Don’t let the primarily lesser known mountainous landscape of Marche, Italy fool you. Whether seeking the thrill of truffle hunting deep in the forest, exploring exotic sea caves, or visiting fairytale castles, Marche truly has something for everyone. The only difficult part will be finding time to see and experience it all.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
If planning a summer trip to Marche, make it a point to be here during August. This final month of summer is a month long celebration of sorts with several different festivals and events being held that highlight the area’s musical and cultural roots with flair.
One such festival is the Rossini Opera Festival held in Pesaro, Italy which is fittingly the birthplace of renowned opera composer Geoachino Rossini. The international music festival was established to connect modern day Marche residents with Rossini’s musical heritage through examination and performance of the composer’s works in a collaborative setting with scholars and artists. The annual event is so popular amongst locals and visitors it is often referred to simply as the Pesaro Festival.
La Quintana is a celebration of Marche’s fourteenth century medieval history and is held for one day only on the first Sunday of August. The festival is considered to be the most authentic representation of medieval happenings with the portrayal of various time honored traditions such as jousting in the main square, reading of medieval documents of the elders, and displaying the year’s new banner. The festival also includes a procession for the feast of Sant'Anna simultaneously with the celebration of Ascoli’s patron saint, Sant'Emidio. Some of the more memorable events for this celebration include the competition of Sbandieratori or flag throwers, the offering of candles to the bishop, and the display of authentic looking medieval costumes.
Not to be outdone by its predecessor, Palio dell’oca di Cagli is celebrated on the second Sunday of August in the quiet town of Cagli in the Pesaro Urbino province. Palio Storico dell’Oca, or historic Carousel of the Goose, is a nod to the region’s deep Renaissance roots celebrated every year since 1987 by locals and tourists alike. Spectators can participate in a contemporary Game of the Goose during which the four districts of Cagli compete for an iron goose statue known as Palio, which is the symbol of the town’s patron saint, San Geronzio. A parade of more than 400 people and competitors of the Palio wind through the streets of the town adorned in richly decorated costumes. Participants from competing districts play the game by working through 54 boxes representing arts and crafts which correspond to a variety of challenging skills including horse racing, crossbow shooting, archery, barrel running, running on stilts, relay races, ring toss, tug of war, trunk cutting, and so much more! After the competition comes to an end, it is customary for local taverns to have extended late night hours to entertain patrons with food, music, and entertainment.
The most popular seasonal and outdoor activities in Marche are truffle hunting and mushroom picking. The two delicacies often grow nearby each other in heavily wooded areas of the region. From late August to mid-October, truffle hunters share their trails with those in pursuit of mushrooms. However, after late October and depending on the type of truffles, those same trails are walked only by truffle hunters which routinely scan the forest region throughout the year. Hunting truffles and picking mushrooms is a wonderful reminder of the people’s connection to their land and is simply a continuation of a time honored and long standing tradition. Locals and tourists alike enjoy actively exploring nature while collecting delicacies to be enjoyed post-event.
Also known as the Grand Canyon of Marche, Le Lame Rosse is a captivating geological complex located in Monte Sibillini Park near Lake Fiastra. The area is home to a large number of distinct canyons and rocks various in size but reddish in color due to the presence of clay, silt, and gravel. An incredibly scenic and fairly easy four and half mile path winds through the forest offering a peaceful walk with beautiful surroundings.
Monte dell’Ascensione is considered to be one of the finest areas for spectators and hikers hoping to catch a glimpse of the untamed nature of Marche. The mountain is located in the province of Ascoli Piceno and is heavily wooded with forests and sharply sloping mountainsides that give way to some of the most breathtaking rivers and torrents of the region. It is home to the natural phenomenon of Calanchi, a type of ravine generated by water and wind. In May, various towns celebrate the Feast of the Ascension with a series of pilgrimages as well as rites of water purification at the top of the mountain. Traditional folklore dictates that if one does not climb the mountain in his lifetime, they will do so in the afterlife as a simple snail.
CRAFTING AND SHOPPING
The rich culture of Marche is expressed in a number of different ways by the artistic and creative hands of its inhabitants.
Majolica, an Italian tin-glazed pottery, is a popular souvenir for tourists and a staple for locals. It is primarily produced in the areas of Valle Nuova, Urbino, Urbania- Castel Durante, Gubbio, and Pesaro. Paper making is also a time-honored tradition, with the old paper mill originally being located in Fermignano near Valle Nuova. It is here that the watermark technique was first used in the thirteenth century. Basket weaving is also a popular activity for the area.
