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Top 5 Things to Do in Le Marche

The Duke of Montefeltro, a symbol of Le Marche

The Duke of Montefeltro, a symbol of Le Marche

Le Marche (known as “The Marches” in English) is one of the least known regions in central Italy, but that fact is quickly changing. Bordering Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, a sliver of northeastern Tuscany, and Abruzzo, Le Marche is gaining ground as a tourist favorite as more travelers venture out by road and rail to find the “real” Italy.

The Le Marche tourism board likes to bill itself as “Italy in one region.” This is not far off the mark. The region has mountains (the Apennines, made up of several chains, including Mt. Sibillini) and a long coastline separated by rolling green and gold plains. It has craggy, medieval hill towns, Renaissance gems, most notably at Urbino, and remnants from ancient cultures, including the Romans and the Piceni. Indeed, there are thousands of things to do in Le Marche. But here are 5 to get you started:

1) Revisit the Renaissance in Urbino
Located in the northern Marches, Urbino is the birthplace of master artist Raphael and the site of a major university. But the city’s main claim to fame is its Renaissance splendor. The Duke of Montefeltro (see the iconic image of him, above) rebuilt this city in the mid-15C and oversaw the construction of the Palazzo Ducale, one of the era’s first palaces built not as a fortress but as an inviting residence. The palace’s architectural symmetry, open courtyard, twin turrets, and fanciful features are as winsome as any found in Florence. Today, the National Gallery of Le Marche and the region’s Archeological Museum are housed in the Palazzo Ducale. The former has works from Raphael, Piero della Francesca, and others.

2) Attend the Opera in Macerata
Macerata, a provincial capital in Le Marche’s south-central, is site of the Sferisterio, a grand neoclassical arena that hosts an opera festival each summer. The Sferisterio Opera Festival takes place each July/August, and each performance has room for 3,000-4,500 spectators. The 2010 festival, whose theme will be “A Maggior Gloria di Dio” (To the Greater Glory of God) will take place between July 29 and August 10, 2010.

3) Eat, Eat, Eat!
Every region in Italy has its culinary specialty. In Le Marche, the edible bounty ranges from earthy – truffles, game – to the marine – fish stew, known in the capital Ancona as stoccafisso. Throughout the year, towns in Le Marche host numerous sagre, or food festivals, usually based around one product. There are feasts for snails, frogs, rabbits, veal, cheese, and pasta. The most important sagre are in mid-autumn and are devoted to the world’s most prized fungus: the truffle. Late October and early November see truffle fairs in Sant’Agata Feltria, Sant’Angelo in Vado, and Acqualagna. While “the best food is still to be had in Marche homes rather than in restaurants” (according to the tourism board), Le Marche also has some incredible restaurants, including the Michelin-starred restaurants Madonnina del Pescatore in Senigallia and Le Busche in Montecarotto.

4) Drink, Drink, Drink!
The Marches also has its share of fine wines, both reds and whites. The central part of the region, ranging from Ancona inland, has some of the best known vineyards and vintages. Verdicchio Classico is produced around Jesi and Matelica; Vernaccia at Serrapetrona (southwest of Tolentino), and Rosso Conero, a red made from Montepulciano grapes, is produced in a coastal zone between the Apennines and the Adriatic. You can even follow the Rosso Conero wine route within Ancona province’s Parco del Conero. Other wine zones in Le Marche can be found in the Colli Pesaresi (hills of Pesaro, near Urbino) and in the southern province of Ascoli-Piceno, where the main vintage is the Rosso Piceno.

5) Penetrate the Impenetrable: Walled Cities
The Marches is full of walled cities. During the time of the papal states, the region was considered virtually ungovernable because of the difficult terrain, the incalcitrant citizens, and those inpenetrable walled cities. The north and central sections of the region have several medieval cities housed within imposing stone walls. Of note are Corinaldo in Ancona province and Gradara and San Leo in the province of Pesaro-Urbino. The latter is said to resemble a miniature Republic of San Marino, a small sovereign state surrounded by Le Marche and Emilia-Romagna.

