Le Marche is a fantastic region of Italy, and one which is perhaps often overlooked when people start holiday planning. Our wonderful intern Domiziana takes a look at why you absolutely have to visit Le Marche when you head to Italy…
Pesaro-Urbino: Quality products in a land of art and history
Bordering Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria and with the placid Adriatic Sea on the East, Pesaro-Urbino is one of Le Marche’s provinces, and has always been strongly influenced by its famous neighbours. This is clear in the culinary tradition of this area, the lifestyle, and its many dialects.
The inland is famous for its excellent gastronomic products, with strong tastes coming from the rural tradition of the area. You’ll find Acqualagna, a small town known as the capital of truffles for its famous “Truffle Festival” that takes place here every November; almost two thirds of the entire national production of truffles is in Acqualagna and it attracts year-round truffle hunters. Located in the beautiful Furlo Gorge — perfect for nature lovers — you’ll be spoiled for choice for restaurants specialising in traditional truffled-based dishes.
The charming village of Sant’Angelo in Vado is also famous for a truffle festival. Just outside the centre is Domus del Mito, the ruins of a Roman villa with some incredibly well-preserved Roman mosaics. Heading towards Umbria you will hear the dialects slightly changing, especially in the town of Cantiano, where “Vino di Visciole” is produced, a particular type of sweet wine made of “visciole”, a variety of cherries that grows only in the Apennine mountains. Just a few kilometres from here are Urbino and Urbania.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Urbino is one of the early Renaissance capitals and the birthplace of Raphael, whereas Urbania is where the Duke of Urbino had his summer residence built, the beautiful Barco del Duca. These two charming towns are famous not only for their glorious past, but also for the pottery tradition that dates back to the Renaissance time and that is still passed down through generations. In Urbania, visitors also have the chance to take part to a pottery class and create their own work of art with the help of a “maestro”. In both towns you will find incredible pottery objects, unique home decor, and after shopping why not tasting two of Urbino’s most famous specialities? Do not miss the chance to try the “crescia sfogliata” and the “Casciotta di Urbino DOP”, one of the most praised cheeses of the area, in one of the numerous restaurants and bars of the centre. Heading towards the seaside you will then find Cartoceto, a small hilltop village where you will enjoy a breath taking view over the charming countryside till the sea into the distance. The cultivated fields surrounding the village are the place where a DOP olive oil famous all over the region is produced. Passing Cartoceto you will finally reach the seaside; the coastline is more modern than the charming inland of the province, but this is the seat of internationally-renowned firms such as Scavolini in Pesaro or Carbon Line in Fano, a leading company in luxury yacht manufacturing. However, this area does not mean just business. It is famous for its fish-based traditional dishes and Fano for its “moretta”, an espresso to which a liquor made of anise, rum and brandy is added. It is the coffee that fishermen used to drink before leaving early in the morning for fishing… and it will warm you even in the coldest days.
Ancona: The capital’s province, land of wines and art & crafts
South of Pesaro-Urbino is the central province of Ancona, Le Marche’s regional capital and true heart of the region together with the province of Macerata. Despite being the seat of Le Marche’s main administrative power, at a first glance this province seems to keep a lower profile… but a small tour through its hills will make you discover the many treasures of this area. One of the main attraction of this province is the National Park of Monte Conero, a place of unspoilt natural beauty where the Mount Conero dives into the Adriatic Sea — cascading forests towards white-sand beaches. The area is also famous for Conero DOCG, a wine awarded with the highest quality label for wines, which is produced in the vineyards of Ancona, Offagna, Camerano, Sirolo and Numana. However, they are worth a visit not only for their beaches, but also for their charming centres. If you wanted to taste this full-body wine in a unique setting, then we suggest you visiting Offagna — this medieval town has been awarded with the orange flag from the Italian Touring Club as well as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The province of Ancona boasts two other DOCG wines: Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva and Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva. While the latter is only partially produced in this province, in the vineyards near Fabriano, the first is entirely produced near Jesi, one of the main towns of the region just a few kilometres from Ancona. A few kilometres north from Jesi is then the area where another famous wine is produced: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOP. This delicate red wine derives its name from the small rural village of Morro d’Alba, but its production is spread through an area comprising the villages of Monte San Vito, San Marcello, Belvedere Ostrense, and Ostra.
