A remarkable three days scoping out the routes of the brand new Italian Jeroboam Gravel Series routes around Rimini totally disproved my preconceived ideas of the region and also taught me I can have the same food for main course and dessert…
To begin with, I should probably announce my previously held prejudices. Please don’t judge me. As a pale Englishman of, ahem, a certain age, transplanted into Italy, I did not imagine that the area of Rimini, famous for its beaches and discos would have much of interest for me. Also, having spent a year in Ferrara in Emilia Romagna, any mention of that region would immediately conjure up images of a foggy, flat landscape extending as far as the eye can see and probably further. Hardly a cycling paradise.
The rolling hills of Tuscany, the mountainous roads of the Dolomites, the legendary climbs of the Italian Alps… there are many hilly regions of Il Bel Paese – or The Beautiful Country – to choose from to ride. But, Emilia Romagna? The region famous for the flat delta of the Po River?! And Rimini, a summer season town outside of the season?!
So, it turns out Emilia Romagna has hills. And not just any hills but glorious, wild, lightly populated hills, speckled with hill-top castles, monasteries, churches and even whole countries. But first: Rimini.
Slightly away from the sea-front the old town of Rimini is an attractive weave of narrow streets connected by the Tiberius Bridge, a remarkably well-preserved river crossing completed almost 2000 years ago. This will be the backdrop of the official start of the Rimini Jeroboam. From here we immediately set off inland and join the river, following the river path for 20 or so KMs gently riding uphill giving plenty of chance for a thorough warm up.
We mainly rode the 150km (with a couple of diversions, some official others less so) and there will, as usual, be shorter 75km and 37.5km routes alongside the Full Monty 300km for the hardcore gravel grinders.
Once the river has been crossed, the landscape is like three different backdrops squeezed into one: we have the flat river delta, the slopes of vineyards and blossoming fruit trees and then the hills rising to over 700m immediately behind. It is clear that this area is challenging once you get beyond the gentle slopes by the sea. The 150km route has almost 2700m of elevation gain and that is concentrated into the middle section of the ride with a coastal cruise to finish off.
When we are in those hills though, the effort immediately pays off in views. Gravel roads with expansive vistas on both sides curve around with photo opportunities seemingly behind every corner. This time of year (it is currently the end of March and the event is the end of April) is a heady mix of good light and green slopes with trees in bloom and the grasses covering the hillside.
There is still snow on the ground as we reach the high point of the route. We manage to find a small place making fresh Piadinas and it is here that I make my discovery: a Piadina with ham and cheese makes an excellent main course and a piadina with Nutella a perfect finish. Perhaps it is greed but as a typical snack food of the region I am happy to immerse myself in local culture.
From here we will descend and then face the relatively short but very steep climb into the Republic of San Marino. Or, to use its full title: The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. We push the pedals and also at times, the bikes, up the unforgiving gradient and eventually arrive in the micro state.
Established in 301 San Marino is the world’s oldest constitutional republic and is a fascinating historical anomaly within the Italian peninsula. As with many hill top settlements built with defence in mind it is not only (as I may have mentioned) hard work to get to under your own power but it also offers commanding views of the surrounding countryside. A quick selfie and we are off, only to be told off for riding our bikes in the old town. Apparently that’s not allowed. Oops, sorry.
No harm done, smiling and waving to the police officer, we embark on the beginning of the end of the ride. There are still 70km to go but with one small climb and the rest trending down to sea level it’s a very satisfying way to finish. We follow the coastal road through Riccione and back towards Rimini; a countless number of private beaches on our right hand side.
We arrive back in Rimini and cruise past the 15th century castle on our way to Not Only Bike to meet the owner and organiser of the Jeroboam Rimini event, Luca. He offers to make a coffee bit I spy their own brand of beer in a fridge which seems a more appropriate post ride beverage.
We talk a little about the inspiration for hosting a gravel event here and having seen what the area can offer I have to agree with his view that the hills of Romagna are a hidden wonder just waiting to be discovered.
The first Rimini Jeroboam event will be held over the weekend of the 29th & 30th of April