In the centre of Italy, along the Adriatic coast, there is a very little known tourist region ... the Marche, an ancient German word meaning "lands along the border". To date, European tourists that discover this unique area consistently return, year-after-year. Known as the Tuscany of the Adriatic Coast, to visit the Marche is to visit Italy.
|Divided into four provinces, Pesaro-Urbino to the north, Ancona, Macerata and Ascoli Piceno to the south, the Marche extends from the Adriatic coast in the east to the Sibillini Mountain chain of the Appenines in the west. From north to south, the region is characterised by gently rolling hills and fertile valleys that run east to west from the sea to the mountains. Along these valleys, four-lane highways connect the seaboard and the A14, the major north-south highway, to the interior, making it possible to swim in the sea in the morning and relax in the shade of an alpine forest in the afternoon. In the 9,694 square kilometres of the Marche, there live 2,120,000 people mostly employed in the service and artisan industry. In fact, there are no heavy industries present in the region.|
|Although there have been artefacts found on Mount Conero dating 100,000 years ago, it wasn't until the 9th Century BC that a permanent settling of the Marche took place. The "Picenus" a people of controversial origin, settled in the southern part of the region having followed a sacred bird, a woodpecker (in Latin "picus" thus the name "Picenus"). The 50 necropolis founded by the Picenus clearly indicates that these people were divided into tribes, each independently ruled and having its own language. The Picenus were unable to form a political administration and continued to live in separate city-states. Overpowered by the Galls and the Athenians in 395 BC, the only remaining memory of these people is in the city of Ascoli Picenus (renamed Ascoli Piceno after Italy's Unification).||
The Galls and Athenians became the prominent dwellers of the region until 295 BC when, at the Battle of Sassoferrato, the Romans defeated these two groups and the Marche were officially made part of the Roman Empire.
|The Romans built roads to unite the satellite states to Rome, roads such as the Salaria and Flaminia that are still used to date. The "Pax Romanum" lasted for over 300 years until the invasion of the barbarians, an invasion that was halted only by the military power of the Papal State. As part of the Papal State, which lasted until the Unification of Italy in 1861, the Marche were ruled by monks and priests that built the numerous monasteries and cathedrals still present throughout the territory. The churches thus became not only a place of prayer but also of art and government. In 1861, the church may have lost its power to rule but, to date, the individual places of worship can still be classified as true museums since many of the most important works of art can be found within their walls.|
|Until 20 years ago, the Marche was mostly formed of rural communities. Agriculture and fishing were the main industries. Modern equipment was slow to be accepted since the Marcheginians are sceptical and suspicious by nature. Up to 1965, it was not unusual to see in a field a wooden plow drawn by cows or a wooden thrashing machine. Because of this, the Marche have maintained a ritual... a slow ritual; slow food, slow living (except when you get behind the wheel of a car), slow work, just slow. One cannot be in a hurry when visiting the Marche. It is not unusual that a tour of the smallest museum may take as much as half a day or a supper along the seashore two to three hours.|
|Eating is a ritual in the Marche. Fast food is definitely out, even though the major American fast food restaurant is present throughout the region, in case someone gets a Big Mac Attack. The "in" places to eat and savour the local dishes are either the kiosks along the beach which serve the freshest of seafood, always having been fished the same day "by my brother" as you will be told (and often it is true) or the trattoria, a small family-operated restaurant which makes home-made pasta with various home-made sauces and serves only meat raised locally. Heaven help the trattoria that is caught buying pasta or meat that is imported! The typical pasta dish of the Marche is called Vincisgrassi. It is similar to lasagna except much richer. The recipe? Just throw in whatever you have - cheese, ground pork and beef meat, besciamel (a type of white sauce) and mushrooms - between the seven layers of pasta and tomato sauce. Definitely not a dish for the calorie conscious but, then again, one is on holidays. If eating light, then try Brodetto all'Anconetana or Padellata. Both are fish dishes that will never be the same twice since they are made with fish caught that very day. The former is a very rich fish soup in tomato sauce while the latter is spaghetti or linguini topped with various types of fish always with a tomato sauce.|
As a second course, ciabuscolo salami and pecorino cheese served with a fresh salad will round out the meal. The former is produced only in the Marche and is more like a huge sausage. The latter originated in the Marche and is made from sheep's milk. The older it is, the tangier it becomes. These naturally have to be washed down with local wines, either red, such as Rosso Piceno, Rosso Conero or Rosso di Morro D'Alba if you are having meat, or white, such as Verdicchio di Jesi or Bianchello del Metauro if you are having fish. They are just a few of the wines in the Marche that have received the D.O.C. (Di Origine Controllata- Controlled Origin ) rating from the European Economic Community.
Ancona, the capital of the Marche, has the major airport with daily connections to Rome, Milan, Munich and London Stamsted. All major car rentals are present and cars with automatic transmission are available. Click here for car rental rates and details.
Trenitalia, the newly formed company that handles all passenger trains in Italy, is improving and upgrading the system with modern air-conditioned Eurostars that run along the major trunk lines.
The passenger train system in Italy is improving daily. Modern air-conditioned Eurostars run along the major trunk lines and stop at major cities. In the Marche, these include Pesaro-Urbino, Ancona, Porto Civitanova and San Benedetto del Tronto. Local trains connect the smaller towns along the coast but travelling by train to the interior is not recommended due to the unreliable service.
The castles are also of interest. The Castle of Caldarola, privately owned and superbly maintained, has guided tours in various languages; Gradara, the castle-city with its curse that whoever sleeps within its walls will die a violent death (Mussolini did ); the Duchy Palace of Urbino, whose walls are all covered with murals that date from the 1500's; Urbisaglia, the fortified city, with walls built by the Romans.
San Benedetto del Tronto
Not long ago, it was a common practice, almost an obligation, to barter on the price of goods in any store since storeowners did not have to display the prices of their goods. They "sized-up" the client who walked through the door and charged whatever price they felt the client would pay, often inflating the true price by 200%. With the advent of shopping malls, this came to an end. All stores must now have prices on all goods in the store, inclusive of sales tax.
Coinciding with the shoe industry are leather manufacturers. Purses, wallets, briefcases, belts, pouches for sunglasses and cellular phones and virtually anything that can be made from leather are usually manufactured in the garage for large distributors. Nazzareno Gabrielli, manufacturers of fine clothing and with stores in New York, Tokyo, London and Paris has its headquarters and factory outlet in Tolentino.
by Vincent Vicoli
Taking Ancona as being in the centre of the Marche and driving at the speed limit:
Rome - 2.5 hours
Venice - 3.5 hours
Florence - 3.5 hours
Bologna - 2 hours
Rimini and the Republic of San Marino - 1.5 hours
Local travel agencies also organise daily bus tours to these major cities with English-speaking tour guides.