Mission to Marche
– where the mountains meet the sea
How did I end up in Marche, aka “Hidden Italy”?
Luckily I was invited on what’s known in the tourism industry as a fam-trip; a familiarisation visit and immersive conference rolled into one. Designed for destination research and trip development, with lots of refreshments thrown in to aide the networking – ahem. For a region famed for Slow Tourismo, it went very fast and I am already vowing to return, despite the effort to get there.
This was my 11th trip to Italy, yet I hadn’t heard of the eastern Italian region of Marche (pronounced “mar-kay”). I suppose with 20 regions, not all of them can be well known and have an international airport.
That’s one sure way to keep the masses away – most visitors (except the Italians and Dutch) head to neighbouring Tuscany which is popular, expensive and busy. With travel restrictions and social distancing, ‘busy’ is not appealing.
Marche fact #1: Raphael is from Marche – check out the gallery and renaissance splendour in Urbino, northern Marche.
2024 Italian City of Culture
Basing myself in southern Marche, in the elegant and historical town of Ascoli Piceno (pronounced “Ascoli Pee-cheno”), I indulged in an elegant slice of history nestled between some 2500m mountain peaks and the palm tree lined sea front, alongside incredible, local food.
As clean as Bruges, as tropical as Las Palmas (the trees are originally from the Canary Islands) and as demure as any famous Italian city in low season. It’s no wonder Marche’s Ascoli Piceno is up for city of culture 2024.
Yes, the airport transfer is meaty… was it worth it to discover “Hidden Italy”?
Flying into Rome, I learnt that the town of Ascoli was founded several centuries before Rome. An ancient Roman salt road called the Via Salaria connected these places (200 kilometres apart) to enable Adriatic salt production, food preservation and the paying of soldiers. (Hence the word salary.)
And if you wanted to do everything that Marche has to offer you would need a lot of salt… however I got to cherry pick the best and most unique flavours…
From mountains to sea… 0km food in abundance
One thing that doesn’t have to travel far is the food. Local cuisine draws inspiration from the local mountains and the nearby sea.
“La regina Margherita mangiava pesce e pollo con le dita!”
(If it’s ok for the queen, then it’s ok to eat seafood with your fingers!)
Inland mountain dishes are based on meat and mushrooms (tartufi truffles) – even the olives (olive all’ascolana) are stuffed with meat then fried (crunchy then juicy, yum). Often served alongside cremini – custard creme filled croquettes.
Nearer the coast, seafood with prawns as impressive as lobsters are popular. Either way, you’ll not be able to resist the pleasure of scarpetta – mopping the remaining sauce up with bread (like Scarpa footwear, it literally means little shoe). Washed down with water from the Sibillini mountains and local organic wines such as pecorino, a sweet white wine.
My favourite way to finish a meal was with a Zuppa Inglese (an Italian trifle) followed by a dessert wine with the taste and consistency of liquid prunes.
Marche fact #2: When ordering Pecorino, make sure to specify if you want Pecorino wine (14%, sweet) or Pecorino cheese!
The only plural Italian region, Marche has it ALL!
The name Marche derives from the plural of the medieval word march (or marca), which refers to the marked area or borderland of the Holy Roman Empire. To me, this mirrors its multiple and boundless opportunities.
It has everything: mountains (up to 3,000m), sea (26 coastal towns), beaches (palm tree lined), countryside (vineyards, rolling plantation hills), unspoilt nature (2 national parks, 4 regional parks, 6 natural reserves), historical cities (defense towers, repurposed as housing), education (Urbino is home to Italy’s oldest Uni), culture (opera festival), enogastronomia (gastronomy and wine), astronomy (very little light pollution), churches (with incredible frescos and flower festivals) fashion (designer outlets), fine art (Rapheal was born in Urbino), modern art (film/set designer Giancarlo Basili), traditional crafts (lacemaking), romantic settings (panoramic parcs) and creative people (poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi).
Yet it’s pristine (uncontaminated and safeguarded) nature combined with the slow (calm, safe and good quality) lifestyle, results in the highest life expectancy in Italy.
Marche fact #3: Voted 2nd in the best region to travel to in 2020 by Lonely Planet.
Where would you go? Mountains, sea, city or tutto?! Tailor your trip with us.
For more information, options and prices, check out our Marche trip page: (coming soon) or take a look at our other offerings in Italy.
Ciao for now