From Russia With Love (And Cash)

An affair of sea, shopping and investment

Standing inside Rimini’s Federico Fellini International Airport on a summer’s day, you start to see a trend on the arrivals board: Nordwind from Moscow, NordStar from Moscow, I-Fly from Moscow, Rossiya from Moscow, Red Wings from St. Petersburg, Ural Airlines from Moscow, Red Wings from Moscow, Aeroflot from St. Petersburg. Sure there’s an occasional arrival from London, Luxembourg or Warsaw, but they are markedly outnumbered by the sea of chartered and commercial routes from Mother Russia.

So why are Russians flocking to this coastal Italian city? The current  eco-political instability in certain areas of Eastern Europe might have something to do with it, turning these travellers away from their traditional destinations like Egypt, Israel and Madagascar. Instead, they are opting for the comfort and sanctuary of Rimini’s affordable seaside resorts, great shopping and, not to mention, one of Italy’s most iconic cuisines – the Cucina Emiliana. With cheap chartered flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg, Rimini is quickly becoming one of Russia’s most popular gateways to il bel paese.

With so many Russian tourists summer-mingling on Rimini beaches, the locals have even declared the month of June Il Ferragiugno as this is when most Russian tourists come to their shores for vacation. The Italians famously take their leaves of absence during August (Ferragosto). “The restaurant I frequent at the beach has a menu in both Italian and Russian,” says Matteo Pizzi, from Bologna, who spends every summer in nearby Riccione. However, Russian tourists aren’t just interested in Rimini’s menus, but also its beaches. While the private real estate market has gone stagnant following sanctions on Russian  investment, the commercial beachfront is another matter altogether. The famous Lido beach establishments, which usually host a small bar/restaurant and rent sun loungers and umbrellas for an often hefty fee, are actually owned by the state and leased to businesses. “While the lease can at times last for decades on end, they do come up for tender. Russian parties already have their names down on the list to snatch them up,” explains Pizzi.

In terms of shopping, Rimini is a mix of big shopping centres, small boutiques and famous shopping streets like Corso d’Augusto, Tre Martiri square, via Garibaldi and via Gambalunga where big brand names can be found. There are also a few outlet centres in Rimini, including one run by Max Mara Group 15 kilometers outside of the city centre and another operated by luxury footwear brand Sergio Rossi (a  Russian favorite) north of Rimini in Savignano sul Rubicone (FC). “Russians have a penchant for fashion and luxury brands and are especially interested in local specialties and products that are made in Italy,” says Cinzia, who works at a boutique in Rimini. “We have quite a few Russian clients that come to us every year. Shopping is a main event in their day, usually before lunch. They typically come in a group and take over the shop. The men will make themselves at home on the sofa, with other shopping bags full of their purchases, asking us for advice on restaurants and their wives will model various ensembles. It is very rare that they won’t purchase something. Some shoppers are more reserved, while others will ask for our opinions as they value an Italian’s taste.”

Inevitably, it is that Italian flair and lifestyle that keeps its neighbours to the East coming back for more.