Cycling this part of Italy has been way too fun
I'm keener than ever to ride today. The day off the bike has worked wonders and although I'm still lacking sleep, the buffet breakfast on the terrace at The Grand Hotel Cesenatico is fuelling me up just brilliantly.
This beach-side hotel is a charming step back in time; TV and wifi aside, it doesn't feel like much has changed since it opened in 1929. But while its ornate architecture still resonates yesteryear beauty, it's the staff that really do this place justice. It's also a Terrabici bike hotel, so we cyclists are taken good care of.
It's our last day on the bike and a bright blue sky has come out to send us off into the mountains, exploring the region north of San Marco and Verucchio. Invigorated by the sea air, we push off along the flat and make our way toward the hills one last time.
A real bella vista
We have some nice climbs on today's route, steady, but not overly steep, as we cut higher up to more of the sweeping Italian countryside views that Emilia Romagna does so well. Adding to the pleasantry is the silence; up here you really can hear the wind through the trees, and with barely a car in sight, you could be fooled into thinking these roads exist just for cyclists.
Some downhill and another climb and it's time for lunch. Today we're being treated to a cheese and wine tasting at Fossa Blues. Through the wooden doors of the beautifully restored stone building, we enter a traditional setting, dark and mysterious among the stones and seamlessly fused with a passion for blues music and a menu to suit.
I'm really going to miss this Italian food. Everything they serve up seems so effortless and rustic, but the sensational flavours are anything but.
I'm drawn to ray of light that beams through an open door at the other side of the room. It's impossible not to investigate, so I step through and find myself on a balcony overhanging the valley far below, with rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Some others in our group have already parked up to admire the view, espressos in hand. It's stunning, but there are darkening clouds on the horizon, so we down the coffee and hit the pedals.
Cesenatico by the sea
I'm cycling alongside “Aussie Chris”, nicknamed to avoid confusion with Canadian Chris in our bunch. Chris – a cycling guide with Oxygen Lifestyle Hotel in Rimini, and as you could guess, an expat Australian – is pointing out the sights as we ride. He knows the area like the back of his hand.
Chris singles out a tower, hazy on the horizon, marking our start and finish point in Cesenatico. It seems so far away, but as it's predominantly downhill and flat from here, we're there in no time. The threat of rain clears, and the afternoon returns to its glory.
Back at the hotel we remove our pedals and return the bikes. It feels way too soon for this to be over – cycling this part of Italy has been a real treat.
For a place I didn't know much about before this trip, Emilia Romagna has been an eye opener with a little bit of everything: old stone towns, rolling countryside, vineyards, wine and local delicacies, and, of course, the sea. And its bike hotels have been a real bonus. I know I'll be back, and next time I'll be bringing Simon: this “taster” has worked all too well.
While the cycling may be over, I've still got a few hours to kill and one site in particular I want to see – Cesenatico's most famed attraction: the canal surveyed and designed by Leonardo da Vinci and built in the early 1500s.
Colourful buildings with stories to tell line its waterfront and a handful of traditional “bragozzi” sailing boats rest in the harbour. It's beautifully preserved, but perhaps the most impressive feat is that more than 500 years later, this canal remains the life blood of the region's fishing industry.
As night falls, we head out to a popular restaurant called Maré near the end of the canal.
Our table is up on the top deck overlooking the beach on one side and the canal with its fishing huts and nets on the other. You could not pick a better spot to usher in the evening.
The fresh seafood menu is also as entertaining as it is delicious, with dishes served up in small paper boxes and French fries served in paper cones, as if we are eating takeaway, but with a touch of style.
The evening kicks on, and as night falls we watch the fishing boats file one-by-one out into the sea, their lights bobbing up and down on the horizon at well-spaced intervals, no doubt bringing in tomorrow's menu. Music from a nearby nightclub pipes up and the canal begins to transform into one large outdoor party. The night is young and my time in Emilia Romagna is sadly drawing to an end.
With barely a wink of sleep since arriving, there's no point starting now. Let there be dancing.
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