Leaving the coast and heading to the inland, you will discover that this province is also home of famous art and craft productions that have been passed down through centuries. Castelfidardo, a few kilometres south from Ancona, is internationally renowned for the production of accordions. Music has always been an important feature of the town and during the 80s a successful musical instruments production developed here, but the accordion is the instrument traditionally linked with Castelfidardo. A history of success and tradition is also part of the town of Fabriano, near the Regional Natural Park Gola della Rossa e Frasassi. In the beautiful location of the Apennine mountains is this famous medieval town, which has been declared UNESCO Creative City in 2013 for its importance in the art and craft tradition. Fabriano is the home of the world-renowned “carta”, the paper whose production dates back to the 13th century and that is still popular today all over the world, making this town the main paper production centre for this paper in Europe. You will have the chance to discover the traditional techniques and the history of how this production developed here during the Middle Age in the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana near some of the most important buildings in the historic centre like the famous Palazzo del Podestà.
Macerata and Fermo: The best fashion brands at the best rate
Our journey heads South, to two important provinces that shaped the region’s culture and history. Macerata and Fermo are both picturesque; numerous hilltop villages and medieval towns, and the National Park of Monti Sibillini, with the highest mountains that separate Le Marche from Umbria. This is an area of centuries-old traditions and legends, of castles and breath-taking landscapes, and home of some of the most famous culinary specialities of the region. Among these are the Vincisgrassi, a type of lasagna that differs from the world-famous Emilia-Romagna’s lasagna for its stuffing; the sauce is still made with tomatoes, but other vegetables like carrots and celery are added and there is chicken and veal. According to the legend, this tasty dish was created for an Austrian official stationed in Le Marche during the 18th century and the name “vincisgrassi” derives from his name “Windisgraez”. You will easily find it in the province of Macerata and Fermo, both in a restaurant in a town centre or in one of the many agriturismi of the hilly countryside. You’ll also find another famous speciality of Le Marche, Ciauscolo — a spreadable salami. Along with Calabria’s Nduja, it’s probably one of the few salamis that can be spread on bread. However, unlike the spicy Calabria’s speciality, it has a more delicate taste and aromatic smell coming from the herbs growing in the areas.
The province of Macerata is home of one the most famous liquors in Italy — Varnelli — an anise-based liquor created at the beginning of the 20th century used for desserts or with coffee. The distillery has its seat in Muccia near the National Park of Monti Sibillini and the famous Lake Fiastra, an artificial lake dating back to the 50s, which has now become a perfect holiday destination for those looking for a place where to swim or fish, or for an unspoilt natural place where to go for trekking.
Leaving the mountains behind and heading towards the sea, you will then discover the crafts these two provinces are famous for. In a big area with its focus on Sant’Elpidio a Mare is the Distretto Calzaturiero Marchigiano, one of the most important areas for shoe manufacturing in Italy with some of the top-quality shoes brands all over the world. The tradition here dates back to the 15th century, but only from the early 19th century this area became famous for its footwear production, which kept growing and gaining more and more success after WWII. Thanks to the craftsmen’s skills, a wide knowledge of leather working and the entirely-local production of all components, the shoes made in this area have gained recognition for their high quality and unique design, becoming a symbol of the true Made in Italy. Small businesses as well as internationally-renowned brands are based here: Diego della Valle, owner of the brands Tod’s, Hogan, Fay and Roger Vivier, comes from Sant’Elpidio a Mare, while Cesare Paciotti is from Civitanova Marche.
