Italy is well-known for its stunning vistas, elegant beach culture and ancient history. Oftentimes we fall in love with Italy in films and TV shows highlighting the wineries of Tuscany, the monuments of Rome or scenic drives along the Amalfi coast. It’s only natural that when we go to book our tickets for a visit that we start with these spots as a go-to.
While these are all worthy places to see and experience, we are here to discuss a much lesser-known yet equally magical, delicious and stunning region of Italy, Le Marche.
Le Marche (in English 'the marches') is 1 of 20 regions in Italy and received its name in reference to the Medieval march (borderland) of Ancona, Camerina and Fermo. Le Marche region is centrally located which means you can get around the rest of Italy with (relative) ease and also enjoy a fused variety of cuisine from these polarized adjacent regions. Beyond that, Le Marche is steeped in its own food culture that can be traced back hundreds of years. Many of the methods remain the same today! If you’re hankering for something a little more modern, you can visit 1 of 9 Michelin star restaurants that are dotted across the region or enjoy some of the freshest fish you will ever have in coastal towns like Fano.
For nature lovers, this region has the mountains AND the sea which you can enjoy all in one day if you so choose. If you like shopping you can cruise cobblestone streets or the numerous outlets that house those high quality fashion pieces that Italy is known for. Still not convinced? By the time you’re finished reading the following 25 points, you’ll be booking your ticket faster than you can say buona vacanza!
25 The Majestic Rolling Hills
Le Marche is perhaps most famously known for its rolling green hills that span across the region in abundance. As you drive along the curves of the road you will experience periodic breaks in the trees where you can see rows of hills speckled with grape vines, olive orchards and sunflowers. You will also see the biggest tractors that you have ever seen in your life as they harvest the grain (which then magically becomes pasta and pizza).
You will drive through carefully excavated tunnels and bypass hamlets perched atop neighbouring rolling hillsides. You will feel like you are you driving through a painting, and you will love it, guaranteed.
24 The Olives Ascolane
Speaking of olive orchards, it’s high time we discuss the Ascolane olives which are a delicacy across La Marche but are native to Ascoli Piceno which is in towards the South of the region.
An Ascolane olive is a green olive which has been pitted, and filled with ground meat (pork, beef) then battered and fried. At first, it may sound weird but trust us, these little morsels of olive-y heaven are truly addictive. Make sure that when you order them you ask whether they have been done in-house as there is a distinct difference between the handmade and frozen variety.
23 Furlo and the Best Piadina in Italy
Located in the Province of Pesaro Urbino in our beloved Le Marche region the natural park of Furlo is an absolute favourite for locals. Besides the obvious natural wonder that is the limestone Gorge with its pristine aqua coloured water flowing through it, it is a place full of peace.
There is also an ancient Roman passageway! As in a hand constructed Roman tunnel which remains in the middle of the awe inspiring nature. You can walk through it and feel like you’re in a time machine touching the walls that were constructed in the year 538 during the Gothic period.
Once you’ve hiked about, you can stop to have a bite at Chiosco dell’Abbazia for 2016 award winning Piadina which is a popular Italian street food style, warm, chewy flatbread sandwich.
You can hike or drive to the top of the mountain and witness some of the most astounding views of hundreds of trees, the river and neighbouring mountain ranges.
22 Best. Shoes. Ever.
Italian shoes are known for being incredibly special due to their high quality and high end luxury ‘made in Italy’ insignia on the leather soles. You might be surprised to learn that Le Marche is birthplace to this age old craft.
Post WWII there was a boom of economic prosperity due to farmers turned craftsmen who learned to produce high quality footwear. Today, most of the shoe production occurs in south Marche in Ascoli Piceno and Macerata and makes up 30% of the total production across Italy and an estimated 180,000 million dollars in export turnover.
Make it a priority to visit the marketplaces where you can get a pair of handmade local leather shoes for as little as 50 euros.
