Marche (or the Marches) is a central region of Italy on the east coast composed of rolling hills and fertile plains at the base of the Apennine mountains. It is bordered by Adriatic Sea in the east, Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio in the west, Emilia-Romagna and San Marino to the north, Abruzzo to the south.
Beautiful Adriatic beaches and ancient towns perched on hilltops, or nestled deep between rolling farmland, give travelers to the Marches a real taste of central Italy.
Two main highways traveling along the coast facilitate transportation to the larger cities of this and other regions. One of the most valuable parts of the Marches lure is driving through the interior, visiting smaller towns and exploring areas where there are virtually no tourists.
Recently a buzz word in Britain and a expat destination for vacation home buying, the Marche has been compared to Tuscany as having all the attributes, with none of the hassles of high prices and large crowds.
The Marches are divided into five provinces (from N to S):
- Ancona - Major port on the Adriatic Sea. It rises above high cliffs; it is the capital of the Marches. It has a long and remarkable history and plenty of monuments, museums and viewpoints on the port and on the cliffs. It has the beaches of Portonovo (european blue flag) and Passetto (with its caves carved on the cliff by fishermen).
- Ascoli Piceno - Spectacularly located old town (that technically is older than Rome) with gleaming white stone and medieval towers. It has spectacular vistas of the surrounding valley and mountains nearby, and performs excellently as a hub for travelers heading into the Sibillini National Park.
- Senigallia - home of Michelin star restaurant Uliassi
- Cingoli - small walled city with many sixteenth century buildings
- Fermo - historic city of ancient origins, it's a provincial capital
- Pesaro - pleasant resort by the sea
- Fano - Known as Fanum Fortunae in Roman times, the city today is a fairly well-known coastal resort and one of the most important Adriatic fishing ports. Fano is a tourist destination for those looking for quality of life, with a first rate cultural, historical and environmental heritage, enabling visitors within a distance of a few kilometres to enjoy the sea as well as the delightful hilly inland countryside. A number of other wide beaches and small bays are to be found along the coast on both sides of the town.
- Recanati - town of medieval origin, unusually built along the ridge of a hill and with great views towards the Adriatic and the Apennines
- Urbino - attractive university town up in the hills
- Cupramontana - Capital of the white "Verdicchio" wine
- Conero Riviera - The only relief (572 meters) overhanging the sea from Trieste to Gargano, in symbiosis with the towns of Ancona and Camerano, and with the sea resorts of Sirolo and Numana, mount Conero is the heart of the homonymous Regional Park. Established in 1987, the Conero Natural Park is a protected envirnomental oasis covering some 5800 ha. of woodland and spectacular white cliffs plunging into the Adriatic sea.
- Monti Sibillini National Park - The Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini lies in the west of the region, on the border with Umbria, and is comprised of more than 50 mountain peaks over 2,000 metres high. The highest of these peaks is Monte Vettore (2,476m), followed by Monte Priora, Monte Bove, Monte Sibilla and a number of others. In the 15th and 16th century popular belief maintained that the Monte Sibilla was the kingdom of the “illustrious prophetess”, while others thought it to be the dwelling place of “the seductress Circe in league with the devil”. The “demonic” Lago di Pilato on the other hand is said to be the place where the body of Pontius Pilate vanished off the face of the earth, dragged into oblivion by a herd of cattle. The Park, while intimidating and rugged, has some fantastic hiking opportunities and a number of well-stocked refuge points. For the experienced climber, the jagged faces of Monte Vettore and Monte Priora (among many others) provide excellent scrambling locations, while the more welcoming peaks such as Monte Sibilla offer dirt road access to some truly spectacular viewpoints (particularly looking west toward Monte Porche and the Aso Valley, as seen in the photo on the right). Stop at Rifugio Sibilla. and enjoy the surroundings at 1,540 metres with a cold beer or a plate of excellent homemade pasta.
