The Rimini Riviera is not just about the seaside. On the opposite side of the coast lie the beautiful verdant valleys of the Conca and Marecchia rivers, sprinkled with towns and villages that contain a wealth of historical and artistic treasures.
Today, the Malatesta and Montefeltro itinerary passes through the lands disputed between Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, lord of Rimini, and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The fortresses and fortified hamlets that you will come across in this area reveal the turbulent past of these two noble families destined to a life-long rivalry in which all the most powerful families of the peninsula took a side.
The discovery of Malatesta and Montefeltro starts in Rimini, more precisely at Castel Sismondo, the castle of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. Sigismondo began its construction on 20 March 1437, the penultimate Wednesday during Lent, at 6:48 pm. Day, hour and minutes were set with extreme precision by consulting the court astrologers.
What remains today does not entirely convey how magnificent it must have been in 1446, the year of its completion. Nevertheless, you cannot help but be impressed by the large square towers that surround it, which once rose from the deep moat.
Inside, you will find Palazzo Isotta, a building most likely designed to be the residence for Isotta degli Atti, the lord’s young mistress who later became his third wife.
You can still find traces of the sincere and politics-free love that Sigismondo had for her, especially inside the Malatesta temple, built to honour the Malatesta lineage, and where the lord of Rimini had the initials S and I repeatedly engraved and intertwined. Although the temple was never completed, due to Malatestas’ declining fortunes, you can admire two world-famous works of art: a fresco by Piero della Francesca and Giotto's Crucifix that the artist made in the 1300s.
The second planned stop is in near Cesena, where you will visit two priceless memorials of the period when Sigismondo Malatesta and Federico da Montefeltro spent time, money and energy fighting each other.
The Rocca Malatestiana [Malatesta Fortress], located on the top of Garampo Hill and surrounded by the Parco della Rimembranza, was built to defend the city of Cesena. From here you can admire the hills of Bertinoro and Monte Maggio, as well as visit the Museo Storico dell’Agricoltura [Historical Agriculture Museum] set up in the smaller tower, Torre Femmina.
The main tower, Torre Maschio, hosts exhibitions with the ceramics and the majolicas unearthed in the archaeological sites in the historic city centre. In the walls around the two bastions, there is a series of connected tunnels, and when you walk down the creepy corridor beware of the ghosts: once the prison kitchen, offices and the caretaker's quarters, in recent times several unexplained paranormal phenomena have occurred...
From here, the only place left to visit is the Biblioteca Malatestiana, defined as "the heart of culture in Romagna". Founded in the mid-fifteenth century, it is a monastic library with exceptional historical significance as it holds two records of the upmost importance. As a matter of fact, it was the first public library in both Italy and in Europe, and is the only example of a perfectly preserved building, complete with furnishings and a monastic library from humanistic times that has survived to this day.
After a day dedicated to culture and the Malatesta heritage, it is time to enjoy Cesena’s nightlife before starting the second day of the itinerary, when Sorrivoli, Montefiore Conca and Montegridolfo will be called upon in a whirlwind.
Gourmet tip: Cesena is one of the undisputed capitals of piadina di Romagna [simple local flat bread]: you just need to stop at one of the many kiosks around town to savour one traditionally made. To best appreciate its incomparable fragrance, the secret is to eat it while hot, just a few minutes after it’s cooked.
Your second day starts by heading to Sorrivoli: 98 inhabitants, one of the most important puppet festivals in the world, and a castle once owned by the archbishops of Ravenna and then handed down to the Malatesta family in 1237.
From Sorrivoli, you will move on to Montefiore Conca, one of the most enchanting Italian hamlets where you’ll find another Rocca Malatestiana as Montefiore used to be the medieval capital of the Conca Valley and one of the Malatesta seignories that has remained most intact.
The fortress, a stone sentinel with a stern and imposing structure, stands on a cliff from which, on a clear day, the seascape extends to the Croatian coast, encompassing the Adriatic shores from Ravenna to Fano. When exploring its rooms, you can feel how it must have been to live in the castle in medieval times in its many facets: everyday life, court life, crafts, and military operations.
However, what Montefiore Conca’s fortress wishes to tell the most is the romantic and overwhelming love story that happened within these walls between Costanza Malatesta and Ormanno, a knight from a distant duchy of High Germany.
Leaving Montefiore Conca behind you, it is time to reach the last stop of this itinerary in the lands contested by the Malatesta and the Montefeltro families: Montegridolfo.
This village of just over 1000 inhabitants embodies the rivalry between these two noble families. In fact, due to its position right on the border, over the centuries Montegridolfo was ruled by both the Duchy of Montefeltro and the Malatesti, becoming the subject of military clashes and conflicts. This is precisely why Montegridolfo was designed and built with the defensive characteristics of a "cassero" [quarterdeck], with a rectangular plan equipped with a tower to reinforce the town walls.
It also houses the Museo della Linea dei Goti [Museum of the WWII Gothic Line], full of material from the battle and the breakthrough of German defences that occurred at the end of August/ beginning of September 1944, displaying weapons and several war relics of the opposing armies.
By now you might be wondering about the best way to end this itinerary through Romagna’s past. Obviously at the table: the taverns in these hills prepare excellent tagliatelle al ragù e ai funghi [ribbons of egg pasta with meat sauce and mushrooms].