Italy Uncovered: Why You Need to See Le Marche
Pronounced MAR-kay, this thumb-shaped region of eastern Italy is a beautiful and surprisingly affordable alternative to Tuscany. It’s got beaches (180km of sparkling turquoise Adriatic coastline to its east), mountains (the Apennines border its west), plus oodles of hill towns filled with medieval architecture and renaissance treasures.
Le Marche is your next great road trip waiting to happen. Fly to Ancona, rent a car and get ready to be blown away by the region’s outstanding beauty. Here are just a few of the stops you won’t want to miss…
The Sibillini Mountains are part of the Apennine mountain range, which runs north to south along the border of Le Marche. A spectacular drive through the mountains from Sarnano will bring you to Lake Fiastra: a shimmering expanse of aquamarine water surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s completely breathtaking. In summer, you can rent pedalos, swim in the crystal water and sunbathe on the edge of the lake.
Ascoli is home to one of the most beautiful squares in all of Italy, built entirely in white Travertine marble. Visit during the evening passeggiata for an aperitivo in the square at Meletti. The fin de siècle café serves an amazing (and free!) platter of cured meats and local cheeses with drinks. Also be sure to try the town’s mouthwatering specialty of olives all’ascolana – raw olives are stuffed with veal, breaded and deep-fried.
Loreto is a major place of pilgrimage, second only to Lourdes in Europe. Its origins are far older, dating back to the 13th century. According to locals, the house in Nazareth where Jesus lived was transported by angels, first to Istria, and then to here. The town is totally dominated by its great basilica, which was designed by leading architects of the day.
Macerata is a beautiful walled university city best known for its annual opera festival in July. The festival takes place in a neoclassical ‘stadium’ that was originally built for sports in the early 1800s. There are a number of baroque churches, beautiful piazzas, art galleries and boutique shops to explore.
A town worth visiting for its precious 14th century frescoes at the magnificent church of San Nicola and its excellent, cheap wine at Il Pollenza cantina. The winery, just outside of the town, produces some fantastic young wines which you can buy for under €2 per litre. Bargain.
Urbino is the most famous town in Marche and featured in any guidebook to Italy. The elegant university hill town was the birthplace of painter Raphael; you can visit his childhood home and eat in a tavern where both he and Piero Della Francesca are said to have frequented. The most famous attraction in Urbino, however, is the Ducal Palace. Crammed with some of the most incredible works of the Renaissance, it’s a Marche must-visit.
Pesaro is the second largest city in Le Marche and is reached on the Via Flamania: an ancient route that connects Rimini with Rome. There are so many excellent seafood restaurants in this pretty seaside town. Be sure to try the local fish stew (brodetto), each osteria offers their own version of the traditional recipe.
The Conero Riviera is one of the prettiest coastlines in Italy with its dramatic white cliffs, dense forests and beautiful pebble beaches. The picturesque cove of Portonovo has a couple of fantastic restaurants with tables right on the beach – order Spaghetti alla Vongole (spaghetti with clams) and enjoy fine dining with sand between your toes. While you’re there, try to pick up a bottle of Rosso Conero wine; it’s made in this small stretch of coast and rarely found outside of Italy.
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