The Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, also known as Riviera Romagnola, is a seemingly endless stretch of sandy beaches, backed by thick pine woods and wetlands. In the north, the delta of the Po River, Italy’s longest, dominates the landscape. With its expansive marshes, islands and lagoons, the delta forms Europe’s second-largest wetlands and is a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The coastal area south of the delta offers a tantalising array of attractions for visitors; from its beaches and woodlands to ancient towns and charming fishing villages. I’ve explored much of the region but on a recent trip, I focused on the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna. There, I discovered an area of beautiful nature, awe-inspiring historical monuments, picturesque coastal towns and delicious cuisine. Here are the places I visited along the northern areas of the Riviera Romagnola:
Places to visit on the Riviera Romagnola
The blue pins mark the places I travelled to during this trip along the Adriatic coast. The yellow pins mark other places I recommend visiting on and around the Riviera Romagnola. Read more about these places in my Emilia-Romagna road trip guide.
I kicked off my trip along the Adriatic coast in Ravenna, one of the eleven Art Cities of Emilia-Romagna. This ancient city, an hour+ by train/car from Bologna, has a history that goes back more than 2,000 years. In the 5th century AD, the capital of the Western Roman Empire was transferred from Rome to Ravenna, an honour the city held until it was briefly occupied by the Ostrogoths in the late-5th century AD. In 540 AD, the Byzantines (of the Eastern Roman Empire) re-took the city. During this period, a slew of stunning monuments was built, including the awe-inspiring Basilica di San Vitale, the adjacent Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. These monuments stand proudly till this day and form part of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Early Christian monuments of Ravenna‘.
The city of mosaics
One thing that many of these monuments have in common are the stunning mosaics. The elaborate mosaics feature an astonishing level of detail, and are an absolute must-see in Ravenna.
For a more contemporary take on mosaic art, I suggest a visit to the Museo Arte della Citta (City Art Gallery) or MAR. The museum houses a wonderful collection of modern mosaics created by artists from around the world. One of my favourite pieces is by Luca Barberini, who has his studio at Koko Mosaico, a stone’s throw away from the MAR.
Koko Mosaico is also the place to learn more about the art of mosaic making, and you can even attend a workshop there.
Ravenna is also home to the final resting place of the famous 13th century Italian poet, writer and philosopher, Dante Alighieri. He is widely recognised as one of the Western world’s most influential literary figures from the Middle Ages.
Other things to do in Ravenna
One of the best things to do in Ravenna, aside from visiting its amazing monuments, is to stroll around its tangled web of streets. I’ve been there several times and I still sometimes get confused by the street plan. That’s because the city was built on marshes and the roads loosely followed the path of rivers and their tributaries. No worries though as the city centre is pretty compact so it’s no problem if you get lost for a bit; chances are, you’ll stumble upon a centuries-old monument, a quiet square or a lane lined by gorgeous pastel-coloured houses.
Ravenna’s proximity to the Adriatic coast also makes it an attractive beach destination. The coast, about a 15-minute drive away, boasts sandy beaches and pine tree forests. The beaches are lined by a myriad of beach clubs. Some of my favourites can be found just south of Marina di Ravenna such as Singita Miracle Beach and Finisterre Beach.
Visit the website of Ravenna Tourism.
Where to eat in Ravenna
There are numerous restaurants in Ravenna I can recommend. My favourite is Ca de Ven (Via Corrado Ricci, 24) that serves excellent Romagna cuisine in a beautiful old warehouse. I can also recommend Osteria Passatelli and Mercato Coperto.
I recommend staying in Ravenna for at least a few days to enjoy the city and its historic treasures. Accommodations in the city centre that I can recommend include Chez Papa, Le Case Cavour, Villa Santa Maria Foris and Villa Noctis.
From Ravenna, I travelled north to one of my favourite places to visit in Emilia-Romagna: Comacchio. This fishing town was built on 13 islands on the edge of a lagoon, pretty much like its bigger sister, Venice, further up the Adriatic coast. Locally known as the ‘Little Venice of Emilia-Romagna’, Comacchio is a delightful town filled with picturesque canals, beautiful bridges and colourful houses.
I recommend strolling along the canals, especially around sunset, to see why I think this town is absolutely magical. If you’re interested in archeology, visit the Museo Delta Antico, which houses artifacts recovered from ancient Greek and Roman ships.
Just outside the town centre, the beautiful Loggiato dei Cappuccini or Capuchin Portico is a 400m long arcade that was built in the 17th century to connect the town with the Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Aula Regia.
