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Published on Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rasponi revels

Something for the journey

The more Italy changes the more it remains the same

It was the last performance of the Ravenna Festival and we arrived in the sultry July evening heat at the massive San Giacomo palace, the seat of the power players in Ravenna - the Rasponi family.

"Can I tell you something" said Cinzia Pasi conpiratorially, as she waylaid us at the gate "They are making a factory here" "It is going to ruin our beautiful area - have a leaflet" "Do you want to see the mayor, it's his project - he's standing there".

To be honest, in the balmy evening with a hundred or so people sitting on the grass and enjoying fabulous world music - it didn't seem appropriate to stand and demonstrate or talk to the major.

So, we queued up at the trestle table and waited while three delightful local people laboriously wrote out tickets for a couple of ice creams  - we paid our 2 Euros and went to the bar to be served. Who cared about the global financial crisis, the possibility that a factory would be built. We'd got our ice creams the musicians were drumming and singing and playing weird string instruments and the bureaucratic ice cream tasted good. The crowd was happy and everything in Italy was in its place.

The concert ended late and after happily getting lost in the grounds of the old Rasponi palace, church and art gallery complex (there is always a great art gallery!) we made our way back to another Rasponi establishment. With its air of peace , understanding and plenty, you couldn't find a more sublime place to sleep.

After a fabulous sleep in the delightfully-renovated Palazzo Baldini,   it was time to have a sunny breakfast.

To be honest, you wouldn't have marked out our hosts as medieval barons. At the Palazzo Baldini, Fillipo (a veterinary surgeon) is a young impeccable, well-travelled 'Front of House' and his mother (a Baldini by birth) and his father aided by two inspired chefs look after the hospitality in depth.

It is quickly clear that just everything has been chosen with the best possible taste. From the superb white-sheeted beds, through the thoughtfully-restored and now glazed air vents in the drying-room to the miraculous ravioli, the taste, visual and culinary, is simply perfect.

And these Baldinis don't stand on formality. For breakfast mother brings out a tray of melt-in-the-mouth just-baked cookies and father asks if we'd like some fresh fruit. He reappears two minutes later with peaches, apricots and nectarines still warm from the sun and just plucked from the trees. With a little perfect espresso, it's the breakfast from heaven.

And while dad grabs more fruit for us to take away, mum gives the tour of the garden - sample ripe figs, see the goats and chicken and rabbits gamboling and forget about the fact they're lunch!

It's time for coffee. Hastily grabbing our bags and gratefully accepting a box of at least 10kg of fresh fruit ("for the journey!") we leave to have morning coffee in Bagnocavallo.

Ever heard of Bagnocavallo? Little Bologna? Me neither. Yet it is yet another tiny astonishing marvel of Italian medieval architecture, slumbering in the morning sun. Lord Byron must have liked it - his little daughter Allegra is buried here, and there is a tower festooned with car and house keys (its historically a place where people come to find their lost property). Apart from that the pretty town has a 'Lovers Lane' - yes you have to walk down it…

Then you discover a real architectural jewel - a stunning elliptical piazza - the porticoed 1758 Piazza Nuova. Serene, golden stone gleaming in the sun - it could have come out of a dream.

Food was necessary after such an assault on the senses. Why not Cervia, the city of sea salt?  And yet another miracle-destination. Park up, walk through a little alleyway back at least 500 years. Yet another perfectly sumptuous square in the centre of a new town built on the salt trade at the time when amazing architecture was king. But of course it was Tuesday and on Tuesday lunchtime everywhere that is anywhere in Cervia town was closed.

Now it really is time for lunch, by the sea. The great thing about the Ravenna Riviera is that it's small, it's beautiful, the food and drink and relaxation are great and…it's very, very local. In other words not many people further that 50km away have ever heard of it. Why would they want to, after all?

So, the thing you come to realize about Italy in general and Emilia Romagna in particular - is that everything is done as it should be, for locals.

You sit in a restaurant on one of Ravenna's big tranquil beaches and you eat Strozzapreti (strangled priest pasta - don't ask!) with a sauce of fabulous, fresh from the sea you see in front of you, shellfish.

And you feel the calm of families that have been doing exactly all this for generations.

And you consider the fact that through disasters, invasions, economic turmoils, falls from grace, through it all, nothing has really changed for at least a few hundred years.

Maybe it's the rampant bureaucracy that holds it together, maybe it's the fact that Italy, more than most is not really a country - it's an amalgam of cuisines, a federation of terroirs, a grouping of tastes; all held together with a common belief in the power of food and drink and good living and hospitality to triumph.

After all, the Euro may come and go, economic and environmental and political  disasters may pass. But a plate of Strozzapreti is something all your senses will applaud for ever.

Contact [email protected] for real tourism B&B bookings, meet and greet, excursions and groups in Romagna.

Valere Tjolle

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