Rimini returns from the brink
Brash and gaudy? Mussolini’s Margate is being revived
RIMINI will always be a special place for me because it is where I first saw my father. My parents divorced when I was a baby and I had no contact with him until I was a teenager.
When I was 12 my mother and I drove from England to Rimini beach. Among the crowds, the ice-cream sellers and the plastic sun-loungers, my father and I were reunited.
Although I was impressed with my first sighting of a palm tree, even as a teenager I could tell that Rimini in the late 1970s was not especially glamorous. The sandy beach was long and wide, but the various beach stations were gaudy and indistinguishable.
The city was destroyed during the war and then rebuilt. It was Mussolini who first brought the masses to the beaches when he built the railway line.
For much of the 1970s and 1980s Rimini was the Italian equivalent of Margate. But now the city is undergoing a revival. There are new trendy boutique hotels, the clubs are less tacky, and people don’t snigger when you mention that you are going there.
When I returned to Rimini recently I found a much-improved and much-changed city. The Old Town has been revamped; much has been pedestrianised and the cobbled streets and squares are filled with elegant shops. When I first went, there were few nice places to stay. If you were rich, you stayed at the Grand Hotel. This was immortalised by Frederico Fellini in his film Amarcord.
Now there are almost 1,500 hotels in Rimini, including the trendy Duomo Hotel, which is well worth a visit, especially if you like a reception desk that looks like a giant silver life-belt. The Hotel Le Meridien was designed to resemble an ocean liner by the architect Paolo Portoghesi and is a favourite among chic Italians.
But some traditions live on. Rimini has been famous for its nightclubs for decades. About 25 years ago, I spotted Maradona on the dancefloor at Il Paradiso. When I was a teenager, Il Paradiso was the place to be seen – with or without a footballer. It still exists and the view from there is outstanding.
I remember rolling in from Il Paradiso at five in the morning and my grandmother being scandalised. “That’s the time people get up to open their stalls in the market,” she told me. And rather conveniently, if you are a little peckish on your way down the hill from the club, you can pop into the vast covered market for a bit of bread with ham or cheese.
If you happen to find yourself in the covered market, start with the general foods, fruit and vegetable section (where you can stock up on prime-grade parmesan for a fraction of the price you will pay back home) and then move on to the fish and seafood section. Here you will see things you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night, let alone eat. One local delicacy is a small see-through crustacean called canocchia. When you eat them think of Fellini, Italy’s most celebrated film director, who was born and grew up in Rimini and was nicknamed canocchia because he was so thin.
The city had a difficult relationship with its most famous citizen. When his film La Dolce Vita came out, local priests and residents demonstrated outside the duomo, one of Italy’s most famous churches, with large painted signs. “We will pray for the sinner Federico Fellini” they had written on them. Among the protesters were Fellini’s own mother and my grandmother.
Whatever else you do in Rimini, try to eat as much as possible. If you like seafood, you won’t need to go to a nightclub to find paradise, just head for Lo Squero and the seafood risotto. Rimini has one restaurant with a Michelin star, the Acero Rosso, which takes its name from the three red maple trees in the garden. It is an ideal place to savour home-made pasta and plan your next visit.
And if you stay at Le Meridien, you can avoid the crowds that still frequent the beach by hanging out in the Dolce Vita Beach Club. If I were to meet my father on Rimini beach today, that’s where I would choose.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of Ciao Bella – In Search of my Italian Father (Gibson Square, £7.99).
Need to know
Citalia (0871 6640253, www.citalia.com) offers seven nights’ half board at the Grand Hotel in Rimini from £839pp.
The price includes BA flights from Gatwick and private transfers.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019