Stone carving, the carving of sandstone from local quarries, has been a part of Marche tradition since the fourteenth century in Sant’Ippolito. The stone-dressers here worked in Italy and abroad bringing their trade to the Popes’ Palace in Avignon.
When visiting the town of Castelfidardo, the unofficial international capital of accordion builders, pause to take in these beautiful instruments and the unique melodies they make. The town’s livelihood is so intricately tied to this nickname that it celebrates the accordion’s craftsmanship and music in local museums, workshops, and throughout the entire area.
The National Gallery of Marche, Palazzo Ducale di Urbino, is found in the unique setting of Urbino’s impressive Ducal Palace. While originally built for leader Federico da Montefeltro to promote the glory of his family, his contributions to Renaissance, and his military and political versatility, the gallery also currently displays masterpieces by Raphael and Piero della Francesca.
Recanti is the lovely hometown of world renowned Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and therefore is appropriately known internationally as the City of Poetry. Tourists enjoy visiting the home and museum of this famous poet while being transported through time by the town’s gorgeous architecture, religious landmarks, and rich history.
ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
A visit to Corinaldo, a beautiful medieval village in the province of Ancona will transport little ones to the pages of their favorite fairytale storybook. The village is one of the best preserved and most charming in all of Italy with magnificent fifteenth century architecture. Children will be enamored by a journey along the half-mile walkway of towering defensive walls, towers, bulwarks, and peculiar dovetail battlements. For adults interested in the historical background of the village, it is still today an important destination for religious pilgrimages as it is the birthplace of the patron saint Maria Goretti. Though the architecture is stunning, give yourself a few moments to take in the amazing panoramic views the town of Corinaldo has to offer.
Riviera del Conero is a beautiful part of the Marche coastline and possibly the most unique, with a different experience for visitors to take in each day. Some of the highlights include the only rocky part of the entire coastline, the enchanting blue bay of Portonovo, the medieval town of Sirolo that sits perched high overlooking the sea, and the old port of Numana. Tucked away into the coves and bays of this gorgeous area are some stunning white sand beaches such as Due Sorelle and Numana.
Founded originally by the Greeks, the capital city of Ancona lies on the promontory of Monte Conero, facing the sea. The Cathedral of San Ciriaco’s white and rose marble exterior glows in contrast to the sparkling blue sea. The structure sits upon Guasco Hill where the city’s Acropolis was once built and is still evident today. The city is also home to the stunning Roman Amphitheater built in 1st Century A.D. The structure is a fantastic remnant of Roman architecture with thermal baths, breathtaking mosaics, and various epigraphs. Other historical points of interest include eleventh century Church of Santa Maria della Piazza, Trajan’s Arch, and eighteenth century Mole Vanvitelliana.
The city of Ascoli Piceno is truly the gem of Marche. The facades of Medieval buildings, maze of streets and trails, and beloved piazzas come together to tell a story of ancient history. The town is a harmonious mix of art, culture, and tradition ranging from simple structures to grand palaces, and magnificent churches to the pavement of its piazzas. Piazza del Popolo was the former location of the old forum, residence of the Captains of the People, and a commercial center. Piazza Arringo was once the political heart of Ascoli Piceno because of the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. In Museum Square, the city is home to the Diocesan Museum, the State Archeological Museum, and the public art gallery Pinacoteca Civica, which showcases masterpieces by Titian, Guido Reni, and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. This beautiful town lies at the convergence of the Tronto and Catellano Rivers.
GROUP AND PRIVATE ACTIVITIES
The town of Loreto’s primary purpose of existence is to service the thousands of pilgrims that travel from all over the world to pay homage to the shrines of the Virgin Mary. The city is just inland of the Adriatic Sea, and the great dome of the Sanctuario della Santa Casa is a beautiful complement to it as it dominates the countryside for miles in every direction. Just below it is a religious focus for many, the rustic cottage from Nazareth that witnessed the announcement of Mary’s impending pregnancy and childhood of Jesus.
The Frasassi Caves are the longest and possibly most interesting in all of Italy with a central chamber of caves large enough to hold the entire Milan Cathedral. Located in the heart of Marche at Genga, these caves offer scenery characteristic of a limestone region with deep gorges and waterways and extend almost a mile. At the entrance of the caves is the sanctuary of Infra Saxa and the temple of Valadier. Valadier is one of the most unique attractions in Marche, with the temple being built by the design of an architect named Valadier literally inside the Grotto.
Mount Vettore is the highest mountain in the region and can be found at the center of the park of the Sibillini Mountains. Peculiar names of some craggy mountains in the range such as Pizzo del Diavolo (Devil's Beard) and Inferna’s Gorge are just as intriguing as the landscape itself.