What’s On in Italy: October 2008

Lots of art exhibitions going on in Italy this fall, especially this month. So, let’s get started:

Bellini in Rome. The works of Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini will be on display in Rome’s Scuderiere del Quirinale through January 11, 2009. According to ansa.it, the exhibition – one of the largest ever featuring Bellini’s works – “is showcasing most of Bellini’s best-loved works, including a number of his stunning altarpieces, such as the Baptism of Christ from Vicenza and the famed Pesaro sequence.”

Palladio in Vicenza. Vicenza, long synonymous with the great architect Andrea Palladio, is celebrating the 500th year since the artist’s birth with a grand exhibition at the Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, itself one of many Palladio-designed building in Vicenza, the artist’s hometown. The exhibition showcases almost 80 of Palladio’s original drawings and tells the life story, through paintings by Canalettoand El Greco, among others, and scale models, of the influential architect. The exhibition will run through January 6 in Vicenza and then move on to London for the spring. Take a look at the link for the exhibit, as you can take a virtual tour – awesome.

Correggio in Parma. Sixteenth century artist Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio after the small town in which he was born, is getting his due in a large exhibit in Parma through January 25, 2009. Some of the works in the show are in situ in Parma, where many of Correggio’s works were created and are still housed, while the rest (about 80 pieces) come from museums throughout Italy and Europe. You can preview the exhibit and pre-order tickets online at the Mostra Correggio Parma website.

National Truffle Fair. With fall comes white truffle season, which is celebrated with the Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo in Acqualagna in Le Marche. Several comuni in the region, including Sant’Angelo in Vado and Sant’Agata Feltria, will hold fairs on the weekend throughout the month of October and beginning of November. The National Fair is held the last weekend in October and the first two weekends in November.

Eurochocolate Time! More feasting will occur in Le Marche’s regional neighbor Umbria as Perugia hosts the annual Eurochocolate Festival. Eurochocolate 2008, which will run from October 18-26, will feature tons of tasting opportunities. And, if you want to get a jumpstart on the celebrations, National Choco Day, a holiday since 2005, takes place on October 12.

Venice Marathon. Just thinking about the truffles and chocolate give you the urge to burn calories? Then you can enter the Venice Marathon, which takes place on October 26. The race starts east of Padova, travels around and over canals, and ends at the Riva dei Sette Martiri in the city. If you’re not up for that much running, there’s a 3K Fun Run and great people watching from the bridges.

For more October events in Italy, check out italiantourism.com and the events site whatsonwhen.com.

What’s On in Italy: September 2008

Hard to believe it’s September again! Here’s a rundown for the beginning of the fall – a marvelous time to be in Italy!

Time for Wine! One of the reasons it’s so great to travel in Italy in the fall is for all of the wine sampling to be done. Oenological Week in Montefalco, Umbria, which celebrates Sagrantino, runs from September 18-21. The Wine Championship in Florence, a sort-of wine-related Jeopardy! contest, kicked off today and runs through the weekend; the event is sponsored by Slow Food Firenze. Throughout the month in Tuscany will be the Chianti grape harvest, a yearly ritual which has been honored each year since 1926 with a Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta. The town of Bardolino, on the shores of Lake Garda, also holds a Festa dell’Uva, which begins at the end of September.

Food, Glorious Food! You need something to go with your wine. Try the Festival del Prosciutto di Parma, happening throughout the Parma province of Emilia Romagna through September 21. Some of you probably didn’t know that couscous is a staple in Sicilian cuisine; in fact, a festival dedicated to couscous takes place in San Vito Lo Capo from September 23-28. Outside of Milan, in the town of Gorgonzola, the 10th annual Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola, which celebrates the distinctive cheese and other food products of the area, will be held on September 20 and 21. Meanwhile, in Le Marche, the city of Fano will hold a Festival del Brodetto, which will honor the region’s typical zuppa di pesce (fish soup).

