There is something truly wonderful about going for a walk in a small, seaside town. It’s even better when you realise that you’re the only native English speaker around. This was the case for me in Cesenatico, where it was almost as if the locals were all actors in a play put on for solely my enjoyment.
Have you ever seen Funny Farm? You know, that movie with Chevy Chase where he and his wife move to the countryside and hate it? They end up paying everyone in the town to act ‘normal’ in front of the people thinking of buying their house.
It was kind of like that, without ‘Yellow Dog’, a crazy postman and well, with Italians.
Cesenatico (pronounced chess-a-nah-tiko) is a small town on Italy’s Adriatic coast, historically the port to the bigger and inland town of Cesena. Today, Cesenatico kind of feels like two towns; the cosy canal and historic quarter at one end, and the glitzy, hotel-studded promenade that stretches as far as the eye can see. The two lie alongside each other in relative harmony and feed off each other when necessary.
Despite the healthy economy, traces of the past still remain, like living history. Tucked away in a side street is a little shop, Stamperia Braghittoni, selling gorgeous handmade linen bedspreads, bags, placemats and the like. All their handicrafts are decorated in vivid colours, all hand-mixed and printed onto the materials via carved wooden blocks.
It’s a tedious, time-intensive procedure and most have given the pursuit away, with only perhaps a dozen still practice the traditional printing method in the Romagna region today.
It was discovering the laid-back nature of Cesenatico that was truly refreshing. In my experience, Europeans don’t really do laid-back, and even in the south it can be pretty hard to find. Sure they can be more relaxed (what northern Europeans call ‘lazy’) but still they tend to rant and rave when anyone brings up Berlusconi or football or the financial crisis.
The people of Cesenatico don’t seem to give too hoots about any of that (well, I did watch a bit of the final of the Champion’s League with a few of them and they did get a bit animated then) and instead spent their time enjoying the finer things in life. Like wine. And cheese. And the sea.
The heart of Cesenatico is undoubtedly its canal. Dug out over five hundred years ago, the locals love to tell you that Leonardo da Vinci designed their canal but the truth is that he only surveyed it later. But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? The canal is completely charming and I made sure I took it all in both during the day and at night. Restaurants are dotted along both sides, making the scene look not unlike the Venetian islands of Murano and Burano.
Despite the nearby hotels, most of the people we spied were either locals (mainly from Cesena) or domestic tourists (mainly from the south). The atmosphere was electric; large groups of young men would be dining al fresco, kids were still wandering around with their parents close to midnight and gelati stores would be dishing out their specialties well into the night. With the lovely spring night air, it was a joy just to watch it all unfold in front of me.
Drinking a cocktail (in a place that didn’t care about my Havaianas) and watching the sun go down just made me fall a bit more in love with Italy. It wasn’t big city Rome, Milan or even Bologna, but it was definitely Italy. A laid-back Italy I’d never met before, one that really lived by la dolce far niente; that beautiful Italian phrase which means ‘the joy of doing nothing’. And I was happy to oblige.