From Cattolica to the Onferno Caves: an itinerary for discovering the sea and the secrets hidden in the depths of the earth

On a natural inlet, at the foot of Monte San Bartolo, lies a village with an ancient maritime tradition founded in 127: this is Cattolica, also known as the Queen of the Adriatic.

Our journey begins right here, at the gates of Romagna, where you will find smiles, activities for the whole family and evidence of a long history of the sea.

Because the sea in Cattolica is everything: it is tradition, life, identity. You can breathe it in the harbour that is always crowded with clam boats, mussels and fishing boats, in the sound that rises from the harbour on rainy and windy days, in its beach, crowded in summer and wildly romantic in winter.


To learn more about the history of Cattolica and its sea, we recommend a stop at the Museo della Regina, which contains two sections. 
The first is dedicated to the history of the city, from the Bronze Age to the Renaissance, and recounts the origins of this seaside village. 
The second is related to the sea, from the birth of the port to the most characteristic boats and ancient crafts.

Cattolica's history continues along the raised promenade in the new dock, the one that leads from the Piazzetta del Tramonto to the Lanterna Verde, a black and white tale embedded in the ochre and rust of its sails on the third.

Perhaps not everyone knows that here, the Port, is an open-air Eco-museum. The permanent exhibition consists of thirty-two large panels that tell the story of life and its evolution from the 1900s to the late 1950s, tells of fishing and its tireless fishermen. The evocative photographs, ancient crafts and the faces of the inhabitants described in the shots, combined with the view of the dock of sails, give you a unique feeling.


In Cattolica, when people talk about the sea, they also talk about its produce and, in particular, two delicacies: clams and mussels.

In the local dialect, the Cattolica clam is affectionately referred to as 'poveraccia' - the Puracia - because in times not too long ago, this cute mollusc was mainly picked up by women on the shoreline during the undertow of the low tide or after sea storms, and with little, it enabled all families to eat. For this reason, it was considered a food of the poor.
It must be said that unlike the real clams, which are more fleshy and substantial, the Chamelea clam, typical of this area, is more modest in size, but richer in flavour and with an unmistakable taste. 

Cattolica is also home to one of the largest mussel farms in the Emilia Romagna region, located about two nautical miles off its coast. This semi-floating plant with row planting has contributed significantly to increasing mussel production over the last thirty years.

Every year, around 3,000 tonnes of mussels are caught from these waters, which are classified as superior quality (class A) and end up on market stalls or on restaurant plates throughout the region.


Having experienced and explored the sea, let us now move inland. We ascend the Conca valley floor road and, having passed S. Giovanni in Marignano e Morciano di Romagna, continue on to Gemmano with the destination of Le Grotte di Onferno.


Onferno is a small, pretty village perched on the hills of the Conca Valley and tradition has it that Dante drew the inspiration for his ''Inferno'' from these very caves.
The Onferno Caves and the Oriented Nature Reserve represent a unique journey into the heart of nature and history. It is an enchanted corner, an unmissable destination for those wishing to explore the natural and cultural beauty of the area.

Since 2023 there is one more reason to visit these places. The Onferno Caves have been officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their unique and globally representative characteristics.

The descent down the forest steps is in itself an incredible experience made up of light and shadow, clearings and narrow passages, rivulets of water and a deep silence.
Guided by experienced cavers, visitors explore enchanting halls and mysterious tunnels, including the marvellous Sala Quarina, with huge conical prominences of plaster protruding from the ceiling, among the largest in Europe.
This room is also the summer ''nursery'' for thousands of bats (which is why it can only be visited in winter and during limited periods), which are the real hosts: there are over six thousand of them, of at least six different species!

All tours are guided, and there are different things to see and discover, depending on the time of year. Comfortable clothing is recommended, and don’t forget a waterproof jacket even in summer—temperatures in the cave are around 12 degrees Celsius all year round.

Our journey, amidst the beauty of the sea and the secrets hidden in the depths of the earth, ends here to continue in the memories and experiences we have lived.