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TREASURED TIMES Precious memories of a holiday in Italy which felt like living on a movie set

We stumbled upon Rimini a decade ago and the feeling was of walking into your dream home for the first time

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Rimini becalmed by the sea’s title breath

Rimini becalmed by the sea’s title breath

Rimini becalmed by the sea’s title breath

The imagination, overwhelmed by wanderlust, took flight this week, packing only the coordinates of a beloved Italian vista.

Rimini is one of those glorious postcard beaches, the Adriatic a glinting turquoise under fierce sunlight as it kisses sands that stretch for mile after pristine mile.

The skies drench the skin with ­powerful vitamin D shots, the sea's ­tidal breathing is hypnotic and ­soothing, each gulp of balmy Latin air is giddily invigorating.

Here is nature at its most comely and serene. It is a photofit of happiness, a safehouse for the soul.

Most of us have a treasured summer image tattooed to our very core.

Something we cling to in the winter murk, a mental life raft to rescue us on those days when it feels like the bleak, desolate, suffocating darkness might just drag us under.

Rimini in midsummer, the world reduced to the dimensions of a sun lounger, lost in the pages of ­Sebastian Barry's latest masterwork, a cold glass within arm's reach, is, for this antique Walter Mitty, that splash of dreamy paradise.

Jack Charlton can take the blame.

It was during Italia '90, that riotous, life-affirming, demented ode to Bacchus, that I was smitten by a land shaped like a high-heeled leather boot sashaying self-confidently across the Mediterranean catwalk.

Rome, anarchic, timeless, cradle of civilization, bursting at its seams; Genoa, birthplace of Columbus, a port city with an old town UNESCO felt compelled to include on its heritage list. Sicily, with a chain-smoking Mount Etna standing sentinel, rugged and green and bewitching.

And the people: Loud, handsome, marvellously vain, strutting along the great piazzas at sundown, peering from behind designer shades, lost in their own magnificence.

It felt like living on a movie set.

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We stumbled upon Rimini a decade ago and the feeling was of walking into your dream home for the first time.

With its vast golden carpet of sand, the almost euphoric brightness and the homely tavernas, it had the feel of a Shangri-la created by some maritime deity especially for those lazy summer days when the living should be easy.

A cooling draught in hand, gazing out over a sea sparkling like a priceless jewel, I had found my wellness clinic.

Rimini is the kind of friend a jaded world needs right now: a place to ­recharge, forget, reset.

So it was, as May unveiled itself, that my imagination set sail.

It is a generous month, its bright evenings signposting the way to ­summer. An outdoor time, the perfume of fresh cut grass and sizzling barbecues and Teddy's ice cream floating on the buoyant breeze.

Like an old friend, the GAA Championship returns to enliven the towns and cities, its arrival heralded by James Last's rousing Sunday Game chorus, the anthem of the long days.

May reminds so many families that school will soon be out and the voyage into the sun is looming. Only in 2021, for a second successive summer, the passport will most likely remain in the drawer, unstamped and solitary.

And so, as a tonic for pleasure denied, we instead dream in technicolour with full Dolby surround sound.

Perhaps it was the desperately sad news about JWT's closure after 60 years that planted last week's seed of wanderlust.

Their omnipresent advertising jingle - "Join the JWT set…Sunshine! - was a soundtrack of my childhood.

Their brochures sold a vivid vision of some faraway Eden, of impossible glamour, the unimaginable thrill - for a child in the austere 1970s - of boarding an airplane, soaring bird-like above the earth, the thrill of being alive pulsing through your veins.

We all remember the first time the aircraft taxied in, the doors opened, and we walked out into an oven.

What a jolt for the senses: A clammy, flaming heat, a warmth completely alien to those of us reared on a damp, shivering island at Europe's western-most flank.

It was a thing of wonder, novelty assailing every fibre of your being.

The cars were open-top and drove on the wrong side, people dined al fresco; the espresso-sipping locals, tanned, stylish, oozing confidence and vitality, highlighted our pathetic, milk-bottle whiteness.

A summer holiday - at least in those hours when we are neither hungover nor burned to a crisp - is a nutrient-enriched for the starved spirit.

It feeds an appetite to escape the everyday and, at its best, feels like an intoxicating sample-tray of an elusive better-lived life. Troubles and stresses melt away. Sunshine works its redemptive magic. In a world that is ever more highly strung, we remember what it is to decompress and chill.

Covid is the thief that just keeps on taking: It robs us of so many of the things central to the human condition.

It strips away the treasures of life, it steals our smiles, it burgles our reserves of calm.

But there is one pocket it cannot pick: The pouch where our imagination resides. Soon the vaccines will come down like a hammer blow on this pernicious enemy, and we will have our lost lives back.

In the meantime, permit your ­imagination to ferry you any place you want to get.

Me, I'm humming a JWT jingle as the plane touches down in Rimini, the door opens to azure skies, a wall of heat and the promise of joyous days without end.

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