesque beach. A quiet, refined backwater, even in the height of summer the old town’s lovely buildings and pretty piazzas retain an air of dignified calm. It’s the perfect place for a morning-after soothing of your nightlife-flayed senses.
It’s lunchtime when I emerge from my hotel the next day into the deep, siesta-time peace of Rimini’s old town, squinting into the savagely bright sunlight that bounces off tidy walls of fruit-coloured plaster and gingery-red brick. Keen to pay my dues to Rimini’s Roman founders, I march straight to the high, elegant arch that marks the end of the ancient Via Flaminia and gaze on in reverence. Then I make a slow, happy meander along the old town’s ceaselessly pleasant streets. In one dozing piazza, I come across a trestle table where three young people are quietly collecting donations for a drug addicts’ charity. Drug addicts? In Rimini? Why would anyone want to escape through drugs from a place as happy as this? I’m dumbfounded, give €10, and get chatting to the kids. “Sure there are a few addicts here,” a young man with kind blue eyes tells me. He casts a compassionate glance at his colleague, a girl with peroxide-frazzled hair clumped together with ribbons. She shyly confesses “I used to be an addict. But now I try to be a good girl.” Ah, youth. A safe, prosperous hometown isn’t enough. There must be problems to overcome.
I stroll on, straining my eyes now to glimpse other shadows on Rimini’s bright idyll. But there’s just too much light. It must be awful to be a moody teenager in a place like this. How could you successfully express your nihilism? The gaiety all around would simply drown you out with its laughter. I spot a few black-clad youngsters with aggressive punk hairstyles, a couple of tattoo-and-piercing parlours and some would-be-edgy clothing boutiques, but it’s clear that the dark and the Gothic are ultimately never going to thrive in such a joyful, sun-washed place as this. I pity any aspirant to angst in Rimini.
How to spend my final dozen hours in Rimini? Stay out all night dancing, of course. And I won’t bother describing here the riotous fun I have. But when my frenzied gyrations beneath the fizzing lights are over, Rimini’s magnetic beach makes its inevitable final claim on me. Music still ringing in my ears, I’m drawn irresistibly to the near-deserted sand. Sunrise isn’t far off, and the horizon quivers pink with expectation of another fun-filled day. Gold high heels in hand, the sand is blissfully cool and soft on my dance-battered feet. I limp across the yielding beach to its firm wave-licked rim and step out into the gently restless water. Foam embraces my ankles with a rushing sigh, and as I stand there smelling the warm salt air I think “Yes, this really might be the happiest place in the world.”
Rimini’s prime attraction is its nine miles of sand. In the summer you’ll wander agog past endless rows of colourful sun umbrellas, uninhibited sunbathers, and people of all ages gleefully sporting in the waves. Be sure to stroll the whole parallel strip of cafés, bars and restaurants to soak up even more of the leisure-soaked atmosphere.
THE OLD TOWN
Rimini’s remarkably peaceful old centre lies just over a mile inland, and various pleasant paths and cycle routes connect it with the beach. Full of attractive, well-maintained buildings, its pretty clock tower is especially memorable. Wander the handsome piazzas and watch the Riminesi at work and play in the true heart of their community.
Referred to as the Tempio Malatestiano or Malatesta Temple, this striking building was originally a 13th-century Gothic church. It was half-heartedly transformed into a Renaissance-style mausoleum for a distinctly dodgy local bigwig in 1450. Inside, there’s a fresco by Piero della Francesca and a painted cross attributed to Giotto. Seek out the Chapel of the Planets which includes a panorama of 15th-century Rimini.
The rather lovely Arch of Augustus, on the southeastern edge of the old town, was built in 27 BC and enhanced with swallowtail crenellations in the Middle Ages. The handsome Tiberius Bridge, wrought in pale Istrian stone between 14 and 21 AD, lies to the old town’s northeast. Rimini’s 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre is now mostly a ruin, but in its heyday could seat up to 15,000 spectators.
