An itinerary specially for sports lovers and anyone looking to cycle and walk amongst the artistic and natural wonders of Cervia and Ravenna: no intense training needed, just come with the intent to enjoy every moment of the tour!
The route begins on an off road cycle path that stretches from Cervia to Ravenna, on an itinerary immersed in nature that will take you past sites and landmarks that bear witness to the area’s thousand-year-old history. Before you hop on your saddle and pedal towards Italy's Byzantine capital, read on for some tips on what to see in Cervia, the ancient salt town.
Start with a visit to the Museo del Sale di Cervia [Cervia’s Salt Museum] to learn about the history and personal stories of the town's salt miners, followed by a trip to the Magazzini del Sale di Cervia [Cervia's Salt Storehouse] overlooking the salt pan canal, an example of industrial architecture in the region. Built between 1691 and 1712, this building was used to store the salt produced in the nearby salt pans.
Still on the theme of salt, no visit to Cervia would be complete without a trip to the Salina di Cervia salt pan, which has long been a haven for populations of flora and fauna and for nesting birdlife, like the magnificent pink flamingo. You will also learn how Cervia's famous “sweet salt” is formed here. Then you’ll have to give it a taste!
After this salt-themed tour, it's time to take a ride through nature and venture into two cherished pine groves, cut across by paths that have since come to grace the pages of history and literature. The first is the Pineta di Cervia pine grove, a spectacular, imposing forest with a vast wealth of Mediterranean woodland and, not without good reason, referred to as the 'green lung of Romagna’.
Hop on your bike again for your next adventure in the Pineta di Classe pine grove, cited by Dante in his Canto XXVIII from The Divine Comedy: Purgatory (verses 19-21) and by Boccaccio in Day 5 Tale 8, whose protagonist is Nastagio degli Onesti.
On the edge of the Pineta di Cervia pine grove lies the Ortazzo and Ortazzino nature reserve, one of the wildest areas with the highest natural value on the entire Adriatic coast. The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe is located next to the nature reserve and, together with the surrounding archaeological area, bears witness to what once was the military port of Ravenna under the rule of Roman Emperor Augustus.
The church has been named as the best example of a Paleo-Christian basilica, but that's not all: inside, you can gaze upon magnificent mosaics that cover the apse, where the face of Jesus is depicted at the centre of the crucifix, in a halo decorated with 99 stars. Watch out, you might just suffer from Stendhal syndrome!
The second day of the itinerary is for the Ravenna Urban Trek tour, which will take you through the town centre, jam-packed with UNESCO World Heritage sites, where you will need to come armed with strong legs and a little taste for adventure.
Exploring Ravenna on foot and visiting the town’s most iconic monuments, all within just a few kilometres, is an intense and unforgettable experience as soon as you set foot in the first of these many attractions: the Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are two treasure troves that conceal the highest expression of Byzantine mosaic art within their walls.
The first is an octagonal-shaped temple where art and mosaics achieve their highest expression in the face of Empress Theodora.
The second boasts the oldest mosaics in Ravenna, arranged to depict the victory of life over death.
More than anything else, the starry sky that covers the vault is what will remain etched in the memories of those who cross the mausoleum's threshold: legend has it that it was this starry sky that inspired Cole Porter on his honeymoon in Italy to pen his epic song, Night and Day.
The next stop is the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra, a stately Byzantine building arranged into four rooms and three courtyards, decorated throughout with intricate mosaics and marble marquetry.
The flooring of the entire building is decorated with geometric, vegetal and figurative shapes.
Next is the Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna’s oldest monument and the best-preserved baptistery from early Christianity.
This itinerary has already included a little of Dante, “the supreme poet”, so why not visit his tomb? Dante's Tomb could almost go by unnoticed when compared to the magnificence of the other monuments, but there is one thing that sets it apart: hanging from the temple vault, which was built in 1780, is a votive oil lamp that burns on oil from the Tuscan hills and donated every year by the Florence City Council.
Now it's time to head to the nearby Basilica of Saint Francis. What makes this basilica so unique is its crypt with mosaic flooring. The crypt is located below sea level and is flooded with rainwater, making it resemble a shallow swimming pool. You might spy some fish swimming in it, which add to the magical effect.
The next must-see sites on your walking trek tour of Ravenna are two museums.
The first is the Museo TAMO, which will take you on a journey through the wonders of Ravenna’s mosaic heritage and region, many of which are unknown, spanning ancient times and more modern, contemporary works.
The second is the MAR - Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna, home to some of the vastest collections of art in the region.
Going back to the splendour of the Byzantine Empire, you’ll find yourself surrounded once more by the mosaics inside the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo: the spectacular decoration inside this church bears witness to the transition that took place between two empires, from the Ostrogothic Kingdom ruled by Theodoric, to the Byzantine Empire, presided over by Justininan, and is the most significant monument for Ravenna’s Paleo-Christian heritage.
And, speaking of Theodoric, you’re now headed to his mausoleum. The Mausoleum of Theodoric is one of the most extraordinary examples of Ostrogothic monumental art, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Fun fact: it is the only UNESCO monument in Ravenna that has no mosaics.
If your hankering to explore Ravenna has still not been satisfied, here are the last two morsels to see you on your way.
The first is the Rocca Brancaleone fortress, built in the fifteenth century by the Venetians. You can take an educational tour inside and learn all about the history of the fortress.
The second is the Arian Baptistery, which is architecturally similar to the Neonian Baptistery, and was built in the first half of the sixth century during the rule of Theodoric, when Arianism began to gain ground.
All the secrets of Cervia and Ravenna will be unveiled to those who complete this itinerary!
Ready to begin?