- Fiastra Abbey, Tolentino (Mc) - The territory of the nature reserve surrounding the medieval abbey of Fiastra presents the typical morphology of fluvial areas, and it is characterized by the valleys where the river Chienti and the river Fiastra run. The flora and the fauna of the area are very interesting, since they include some species which are typical of the hills of the Marches region and species which are rather rare in Italy. It is a popular among locals for walking and riding activities.
The Marches are described as "all of Italy in one region", a visit there uncovers an unspoilt, pretty, friendly, and extremely civilised area of Italy. The region is bordered by neighbours Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Emilia Romagna and shares many of their best geographical features, yet is relatively undiscovered and surprisingly accessible.
To the West of the region Sibillini Mountains which are one of the highest sections of the Apennines. They are 40km long, contain 10 peaks in excess of 2000m- the whole area is home to many species of rare wildlife and is protected by the Sibillini National Park. The geography of the Marches between mountains and sea consists of vine-clad hills, medieval villages and a rich mosaic of farmland.
The Sibillini Mountains and the Marches countryside below are laced with paths and old mule tracks and are home to a stunning array of flora and fauna. It is a paradise for those who enjoy Mountain holidays, hiking, walking , or cycling.
People of the Marches
The marchigiani, or people of the Marches, remain closely linked to the land or to the sea and life here still revolves around the family and on self-sufficient communities of farmers, fishermen and craftsmen, where the local Le Marche market consumes most of the regional output, which are generally reputed excellent.
By contrast, the Region is one of the most industrialized in Italy, and a traditional hub for quality shoes and other high-level manifacturing.
For those new to the Italian language, the familiarity with which the Marchigiani talk to you may come as a surprise. Between everyone from strangers to businesspeople to old friends, informal Italian is very widely used in the Marches, so don't be insulted if, for instance, someone you don't know refers to you and your party using 'tu' and 'voi' instead of 'Lei' and 'Loro'; it's just a habit of the region!
The wonderful medieval the Marches towns offer the visitor an amazing range of history and historic architecture, that ranges from Art Nouveaux villas to characteristic stone cottages, and are home to wonderful art, over 1000 working theatres, fantastic markets and year round festas where you can sing and dance, eat and drink great local fayre, and enjoy the local crafts and customs.
Conserving the Memory of Emigration. An historic archive to preserve memories of the thousands who left the Marches to find their fortune abroad has recently been launched in Ancona. The project, organised by the Regional Authority's Centre for Cultural Heritage, aims to collect diaries, photographs, publicity material, letters, postcards and any other documents relating to emigration from the Marches between 1876 and 1976. The archive, currently being overseen by consultant Professor Amoreno Martellini, will be divided into three sections; the first dedicated to personal memories such as letters and diaries; the second to images while the third will concentrate on other material such as administrative, health and publicity documents. If you have anything that might be relevant such as letters, diaries, photographs, passports, certificates, guides, etc., maybe you would like to send the original or a copy to the archive at:
Archivio Storico per L'Emigrazione Marchigiana (ASEM) - Centro regionale per i Beni Culturali Via Trieste, 21 60124 ANCONA Italy +39 071 34081/34085 or fax: +39 071 33753
The Marches are linked by an excellent road and rail network from the north and south, with the SS.16 Adriatic Coastal road, the A14 motorway and the Bologna-Ancona mainline railway. Rome can be reached easily along the SS.3 Via Flaminia with a rail connection via Falconara and Orte. From the Raffaello Sanzio Airport at Falconara (Ancona) there are daily flights to and from many national and international destinations (From the UK, Ryanair fly from either Liverpool or London Stansted). The port of Ancona is one of the most important touristic and commercial port of the Adriatic. It links to Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Albania and Montenegro.
The railway that runs down the coast is excellent for exploring the region with fast and frequent trains running all day. Busses tend to be rather infrequent, especially if you are looking to explore inland, so hiring a car is essential if you want to explore a bit.
