Marche is a hidden treasure that lies in central-eastern Italy between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. A scenic wonderland, it offers a wealth of sights and experiences. At the heart of it all is Ancona, the vibrant capital and port city situated along the Conero Riviera. Visitors can enjoy a coastal paradise with sandy coves and limestone cliffs gracing the shores, while charming medieval villages dot the landscape. Every town in Marche offers its own unique lore, some boasting links to renowned figures from the Renaissance era along with a stunning collection of towers, medieval walls, ancient town squares, and grand palaces. Here it’s easy to immerse yourself in rich history, permeating every street and alleyway, while a wide range of outdoor adventures awaits. There are many parks for hiking while the 112 miles of coastline and its abundance of beaches include options for everything from windsurfing to swimming in calm, shallow turquoise waters.
One of the most beautiful places in the Marche region is the Conero Riviera, where spectacular beaches meet the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea at Mount Conero, a promontory south of Ancona. It offers a beautiful stretch of sand for just about everyone, from remote beaches that can only be accessed by boat like Spiaggia dell Due Sorelle and its surreal blue waters to stretches with hotels and a wide range of other facilities. From Mezzavalle Beach, you can reach the two large rock formations that rise from the sea known as the Two Sisters. The beach itself is one of Italy’s best, with water that ranges from brilliant cobalt blue to emerald green. You won’t find any sunbeds or umbrellas, just unspoiled nature, although there is one restaurant serving the freshest fish. The northern end is the most tranquil and wild, with a green clay quarry that serves as a natural spa.
Crowning a small hill that opens up awe-inspiring panoramic views over the Adriatic Coast, Gradara is a captivating medieval village that played a key role in the Italian Renaissance. The 12th -century castle was the setting for Dante’s tragic love story of Paolo and Francesca who were caught kissing by Francesca’s husband. Looking as if it came straight from the pages of a storybook, with a crenelated watchtower and a drawbridge, the castle is a favorite of history enthusiasts and photographers, who come to capture the views over the surrounding countryside that stretch out to the sea. Visitors can stroll along the ancient Ramparts Walk for a panoramic vista and there’s also a historical museum with a collection of interesting items, including armor, torture devices, and household items used in daily peasant life. The only visible section of tuff caves, spread beneath the village in a network of tunnels, can be viewed from here as well.
Gradara isn’t the only hilltop village worth visiting in Marche. There are a wealth of these picturesque villages that take visitors back in time, including some recognized by UNSECO. You might spend a day or more exploring the small towns of Mondolfo, Treia, Cingoli, and Offida, all of which boast cobbled streets and imposing castles. Urbino is a must-visit. The walled medieval hilltop town overlooks a lush valley with the Adriatic in the distance and was a critical fortress for the Romans in the 6th century. From the terrace of Fortezza Albornoz, one can gaze out at the Apennine Mountains, the Metauro River, Foglia Valley, and the sea beyond. One of the most well-preserved villages, much of its architecture dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries when Urbino was at its most prosperous, including the Palazzo Ducale, a triumph of Renaissance design and a temporary home for many prominent figures of the time.
Truffle-based dishes are popular throughout Italy, but the town of Acqualagna produces the most – more than 65 percent of the country’s truffles. There are not only many restaurants that specialize in truffle dishes here, but truffle fairs are scattered across the calendar in and around Acqualagna. That includes the Regional Prized Black Truffle Fair in late February, the Regional Fair of the Black Summer Truffle in late July, and the most important celebration of them all, the National White Truffle Fair, a two-week event that starts on the last weekend of October. You’ll find shops for purchasing truffles and there are even truffle-hunting experiences to enjoy. Typically, you’ll meet up with a truffle farmer and truffle-hunting dogs that were trained over many years to sniff out the delight. While heading out into the forest you’ll learn how truffles grow and what makes them so special before sitting down to enjoy them in a dish yourself.
Furlo Pass, or Gola del Furlo, is a stunning gorge that slices through the surrounding mountains with the emerald waters of the Candigliano River running along the bottom. It can be viewed on a scenic drive, although it might be hard to keep your eyes around the road while traveling Sant’Anna del Furlo, with the mountains on both sides. You’ll get the best and safest views by going for a walk along the river or one of the other many paths that wind through the canyon. Admire the picturesque overhanging rocks and Roman emperor Vespasian’s tunnel where the ancient Via Flaminia passed through at the narrowest point of the gorge. Built in 77 B.C., it allowed travelers to cross the mountains from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic side. A wealth of flora and fauna may be spotted as well. Keep an eye out for fallow deer, wild boars, wolves, peregrine falcons, and golden eagles.
Nestled between Marche and Umbria, Mount Sibillini National Park spans an area of more than 270 miles. It’s home to stunning expanses of wilderness, with mountains carrying tales of lost treasures and ghost stories while Renaissance towns are dotted throughout. The highlight here is the hiking trails. At the eastern side of the park, the approximately 5.3-mile out-and-back hike to the Gola dell’Infernaccio, which translates to Hell’s Gorge, reveals the beauty of the gorge that was carved by the Tenna River and a waterfall. The Lame Rosse loop trail is one of the park’s most popular treks, traveling about 7.3 miles out and back. It starts out with beautiful lake views and continues to Lame Rosse, a set of spectacular sandstone pillars before ascending to a point where you’ll be high above the valley. From here, enjoy a wide-ranging view of the contrasting landscapes and then finish with the same gorgeous views of the lake.
