Sprawled over the central Italian hills and fringed by a narrow coast is the beautiful region of Le Marche. It is scenic and unspoiled, the people incredibly welcoming. The region has often been compared to neighboring Tuscany, containing the same degree of charm, but with fewer crowds and importantly, lower prices. The region might be little-visited, but those who venture beyond Tuscany and Umbria will be rewarded.
The title of the Italian province of Le Marche literally means “the borderlands”, a neutral region neighboring more important places. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that Tuscany lies to the north and Umbria to the south. Next to these titans of the tourist trade so beloved of the visitors from the U.S. Le Marche is hemmed in by the mountains on one side and the Adriatic Sea on other. Perhaps because of its ‘remoteness’ Le Marche has been rarely visited.
A perfect example of the type of towns that you will encounter may be found in Mogliano, in the province of Macerata. The village rises on a hill halfway between the Sibillini Mountains and the Adriatic coast. This ancient village has been continuously occupied since about the 8th century BC and in the in the within the tranquil hilly landscapes, its inhabitants are known for their craftsmanship with wicker used and production of baskets and furniture. You are instantly aware of the gorgeous views for miles and miles, with the slopes around the hill covered in sunflowers. A walk through the old quarter of town reveals narrow cobbled lanes, tiny piazzas and a street market with traditional specialties such as thick slabs of porchetta from a rolled and spitted roast pork and ascolana, fried olives stuffed with various meats. There is also an outstanding vineyard at the bottom of the hill. Mogliano holds an annual festival in the village that takes place in early August – the Festival della Tradizioni. During the four day feast, you can mingle with the residents and enjoy some of the local food and drink. It will strike you that it is absolutely remarkable that more people don’t visit the area and you will feel fortunate to be among the few that have discovered this jewel of a region.
But Le Marche and its sleepy citadels are waking up now and realizing what delights they have been storing away. It’s time to share the sheer variety of experiences, the authenticity, the spirit of adventure in the shadow of the Appenine range and the bargains.
If you base yourself in Mogliano, a quarter of an hour away you will find the hilltop villages of Loro Piceno, renowned for its sausages cooked in vino cotto, a hot. In the town of Urbisaglia you will no doubt be impressed by its splendid medieval ramparts and the exquisite Locanda le Logge, where they create wonders such as steamed pork carpaccio with soy sauce and ravioli with courgette, pine nuts and saffron – along with an extensive wine list
On the way to Urbisaglia is the Abbey of Fiastra, which dates from 1142 and provides a haven of Cistercian tranquillity. There is a park with a nature reserve where you can hire bicycles, while the neighboring Osteria La Selva hits the mark with the rustic simplicity of its dishes, such as mushrooms with pasta paccheri and chunks of barbecued beef.
The caves of Frasassi are absorbing for all the family and well worth a couple of hours’ driving through the mountains and a succession of small, elegant towns such as San Severino and Matelica. You can cut back by a quicker route, across to Ancona and then down the autostrada which follows the coastline. The beauty nature abounds in the caves of Frasassi where glistening stalactites and stalagmites refract and reflect light in a kaleidoscopic scene that is truly wondrous.
Then there is Lake Fiastra, an opal blue stretch of water high in the mountains among the winter ski resorts, with two different, breathtaking hairpin drives there and back. If you intend to rent a car for your tour of the region, this is the perfect road for an Alfa Romeo Giulia. You can picnic on the banks of the lake at San Lorenzo al Lago, or if you want another sumptuous feast, keep going up to the agriturismo Le Cassette for its cappellacci with mushrooms, spinach and cream, and salmi di cinghiale – a rich wild boar stewed in wine and butter. After the ascent, you feel like you’ve arrived in heaven.
Down in the southwest of Marche lie the Sibillini Mountains. As you’re travelling through rolling hills, the scenery unfolds, becoming become more rocky and dramatic. Stop in the beautiful town of Amandola, the gateway to Sibillini National Park. It has a stunning Gothic piazza and plenty of little cafes to stop in and watch the world go by. There’s a fresh, almost Alpine feel to the surrounding area; it’s a popular place for leisurely walks and winter sports.
The Marche region has a long history, stretching back far beyond the Romans. Towns like Ascoli Piceno are perfect for soaking up the history. Ascoli in particular is home to beautiful churches and cathedrals, such as the Cattedrale di Sant’Emidio. This beautiful Gothic building bears traces of temples going back to the 4th century, while inside are stunning frescoes dating back to the 12th century.
Heading to the coast, in Porto San Giorgio lies a pretty resort that is unspoiled by crowds. Coastal resorts are outstanding in Le Marche. There is space to stroll and enjoy the incredible scenery without bumping into too many other tourists.
Beyond the food and people, the diversity of the region’s scenery is the shining star of the show. Le Marche is a destination off the beaten track, where you can sample all the delights of la dolce vita, often at bargain prices, without rubbing shoulders with too many other vacationers. You can almost taste the pioneering spirit among the mountains. You may feel like you have crossed in a new frontier, that of the undiscovered region of Le Marche.