The district is divided into three main areas, each of them with a focus on a specific production; men’s shoes are mainly produced in Montegranaro, children’s shoes in Monte Urano, while in the areas of Civitanova Marche, Sant’Elpidio a Mare and Porto Sant’Elpidio the main focus is on women’s shoes. The area is perfect not only for discovering more about this high-quality production, but also for all shopping lovers looking for haute-couture brands at a competitive price. Both the province of Macerata and the province of Fermo host famous fashion outlets such as Castagno Brand Village, Outlet Prada and Outlet Hogan in Casette d’Ete, Outlet Armany Factory Store in Matelica and Cesare Paciotti Outlet and Falc Factory Outlet, with brands like Naturino, in Civitanova Marche.
Ascoli Piceno: the land of the famous olives
The last stop of our journey is the Southern province of Le Marche, Ascoli Piceno. Bordering Umbria and Lazio to the West, Abruzzo to the South and the Adriatic Sea to the East, this is the only province whose name references the ancient Italic population that lived in this central area of the peninsula before the Roman Empire, the Picenum.
Like Pesaro-Urbino, this province has been influenced by its neighbours, but its products and excellences have always played an important role in defining Le Marche’s complex but strong identity. The main attraction of the area is its main town, Ascoli Piceno, described as one of the most majestic cities in Italy for its “one hundred towers” shaping the city’s landscape and its main square, Piazza del Popolo, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. Here, the real treasure is the travertine, the stone used for many buildings in the historic centre and for the paved floor of the square, which gives to the whole city a warm golden colour. This charming medieval town is not just a perfect destination for visitors interested in art and culture, but also a true paradise for all foodie lovers; Ascoli Piceno is the home of the famous Olive all’Ascolana, fried olives stuffed with meat, and a real explosion of taste. Pickled olives have been praised for their nutritional properties since the Roman era, but only in the 19th century people from Ascoli Piceno had the idea to stuff them with meat to avoid wasting it, creating what is still today one of the most beloved street foods in Italy. During your tour of Ascoli Piceno, while walking along the streets and alleys of the town, there is nothing better than indulging in this street food tradition.
The province is also home of excellent famous wines that gained the important DOCG label like the ones produced near Ancona and that are now comprised in the Offida Pecorino DOCG name. This designation refers to Offida Rosso, a red wine made of Montepulciano grapes, Offida Pecorino, a dry and fresh white wine, and Offida Passerina, a fresh white wine with a taste of citrus fruit. You can enjoy all of them in the charming location of Enoteca Regionale Spaziovino in the medieval hilltop town of Offida: the former monastery S. Francesco now hosts wine cellars and a wine bars where visitors can taste the best wines and produce the area has to offer. Surrounded by the medieval city walls dating back to the 15th century, the town offers amazing views, history and culture: its heart is the famous triangular Piazza del Popolo with the Palazzo Comunale, the ancient seat of administrative power with an elegant lodge on the façade. While strolling along its streets and admiring its charming historic centre, you’ll discover Merletto a Tombolo, the pillow lace; this particularly elaborated lace is made on a pillow set on a wooden pedestal and its production dates back to the medieval time. During the 20th century the first school of lace was established and after several awards and praises worldwide, in 2009 the quality trademark “Merletto a tombolo di Offida” was created. Today visitors can learn something new about this ancient tradition in the Lace Museum in De Castellotti-Pagnanelli Palace, but you will probably experience how important the lace production is in Offida as soon as you get there: during the summer months you will see local women of all ages sitting outdoor in the narrow streets of the village while creating their masterpieces. A real tour of the province of Ascoli-Piceno must include then its coastline with some of the best beach resorts in Le Marche like the charming village of Grottammare, with its historic centre overlooking the sea, and San Benedetto del Tronto, the main town of the famous “Palm Trees Riviera”. San Benedetto del Tronto is the perfect place for enjoying a relaxing day at the beach and discover the strong link this area has with the sea and the fishing tradition, but it is also perfect for tasting some of the best fish specialities of the region. The real excellence of San Benedetto is the Brodetto alla Sanbenedettese, a fish soup that differs from other similar dishes of the region because peppers and vinegar are added… a strong, delicious speciality with all the flavours of the maritime tradition that everyone interested in experiencing the place should try.
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