Wedged between the verdant Apennines and a turquoise Adriatic, Le Marche is a varied region, and one you could enjoy weeks of slow travel exploring. Sparsely populated inland areas are unspoilt and untouristed, particularly in the southwest, where stone hill-villages make atmospheric bases for hikes into the spectacular Monti Sibillini range. Ancona, the region’s capital, is a gritty but engaging port town which gives way heading southwards to the dramatic Conero Riviera, with its natural white-pebble beaches backed by milky Dover-esque cliffs. In contrast north and south of the Ancona area the coastline is hemmed with boxy new-build resorts and mechanically pruned beaches of coarse sand.
Of Le Marche’s old-fashioned and slightly forgotten seaside resorts, Pesaro is the largest, with a Renaissance centre maintaining its dignity behind the package-tour seafront, and lesser-known Fano to the south offers a similar experience. Away from the scorching seaside fun, most appealing – and best known – of Le Marche’s sights are the small hilltop town of Urbino, with its spectacular Renaissance palace, and the dramatic fortress of San Leo, just across the border from San Marino. Further south, architecturally fascinating Macerata is a sleepy university town surrounded by lovely countryside, and, right on the regional border, the fascinating city of Ascoli Piceno is a worthy stopoff on the way into Abruzzo. Loreto just south of Ancona is one of Italy’s top pilgrimage sites, the basilica providing shelter for what Catholics claim is Jesus’ childhood house, air freighted to Le Marche by a band of angels.Read More
Regional food and wine
Regional food and wine
Le Marche is very much a rural region, its food a mixture of seafood from the long coastline and country cooking from the interior, based on locally grown produce – tomatoes and fennel – and funghi, game, nuts and herbs gathered from the wild. The most distinctive dish, often served at summer festas, is a sweet-and-sour mix of olives stuffed with meat and fried, then served with crema fritta, little squares of fried cream. Rabbit and lamb are popular, as is pappardelle alla papera, wide, flat pasta with duck sauce, and, as in many other regions, truffles are considered a delicacy. Unfamiliar items on the antipasti menu include lonza (salt-cured pork) and ciauscolo (a pork-based spread). Meat grilled alla brace (over wood embers) is ubiquitous, and you may even come across porchetta, whole roast suckling pig, both in its original large-scale form and in a fast-food version used to fill crisp bread rolls. Don’t confuse it with coniglio in porchetta though – this is rabbit cooked with fennel. Baked, stuffed dishes such as vincisgrassi, a rich layered dish of pasta, minced meat, mushrooms, giblets, brain, bechamel and truffles, are found everywhere. A typical seafood dish from Ancona is zuppa di pesce, a fish soup flavoured with saffron, though you’ll find excellent fish broths – known simply as brodetto – all along the coast. Puddings include cicercchiata, balls of pasta fried and covered in honey, and frappe, fried leaves of filo-like pastry dusted with icing sugar.
Although it produces many drinkable wines, the region is best known for Verdicchio, a greeny-gold white, excellent with fish, which is instantly recognizable from its amphora-shaped bottle. This is in fact a hangover from a 1950s marketing ploy inspired by the ancient Greek custom of shipping wine from Ancona in clay amphorae, and, reputedly, by the shape of the actress Gina Lollobrigida. Today, however, many producers sell their best Verdicchio in standard bottles – the one to look out for is Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. Lesser-known reds include one of Italy’s finest, Rosso Conero, a light wine based on the Montepulciano grape and full of fruit; more common is Rosso Piceno, based on the Sangiovese grape.