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, while lesser-known Fano a short distance away 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 photogenic countryside, and, right on the regional border, the engaging town of Ascoli Piceno is a worthy stop-off 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 posse of angels.