This last week has seen a gentle but definite drop in the temperatures, fewer people on the beaches, and that almost tangible soft melancholy in the air which signals the end of summer.
The good news, though, is that the Autumn is actually one of the best times to visit Rimini and Emilia-Romagna in general, and here’s the top five reasons (the list could go on endlessly!)
1) The End of the Afa, but temperatures are still warm
Through September and October, and oftentimes into November, the temperatures in Rimini and throughout Emilia-Romagna remain warm – often hitting the mid 20s, making things very pleasant. It’s a far cry though from that serious heat which has been the hallmark of the 2009 summer season – a heat that is great on the beach, but oppresive elsewhere, making it hard to get out and enjoy all the things this region has to offer!
The ‘Afa’, as we wrote in an August post, is that hot, humid heat that saps your energy, and makes a sun-lounger on the beach the only really inviting possibility during the day. From September onwards it’s only a memory, thankfully.
And let’s put things in perspective here – while most Italians are starting to feel the chill, because the temperature has dropped down from 34 degrees to 24, for any of us that come from Northern Europe that counts as a fully-fledged summer’s day!
The evenings now start to get cooler so you’ll need to pack your cardigans/jumpers etc for those nights when you sit out enjoying a meal prepared with the finest Autumnal ingredients.
2) Seasonal Food
Italian food in general, and the traditional cooking of Emilia-Romagna in particular, relies for its reputation on the use of the finest fresh, local ingredients – and Autumn trumps summer on that account without a shadow of a doubt.
The list of foods that characterise the Autumn include (amongst many others):
The Truffle (Tartufo – Bianco e Nero)
One of the world’s most prized delicacies, the white truffle (Tuber Magnatum to be exact), is searched out in the hills of the ValMarecchia during the autumn, along with it’s more common relation the black truffle (Tuber macrosporum).
Certainly not to everyone’s taste, as pointed out by gastronomic historian Piero Meldini:
“The truffle, especially the prized white, the tuber magnatume pico, is little more than a scent, an essence, a strange magice, but capable of enriching many different dishes. The truffle in cooking can be either hated for its intensity or loved to the point of spending head-turning prices.”
Towns like Sant’Agata Feltria, in Romagna, are rightly famous for their truffles, and during the autumn hold special Sagre (food festivals)for this noble fungus. At these festivals you can buy fresh truffles and a myriad of truffle-based products including oils, pates, butters and cheeses. Watch out, though, for products that use chemical aromas, like 2,4-dithiapentane, to reproduce the distinct scent of the truffle. They’re nothing like the real thing.
You can also find white truffles in the hills around Rimini, and served on the menus of local restaurants during the autumn. Amongst the common dishes are tagliatelle al tartufo, the thin long fresh pasta served with gratings of truffle on top. If the truffle is fresh, this simple pasta dish is one of the finest things you’ll ever taste!
The Chestnut (Castagne)
Chestnuts are a highly-prized and versatile ingredient in local cooking. One of the things that instantly lifts the spirits when walking through the cities of Emilia-Romagna – like Bologna, Rimini, Modena etc – during the autumn are the presence of street-vendors roasting chestnuts over hot-coals.
In restaurants you’ll be able to get fresh pasta filled with chestnut – for example ravioli di castagne, or pasta like gnocchi, made with chestnut flour (farina di castagne). If pasta’s not your thing (as unlikely as that may be!), you’ll also find castagne used to accompany game dishes like faraona (Woodpigeon), or Cinghiale (Wild Boar).
For the sweet-tooths chestnuts are also used for the typical fruit-cake castagnaccio – made with chestnut flour, and accompanied well with chestnut honey.
The best place in the world, probably, to sample all that the chestnut can offer is Montefiore Conca, just 25km outside Rimini, where during October they hold their annual Sagra delle Castagne where you’ll encounter every imaginable use for this autumnal fruit – and some more besides!
When we think of seasonal foods we tend to think of fruits and vegetables, and perhaps animals (like Lamb for example), but rarely fish. In fact, though, feeding and migratory patterns ensure that there are very definitely ‘right’ times of the year to eat certain fish – take for example that famous french maxim for eating mussles and oysters, that they’re good in any month that has an ‘r’ in it (which holds true for those in the Adriatic – meaning that the autumn is good .)
Some Adriatic fish that are particularly good in the Autumn include:
The Mantis Shrimp (Canocchia) which is used in various different dishes – it can be eaten cold as an antipasto, or cooked as the main ingredient for a sauce to accompany pasta.
Shellfish like scampi, lobster(astici) and the Caramote Prawn (Mazzancolle) are also at their best during the colder months – in particular November and December.
And to finish, their are plenty of foods that while not particularly seasonal in terms of ingredients just taste better during the cooler months. Try eating either of those two staples of the Emila-Romagna cuisine, Lasagne or Tagliatelle al ragu on the beachfront in July or in a cheery Osteria in October and you’ll see what I mean.
