Italy does a great job of promoting its major cities; everyone wants to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice. But in my mind the country’s real charm lies in the smaller towns; its mountaintop fortresses, ancient riverside settlements, and seaside port towns. Every time we visit Italy we discover another of these charming places, and the most recent one was Cesenatico.

Founded in 1302 to serve as a port for nearby Cesena, Cesenatico has its fair share of history. Unfortunately its beaches are more of a drawcard, and since the mid-nineteenth century it has been a holidaymakers’ mecca: beaches planted with rows of umbrellas and hotels offering all-inclusive packages. Originally these tourists were Italians, but now German is the most-heard language in the hotel lobbies: most menus seem to be printed in German and Italian.

Obviously this kind of holiday isn’t at all what Craig and I look for in a trip, though the families staying at our hotel seemed pretty happy with their choice: the food was good, we were just across the road from the beach, bikes were available for hire.

Personally, I’d visit Cesenatico in winter to avoid the tourist crush and actually be able to see the town. Because there’s a lot more to do there than just lie on a white-sand beach.

1. Market

Every morning there’s a farmers’ market behind the fish market building, right in the centre of town. There’s only about twelve stalls, but the produce they sell is fresh, delicious, and locally produced. Stop into the fish market too (it’s closed on Sundays) if you’re doing your own cooking.

The farmers’ market is arranged around several large cone-shaped depressions in the ground, which used to be used for storing fish: they’d be packed with layers of ice and fish to keep it fresher for longer.

2. Maritime museum

Cesenatico’s defining feature is its canal harbour: a long narrow canal lined with fishing boats. Although the marketing literature likes to say it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, this isn’t true: he was called in to improve it fifty years after its construction, but his suggestions were never implemented. This doesn’t stop everything being named after him, though!

The canal harbour was updated a few times, and in 1983 a dead space between two bridges was cleaned up to be used as a maritime museum. Now you can see ten traditional boats there: nine fishing boats and one that was used to transport cargo to Croatia. On a fine day, the sails are raised and it’s a fantastic sight to see.

The floating museum in Cesenatico's canal harbour.
The floating museum in Cesenatico’s canal harbour.

In 1995 a “land section” of the museum was opened, where for €2 you get a more-traditional maritime museum experience: you can learn about boat construction and history and get hands-on with some of the exhibits. I was interested to see that at Christmastime all the boats are decorated with traditional figures and a nativity scene — that would be worth seeing.

Your €2 entry fee also gives you access to the antiquarium, which is a small exhibition about the Roman town which used to stand here.

3. Eat

You can’t go to Italy and not indulge in its gastronomy, and in Cesenatico this centres around fish. Grilled sardines are a popular choice, though you’ll have a wide range of options regardless of which restaurant you choose to eat in. Vegetables are also on the menu: we really enjoyed the grilled peppers, zucchini and eggplant that was available at every salad bar we saw during our stay. And of course, pasta and pizza is always within reach!

Just remember that having milk in your coffee after about 11am is a strict no-no; have a cappuccino for breakfast but go for an espresso or americano after lunch if you want to be culturally sensitive.

In the mid-afternoon a gelato will probably be exactly what you’re after; many cafes have an ice cream counter on the street to help make purchasing one easy for you.


Cycling's a good way to get around.
Cycling’s a good way to get around.
The town of Cesenatico is quite small, but the hotels and restaurants spread down the beach for many kilometres. If your hotel is further from town than you’d like, the best way to get around is by bike. Most hotels will provide these, either free or for a fee, and they make getting around easy and pleasant. Drivers are used to cyclists so it’s pretty safe, and the roads are flat with many cycle lanes. We enjoyed cycling through some of the large parks on the outskirts of town, as well as winding our way through the pedestrians in the town itself.

On the whole, Cesenatico is a great place to spend a couple of days, especially in winter (or in summer if you like package holidays). You could use it as a base for exploring the region — it’s close enough to San Marino to make a day trip there perfectly plausible — or you could just relax and enjoy its seaside atmosphere.

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