Riding your own motorbike on a fascinating ring itinerary, from Ravenna to Florence and back again. Two intense days following in the footsteps of Dante Alighieri, who left an indelible mark on both these cities.
The route crosses the Apennines, on the border between Romagna and Tuscany, passing splendid villages, villas, UNESCO monuments and magnificent natural landscapes: an experience to enjoy first-hand the sites that hosted the Supreme Poet for longer or shorter periods.
There are so many places in Ravenna that recall Dante, but our visit to this surprising city begins at the Basilica of St Francis, where his funeral service was held.
Ravenna is a gem, a real treasure trove of art, history and culture with an ancient and glorious past behind it. In fact, Ravenna was a capital three times: in the final days of the Western Roman Empire (402-403), then during the reign of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric (493-526) and finally, under Byzantine rule (553 -751). It was the magnificence of this latter period that left the city a great heritage of monuments - eight buildings have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
This city was home to Dante in the later years of his life, after wandering at length far from Florence, and it is here that he finished writing his Divine Comedy, drawing inspiration from the city’s mosaics, which the poet celebrated in many passages of his work and frequently alluded to.
Before leaving Ravenna, it is well worth visiting his tomb, which is a national monument. Nearby is a garden with the Quadrarco landmark and the Franciscan cloisters, home to the Dante Museum.
Leaving Ravenna, with our eyes still full of beauty and heading into the fascinating countryside of the lower Romagna plain, we soon reach Bagnacavallo, recalled by Dante in a famous passage of Purgatory, the second part of his Divine Comedy.
One of the most interesting tourist destinations in the Ravenna area, the village still retains its old historical centre, built based on an original mediaeval layout, which is unique in Romagna.
Back on our bikes, the itinerary continues to Lugo and Imola and then, following the course of the Santerno River, we soon reach Borgo Tossignano, where the road heads into the Vena del Gesso Romagnola Regional Park, an experience that extends from the Sillaro Valley as far as Brisighella.
Brisighella is an ancient mediaeval village with a remarkably strong vocation towards hospitality and sustainable tourism. It stands at the foot of three chalk pinnacles on which the Manfredi Fortress, the Clock Tower and the Sanctuary of Monticino stand. This charming village in Romagna welcomed the Supreme Poet, offering him shelter shortly after he was exiled from Florence.
Continuing, we soon reach Modigliana, near the border with Tuscany, and Conti Guidi fortress, which played such an important role in the life of Dante. Then, passing by way of Dovadola, we reach Portico di Romagna, a village that boasts an Orange Flag, which is awarded by the Italian Touring Club to places that stand out thanks to the quality of their hospitality. The Portinari, the family of Dante’s muse Beatrice, had a villa here that still bears their name.
We’re in the National Park of the Casentino Forests and, near Portico di Romagna, we can delight in the splendour of Acquacheta Falls, described in the 16th canto of Dante’s Inferno.
Before us is the legendary Muraglione Pass, with is adrenalin-filled bends, its challenges and its splendid views of Apennine landscapes that stretch between Romagna and Tuscany.
The road now descends and we’re soon in Florence, the city beloved by Dante that cast him out on 10 March 1302.
Returning homewards, we pass through Poppi, Stia and the Calla Pass, surrounded by the Casentino Forests that, thanks to their wild beauty, seem to recall that dark forest (selva oscura) that opens the Divine Comedy.
Bend after bend, we climb as far as Caminate Fortress, descending once again to Meldola and its imposing fortress. We’re in the places the poet walked during his twenty-year exile, towards Forlì, where Dante stayed several times.
A detour to Bertinoro is a must; the town, renowned for its hospitality, dominates a charming landscape that stretches as far as the sea. In fact, it has earned itself the nickname of the “Balcony of Romagna”. Dante himself was able to enjoy Bertinoro’s hospitality, as he was a guest of the court of Guido Novello da Polenta in the later years of his life.
The Adriatic Sea is now close and we approach it slowly, first coming across the pine forests of Cervia and Classe whose beauty affected the poet so profoundly. From Classe and its abbey, we continue towards the sea and return to Ravenna, where we can once again lose ourselves, as Dante undoubtedly did, admiring the extraordinary beauty of its mosaics that make this city a unique example on a global level.