Italy’s Le Marche: A Region for All Seasons
Tucked away in the centre of Italy, south of Venice, north east of Rome and facing the azure waters of the Adriatic sea, the Le Marche region is abundant in endless rolling hills, medieval hilltop towns, vineyards, fortresses, wonderful art, beautiful theatres, bustling piazzas and tranquil beaches. Home to the Sibillini mountain range, where skiers and hikers enjoy the great outdoors, this relatively undiscovered (at least by mass tourism) region of Italy offers something special to every visitor.
We first discovered Le Marche in the summer of 2015 and were astounded by the beauty in the scenery, old stone houses and grand architectural cathedrals and piazzas. The region rivals Tuscany in take-your-breath-away sights and furthermore is home to some of the friendliest people in the country. Le Marche has over 200 towns and villages, many of them medieval, surrounded by ancient city walls and perched high above sea level at the top of steep hills. These historical towns seem to defy the laws of gravity as tall stone houses, shops and churches are stacked high into a mountainside, narrow cobbled streets enhance their old-world charm and large piazzas offer the most fantastic panoramic views.
Adding to the magic of these walled cities is the fact that they were built hundreds of years ago, long before the invention of power tools, scaffolding, cranes and haulage trucks. How on earth were they created, and how long must they have taken to complete?
Whether you are a beach lover, or prefer cooler temperatures to make exploring all the more comfortable, then Le Marche has something for you, whatever the time of year.
During springtime, temperatures begin to rise and can reach the mid 20’s (°C) throughout the day, offering a comfortable climate in which to walk, hike or shop. Cooler evenings ensure a good nights sleep without the need for air conditioning.
Temperatures soar during the summer months and can easily reach 35°C with hot, dry days and plenty of sunshine. The summer is the season for numerous festivals, with most towns and villages holding their own. These feste usually happen during August and streets come alive with market and food stalls, artists exhibiting their work, live music and a joie de vivre atmosphere. Many of these weekend events culminate with a fireworks display.
The Macerata Opera Festival runs from mid-July to mid-August and is held in the town’s Sferisterio Arena. This grand, open air amphitheatre was built in the 1820’s and each summer its festival contains classic and contemporary performances in an atmosphere that is truly breathtaking. Daily tours of the Sferisterio are available from Macerata’s tourist information office, so even if you can’t make the festival then be sure to take one of these guided walk throughs, which are available year round.
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For beach lovers and the energetic, summer visitors hit Italy’s Adriatic coast to beachside towns such as Grottammare, Cupra Marittima and Civitanova Marche for a holiday at the beach. With an abundance of things to see and do in San Benedetto Del Tronto , a vacationer can enjoy boat trips, watersports and diving excursions, where shallow waters and a purpose built rocky sea barrier that stretches along the coast offers family friendly bathing. These palm tree lined resort towns are home to a multitude of beachside restaurants, complete with their own private section of beach, and offer lunchtime snacks, traditional Italian cuisine, home-made gelato and fresh seafood, all of which can be enjoyed in-house or on your sun lounger.
More beaches await after a ride along the coastal cycle path that connects these resorts with the quieter seaside towns of Cupra Marittima and Pedaso, where a trip during sundown offers the serene backdrop of pink skies over a calm sea.
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Those needing to cool down should escape inland and upwards to one of the numerous mountaintop medieval towns in Le Marche that scatter the hills and valleys. These walled retreats offer sanctuary from the summer heat, where temperatures high above sea level are normally a few degrees lower than down on the coast. Full of local life, la citta contain hidden treasures – museums, grand churches, art galleries and traditional Trattoria’s serving tasty local dishes. There are over 200 of these historical towns to explore, and what better way to while away an afternoon by sipping an espresso or enjoying a gelato in a tiny piazza, watching the world go by?
Heading towards the region’s busy capital of Ancona, the azure waters at Sirolo and the quieter bay at Portonovo offer complete relaxation, where a handful of seafood restaurants serve the catch of the day collected by fishing boats that dot the bay.
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As autumn/fall creeps in, the changing colours and low lying sun offer golden tones that stretch across the landscapes; beautiful shades of browns, yellows and orange engulf the fields, hills and mountains and makes for a great afternoon walk. The Sibilini mountain range receives a dusting of snow, and views of imposing white tipped peaks provide a stunning backdrop to acres of vineyards, fields dotted with stone farmhouses and miles of olive groves.
The medieval town of Castelfidardo hosts its annual Accordion festival each September, where its narrow cobbled streets come alive with music played on this traditional instrument which has its roots embedded deeply within this town. Musicians arrive from all over the world to perform during both the daytime and evening in Castelfidardo’s theatres and streets, the sounds of the accordion and soprano singers filling the air. You can’t get more authentically Italian than that.
For food and drink lovers, autumn brings wine and food festivals in abundance. Held on the first Sunday in October, Ancona’s grape festival has been running since 1928 and celebrates the centuries old heritage of wine making with local folk groups, accordion players, a parade of floats, plenty of wine tasting, and if you don’t mind getting your feet dirty, grape crushing.
Acqualanga’s ‘Fair of the White Truffle’ is just one of many festivals during mushroom picking season. Held in the town’s main piazza, where over 100 stalls line up to sell fresh truffles from the region, as well as cured meats, wine, honey and cheese to over 200,000 visitors that come annually to sample and buy these delicacies.
With Halloween comes Corinaldo’s ‘Feast of the Witches’, where thousands of tourists flock to the historic centre of one of Le Marche’s most beautiful villages for a four day celebration that includes Halloween-themed fairground rides, activities for children, a Miss Strega (Miss Witch) competition, and everyone dressed up in full witches regalia.
Winter is magnificent, ski resorts open for business, hiking groups take to the mountains, some medieval towns receive their first snowfalls, and down on the coast temperatures remain mild and offer brisk, sunny days.
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The streets of every town and village, no matter how small, are lit with Christmas lights and lined with market stalls, ice skating rinks are quickly erected in piazzas and trees virtually on every corner are covered with twinkling lights. Nobody creates the magic of the festive season as well as Le Marche.
Be sure to catch a ‘Presepe’ – a live version of the Nativity, where an evening stroll through a medieval village will transport you to the Holy Land on the eve of Christ’s birth, recreating not just the Nativity, but life during those times. Everyone gets involved and costume wearing locals re-enact Biblical scenes, dressed as shepherds, wise men and villagers, serving food and wine in abundance, all for the price of whatever you want to donate. On display in each town’s church are models meticulously created by local artists, where elaborate scenes depicting life in Bethlehem during that first Christmas bring the magic of the season to life. Soft, coloured lighting, sound effects and classical music add an ambience and atmosphere that is truly out of this world.
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Prespe’s are not just for Christmas though, visitors should check out the model at the church in Cupra Marittima which is on display all year round.
With so much to choose from in Le Marche, a visit during one season alone will never be enough!
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