Introduction to The Marche

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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).
Ascoli Piceno

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.

Serra Sant'Abondio
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.

The Marche Today

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 in the Marche

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.

Travelling in the Marche


Tourist information centres are quick to point out that the two farthest places in the Marche are a leisurely two-hour drive from each other, although the authorities often forget to add "traffic permitting." The road system is very adequate. The major north-south artery is the A14, a four-lane toll road that covers all the 88 miles of the Marche. The speed limit is 80 miles per hour, but what are speed limits in Italy? If your stomach can take 100, go for it! If, by some unlikely chance you are stopped, there is always the bartering system to lower the cost of the ticket if you have to pay at all. As stated above, there are also four-lane provincial highways along the four larger valleys that connect the sea resorts to the interior. These can be found between Fano - Acqualagna, Ancona - Genga, Porto Civitanova - Polverina and San Benedetto del Tronto - Ascoli Piceno. Speed limits are 68 miles per hour but the same rules as the A14 apply.


The best way to appreciate the Marche, however, is "to get off the beaten track." A Canadian friend once said that "in the Marche, there is something to see around every curve of the road." The two-lane provincial roads, often narrow and winding (don't forget, slow) allow one to see Force, Visso, Arquata del Tronto and numerous other small, medieval towns that are not tourist mecas, and where time seems to have stopped. These roads often follow the ridges of the hills and the view is often breathtaking.

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.

Places to See


Where to begin? A tour of the abbeys is a must if one appreciates architecture and works of art. The most famous are along the Chienti Valley that extends from Porto Civitanova inland. The Abbey of Santa Maria a Pie di Chienti, San Claudio, Chiaravalle and Tolentino are all within 15 miles of one another. The cathedrals of Ancona, Loreto, Fermo, and Ascoli Piceno are all impressive.


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

The archaeological sites in Offida, Urbisaglia, Fano and the Caves of Genga are all worth a visit. For beach lovers, there is San Benedetto del Tronto, the "City of Palms." There are more palm trees in this city than in the rest of Italy. Sirolo, with its breathtaking view of Monte Conero and, yes, 18-hole golf course. Portonovo, at the base of Monte Conero was, for years, a fishing village that could only be reached by a footpath.

Nature enthusiasts will want to visit the Selva Bandini, a 1,500-acre plot of land that is the only remaining area remaining asthe Marche once was; Monti Sibillini National Park, where the natural animal and bird life of the Marche have been recently re-introduced, including the wolf of the Sibillini which was thought to be extinct; Pilot Lake, named after the Roman emperor Pontius Pilot, which has a red crustacean that is not found anywhere else in the world and is on the Endangered Species List; Gran Sasso National Park, which has the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere on the tallest mountain of the Appenines, the Big Horn, at 7,000 feet. (Although mostly in the Abruzzo region, part of this park is in the Marche).

Shopping in the Marche

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.


Since the main industries in the Marche are small, artisan-type factories, everything from copper, woodcarving, crystal, leather, shoes and clothing can be found, not only in the stores, but also in the many factory outlets. Prada, Versace, Gucci, Todd's and Ugo Boss shoes are in the Golden Triangle that extends from Monte Granaro, Monte San Giusto and Civitanova Marche in the province of Macerata and Ascoli Piceno. People from other parts of Italy, as well as many Europeans, make a trip twice a year specifically to buy in these factory outlets. And if the purchase is too large to take along, they will arrange courier delivery.

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.

When to Come

The Tourist Season, as it is called in the Marche, officially begins at Easter and lasts until the end of September. This is when you will find many museums and areas of interest open with extended hours and English-speaking personnel who are hired for the season. For the past two years, the Marche regional government has been promoting tourism and has finally passed a law saying that at least one person in a tourist-oriented business must have a working knowledge of English. Not all do, but it is improving.

Avoid August. August is the month when industries throughout Italy shut down for holidays. It is the month of 20-mile line-ups along the highways (the record set on the 14th of August, 2001 is held by a man living in Ancona; Milan-Ancona took him 22 hours of driving, instead of the normal 4 hours), overcrowding on the beaches, restaurants and trains, poor service in hotels (except the most expensive) and soaring prices. The weather, especially the temperatures, can be unbearable; in August, 2001 132ºF was reached. May, June, the first part of July and September are the best months. It is during this time that one can receive the best service. Restaurant and hotel personnel are more relaxed (yes, they do get edgy) and will even appreciate talking to guests or being of help in any way they can. Crowds are not a problem and one can linger in a museum longer than normal, not having to rush along with the rest of the crowd.

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.

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