April is not yet tourist season for the Adriatic Coast, so I didn’t have booked anything in advance in 2008. It was rather late when I arrived, 8 p.m. or so, and I realised that most of the hotels were not yet open for the season. I drove around and finally found one with “Camere libere” (vacancies) and to my utmost surprise it was also written in German. The lady of Hotel Meris even spoke some basic German, remains of the years back in the Fifties and Sixties of last century when this region was crammed with Germans. So I moved into my room and the nice lady even offered me something to eat, although the restaurant wasn’t open.
Next morning, I started my discoveries, of course with a caffè first. Just opposite of the hotel was a nice bar with outside seating and it was warm enough to sit outside and have some sunshine on my nose and face. Life can be so very good!
Of course I didn’t remember anything from my own memory, except sun and sand and water. But I had some idea of how it would have looked back in my childhood from old photos. And I can say that it changed for the better. The town is a lot greener now, with many parks and playgrounds for children and even more cafes and bars.
Milano Marittima is a very green town, more than any other Italian town I recall to have visited. But that is for a reason. The town is not that old, only maybe 100 years or so. In fact, it is part of Cervia south of town. Early 20th century wealthy families from Milan seeked a place for an exclusive seaside resort and found it here, north of Cervia. Hence the name: Milano Marittima or Milan at the sea. One of the reasons for having selected this site was the vast pine tree forest, those days stretching almost to the beaches. It was ideal to combine the idea of a garden city, planned by Giuseppe Palanto, who implemented British garden architect Ebenezer Howard’s concepts. Hence the villas, houses and hotels were embedded into parts of the pine trees. The result is still there, albeit more in the western section of the town.
When I continued my exploration further south I laughed from time to time seeing the very many business signs also in German. Remains of the old days of “Teutonic Barbecue”.
Ok, but I should explain this in its historical context and not only in Trekki’s romantic childhood mode.
The exclusivity of Milano Marittima’s beach resort for wealthy Milan people came to an end after WW II. Approximately one decade later, the Adriatic Coast then became quite important for many Germans. It was the time of the so-called “Wirtschaftswunder” (post war “economy miracle”) and the Adriatic Coast was the beach to be, Italy was the land of dreams, sung about in many romantic hit songs of the Fifties and Sixties. Italy meant sun and beach and ice cream and pasta and pizza. It meant some hot flirtation with the sunburnt Italian guys for some German girls. (Not for little Trekki of course). The Adriatic Coast meant this dolce far niente, although also here I am sure that the German holiday makers might have liked the sound of this term but didn’t properly know how to do the sweet nothing.
My parents were among this large wave of German tourists who flooded the Adriatic Sea towns in these years of the Fifties and Sixties. Quickly it was nicknamed Teutonengrill (Barbecue for the Teutons) My parents took me there in 1963 and later when my younger sister was small. I have some memories of the early days, of a quiet relaxing little town with loads of ice cream and enjoying the sea. It was very clean these days.
But the more popular the region became the more this invasion had negative effects. Various inflexible and ignorant German tourists came and wanted everything like at home, including Schnitzel and Bratwurst. Sadly, the locals gave in and their fabulous meals almost vanished from the menus. Add to that an increasing pollution of beaches and water and you get the picture. But instead of understanding that they (or we) were responsible for all this, the Germans abandoned the region in the Eighties, continued to do their beaching in Spain and left the locals stranded. But the locals did a lot over the years, cleaned beaches and water and proudly brought back their own dishes onto the menus. No more Schnitzel and Bratwurst, luckily!
But enough of tourism history. Milano Marittima looked very good and I continued my wandering southward until I reached the canal that separates the garden city from its parent town, Cervia, and its salt history.