Behind it, you’ll find another of Comacchio’s attractions: Manifattura dei Marinati. There, you can learn about the town’s eel and fishing traditions, and even watch a snippet of a movie from the 1950’s filmed in this building starring Sophia Lauren.
Restaurants in Comacchio I would recommend include Antica Trattoria La Barcaccia, Trattoria della Pescheria, La Locanda del Delta and Vasco e Giulia. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the eel!
From Comacchio, visitors can also enjoy the lagoon, with its fishing huts, and ‘valleys’ and islands teeming with birdlife, by hiring a kayak or joining a boat trip. You might even spot some flamingos in the lagoon!
Not far from Comacchio are several coastal towns which are famous for their beaches. Stretching from Lido delle Nazioni in the north, to Lido di Spina in the south, this is an almost uninterrupted stretch of sandy beaches, camping grounds, hotels and holiday homes.
Comacchio can easily be visited from Ravenna or the coast as a day trip but I suggest spending a night there to experience this magical place. One accommodation I can recommend is Villa Cavour, situated on the gorgeous Via Cavour canal. Read more about things to do in Comacchio or visit the website of Comacchio Tourism.
Milano Marittima or ‘Milan by the sea’ is an elegant seaside town that was founded in 1912 as a beach resort for the Milanese. Since then, many hotels, restaurants, beach clubs and night clubs have sprung up in and around the town. Despite these developments and its image as a party town for Milan’s jet-set, Milano Marittima still maintains an air of sophistication.
I especially love its beautiful, tree-lined boulevards, some of which are for pedestrians only. Stroll along the Viale Gramsci pedestrian street with its high-end boutiques and cafés, and stop at the lovely fountain in the Primo Maggio roundabout, itself covered with a gorgeous tree canopy. Continue along the lush Lungomare promenade that winds its way along the beach.
As you explore the town centre, look out for some of its elegant, early-20th century villas in Liberty style (the Italian variant of Art Nouveau) such as the Villa Palanti (built in 1914). Then drop by the chic Hotel Mare e Pineta, the oldest hotel in Milano Marittima, for some cocktails and canapés. I recommend staying there but if you’re just visiting, check out its beautiful contemporary art and sculpture collection.
Visit the website of the Milan Marittima tourist office.
A stone’s throw south of Milano Marittima lies Cervia, a town that’s famous for its salt. Often rated as one of the best salts in the world, Cervia salt has an unmistakably sweet aftertaste. I’d never thought of dropping by in Cervia on previous visits to the Riviera Romagnola, but I’m glad I did on this occasion. Cervia has a charming historic centre with a picturesque canal.
Things to see in the old town of Cervia
The most iconic landmark in Cervia is the San Michele tower, which houses the local tourism office. Climb the 5-storey tower for panoramic views of Cervia. Near the tower lies Piazza Andrea Costa, a large parking lot that hosts the popular Cervia farmers’ market every Thursday.
Next to the tower are the old salt warehouses. One of them is now the MUSA (Salt Museum) that showcases the fascinating history of the salt industry in Cervia. You can also try some Cervia salt at the museum and discover its distinctive sweet taste.
Across the canal stands the old Darsena salt warehouse. For centuries, burchiella (barges) were used to transport salt from the nearby Cervia salt pans to these warehouses.
Other interesting sights in Cervia’s old town include the Municipal Palace, Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Piazza Carlo Pisacane.
I also recommend walking along the Cervia canal and stopping at one of the restaurants for a delicious seafood meal. Places I suggest include Ristorante Capitano, Osteria TreSeiCinque and Ristorante La Pantofla. Try the Cervia mussels, which are one of the most sought-after mussels in Europe.
Cervia also has a lovely sandy beach filled with beach clubs and restaurants. This makes it another attractive option for a beach holiday on the Riviera Romagnola.
Cervia salt pans
Just outside the town, forming the southernmost reaches of the Po Delta park, lie the Cervia salt pans. Salt has been harvested here since the 3rd century BC (!) and continues till this day. The Cervia Salt Pan Visitor Centre (Centro Visite Salina di Cervia) organises guided tours (on foot, bike or by boat). It’s a unique opportunity to learn about salt harvesting and see the birds that populate the pans such as flamingos and black-winged stilts.
Visit the website of Cervia Tourism for more info.
Note: my trip to the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna was a collaboration between iambassador and Ravenna Tourism, Comacchio Tourism, Visit Milano Marittima and Visit Cervia. As always, all views mentioned above are mine, and mine only.