3) The Vendemmia, Novello Wine, and Wine Festivals
From September onwards any right-minded Italian starts to concentrate on Wine. Many families lucky enough to have some land in the hills will grow their own grapes and call upon friends and family to help in the Vendemmia – the harvesting of the grapes and preparation of the wine (memorably captured, for example, in Eric Newby’s On the Shores of the Mediterranean).
So it’s no surprise that the autumn months are characterised by wine production, celebration, and tasting!
Increasingly popular in Italy, as in France, are the ‘new’ wines or Vino Novello, the first wines to come from the harvest, made by a process of whole-berry fermentation, generally light in terms of alcohol and lacking the subtlety and complexities of a traditionally aged wine. Their popularity is as much to do with marketing as it is to do with taste, but there’s another factor at work, and that’s celebration. People love to get together to celebrate the first wine of the season – and so there are tasting sessions and festivals dedicated to these throughout the region.
For those searching for wines with a bit more substance, the Autumn is still a great time to visit, as throughout the countryside there are wine festivals – like the Sagre di Sangiovese in places like Coriano, or in Predappio. During these festivals you can sample and buy some of the best wines the region has to offer.
4) Big Events
During the summer months Rimini hosts an amazing array of big and small events to cater for all tastes. You might think that, given all the energy and organisation put into the summer, that the town goes all quiet during the Autumn and Winter months – nothing could be farther from the truth.
For example, in October you have the prestigious Pio Manzu convention which brings together some leading lights from the worlds of academia, business, and the arts to discuss important themes facing global society in the 21st century. Its award ceremony has played host to princesses, movie stars, heads of state, Nobel prize winners, scientists, economists, rock stars and everything in between.
In November the Fellini Foundation holds its annual conference, presided over by one of Italy’s leading directors Pupi Avati. The conference is an important moment for Italian and International cinema, with its annual award being presented to an important director – this year’s award goes to Sidney Lumet
Rimini’s prestigious trade exhibition centre Rimini Fiera is busy all year round, and has various important and interesting trade-fairs during the Autumn months including Ecomondo – dedicated to alternative energy and the environment; and TTG Incontri, the International b2b fair for the tourism industry.
This year’s Autumn is particularly exciting, as it sees the opening of a major international art exhibition, From Rembrandt to Gaugin and Picasso (website in Italian), which brings together various masterpieces from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – including works not just by the artists in the show’s title, but also Tintoretto, Matisse, Monet, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Murillo, El Greco, Zurbarán, Manet and Velásquez (amongst others), all on display in Rimini’s medieval castle the Castel Sismondo. It’s one of the most exciting art exhibitions in Europe this year, not least because of the amazing location. The show opens on the 10th of October and runs through to March.
In addition, the various clubs and concert halls throughout the region that close up in the summer-months, all re-open and have a full seasonal program. You can enjoy rock concerts in clubs like Velvet, Theatre and Music in the Teatro Novelli, and others throughout the province.
5) Get a glimpse behind the scenes – it’s out of season!
One of the best things about visiting Rimini in this season is that, paradoxically, you’re visiting when it’s out of the tourist season. This has loads of advantages, not just price-wise (though you will find big discounts on hotel accomodation amongst other things).
Let’s try to develop a cinematic metaphor here – with the help of Rimini’s grand Maestro Federico Fellini. During the summer months Rimini is a magical place, an international melting-pot, where every night hosts hundreds of parties to suit all – where songwriter/film director Luciano Ligabue suggested that the city is like a mirror, where you can see your own reflection. It is, in some ways, a fantasy – a giant film set.
In the Autumn, though, the attention shifts away from the seaside, back to the main city centre of Rimini – along the Roman axis of the Arco d’Augusto, Piazza Tre Martiri, the Corso di Augusto, Piazza Cavour and the Ponte di Tiberio – away from the fantastic film-set that is the beachfront, to the solid world behind the scenes that allows the production to continue.
Rimini in autumn gives you a glimpse of real day-to-day Italian life in all its complexity and beauty. A holiday here now is more about enjoying the authentic food, culture, and history of the town than the bright lights and long-nights of the beachfront.
For the curious traveller it’s an unforgettable trip. In the morning you can take a walk along the almost empty beach (and for most of us it’s still warm enough to swim) with its white foamy waves. Afterwards you can stroll into town and find yourself, within the space of a couple of blocks, journeying from the Roman world into the Medieval, and on through to the traumatic years of Italian fascism and the Partisan war of liberation. Stop into a restaurant or bar now and you’ll be surrounded by locals eating, and drinking – rather than fellow tourists, and you’ll be made to feel all the more welcome for it. And in the evening you can drive up into the hills and see the various harvests finishing up, and enjoy any of the hundreds of local fairs and festivals that characterise this time of year.
And at the same time, if you feel like enjoying some of the features of the Rimini summer, like going to one of the many theme parks in Emilia-Romagna – like Italia in Miniatura, Mirabilandia, or Oltremare – many of them are still open, and have lower ticket prices and significantly shorter queues for admission and attractions.
It’s definitely a great time to visit.