Sightseeing - make sure you make time to visit the wonderfully preserved medieval villages that decorate this bucolic region. Here are some highlights in and around the Macerata province;
Sibillini Mountains - if you travel to the South West, the landscape a stones throw away from the villa becomes far more dramatic as the hills are dominated by the Sibillini Mountains. This area, which is protected by the Sibillini National Park, is accessed via some great roads and paths which allow the visitor to discover lakes, rivers, some amazing gorges, wildlife and get in touch with the eco side of their character.
Theatres - the Marches are also the land of a thousand theatres including the grand 'Sferisterio' amphitheatre in Macerata, which holds 7,000 people and is second only to Verona in Italy's summer open-air opera calendar and a venue for the Macerata festival.
Abbadia-di-fiastra - The Cistercian monastery of Fiastra was founded in 1142, the building material was taken from the near Roman city 'Urbs Salvia' whose farmland stretched 30km to the coast in medieval times. Today the surrounding parkland is still cultivated by the monks and wines and other produce is on sale to the public, there are two very good well priced restaurants, and the medieval monastery, an archeological museum and beautiful nature reserve are open to the public.
Urbisaglia - Adjacent to Abbadia di Fiastra, the impressive Roman site of Urbisaglia provides free tours of its frescoes, theatre and amphitheatre, which was water filled and battles were fought on boats
Sarnano - The bustling and perfectly preserved medieval town of Sarnano, named one of the most beautiful in Italy, has a wealth of character in the ancient, cobbled streets that wind up through carefully restored centro storico and the impressive towers of the centro Storico that dominate the amazing local landscape. It has a famous Terme or Spa which offers pampering and health treatments. Its is a focal point for walkers and cyclists and lovers of the great outdoors and even has its own ski resort which was completely restored in 2008.
Ascoli Piceno - The city of Ascoli Piceno is dominated by numerous medieval towers and the Piazza del Popolo which is tiled with travertine and undoubtedly one of the most elegant squares of Italy. An amazing array of gothic architecture, great riverside walks, shopping and art galleries, plus some wonderful bars to sample the local Piceni wines. Oh, make sure you do some people watching in the Art Nouveaux Bar Meletti in the main Piazza.
Caldarola - Caldarola is dominated by the well preserved Pallotta castle, where building started in the 9th Century and which was transformed in the 16th by the Pallotta family, who still own the castle and now open it to the public, there are also 3 other castles in the surrounding Marches countryside.
Camerino - The panoramic university hill town of Camerino has a history that goes back to Neolithic times. It has remained unchanged since its Renaissance heyday, when the local Da Varanno family governed much of surrounding the Marches. Imposing churches, palaces and art plus lovely gardens, museums, outdoor cafes and some great shops.
Amandola - This touring centre for the Sibillini national park has a wonderful gothic piazza, sit in one of Amandola's bars there and watch the world go by, or try getting up and sampling the museum of rural history.
Macerata - Macerata has a number of central piazzas with stunning architecture, a beautiful theatre, Duomo, art gallery and museum of carriages and the unification of Italy/ wartime resistance. There are also a variety of tempting shops and some lovely bars and ristorante. Macerata is also home to the Sferisterio, a grand open air opera house that hosts a fantastic "season" of themed opera performances each Summer
Tolentino - Tolentino is a vibrant medieval city home to the shrine of St Nicola, and some amazing architecture including an ancient roman bridge and a bizarre clock tower in the main square and the nearby 12th century Castello della Rancia. Wander round the museum of caricature and humour in art, or simply enjoy the shopping, cafes and trattorie.
Montemonaco - A pretty walled town with an information centre for the Sibillini National Park. From here you can walk in a couple of hours to the 'Cave of the Sibyl' (the lair of Tannhauser's Venus), or more striking, follow the River Tenna up the amazing limestone Gola dell'Infernaccio, 'Little Hell Gorge', a three-hour walk from the road.