21 Harvest Bio grapes in September
Bio wine flows in Le Marche and it’s something that can be found from your local farmer to the wine aisle at the grocery store. With numerous wineries spread across the region you can have the unique experience of helping to harvest the grapes in September.
Wineries like Conventino of Monteciccardo, a family-run farm produce bio wine and oil in the Pesaro-Urbino's province in Le Marche. You go out into the field, pick a barrel of grapes and then mash them up with your feet old skool style! Afterwards you can take part in an educational tasting where you learn about the different stages of wine production with a glass of bubbly in hand.
This is a Fano tradition and one that is celebrated joyfully in July in the beachside town. People come from all over neighbouring regions to sample this sumptuous fish dish (as well as Marchigiani).
Brodetto or little soup is a dish where large pieces of varied types fish are marinating in a delightful puddle of light citrusy and sometimes even vinegary broth (depending on the town where you are tasting). But a small amount! Hence why it’s called little broth.
It originated as a way to offer fisherman a complete meal and was to avoid wasting the fish that didn’t sell in that day’s market.
19 Learn Italian at the famous University of Urbino
The University of Urbino is a world class institution founded in the year of 1506 but not properly recognized as a University until 1671. With 14,000 students coming from overseas, it is well-known for humanities, literature, and language studies (in particular Italian).
There is something magical about learning the local language in an ancient hilltop hamlet, that is if you can handle the steep climb! This is not your typical University however, as the daily cafeteria options boast a 3 course meal that more often than not is part of campus life for local University students. There is nothing more enriching to your learning than eating like a local!
18 It hasn't been ruined by tourists
Marche is still relatively unknown. At most you will see tourism from other parts of Europe like Finland, The Netherlands, and Germany.
It is rare that you will encounter people speaking in English and that should be considered a good thing.
Regions like Veneto and Tuscany are gorgeous but have been somewhat spoiled by the hoards of tourists who trek through them routinely. Many of the establishments have traded in their traditions for accommodating foreign requests.
One of the best parts of visiting Le Marche is that you will have the opportunity to see how people in Italy really live, what they value and the purity with which they prepare their meals. No corner-cutting in Le Marche!
17 It’s in the middle of Italy so you can go south / north with ease
This is probably the best part for any traveller who hopes to enter Italy with a particular vantage point for touring the country. Le Marche is smack in the middle so you can get pretty far north (Verona, Modena, Parma) in about 3 hours or pretty far south too, although this, admittedly will require a bit more patience and planning (especially in the month of August when all of Italy takes time off of work for the Feria and the traffic moves at a snail’s pace).
With trains, Italy is your oyster so if you plan to do a thorough scouring of all that Italy has to offer and make the most of your time.
16 Support the South who Have Seen 2 devastating earthquakes in 2 years
The southern regions of Marche have suffered in the past two years from devastating earthquakes which left the towns in shambles and some of their residents without homes.
If you want to travel like a champ it can be really important to these places to visit, not just for the economic boost but also to learn their stories and their struggles.
Even if we want to see the glittery side of what Italy has to offer, much of its beaut lends itself to destruction and disaster that is important to learn about when visiting for a well-rounded understanding of the people, their values and also the origin of their traditions.
15 Birthplace of Composer GIOACHINO Rossini in Pesaro
You may not recognize the name right off the bat but you would totally recognize his soothing music as it has served as a score in many well-known films, commercials and even in TV shows like Seinfeld, Family Guy and Loony Tunes.
Having composed 39 operas he’s often referred to as the “Mozart of Italy.” Best known for The Barber of Seville, The Italian Girl in Algiers and Cinderella. His style involves a notorious building of a dramatic crescendo which is commonly known as the Rossini crescendo.
Until retiring in 1829 he was the most popular opera composer in history. Rossini's birthplace Pesaro is a city teeming with interesting shops as well as a public and private beaches. There is no shortage of eateries where you can enjoy aperitivo on the patio!
