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Published on Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May day may day - Romagna has it covered

Garlanded tractors, fish festival, lots of great food in the hills of plenty - SEE VIDEO

Ancient and atmospheric, Sant Agata Feltria is known as 'Tartufo Town'   because each year it has a wondrous truffle festival which crowds the streets and fills up the restaurants.  During the festival it is said that you can smell the aroma of these wonderful fungi for miles around. The town also has a rather wonderful Christmas festival when for nearly a month it becomes the "Magical Country of Christmas' Why? You may ask. Because hilltop Sant Agata Feltria is simply stunning - cobbled streets, dinky theatre, lovely square, fairytale castle - the works.

Did I say fairytale castle? Now the castle really is a castle full of fairytales because the towering 11th century Fregosa fortress, refurbished and updated to a noble residence in the 15th century has found a new use. As a castle dedicated to fairytales no less, and called the Fortress of Fairytales  .of course. Inside the castle walls all year round kids of all ages can enjoy our world heritage of fairytales depicted in storytelling, video, interactive books and installations in a truly fairytale setting. There's even Cinderella's crystal slipper made especially by Salvatore Ferragamo.           

It's a short hop from Sant Agata to another Malatesta family castle at Longiano which now hosts a fabulous art collection. And on the next hill, just 5km away there is yet another castle in another hilltop village - Montiano. This castle is a bit different because it houses a year-round collection of Nativity scenes. Plus the village is a good food magnet with the top class Cittadella Restaurant and the fabulous butcher shop & restaurant Lucchi. If you want their beef, it is only possible to eat the 'Scottone Piemontese' which are farmed locally and truly delicious, particularly cooked with local salt from Cervia and fantastic 'Erbette' local herbs. A memorable meal with wine will cost you around about €30 £22 $33 per person.

Mayday dawns on the streets of delightful, hilltop, castellated Longiano  and what seems to be the whole population plus a bunch of multi-national cyclists are sitting around in the main square in the sun, waiting to be entertained. It's worker's day and as all the workers around here are farmers they're ready to show off all they have worked hard for. Tractors of all sorts, green and red, make the parade, driven by proud owners, garlanded with leaves, often pulling carts - some full of merrymaking groups - one with a blow-up doll - chug their way through the square and beyond in what seems a never-ending bucolic traffic jam. The strains of "Romagna Mia" fill the air as the politicians on the podium fight a losing battle in their pontifications.

What could be better than a Mayday lunch with some locals at their house in the valley, in the sun with views of the Adriatic some 10km away. Men and women are competing with each other rolling Strozzapreti ('Strangled Priest' - the local pasta), and we've already hacked our way into some local hard cheese and olives. Cooked in 5 minutes sauced and eaten in less - the Strozzapreti are delicious - one savoury, the other sweet. Then come strawberries with custard and finally the egg whites not used in the custard have made meringues to go with our coffee. Sorry forgot the pastry that one of the guests brought - jammy and delicious!

From the house you can see the Leonardo da Vinci port of Cesenatico so it's a very short journey. Of course it's still Mayday in the port and here the workers are fishermen (Cesenatico has the biggest fishing fleet in the Adriatic just now). So naturally everybody was celebrating FISH.

The festa is called Azzuro come il Pesce  (Blue like the fish!) and there are thousands cramming the port and the restaurants and at 10pm they're still piling in. Why? Because there is great food here and happy crowds because the prices are little short of miraculous. Fritto misto of fish, risotto of fish, all sorts of pasta with all sorts of Adriatic fish - even perfect fish burgers.

And the May Day weekend still is not over, the next day in Longiano, around the towering castle there is an artisan and craft fair where local workers come to share their talents and their products with locals and visitors. It's called 'Me Stieri'  Even includes workshops to learn crafts - not forgetting the major local craft of making pasta - an opportunity to try archery and a whole demonstration about the history of radio. The event was set up by local tourism boss Cristina Minotti with the extraordinary local Folk Museum (which is crammed full of local stuff - pictures, looms, Vespas, film posters, books, kitchen equipment, tools, tractors, furniture everything)

The sunset was going to be great and yet another mountain had to be visited. Naturally at Montecodruzzo there was a well-attended local Mayday dinner festival but there is also a sensational restaurant that's worth a visit:

Massimo, who runs Osteria di Montrecodruzzo  is a local farmer and he's passionate about local food. So he does the lot, grows it, cooks it, serves it and often eats it!

The artichokes are just in season, so today we started with a little frittata, followed by a salad of raw artichoke, aged parmesan and rocket before we ate a fabulous Cappellacci (little local pasta hats!) stuffed with fresh local cream cheese and covered with pancetta, artichoke, and parmesan. Followed by Osso Buco of Massimo's white Romagnolo beef and portions of his grilled rare breed Moro Romagnolo pork, sausages, back rib and bacon. Plus the best courgettes, aubergines and rosemary roast potatoes and gratin tomatoes that you are ever likely to eat. Top class totally committed cuisine and the lot plus a half bottle of Sangiovese 2012 from that hill over there and a couple of bottles of fizzy water and coffees for less than €60, £44, $66 for two people. Beat that.

And the view from the restaurant - all the way over the Romagna Hills to the Apennines - stunning. You now realize why the Ghurkas fought so hard to win the battle for these peaks just 70 years ago - and, yes, they had their celebration meal at Massimo's last week.

Valere Tjolle


More about Romagna HERE

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