Traditional Festivals and Fairs. Soak up some Italian heritage with a visit to Venice, where the Historic Regatta on the Grand Canal takes place this weekend (Sept. 7) at 5:10 p.m. There are traditional jousting tournaments in Arezzo (Sept. 7) and Foligno (Sept. 13 and 14). Naples’ ever-popular Feast of San Gennaro takes place on September 19, and will include lots of food, frolicking, and fawning over the city’s patron saint, a statue of whom is paraded throughout the streets. (We couldn’t find a good official site for the San Gennaro fest, so here’s an “unofficial” explanation of the event.) Finally, a fun event for the entire family is the live chess match, played in the town of Marostica every two years by real people on a life-size chess board in Piazza Scacchi (fittingly, Chess Square). The game(s) will be held September 12-14, and tickets cost between €10-80.

Italy Summer Article Round-Up 2008

Lots of Italy-related articles this time of year. So, here goes:

New York Times
Wandering Beyond Classic Rome (The Frugal Traveler Does Europe on a Budget)
On Venice’s Grand Canal in a Kayak
Prescription Med (Ischia)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Rome’s Famous Seven Hills
Budget Travel in Rome
10 Books and Movies to Prep for a Trip to Rome
Italy: At Home in Rome

National Geographic Traveler
Rome Photo Gallery (Part of NGT’s Authentic Rome feature for the July/August 2008 issue)
Shopping: Roman Gold

The Washington Post
Smart Mouth: His Palermo Restaurant Is Popular, But It’s No Mob Scene
My Verona

Reuters
Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Ferrara, Italy

Naples (FL) Daily News
From the Ground Up: Part-Time Naples Couple Found Their Italian Villa a Full-Time Restoration Job Over Two Years (Brindisi, Puglia)

The Guardian (UK)
The Amalfi Coast On a Budget
Caught in the Spell of San Pietro (Sardinia)
Hidden Gems (Sibillini Mountains, Le Marche)
Little Po Peep (Emilia-Romagna)
Flying Visit: Venice
A Greener Way to Umbria’s Capital

Sydney Morning Herald
How to Shop Up an Appetite (Milan)
Night in Italian Prison Promises Gourmet Fare (Tuscany)
Master of the House (Palladio in Venice)
Holiday in Harmony with Gregorian Monks (Tuscany)
A Bloodbath, Italian Style (Florence)

Eating Your Way Through Le Marche

Ladies and Gentlemen – start your appetites! Chowhound.com has begun a year-long series titled “Eating Your Way Through Le Marche,” starting with an entry about food festivals in the region during June 2008. If you’re in the area during June, vist Cartoceto’s Sagra dei Vincigrassi, a festival celebrating a marchigiana-style lasagna on the first Sunday of the month; Monte Porzio’s Sausage Festival on the third Sunday (and proceeding Saturday); or any one of the summer-long fairs in cities like Gradara, Gabicce Mare, and Sant’Angelo in Vado.

To learn about and discuss the food in Le Marche or other regions in Italy, see the Chowhound Italy boards. And stay tuned for more installments on Eating Your Way Through Le Marche.

Hotel Spotlight: Finis Africae Country House

It’s time for us to resume our occasional feature “Hotel Spotlight.” These hotels are ones that we’ve come across in our research. Sometimes they end up in the Unofficial Guide to Central Italy; sometimes, due to space constraints or geography, they do not. So, we like to highlight B&Bs, resorts, and farmhouses that have caught our eye – either in real space or cyberspace – right here on the blog. Today, we’re going to the Marches…

Name: Finis Africae Country House
Location: S.P. San’Angelo, 155, Senigallia (Ancona Province), Le Marche (see this on a map)
Contact: Phone 071-662-501; Fax 071-662-555
Web: www.finisafricae.com
Rates: €62-268; discount for stays longer than 10 days.
What’s Cool: In addition to its bold name, meaning “the boundaries of Africa,” Finis Africae has a relaxing, safari lodge look with well-chosen, ethnic furnishings, which suggests that the owners took the time to create a hotel that is as much an “experience” as it is a place to stay. The inn’s Holistic Centre offers yoga, ayurvedic and shiatsu massages, aromatherapy, and multiple day and weekend beauty and relaxation packages. Business travelers would do well to schedule meetings here, as there are several meeting rooms, an auditorium, and congress hall; when the work is done, there’s also a swimming pool, steam baths, and a gym on the premises. All of this is just a mile from the beach.

