Design and entertainment, food & beverage, salus per aquam: the Darsena del Sale in Cervia is an epicenter for all-around regeneration, thanks to a major renovation project

Where else could a 360-degree stimulus for regeneration come from, if not here? Cervia, a foundation city of the Riviera Romagnola, in the province of Ravenna, exists in a land of salt flats, salt workers and fishermen. Over time, it built its identity, history and culture precisely on the presence of salt (sale dolce), a humble culinary ingredient also used to conserve foods. By association, it is a symbol of health, luck and prosperity. A deep value.

Proto-industrial archaeology

The protagonists of this lovely story entirely made in Italy had only to listen to the genius loci, to imagine the construction of a temple of wellbeing caressed by the sea, restoring the memory of a fascinating proto-industrial archaeology. That of the former warehouse from 1712 utilized precisely for the storage of the ‘white gold,’’ accumulated in stores of up to 100,000 quintals. The historic artifact, with an area of 3000 square meters, in an outdoor area of over 20,000 including Piazza dei Salinari, the stretch of canal between the drawbridge and the bridge of Via Cavour, and the docks with plantings and gardens, has been transformed into a versatile, multi-faceted space that offers a complete itinerary of activities – beauty treatments, a spa, culinary offerings and high-quality entertainment – to accompany guests on a journey through the five senses.

A circular psycho-physical rehab

Leopoldo Cavalli, an entrepreneur with strong ties to the territory and a philosophy of mindfulness, was immediately convinced about the possibility of reconfiguring this site as a new center of regeneration, also in urban terms. In collaboration with public investors, he has carried out the project through his companies: Visionnaire (a brand of reference in the field of meta-luxury), Nuage (the Wellness Academy) and Fonoprint (entertainment). “Each episode of the Darsena del Sale of Cervia had to contribute to the rediscovery of the beauty of this place, and above all the awareness of a type of wellbeing that is stimulated by the exhibition of a circular psycho-physical rehab,” he explains.

High-quality design

“Outside the Darsena, we have attempted to replicate the atmospheres of each space of social contact inside, shaping even the smallest details in a balanced, harmonious way. It has been a complex task, especially in the area of lighting and sound systems. But we believe that music and entertainment represent a fundamental form of communication, creativity and care, on a par with the neurostimulations of Effetto Viola, a precious aid based on binaural music and neurotechnology to open the way in the brain for waves of relaxation, just like food and high-quality design.”

Scenic renewal

The Ravenna-based architect Fabrizio Fontana of Archlabo has given form to this vision through a capillary project of renewal of the building, which had already been refurbished in the 1980s by the architect Giancarlo De Carlo, when there were plans to transform the warehouse into a museum. The contract division of Visionnaire has interpreted and enhanced the project of the settings and furnishings. The internal narrative unfolds in an evocative, catalyzing way around the Sala dell’Acqua, a two-story space where boats transporting salt could enter, crossing the longitudinal axis of the building.

Promote education about food

In the sequence of spatial episodes, the new reflecting pool has become a fluid hinge between the indoor stage for events and live shows and the refreshment areas, next to the winery and the row of kiosks in iron and glass for the culinary workshops: a series of clusters for education about food, offering special samples of Mediterranean cuisine, from the most sophisticated menus to the most informal.

The activities of the Beauty Spa

Other dining zones and more private lounges have been installed on the mezzanines of the upper level, also containing the light-sound-video station and a semi-professional recording studio. Finally, the activities of the secluded Beauty Spa are carried out inside a new soundproof black glass volume, with minimal lines, overlooking the three main levels. Its figure of perceived extreme lightness, generating luminous reflections at variable chromatic temperatures, regenerates and reassembles all the geometric forms that permit convivial experiences, and give rise to the stages which did not exist here previously.

Comparison with pre-existing

First of all, the project has had to come to grips with the existing structure, which conserves its material and linguistic dichotomy, with the austere, solemn architecture of the 1700s, the exposed brick walls that still exude salt, the large spans of the arches, the impressive wooden beams of the roof, on one side, and the postindustrial graft of a brutalist character from the 1980s, by De Carlo, with complex structures in fair-face concrete and steel on the other. In this setting of great charm, though rather fragmented, the carefully selected furnishings play a very precise role of interfacing and enhancement.

Carbon neutral attitude

Particular care has gone into the selection of certified materials that have been adapted with an exclusive sartorial approach – which is our specialty – for use in a saline environment such as the one found inside and outside the Darsena,” says the art director of Visionnaire, Eleonore Cavalli. “We have focused on metals with powder coating and special finishes for the structures, high-performance fabrics and leathers for the coverings of seating and upholstered pieces, mostly obtained in a logic of recycling and low-impact production.” This carbon neutral attitude is fully perceptible in the brand’s ‘Decalogue’ of cultural values, and meets with other flavors, relations and perspectives in this context. In particular when the visitor reaches the unexpected urban belvedere at the fourth and last level, where the figure of a long, narrow lantern, completely in glass on the sides, indicates the new Via del Sale: a thalassotherapy promenade on a bed of salt, topped by rows of aromatic plants: the most symbolic ‘immersive comfort’ of the Darsena.

Interior design Fabrizio Fontana/Archlabo - Photos Lorenzo Pennati