If you want to see real Italy without mass tourism then come to Le Marche. The beautiful historic towns of Ascoli Piceno and Urbino are both in the region and the beaches are some of the best in mainland Italy. Within the Siblillini mountains is the beautiful Lake Fiastra, where you can swim, do watersports and visit the famous Fiastra Abbey. You can also visit the spectacular Caves of Frasissi which is one of the best examples of it's kind. Le Marche lies on the eastern side of central Italy, between the Adriatic Sea and the high Apennine mountains, and much of it remains unspoilt by tourists.
It is a region of softly rolling hills, with the mountains to the west usually snow-capped in the winter months. Attractive medieval walled hill towns are scattered all around, and when the sun goes down, their alluring, twinkling lights appear. This agricultural area is often described as the ‘real Italy’.
Of the region’s principal towns, Urbino – a majestic jewel of a renaissance city - should not to be missed. Here, the house where the supreme High Renaissance painter Raphael was born is now a delightful little museum - a simple fresco of the Madonna and Child in one of the rooms could well be one of his earliest works.
The small town of Pergola has a wealth of churches and smart palazzi, many of which date back to the founding of the town in the 13th Century. Above all else, Pergola is famous for the Bronzi Dorati, extraordinary gilded bronze statues of two equestrian figures and two women, which date back to the 1st century AD. They were discovered in 1946 in pieces, buried in a field.
Above the modern village of Frontone stands a steep hill with just enough room on top for an imposing castle and medieval village. From here there are splendid views across to the majestic peaks of Mts. Catria (1,700 metres) and Acuto (1,527 metres).
At the entrance of the ancient town San Lorenzo in Campo stands the imposing Palazzo Della Rovere which today houses three museums and the delightful Tiberini Theatre which seems to have been carved out of the Della Rovere ballroom. Not far from Pergola and San Lorenzo are numerous typical hilltop villages; Montalfoglio, San Vito sul Cesano, Montesecco, Monterolo, and Montevecchio. Further south, is Macerata, famous for its annual outdoor opera festival.
Of the many seaside resorts, one of the prettiest is Sirolo on the Conero peninsula. The Le Marche beaches are renowned for the cleanliness, and you can drive down to the sea and the pebble beaches of peaceful Marotta, with its favoured fish restaurants overlooking the Adriatic sea, or the broad, well organized beaches – sandy (at Senigallia), or pebble and sandy (at Fano). Here, in the medieval town centres, you can enjoy an aperitivo followed by sophisticated shopping and an opportunity to discover the delights of their stylish restaurants or pizzerie. Later, the many delicious Italian gelateria are difficult to resist.
Le Marche has a wealth of natural wonders including the Frasassi caves, with some of the most spectacular limestone caves you are every likely to visit. Limestone again is the leading player at the Furlo Gorge, a dramatic natural pass through the mountains that has been in use since prehistoric times.
Travel writer G. Piovene has captured in a few words the essence of Le Marche:
“If one had to decide which Italian landscape was the most typical, you’d have to choose the Marche… Italy, with its range of landscapes, is a distillation of the world; the Marche is a distillation of Italy.”