Frasassi - Frasassi has an awesome network of underground limestone caves that is the largest in Europe and a must see for any visitor. Tours every hour in most languages
Library of Casa Leopardi, Recanati - The library comprises more than 20,000 volumes, most of which were collected and arranged by Monaldo Leopardi, the father of Giacomo, in the second half of the XVII century and includes rare volumes such as the first edition of the Encyclopedie by Diderot and Dalambert.
Roman temple of Monterinaldo, 2nd Century A.C. - The temple is an impressive and unique example of a well preserved roman architecture in the Marches.
- Lorenzo Lotto Tour. It is possible to buy a single ticket which gives you access to several museums dotted around the centre of the Marches displaying the works of Lorenzo Lotto, one of the finest painters of the Renaissance.
The Marches Festas & Events - The Marches host 'festas' or outdoor celebrations, games, concerts and dancing most weekends from spring to Christmas. During the summer these also occur on most weekdays as neighbouring villages compete in throwing the best party. The common theme is a Marches festa that allows the visitor to sample local produce, food and wines. For detailed information on the numerous events visit the tourist office, the Marches tourism site, look for roadside posters, or buy the Corriere Proposte in the local tabacchi (newsagents).
Hiking, Walking and outdoor pursuits in Le Marche, Italy - To get a proper feel for Le Marche you should try hiking off the beaten track and immersing yourself on an italian walking holiday in the heart of Le Marche's stunning countryside. There are a range of maps available, especially and the whole area is dissected by networks of hiking trails and old mule tracks; which are well marked on the maps (one for the Monti Azzuri and another for the Sibillini Mountains National Park that open the whole area up for independent walking holidays. Sarnano and the area nearby is a good base for walking, has marked circular walks and some accommodations offer maps and itineraries. The dramatic landscape, with a highest peak of 2500metres, flower filled plateaux and the rolling hills below, offer an ideal location for walking holidays, cycling holidays, bird watching, photography, drawing and painting.
The Sibillini National Park has organised tours and treks throughout the spring, summer and autumn months and has numerous predefined itineraries for walking and cycling available. There is parascending , white water rafting and extreme sports on offer nearby and two of Italy’s most stunning gorge walks and mountain lakes with beaches and trattorias.
Outlet shopping in the Marches, Italy If you fancy picking up some bargains on your travels to Italy, Le Marche is home to many factory outlets that enable buyers to access alla moda high fashions at ludicruously cheap prices.
- Vincisgrassi A lasagna dish from the Marches with an odd name. Vincisgrassi is the Italianization of the name of the Austrian general, Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian Forces stationed in the Marches. The dish was allegedly created for the prince by a local chef.
- Ciauscolo This unusual salami is originally from the Marches, but it is also prepared in Umbria, especially in the area that borders the town of Macerata. It is made by kneading very finely ground pork with a good quantity of fat until the mixture is very soft. The meat is flavored simply with garlic, salt, and pepper, and it is often smoked. Ciauscolo is meant to be spread onto bread rather than sliced, given its soft consistency; Ciauscolo resembles the rillettes of France, which differ because they are cooked while ciauscolo remains raw unless it is smoked.
- Olive all'ascolana (stuffed olives) The invention of these stuffed and deep fried olives dates back to the beginning of XIX century. Apparently created by an unknown chef who worked for an aristocratic family of Ascoli Piceno, they are a must on the table of locals during the festivities.
- Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, one of the strongest Italian white wines;
- 'Falerio dei colli ascolani, A white wine whose millennial history is written in the name itself, typically Roman, which, in turn, was derived from that of the ancient city of Faleria. It is produced in the rolling hills between Fermo and Falerone and it is excellent with fish and white meats.
- Rosso Conero, A red wine produced in the Conero area, south of Ancona and it is made from the Montepulciano grape. It is a rich, perfumed wine that often reaches greatness. From 2006 it boasts the coveted DOCG description
- Rosso Piceno, is a red wine produced in the south of the region (the "Piceno" area), made from at least 60 percent Sangiovese (the Chianti grape), plus some of Marche's native Montepulciano and, optionally, small amounts of the local red grape Passerina and the white Trebbiano. Legend has it that Hannibal used the hearty red wine of Piceno as a rubdown for his army's horses.
- Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, An intensely-scented red wine produced in the area around Morro d'Alba. The strong hints of citrus, clove and other spices lend it an almost mulled-wine-esque flavour, but don't let that put you off; this is a truly unique, powerful red that must not be missed! The principal vine variety is Lacrima, with the possible addition of Montepulciano and/or Verdicchio (but only up to 15% of the blend). The name Lacrima means tear (as in weep) and derives from the fact that as the fruit ripens the juice seeps through the skin of the grape. The denomination may be derived from some legend or simply from the nearly oval shape of the grape or the pyramidal form of the cluster, both resembling tear drops. The wine is almost a varietal, for all "correction" is limited to the addition of 15 per cent of Montepulciano and/or Verdicchio grapes.
- Vernaccia di Serrepetrona, an extraordinary sparkling red wine.
Although many hotels can be found around the region, especially along the coast, the best way to enjoy a visit is to stay at an agriturismo (a kind of accommodation in which hospitality is offered on farms, usually on a 'bed and breakfast' basis) or rent a self-catering property, either in the country or in a town. There are also some independent Villas with great facilities; some of which have sites that provide the visitor with great information on the region.
The Marches is probably one of the safest Italian regions. There is very little violent or petty crime, even in major cities like Ancona. The family-oriented vibe of the Marches has led to a sense of community, and as a result most residents are highly respectful and friendly of each other and of you, even after a few drinks (and as long as you don't antagonise them). Despite being a very 'rural' region of Italy, the towns and villages are an almost bizarrely short distance from each other, even in awkwardly hilly areas; if you get lost you'll only have to walk about 20 minutes at the absolute maximum until you come across a couple of houses (or even a town with a shop, post office and such). Because of the undulating terrain, it's also very easy to locate the next town visually as most of them are perched on hilltops, and as a result it's unlikely Le Marche will ever leave you feeling truly isolated.
Your only trouble in this quiet region, if you have any, is that the parts of the Marches dominated by wilderness and not settlements are pretty remote. If your car breaks down or you get lost up in the Sibillini, there is a slim possibility you will find yourself an insurmountable distance from the nearest help, and emergency services may need to be contacted. However, this is highly, highly unlikely; the mountains are dotted with people at all times of the year and the refuge points are easily navigable on foot with good preparation and a map.
- Umbria - Bordering the Marches to the west, the landlocked region of Umbria is home to some spectacular natural scenery and remarkable medieval history in the beautifully preserved large towns of Perugia, Assisi and in smaller ones such as Spoleto and Gubbio.
- Emilia-Romagna - The irrefutable gastronomic epicentre of Italy. Lasagne, tortellini, parma ham and parmesan (to name a few) are all inventions of the region, straddling both the rolling Apennines and the flat, fertile Po Valley. Bologna, Modena and Parma are all packed with history, museums and fabulous architecture, and Emilia-Romagna is consistently rated as the region with the highest standard of living in the whole of Italy.
- Abruzzo - The intrepid traveler may want to travel south to Abruzzo, an arid, remote and sparsely populated region comprised mostly of one giant national park. The industrial port of Pescara is the only city in Abruzzo, and is not much to behold, but the landscape away from the coast is absolutely unparallelled in Italy; it contains some of the country's most magnificent and highest peaks.
- San Marino - The tiny city-state of San Marino, at the northern border of the Marches, is almost surreal in its very existence; while not part of Italy, it acts much like any other region in language, food and art (though they may find that notion insulting!). Built into a mountainside, the old town is accessible by an enjoyable cable-car ride, and the scenery from the top is again quite something, but its extortionate prices and extreme similarity to other Italian hilltop towns mean that San Marino is really only suitable for ticking boxes, to say "I've been there".