14 Embrace a New Type of Local Interaction
People visit Italy expecting embraces from men with large hands in aprons gesturing at them to sit at the table with their family and mangia la pizza. This is a stereotype that can exist in some parts of Italy but not in Le Marche.
The Marchigiani are quite direct and matter of fact. Not rude, not even cold, just quite literal. If you ask for help, they will do everything they can to help you but don’t expect the overbearing warmth and attention that you’ve come to expect from the portrayals you might have seen or heard about, theirs is a much more practical kind of attention.
13 Visit the 'Most Beautiful Village' in Italy
The Romantic hilltop town of Gradara of the Pesaro Urbino province was voted as the most beautiful village to visit in Italy in 2018 by Il borgo dei borghi.
Why you might ask? Maybe it’s the quaint cobblestone streets that lead to artisanal shops carrying souvenirs, crafts, handmade liquors and wines and olive oils of the region. It could be the Medieval reenactments featuring jousting, falconry and parades through the village.
Gradara also has a castle with the romantic story of inhabitants Paolo and Francesca (of course) that you can learn all about with a visit for 5 euro.
12 A String of Stunning beaches along the east coast
Perhaps the best part of the beach culture in Italy is that it’s no fuss, no muss. You can arrive at the beach midday and rent a lounger and umbrella by the hour while you munch on snacks and sip spritz all afternoon long.
Le Marche is no exception with beaches stretching along its east coast where you can find clean aqua blue sea as far as the eye can see.
Senigalia best known for its shopping districts and eccentric eateries where you can find fresh fish and other delights as well as live music on the weekends.
In Le Marche you can enjoy the beach experience at a leisurely pace but make sure to bring your sun cream as that Mediterranean sun is a scorcher!
11 Natural Conservation Areas
Nature is abundant in Le Marche with natural conservation areas that feature and protect falcons, deer, wild boars and owls, and you’ll also see plenty of foxes just about everywhere in the region.
Visiting Monte Catria is a must. As you hike along the trails, you take some shade in the wooded botanical gardens at the bottom of the mountain. If you visit the Monastery there’s also an ancient pharmacy where they feature remedies produced by the monks of San Benedetto. For some other natural parks to visit check this link and remember to pack your hiking boots.
10 To Visit the Holy House and the Black Madonna statue in Loreto
The town of Loreto has become quite famous and a pillar among catholic believers. The legend has it that in the Basilica of Loreto remains the holy house of Nazareth.
It is said that the holy house of Mary was transported by angels from Palestine in 1295 to its resting place in Loreto which is marked by a replica Mary statue as the original had been burned over a century ago in 1921.
A popular site for pilgrimage, even if you aren't particularly religious, it can be quite a worthwhile curiosity to view.
9 Award-Winning Olive Oil in Cartocetta
Of course you will find the liquid gold that is olive oil all over Italy, but you can get it straight from the farmers themselves in Cartocetta.
Driving through olive grove lined roads is reason enough but it can also be quite cool to witness facility at the farms where the oils is produced. There’s a small town but there isn’t a lot to do in it.
If you want a unique dining experience you can visit Locanda Trentaposti and eat a delightful meal inside of an underground medieval cave! But be sure to bring a sweater because it gets quite fresh after a while. Luckily they also have a stunning patio if you prefer to eat al fresca.
8 Fano’s Roman Festival Will Give You A Taste Ancient History
Have you ever dreamed of reliving the ancient Roman times where people dressed in robes and carried big torches? Maybe you just really like the movie Braveheart. Whatever has piqued your curiosity, you will have an amazing time at the candlelit festival with typical artifacts, food and dress from the Roman times.
While you’re in Fano you can marvel at the Arc of Augustus and make a wish at the Fontana della Fortuna. Fano is the perfect location for this festival because not only is it beautiful but also rich in history. You can see ruins of the medieval times, the renaissance and the Roman era within the walls of the city.
