Vacations in Marche - Italy's best kept secret
If you're going to holiday in Marche you need to get the pronunciation sorted out first. Le Marche is pronounced 'lay markay'. It translates into English as 'the Marches' and that's how many of us know it.
The Marches (or 'the Italian Marches') is the lesser-known of the triumvirate of regions that comprise central Italy. The other two, Tuscany and Umbria, require no introduction (though we've helpfully compiled introductions for you elsewhere of course) but Marche is more of a mystery to foreign visitors. You may know the Adriatic coastline, stretching from Pesaro in the north to San Benedetto in the south, with some superb beaches in between, but fewer visitors penetrate the hinterland of Marche ... they don't know what they're missing.
Holidays in the Marches - geography
Some geography first. The Italian Marches are bounded by the Adriatic Sea to the east, the region of Umbria to the west, the region of Emilia-Romagna (and the Republic of San Marino) to the north. It borders the beginnings of southern Italy to the south, where it meets Abruzzo. A narrow coastal plain forms the eastern seaboard of central Italy, rising sharply to the Apennines, the backbone of Italy. These drop into Tuscany and Umbria to the west. There is some spectacular sightseeing here, with the limestone peaks pitted by deep gorges and caves, and dramatic torrents of water pouring into stone pools beneath. Cavers will find complexes of ancient caves to explore. The highest point is Monte Vettore in the Sibillini Mountain range, reaching 2476 metres.
As you approach the coastal plain, the mountains drop to gently rounded hills, often topped with fortified towns a millennium or more old, and surrounded by green, fertile slopes of olive groves and vineyards. And then the land drops again to the long, broad, shallow beaches. There are excellent stretches of sand here, as well as the Conero peninsula, a rugged limestone promontory.
Le Marche beaches and seaside resorts
There are a host of beach resorts, from Pesaro and Fano in the north to Grottammare, Pedaso and San Benedetto del Tronto in the south. They are as diverse as they are numerous. There is the bustling, party atmosphere of Gabbice Mare, one of Marche's busiest destinations with more than 100 hotels. Or the elegant old town of Pesaro: a Renaissance town that just happens to have a fishing port and a seaside resort attached.
One of the lesser populated Italian regions (and what population there is is concentrated around the coastal resorts) Marche has some 1.5m inhabitants; population density is less than 150 souls per square kilometre.
Food and drink
Marche boasts a fine mix of rustic fare and seafood ... it does of course have a massively long coastline. So try brodetto (fish broth) or zuppa di pesce, a fish soup flavoured with saffron. The region's signature dish is porchetta, where a roast suckling pig is either served whole, or is sliced into crispy bread rolls. There are the ever-popular (and expensive) truffles, and rabbit and lamb feature on the menu. Classic pastas include papardelle alla papara, a flat pasta with duck sauce.
The classic wine of Marche is verdicchio, a crisp, young, green-tinged white, excellent with fish and seafood. There are good red wines in the shape of Rosso Conero, based on the Montepulciano grape, and the Sangiovese of Rosso Piceno. Try also the aniseed liqueur mistra, usually taken as a post-prandial digestif with coffee.
What was once a strict demarcation between the ristorante, pizzeria, trattoria and osteria has become blurred in recent years. The ristorante though, will generally have a written menu and a broader choice of wines. The more traditional osterie may have no written menu ... there may be just one dish of the house for that day, and it's an excellent way to discover new dishes. The Marchese have a tradition of not wasting food: that can mean uses for bits of the pig you had never previously dreamed of eating. Be adventurous, and try not to think too much where that particular ingredient comes from!
Holidays in the Marches - culture and festivalss
There is an awful lot to do, whenever in the year you holiday in Marche. July and August each year see the open air opera season in Macerata's (accommodation) superb Sferisterio Arena. Ancona has a strong programme of jazz, opera and classical music at its now-restored Teatro delle Muse. Urbino (accommodation) has its Early Music Festival in July, and there is much more. There are feste and sagre in almost every town and village too, celebrations of traditional food and drink which run throughout the summer months. Apiro has its pecorino cheese sagra in June. In July, Montemarciano has its sagra del pesce (fish), and Corinaldo its polenta sagra. In August, San Severino Marche celebrates the sagra della ceca (a chickpea festival). The list goes on.
Holiday in Marche ... must sees
The Frasassi Caves - in the heart of the Gola della Rossa-Frasassi national park, this series of limestone gorges conceal the caves, a huge complex with a 240 metre high central chamber at its heart. The national park is home to eagle owls, peregrine falcons and golden eagles.
Monte Conero - sticking out, literally, from the smooth, sandy beaches that characterise the Marche coastline, Monte Conero is a limestone promontory rising 500 metres out of the sea. Also a protected natural habitat for rare flowers and birds ... terrific views too.
Urbino - one of the many city states which rose during the Italian Renaissance, Urbino wrote the book on courtly behaviour during the 16th century. Ruled by Federico da Montefeltro, who brought Europe's greatest architects and artists to build his model city. Today it's an elegant, relaxed and very pleasant town, with good restaurants and fine museums and galleries.
San Leo - a defensive fortress, clinging impossibly to a peak in the north of Marche, has been a pull for tourists for centuries. Menacing, beautiful, stunning, it has evoked praise from Machiavelli and Dante, and proved impregnable to the invading Cesare Borgia.
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FEATURED ACCOMMODATION IN MARCHE
Sleeps 2 to 10+, map
Italy B&B - Bed and Breakfast Dolci Marche - Apartments in Le Marche/The Italian Marches
Sleeps 2 to 10+, Swimming pool, map
Le Marche, Italy – holiday accommodation (villa, cottage and apartment) on a wine estate
Sleeps 1 to 10+, Swimming pool, map
Self catering holidays in Italy - The Marches, Italian central region