Photo from Venere Hotels website

Unofficial Guide to Central Italy, 4th Ed., is Here!

UG Central Italy, 4th edition

We are pleased to announce that the 4th edition of The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy: Florence, Rome, Tuscany & Umbria arrives in stores – and is available for shipment from Amazon – today! Like previous editions, this UGCI has the best information about travel in Tuscany, Lazio, Umbria, and the Marches (Le Marche). But it also has updates on restaurants, hotels, planning your trip, and more. We hope that you will consider buying this guide for your next trip to Italy. And, of course, keep coming back to Italofile.com for the latest Italy travel tips.

Italy’s UNESCO Heritage Sites – All in One Place

So, you’ve made it all the way to Rome but wish your vacation time allowed you to visit the other 40 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy? Have no fear!

According to the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, an exhibit of 120 photographs of Italy’s heritage sites will be on display at the Central National Library. The exhibition will give you a chance to see the Trulli of Alberobello (in Puglia, as pictured above), the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, and the historic center of the ideal Renaissance cities of Urbino and Pienza.

The exhibit at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma runs through March 14. The library is located at Viale Castro Pretorio 105 (Metro linea B, Castro Pretorio), just a few blocks from the Termini train station.

20 Things We Love About Italy – Part 1

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a favorite shopping spot in Milan

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we here at Italofile wanted to share with you some of our favorite foods, fashions, architecture, and other random things that make Italy our favorite destination. Yes, just about every one of our posts highlights the things we love about Italy. But this is our chance to feature some things that just don’t make it into every day posts.

And, why 20 things, you ask? Italy has 20 regions and we’ve selected a favorite thing from each of them. Keep in mind, this is hardly an exhaustive list: it was hard to pick just one thing from each region. Also note that this list is in no particular order (except alphabetically by region).

What kinds of things have made you fall in love with Italy? Please be so kind to share them by commenting below or contacting us on Twitter @italofileblog. If you want to know more about each of the 20 regions of Italy, click on the “By Area” categories to the right or visit our Tourism Boards page.

Today, we’ll tackle the first 10 – Abruzzo through Lombardy:

1) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo. We love our Chiantis and Barolos, for sure. But we often find that when it comes to buying a good, everyday table wine for under $15, we return time and time again to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. There are many good brands of Montepulciano out there. However, Wine Spectator recently featured Valle Reale as one of its daily wine picks. To learn more about this vintage, visit Winebow.com.

2) I Sassi of Matera, Basilicata. These cave houses, which are a lot like those of Cappadocia in Turkey, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The eerie dwellings were mentioned in Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli and the Matera landscape was used as a stand-in for Jerusalem in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

3) Sopressata and Caciocavallo, Calabria. Many an Italian-American household would be at a loss on what to serve for antipasti were it not for these delicious sausage and cheese items from Calabria. I’ve yet to try these foods in their native place. Though, we once shared some Arthur Avenue sopressata (sausage) with a visiting Italian friend and he said it was some of the best he’d ever tasted.

4) Mt. Vesuvius, Campania. From the ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii to the jawdropping landscape of Naples – even to the rock formations on the island of Capri – Vesuvius was involved. This still-active volcano is a sight to see, which makes this trip seem pretty cool.

