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Bis Travel Marche
Surprising and wonderful in its diversity, this region of Central Italy, with its winding yet symmetrical form, shows off its multi-faceted beauty through cliffs and caves that overlook unforgettable beaches, hills that are steeped in history, and rich traditions and cultures, all set against a backdrop of mountains (that are, by the way, well-equipped for ski lovers).
The Marches is mostly comprised of hills and mountains; the region embraces the Adriatic side of the Umbria-Marche Appennines, yet in contrast features low-lying, sandy beaches. How could anyone forget the long expanse of fine golden sand that kiss crystal-clear waters at Senigallia? Offering numerous lidos and pleasant seaside strolls, this area is a treat anytime of day, but especialy at sunset.
No less lovely are Gabicce Mare, Pesaro, Fano, Civitanova Marche and San Benedetto del Tronto. If you’re looking to unwind and recharge, visit one of the many fashionable resorts frequented by high society as far back as the Nineteenth Century. For those who love extreme nature, on the other hand, the Conero Riviera offers amazing views and patches of still unspoilt land, often only accessible via the sea or footpaths carved into the green Mediterranean scrub.
The Marches protects its natural environment through its National and Regional nature reserves, the oases of the WWF reserves, and the Monti Sibillini and Monti della Laga National Parks are peerless in their scenery and trekking offerings. Don’t miss the Frasassi Caves, a must-see for tourists from all over Europe. Of great interest to speleologists due to their karst (or dissolved limestone layers), this underground landscape is truly awe-inspiring – especially considering that parts of it have been lived in practically since time began.
Orchards and vineyards as far as the eye can see cover the hills of Piceno and extend through the Esino Valley; they surround farmhouses that offer the hospitality and genuine tastes of times past. Manor houses or old sharecroppers’ farms, now used as agritourisms, tell of a way of life no longer seen.
The provinces of the region are: Ancona (regional capital), Ascoli Piceno, Fermo, Macerata, Pesaro and Urbino.
This region’s great past can be seen in its art cities, its enchanting piazzas-cum-living rooms where the people meet to discuss the issues of the day, its medieval towns where time seems to stand still, and in its highways and elegant buildings.
Ascoli Piceno is a monumental city with a Medieval historic center, including Piazza del Popolo – with its arched porticoes – and the imposing bulk of the Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo, featuring a crenellated tower. Visit the various workshops of local craftsmen, like those of violin makers, which attest to the skill and creativity of Ascoli’s inhabitants. On the first Sunday of August, the streets of the town serve as the background to the memorable Quintana, in which expert horsemen challenge each other at the Saracen Joust.
Ancona, an ancient port hub known as the “Gateway to the East,” is home to valuable monuments and an inviting beach. The Cathedral of San Ciriaco rises on the site of an ancient Greek acropolis and is considered as one of the most interesting Medieval churches in the Marches.
The region – comprising the historic center of Urbino – is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its Palazzo Ducale is an enthralling architectural and artistic example from the Italian Renaissance.
Another town to visit is Gradara, with its fortress, a magnificent example of medieval military architecture. According to legend, the fortress is where Paolo and Francesca kissed, as written in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno. For religious tourism, the Sanctuary of Maria di Loreto is an important stop, as it is considered one of the major pilgrimage destinations in Catholicism.
If you love classical music, Pesaro hosts two weeks of complete immersion into the music of Gioacchino Rossini (a native of Pesaro) every August. The Rossini Opera Festival has become an unmissable appointment for classical music lovers from all over the world, set in a stunning town where there is more on offer than just culture.
Sweet-tooths can do no better than Fano during Carnival. Its origins buried in the mists of time, Fano’s Carnival has at least three distinguishing features: the throwing of sweets to the crowd from the allegorical floats; the traditional “vulon, a mask that caricatures the town’s best-known characters; and the musica Arabica, a band whose instruments consist of tin cans, coffee pots and jugs.
The sea and the mountains of this region are a perfect combination for those who love to move freely and plunge into both the limpid waters of the sea and the greenery of its nature reserves.
These reserves occupy a large part of the area designated as a protected area. The Marches, similar to the Monti Sibillini National Park, the Gran Sasso and the Monti della Laga National Parks, regional parks and natural reserves, offers astonishing landscapes with important flora and fauna. Here you can enjoy birdwatching and catch glimpses of golden eagles, peregrine falcons and eagle owls, while trekking enthusiasts can take long walks through the woods and forests. There again, take the chance to go horseback riding, canoeing and mountain biking. You can also cycle along pleasant routes to discover natural, historical and cultural wonders, as well as the typical food specialties of the region.
For those who enjoy skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing, the Apennines possess over nine ski resorts, snow parks and cross-country trails of varying length and difficulty. The Ice Palace in Ussita will thrill all ice skaters.
You cannot miss a trip to the Conero, the magnificent formation which falls under the protection of the Regional Park of the same name, stretching to the south of the town. Conero, with Portonovo, Sirolo and Numana make up the Conero Riviera; its high, rugged coastline and splendid sea make it one of the most charming sea destinations on the Italian coast. The seabed along Conero, rocky with some sandy areas, is rich in animal and vegetable species, making it highly attractive for scuba-divers.
Again in Ancona, during the first ten days of May, the whole town celebrates the Fair of St. Ciriaco, the patron saint of the town. For four days, the town is happily invaded by hundreds of stalls, craft fairs, local food stands, street entertainers and pavement artists. Music lovers will enjoy AnconaJazz; the main festival in the Marches dedicated to this highly successful music genre, it attracts international names to the region’s capital city.
Food in the Marches is not limited to one particular dish or type, but rather blends the flavors of the entire region, each with their own special characteristics. The typical rustic tastes of the hinterland can be identified in meat dishes like roast suckling-pig and marinated lamb, as well as in dishes created around truffles – particularly those from Acqualagna and Sant’Agata Feltria – and mushrooms. Among the first courses we find pasta: tagliatelle, strozzapreti (“priest stranglers”) and the traditional vincisgrassi, forerunner of lasagne throughout the Italian peninsula.
The fresh, sweet flavor of the sea can be recognized in various fish dishes – the undisputed champion of these is brodetto, a fish soup containing more than 14 fish species; it is often enhanced with tomatoes (Pesaro and Ancona) or saffron (Ascoli).
Ascoli’s signature is the fritto misto all’ ascolana, a medley of stuffed olives, cream, zucchini, artichokes and lamb chops – all fried. The most famous desserts are ciambellotto con i funghetti all’anice (a ring-shaped cake with aniseed), cicerchiata (deep-fried dough with honey), and fried ravioli stuffed with chestnuts, cream and ricotta cheese.
Additional must-tries are the pecorino sheep’s cheese from Talamello, wrapped in walnut leaves and ripened in tuff caves (formed by limestone and calcium); ham, dried cured loin of pork; and brawn salame.
Food is accompanied by the wines of Ascoli Piceno: the white Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, the red Rosso Piceno and Rosso Piceno Superiore and, finally sweet wine stored in wooden casks, and with a Mediterranean hint of the aniseed-flavored liqueurs, Anisette and Mistrà.