Situated at the harbour end of Rimini’s long public beach, the Delfinario Rimini offers entertaining dolphin shows – highlighting the agility and playfulness of these highly intelligent creatures. A marine gallery and various aquariums allow you to learn about other interesting sealife too. www.delfinariorimini.it/eng
ITALIA IN MINIATURA
Seeing all of Italy recreated in miniature is great fun. Nearly 300 famous Italian buildings are meticulously reproduced – on a scale ranging from 1:25 to 1:50 – in this well-maintained outdoor museum. The whole of Venice’s Grand Canal is here, one-fifth its real size. Miniature trains and ships move through the landscape, and you can ride a monorail arcing above the whole. www.italiainminiatura.com/en
AQUAFAN WATER PARK
Europe’s best-loved water park lies ten miles outside Rimini but is easily reached by bus. It’s a teeming, joyous place of giant waterslides, bright pools with wave machines, and every kind of water-based hilarity. The myriad events include foam parties, water dance classes, and music nights with DJs. Tranquil gardens are on hand too when you want to escape the crowds. www.aquafan.it/en-index.php
‘LA NOTTE ROSA’ – PINK NIGHT
Riotous and spectacular, this huge annual extravaganza is a must-see. For one mad summer night, absolutely everyone in Rimini stays up partying till dawn. The town is awash with pink. Streetlights shine pink onto giggly people festooned in pink clothes, hats and wigs. Pink fireworks explode over a beach full of concerts and shows. Crazy, candy-coloured fun.
Piazzale J. F. Kennedy
+39 0541 380800
Superbly located right beside the beach, this striking, vaguely Art Deco building resembles a glossy white ship. It’s beautiful inside, too. The food is excellent, plus beautifully presented and reasonably priced. There are two extensive menus, with cafe-style dishes and sophisticated restaurant fare served in separate parts of the building. A rooftop cocktail bar completes the perfection.
Meal for two about €34 (terrace) / €70 (restaurant)
OSTERIA DE BÖRG
Via Forzieri, 12
+39 0541 56074
Just at the end of the Tiberius Bridge in the old town, this charming place offers traditional and tweaked regional dishes. Try the fabulous filled pasta with cheese and carrot sauce. A là carte prices are reasonable and there’s a great-value set menu too. Dine in the attractive interior or outdoors on a little piazza. Closed Mondays.
Meal for two about €45
Via Chiabrera, 34C
+39 0541 393238
A few streets inland from the seafront, this extremely elegant place enjoys an elevated position with panoramic views across Rimini and the sea – from inside and from its stylish terrace. Contemporary Italian dishes are exquisitely presented with lots of colour and flourishes.
Meal for two about €80
Lungomare Claudio Tintori, 7
+39 0541 27676
This upmarket, summer-only restaurant on Rimini’s bustling harbourside offers great seafood and gives attentive service. Seating is in the elegant wood-lined interior or on a bright terrace outside. Closed Tuesdays.
Meal for two about €50
Via Tempo Malatestiano, 30
+39 0541 21916
Extremely popular with locals, this great-value eatery sits right in the heart of the old town. Comfortable and welcoming, its interior is attractively styled and there’s a garden patio for outdoor dining, too. Very good for wood-fired pizzas, pasta, game and vegetarian dishes. Closed Mondays.
Meal for two about €32
Parco Federico Fellini
+39 0541 56000
A huge white confection of a building set in leafy grounds leading to a private beach, this historic hotel offers every luxury. The décor is the epitome of elegance, and fine antiques pepper the rooms. There are pools, a spa, several restaurants, and everywhere an atmosphere of tranquil refinement.
Double rooms €155-€400
Viale Vittorio Veneto, 22
+39 0541 55155
This welcoming, family-run hotel sits on a quiet, tree-lined street between the beach and the old town. Its 33 good-sized rooms have serene, chic Scandinavian styling. There’s a nice restaurant, and a pleasant veranda to relax with drinks.
Double rooms €44-€136
Via Giordano Bruno, 28
+39 0541 24215 / 24216
Famed architect-designer Ron Arad created this extraordinary hotel in the heart of the old town in 2006. It’s full of arresting, futuristic interiors. The obliquely-angled chrome ring that forms the reception desk is unforgettable. Corridors and the on-site nightclub’s washrooms can make you feel like you’ve stepped into Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A genuinely exciting design hotel. Friendly, helpful staff.
Double rooms €49-€149
HOTEL LA GRADISCA
Viale Fiume, 1
+39 0541 25200
Designed to celebrate the spirit of Fellini’s films, this comfortable 4-star on Rimini’s seafront promenade employs lots of playful, fantasy-style décor in bright colours and bold shapes. Facilities include a pool, Jacuzzi, bar, restaurant, business meeting rooms and guest bicycles.
Double rooms €60-€135
Viale Tripoli, 238
+39 0541 391124 / 391530
This friendly modern hotel is a great budget option. It’s well situated near the rail station and the old town, just a few streets from the beach. Rooms are comfortable and all have balconies. There’s a bar, restaurant, parking and bicycles for guests.
Double rooms €50- €88
©Fleur Kinson 2013