5) Byzantine Mosaics of Ravenna, Emilia Romagna. Yet another World Heritage Site, Ravenna is often overshadowed by other Emilian cities like Parma and the capital Bologna. But Ravenna shines because of its stunning, well-preserved, early Christian mosaics, particularly in the Basilica of San Vitale. If you’ve got an Italy “bucket list,” seeing Ravenna’s mosaics should be on it.

6) Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. There are little pockets on the peninsula that defy Italian stereotypes. Gorizia, which lies on the border with Slovenia (Nova Gorica), is one of those places. Here is where central and Slavic Europe meets Italy in a melting pot of dialects, architecture, attitudes, and more.

Civita di Bagnoregio, a magical little village in Lazio

7) Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio. Beyond the attractions of Rome, one of the most charming places in all of Central Italy is the tiny, hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio. Built by the Etruscans on soft tufa rock, the village is slowly but surely giving way to the ravages of time and gravity. So you may want to pay your respects before its too late.

8) Olive Ascolane, Le Marche. The earthy cuisine of the Marches (Le Marche) is finally getting its due thanks to the fantastic cookbook Cucina of Le Marche by Fabio Trabocchi. Certainly no book on the cucina marchigiana would be complete without a recipe for Olive Ascolane – fried, stuffed olives. Yum!

9) Portofino, Liguria. Liguria, the eyebrow shaped region of Italy, is very eye-catching indeed, what with its picturesque fishing villages, particularly those pastel painted cities of the Cinque Terre. Portofino, in the Genoa province, is a huge tourist magnet. But one glance at its tidy cityscape and port and you’ll understand why those big-time hotel developers have tried their damnedest to recreate the place.

10) Milan Fashion Week, Lombardy. Twice a year in Milan, we have the opportunity to see what Italy’s creative fashion minds have come up with for the catwalk. In my humble opinion, the Italian designers have always been on the cutting edge with sexy, yet wearable clothing. Think Valentino, Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, Milan is Italy’s fashion capital year-round which is in evidence when you walk the city’s bustling streets, stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and window-shop the chic shops on Via Montenapoleone.

Tomorrow…our favorites from Molise through the Veneto!

Photo © Traveler100, Alessio Damato

Walk for a Cause in Italy

As I was preparing to post information about the Italy Breast Cancer Walk 2008, which will take place in September, I learned that registration for the event had closed. At any rate, what a wonderful way to see Italy and raise money for a worthy cause.

This year’s walk will be through the region of Le Marche (the Marches), starting in San Severino and finishing up in Tolentino. During the week-long trek, participants will “walk more than 60 miles, with the longest day being 18 miles and reaching an elevation of 3,000 feet. Walkers will stay in small family-run inns and eat home-cooked meals and fresh pastas.”

Although registration to this year’s Italy walk is closed, Ride for a Cause, the nonprofit that organizes the tour, has other walk/ride events in Ireland and Spain this year. This is the third year that RFAC and their partner, Girosole Walking Tours, have planned a Breast Cancer/AIDS walk in Italy, so you may want to get in touch with either group to see what’s in store for 2009.

Celebrating a Legend: Luciano Pavarotti

Today the world mourns the passing of a titan of music. Luciano Pavarotti, the man who introduced opera to a wider audience than any other before him, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer today. He was 71. There are many tributes on the web, including a Life in Pictures on bbc.com, reaction from his Three Tenor partners Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras (also from bbc.com), a reaction from residents of Modena, Pavarotti’s birthplace, and, at last count, more than 2,000 articles about his passing. Indeed, he will be missed.

So, what’s the best place to celebrate the big man’s work? Go to the opera, of course! One perfect event is Rome’s Opere Sotto Le Stelle (Opera Under the Stars), which will run through September 29 at the Gran Teatro. See www.romaturismo.com for more information on this and other events.

If you’re not prepared to go to the opera this month, consider taking in some musica lirica at some of Italy’s famous opera houses and arenas. Those include the Sferisterio in Macerata (Le Marche); the Arena in Verona (Veneto); and, of course, La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.

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