The Region of Le Marche has seen an influx of foreign tourism in the last decade thanks to advertising campaigns that highlight Le Marche's beautiful coast and rustic hinterland. Le Marche is centrally located with the Adriatic Sea on the east and the region of Umbria, with the spine of the Appenine Mountains to the west. Emilia-Romagna and San Marino border Le Marche to the north at the Foglia River and Abruzzi is to the south with the border at the Tronto River. Le Marche is characterized by a rugged and mountainous hinterland that gently rolls toward the sea, which is where most of the people of Le Marche live.
Inland is sparsely populated and home to mountain gorges, waterfalls and caves while the coast of Le Marche is home to beaches that are just becoming popular to foreigners - although Italian families have known about them for years. Le Marche has a nice mix of many parts of Italian culture: Resort towns and beautiful beaches, rugged scenery and quaint hill towns, friendly townspeople, excellent food and a good sample of art and history. With all of this to offer, it is a virtual guarantee that Le Marche will not remain unknown outside of Italy for much longer.
Le Marche: History
Le Marche has an ancient history and has been occupied since Paleolithic times. The Piceni tribes ruled Le Marche until Greeks from Sicily and Celtic tribes moved in starting in the 4th century BC. The Piceni (named for their cultural totem, the woodpecker) would later be absorbed by the growing power of Rome after allying themselves with the Republic. Le Marche was occupied by Lombard and Byzantine settlements after the fall of the Roman Empire and later Pepin, King of the Franks would conquer the area in the name of the church. This was the beginning of the Papal States, and like other parts of central Italy, were supposedly the rightful property of the Pope, due to the forged Donation of Constantine. Le Marche was the boundary between Papal and Imperial lands and the name Le Marche is derived from the Frankish word for "frontier".
Regardless of who claimed rulership of Le Marche, the people always maintained a sense of independence while nominally accepting the Pope as their sovereign. When Papal power waned, feudal warlords such as the Malatesta, Montefeltri and the Delle Rovere families took over, but the Papal States quickly moved in wherever a power vacuum existed. Napoleon interrupted Papal rule of Le Marche but it would otherwise continue until the battle of Castelfiardo in 1860, when the Piedmonte army of the House of Savoy defeated the Papal army. Le Marche was absorbed into the new nation of Italy shortly thereafter in November of 1861.
Le Marche: Regional Food and Wine
The food of Le Marche equally shares from the bounty of the sea as well as the farm. Brodetto is the most famous fish stew of the Adriatic coast and varies in form from each coastal town. The Le Marche versions of Brodetto include red and gray mullet, cuttlefish or squid (or both), oil, garlic and saffron - served on either fried or toasted bread. Other seafood favorites include the port of Ancona's Stoccafisso (dried codfish, which is not native to the Mediterranean), and local varieties like sole, bream, clams and mussels, Vincisgrassi is the lasagna of Le Marche made with ground pork, mushrooms, tomato and bi'chamel sauce and topped with local truffles. Favorite meats include veal, rabbit, game birds (quail, pigeon), chicken and goose. Both meats and fish are usually done either in a porchetta style using fennel, garlic and rosemary or potacchio (with onion, tomato, white wine and rosemary).
Pecorino, especially young Pecorino is the most favored cheese of Le Marche but Casciotta d'Urbino (PDO) is also popular. Le Marche desserts are not overwhelmingly sweet and often use sweetened cheeses like Pecorino or Ricotta as ingredients such as Calcioni and Piconi. Other desserts include a Pizza Dolce, or sweet Pizza and Frustenga, a cake made with raisins, figs and walnuts.
The wines of Le Marche include full bodied DOC reds like Ancona's Rosso Conero, the popular Rosso Picenoand and the sparkling Vernaccia di Serrapetrona (DOCG). However the real standout of Le Marche is its white wines, especially Verdicchio (dei Castelli di Iesi or di Matelica - both DOC), considered by many to be the absolute best wine to have with seafood. Bianchello del Metauro (DOC) is a traditional straw colored white that is excellent with Le Marche's shellfish. Spirits of Le Marche include home made Grappa and other infused liquors but the most popular is Mistra, an anise liqueur used as a digestivo.
Le Marche: Regional Highlights
Ancona is the principal port of Le Marche and home to some of Italy's best seafood. The city juts out into the Adriatic, on a spur of land that was once the location of an ancient Piceni settlement. The Basilica of San Ciriaco lies near the mouth of the harbor at the top of Guasco hill and has been used as point of navigation for sailors since its completion in the 13th century. Close by is Ancona's most prominent Roman ruin, the excellently preserved Arch of Trajan. Other Roman, Etruscan and Piceni artifacts can be found in the very thorough and expanding collection at the Museo Nazionale delle Marche. Ancona is blessed with a sheltered harbor and today is one of the major jumping-off points to other locations in the eastern Mediterranean such as Venice, Trieste, The Dalmatian coast (Croatia) and the Greek isles.
The city of Urbino blessed the Italian Renaissance with two of its native sons: Raphael and Bramante. In return Urbino was blessed with many of the artistic gifts of the time by being home to one of the greatest of the art patrons: Federico da Montelfeltro, Duke of Urbino. Duke Federico left such a mark on Urbino that he is still popular among townsfolk today, with a yearly festival held in his honor. His masterpiece, the Palazzo Ducale is the centerpiece of the old city center, now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palazzo dominates the city skyline, with its twin towers being recognized throughout Italy as the home of a real Renaissance man. Today it is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, which contains a fine collection from the Duke's artist friends. Urbino is home to even more art treasures among its neighborhoods including the Duomo, the church of San Giovanni Battista and the Oratory of San Giuseppe. The truly dedicated art lover will want to make a pilgrimage to Raphael's birthplace along via Raffello, where a few more masterpieces await. When leaving Urbino, a trip to the tomb of Duke Federico at the church of San Bernardino will also reward the traveler with and excellent view of the city.
Pesaro lies at the mouth of the Foglia River and is both a lovely seaside resort town as well as one of Le Marche's industrial centers. Pesaro's coastline is home to a stretch of beautiful beaches as yet undiscovered by foreign tourists. Opera lovers will want to visit the home of Gioachino Rossini - of Barber of Seville fame. A visit to Pesaro in August brings the world famous Rossini Opera Festival, where nearly every one of his operas are performed. Piazza del Popolo is the heart of Pesaro, dominated by the Palazzo Ducale - built by the ruling Sforza family has recently been restored. Pesaro's Duomo has recently revealed a long lost Byzantine mosaic floor dating from the 5th century. Sun worshipers will find an array of beach options from secluded public stretches of sand to more resort type beaches where for a fee a spot comes with an umbrella and a beach chair. A popular daytrip from Pesaro is the 13th century fortress town of Gradara, the best preserved walled town in Le Marche.
Le Marche: Regional Festivals
Ascoli Piceno- La Quintana jousting festival in August.
Pesaro - Rossini Opera Festival in August
Pianello - Sagra della Lumaca snail festival in June
Monte Monaco - Sagra della Castagna chestnut festival in October
Talamello - Formaggio di Fossa cheese festival in November
By Justin Demetri