We arrived in Marche somewhat unsure of what to expect. It’s a region which remains relatively unheard of in England, and without good reason. The only good which comes of this is that it remains authentically Italian and blissfully quiet – even in the summer months, it’s a hidden gem.
“Marche has been described as the new Tuscany” we’re told – and it’s not hard to see why. As its easterly neighbour, the two regions have undeniable similarities. Except here, the rolling hills are juxtaposed against the striking backdrop of the Apennine mountain range, in turn silhouetted against a dazzling pale blue sky – even in December. It’s staggeringly beautiful; pockets of civilisation interspersed between the giants of mother nature.
The hospitality is – as ever in Italy – exceptional. Wherever we dine, our hosts are passionate yet discreet. We don’t eat a bad meal, thanks in part to the zero-kilometre approach to produce that is typical in this area. On our first evening we wander the streets of Senigallia where we stumble across some of the prettiest traditional Christmas decorations and the fantastic restaurant Rimante. After mountains of salami, pasta, and pudding we head back through the cold, festive streets to our base.
On our second day we pass near the Furlo gorge and get a glimpse of the aquamarine waters which have steadily carved a pathway through the limestone for thousands of years. We stop for a lunch at Ristorante Osteria La Gioconda in Cagli, which becomes a highlight of the trip within about five minutes. The restaurant has been in the Michelin guide for nearly as long as it’s been open and boasts both its own well and over 600 wines. Both are impressive.
In the afternoon we drive past the entrance to the Frassasi caves, and the dramatic rockface domineering the landscape is reminiscent of those found in Scandinavia. We’re told the caves are equally as impressive, and one of the area’s highlights – although by this point it’s hard to keep track (plus we’re rather full from lunch).
Our final day takes us to San Marino – a small republic north of Marche. The streets are crammed with tiny shops and wind their way to a large plaza, with the most incredible panoramic views of the Apennine mountains and across to the Adriatic coast. We were (near literally) blown away. Unable to pass up the opportunity for an al fresco lunch, we braved the chilly weather – and an over-eager pigeon – in order to eat pizza overlooking Rimini. We might not have been able to feel our toes for three hours, but it was definitely worth it.
We flew BA from Heathrow to Bologna, although Ryanair also flies to Ancona from Stansted. It’s also accessible from Rome; the south of the region is only a three hour drive away.