Discovered by a group of young cave explorers in 1971, the Frassassi Caves have been captivating locals and visitors ever since. Just 31 miles from Ancona, they’re one of the largest subterranean systems in all of Europe with nearly a mile of underground walkways featuring stalactites and stalagmites to discover. It’s so vast that it could easily hold Milan’s entire Duomo. Today, in order to enter the caves, you’ll have to join a tour. Your guide will take you through this fascinating subterranean world to see the individual chambers, some of which are nearly 800 feet tall. The distant areas of the cave are illuminated while the center features a group of stalagmites known as the Giants with their diameters ranging from 6.5 to over 16 feet while soaring nearly 66 feet in height. While you marvel at their beauty and immensity, your guide will tell you about the geology and history of the cave.
Ancona is a popular arrival point for exploring Marche as well as hosting a ferry terminal where travelers arrive from Croatia and Greece. It’s worth spending some time here with many things to see and do. It takes back to the 5th century when Greek exiles escaped from modern-day Sicily and fell in love with this area of the Adriatic Coast, establishing what would later become Ancona in a natural harbor. The incredible views have changed little in the centuries since and while the city itself suffered extensive damage in World War II, it still hosts a beautiful historic center that’s spread between the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Ciriaco on one side and the 16th -century Fortress of the Citadel on the other. In between, you’ll see the 15th -century Loggia dei Mercanti, an ancient trading center. Another highlight is the nearly 2,000-year old Arch of Trajan revealing the region’s ancient Roman past.
There are impressive olive groves and vineyards spread throughout March, with many family-owned wineries and olive oil companies that are open to visitors for tasting and buying. Marche is still undiscovered territory for most wine enthusiasts. It’s most popular for its white wines, from the Verdicchio and Trebbiano varieties, but some outstanding red wines are produced too, mainly in the southern areas. In Campofilone, renowned for its long tradition of pasta production, you can visit Cantina di Ruscio and enjoy a wine tour that will bring you through the vines while learning about how the wine is made, concluding with three glasses of wine served with a generous antipasti platter. Casa Tre Querce in Colmurano offers tours into its organic olive grove to learn about the olive trees and Marche’s olive culture as well as enjoy a tasting of four different local olive oils from one of the best producers in the region.
The spectacular natural features in Marche provide nearly endless opportunities for outdoor adventure, including kayaking on the river that flows through Marmitte dei Giganti, located near Fossombrone. An impressive geological wonder, this sculpted canyon is renowned for its crystal-clear pools and gentle rapids that make it ideal for paddling while admiring the beauty of the scenery. If you’re experienced, it’s possible to rent a kayak and head out on your own, but for most, it’s an activity best enjoyed with a guide. There are a variety of outfitters with excursions available between June and October for all experience levels and ages, including kids as the water is relatively flat. Lifejackets are always included and if you choose an outfitter that has double kayaks, your child can even paddle with you. It’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy a different perspective of the incredible river and canyon scenery along with a thrilling adventure.
Thanks to the fresh ingredients provided by the sea, fertile farmlands, and mountains, Le Marche produced mouthwatering seasonal cuisine that can be sampled throughout the region. Many products come from farms, including cold cuts, cheeses, and vegetables. Marche is particularly known for its fried olives, Olive all Ascolana, stuffed with beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and Parmesan cheese. A soft smoked pork sausage flavored with garlic, fennel, and vino cotto, a local non-alcoholic cooking wine, called ciauscolo is popular and the region also has its own version of lasagna called vincigrassi. The rich dish features 12 layers of pasta interspersed with lamb, chicken, or veal ragu, wild mushrooms or truffles, and béchamel sauce. In Fano, San Benedetto del Tronto, and Porto Recanati, many menus include a tasty fish soup called brodetto. Food festivals are great for trying many Marche dishes, including Festa del Ciauscolo in Sarnano in mid-September which features traditional local food, including ciauscolo, of course.
One of the most popular ways to explore Marche is on a bicycle. There are bicycle rentals and cycling tours available with many scenic routes throughout the region, both coastal and inland. In fact, some of the best routes are found here with everything from the coastal flatlands to the midland hills and Sibillini Mountains. Trails include both paved and off-road routes. One option is the Sibillini Great Ring, a trail that winds through Sibillini Mountains National Park. A bucket-list adventure for many cyclists, it features breathtaking scenery and dramatic elevation changes. But there are many other options, with cycling routes that wind past ancient Roman ruins, historic churches, and abbeys, through medieval towns, and down to the Adriatic coast. One of the most highly-rated bike tours starts from the village of Fabriano and will bring you to lesser-known places like a ghost town, a cave, and an 11th -century Byzantine abbey.
If you’re interested in ancient Roman ruins, the town of Fano along the Adriatic coast at the mouth of the Metauro River, sits on the site of the ancient Fanum Fortunae, founded around the 3rd century BC as the oldest Roman settlement in the region. The Arch of Augustus was the main gate to town and is one of its most important symbols, marking the access to the sea from Via Flaminia, an ancient Roman route. It dates to 9 AD and is in the form of a triumphal arch with three vaults and an inscription on the frieze. You can learn more about Fano’s ancient history by visiting Palazzo Malatestiano. Built in the early 15th century, it includes a small turret and a magnificent, vaulted hall as well as hosting an archaeological museum that displays items from various periods, including prehistoric finds from Fano as well as Roman artifacts.
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