7 The Seafood
The main towns that make up the 180 km coastline of Le Marche are Pesaro, Fano, Senigallia, San Benedetto, Numana, Porto San Giorgio, Grottomare, and Porto Recananti.
Here is where you will find the freshest fish you will ever taste at quite an affordable price.
Specialities include calamari (squid) both grilled and fried, spaghetti with clams, mussels, marinated anchovies and even a fish variety of the famous Ascolane olives we mentioned earlier.
If you’re travelling on a budget you can hit up the popular chain of Pesce Azurro (named after another popular fish of the region). This is a cafeteria-style eatery serving abundant fish for lunch or supper for 13 euro a head (wine and water included!). It is an absolute favourite among locals.
6 Visit 1 of 9 Affordable Micheline Star Restaurants
Speaking of delicious meals, you will be pleased to know that Le Marche boasts a whopping 9 Micheline star restaurants
You can have an excellent meal with fresh, locally produced ingredients.
The prices aren’t bad either with a range from 24 - 85 euros per person depending on what tickles your fancy. Why not do a food tour of Le Marche and visit them all!
5 You can take a day trip to Another country in San Marino
With a population of just under 35 thousand people, San Marino is a tiny country a micro-state situated on the Italian Peninsula. It has been described as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino as it’s surrounded by views of the mountains and sea. It is also one of the wealthiest countries in the world when counted by GDP per capita as well as the smallest nation in the European Union.
What we like about it most is that you can shop tax-free, making it an excellent place to purchase luxury or higher end expensive items.
4 Endless picturesque horizons of sunflower fields
There is nothing more cheerful than a field full of sunflowers and in Le Marche you will see many of them. Sunflowers in Italian translate to Giresole which means to turn with the sun because you will witness the tops of the flower rotate in accordance with the sun.
These massive crops of sunflowers turn to sunflower oil which is often used in cooking (frying), baking, as well as in beauty products.
If you’re coming to view the sunflowers be sure to catch them between mid-June to early August before they are harvested.
3 Wild beaches at Monte Conero
Monte Conero is often described as a paradise as it sits on the Adriatic coast and boasts beautiful white sand beaches.
You can enjoy an exploration by foot (45 minutes) or bicycle over 18 different paths. Afterwards you can refresh with a dip in the Adriatic Sea at one of 3 wild beaches from Urbani Beach to the Sassi Neri, passing through the Beach of San Michele.
If you are adventurous you must visit the Mezzavalle Beach where you will take on a steep hike before reaching salvation in the sea. The free public beaches can also be reached by shuttle if it’s more of a relaxing journey that you’re after.
2 Take a guided tour of Recanati to learn about famous poet Giacomo Leopardi
Deemed one of the greatest, most radical thinkers of the 19th century, Giacomo Leopardi was a philosopher, poet and renown pessimist. Leopardi had mastered Greek, Latin and several modern languages which allowed him to translate many of his poems like The Infinite and Saturday in the Village.
He wrote romantic tragedies, poems and several scholar commentaries inspired by land and love. When visiting Leopardi’s birthplace in Recanati you can take a tour to learn about his life, his creative work and see Le Marche through the eyes of a creative visionary.
Here you can visit the homes of Leopardi as well as some of the subjects of his literature and poetry and learn of their significance.
1 Take a look inside the Frassasi Caves
A natural wonder and an absolute must see on your trip to Le Marche.
Rich in water the cave has a number stalagmites and numerous chambers boasting unique characteristics within them. Perhaps you want to visit Grotta della Nottole named after the colony of live bats that inhabits it, or Sala delle Candeline which is named after the stalagmite formations hanging from the top of the cave which resemble candles.
Aside from being physically stunning, the caves are being studied by scientists in the field of chronobiology.
References: Wikipedia, le-marche.com, frassasi.com, giacomoleopardi.it