How about visiting a region with wild mountain landscapes, ancient stone towns and miles and miles of beaches, all without the tourist crowds?

Tucked between the rolling hills of Tuscany, the green heart of Umbria and the twinkling Adriatic Sea, Le Marche is the place for you. The region is warm, inviting and nearly unknown to international visitors.

 

Le Marche sits between the Appenines and the Adriatic Coast, and has all the beauty of each! Photo by Eirien
Overlooked by its neighbors to the west, Le Marche is a region all its own, with a unique landscape, history and cuisine. Slow down and follow winding country roads past wildflower fields, from Renaissance towns to sparkling white beaches. Less crowded and less expensive than most of Italy, here you can enjoy small-town Italy in the true Italian countryside and beaches that still feel untrammeled. 
Le Marche is slow-travel, authentic Italy at its finest! 

Where to Go 

The landscape of Le Marche is split between the tiny Medieval hilltop towns dotted among the Appenines, Italy’s mountain range that runs the country like a spinal cord, and the old seaside resorts found along the region’s more than 100 miles of coastline. Where you go depends on what you prefer. The region’s charm is in its variety!

Urbino

Urbino, Le Marche
Photo by Luca Boldrini
A brick hilltown, Urbino’s the most famed and historic of Le Marche’s towns. It was Raphael’s hometown and a booming destination in the 15th century. Ruled for years by Duke Federico da Montefeltro, its his palace that dominates the town. The town flourished under his rule in the 15th century, becoming a sort of ground zero for artists, scholars and veritable Renaissance-men in that time. Today the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Palazzo Ducale houses a Renaissance art museum with work by Piero della Francesca, Uccello and Raphael. 
The past would be it for Urbino if it weren’t for the university located there, saving the town from being frozen in time and bringing life to the tiny city center. 

Pesaro

Le Marche, Italy
Photo by Peter Leth
A big-hitter in northern Le Marche, Pesaro is a favorite among families and European travelers for its wide, sandy beaches. The biggest draw is definitely the beach, but the centro storico still deserves some exploration. A popular resort town, it’s nevertheless smaller and less chaotic than Rimini, 25 miles up the same stretch of coast.

Macerata

Macerata is a slow-paced university town located in Le Marche’s sparsely populated interior. Built of soft pale brick, much of the town and surrounding area was destroyed in the 2016 earthquake. Though signs of the devastation are still visible, the town’s famed annual opera event is still on. Macerata is home to the Arena Sferisterio, a Roman open-air opera theater that rivals that of Verona. Travelers can enjoy the operas hosted there throughout July and August. 

Loreto

Loreto is known throughout as the current home of the Holy House of Loreto, the house of the Virgin Mary. Originally in Nazareth, this is said to be the home where Mary lived, conceived and raised Jesus. How it got to Loreto depends on who you ask — Catholic tradition has it that angels miraculously brought the house to Loreto to save it from invasions, whereas historians cite an aristocratic family with the last name Angelo as the patrons of the house’s move. Today, the house is inside a massive basilica in the small town of Loreto and millions of spiritual pilgrims come to visit it every year.  

Ancona

Ancona, Le Marche, Italy
The port of Ancona. Photo by Enrico Matteucci
This coastal city knows its share of strife: bombed repeatedly during WWII, the region’s earthquakes have shaken loose what was left. Ancona has the classic feel of a port town, a bit gritty, a bit transient (ferries from Croatia, Albania and Greece come and go) but it’s worth visiting for its history alone. 
Ancona was founded as a port-city, when the ancient Greeks opened an outpost there from Syracuse, Sicily. You can still see the second-century Trajan’s Arch in the port and it was a major hub during the Crusades in the Middle Ages.
Today Ancona is still a convenient transportation hub for the region, though now for cargo and tourists. The Falconara airport is just 10 km from the city, there are also regular ferries and decent train connections to much of Le Marche, but otherwise the city is worth just a quick tour to research the region’s maritime history.  

Ascoli Piceno

Struck by the devastating earthquake in 2016, Le Marche’s second most important city is happily up and running again, and still a hidden treasure of the region. The small center is surrounded by walls but filled with grand architecture and one of the most beautiful piazze in Italy, Piazza del Popolo. Built in the city’s classic white travertine stone, the piazza feels like the living room of kings, and has more or less functioned as one since Roman times. Stop at a charming sidewalk cafè and enjoy the view.

Conero Riviera

Portonovo, Le Marche
Photo by Antonio Castagna

Just south of Ancona is perhaps the best coastline of Le Marche. Here you’ll find tiny pebble beaches and dramatic limestone cliffs plunging into the sea, like the namesake Monte Conero. Portonovo, Sirolo and Numana are favored beaches, but all the seaside villages have beach resorts and a laid-back charm. Beyond the beach, explore the walking trails that crisscross the nearly 700 square foot Parco Regionale del Conero. 

San Marino

San Marino is actually an independent nation-state located inside of Italy, but it deserves a mention as a unique side trip for travelers in le Marche. At roughly 700 square feet, San Marino is a bit of a political oddity. It is the fifth-smallest country, the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and its oldest republic. Born out of Italy’s nation-state history, its capital city is also UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Get Outside

Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini

monti sibillini national park le marche italy
The Monti Sibillini Park in the Appenines is an ideal destination for nature-lovers. Photo by Steve Slater
Probably the most beautiful stretch of the central Appenines, the rugged Monti Sibillini Park spreads across roughly 173,000 acres of the Marche-Umbrian Border. Hiking and mountain biking are the two biggest draws to this beautiful and wild national park. There are a ton of paths, but those looking for a real adventure can try the Grande Anello dei Sibillini (The Great Sibylline Ring), a nine-day, 75-mile loop through the park. You can base yourself in one of the villages in the Sibillini foothills to explore the park, but its best to have your own transportation. 

Frassasi Caves

Le Grotte di Frasassi is the largest karst cave system in Europe. Visitable with a guide only, you’ll tour caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the Ancona Abyss, a room so large that Milan’s Duomo (the world’s largest Gothic cathedral) could fit inside. You’ll also visit a crystallized lake, a Grand Canyon, and a room filled with formations that resemble candles. It’s the perfect way to really get in touch with the region’s outdoors, even if you’re technically underground.

What to Eat 

Le Marche’s food is enriched by its landscape: with mountains, hills and the seaside, its deeply traditional cuisine is rich and varied. The region’s rural background is reflected in the food with simple grilled meats, game such as rabbit and duck and solid fish soups along the coast. The region produces wines that hold their own against Tuscan vineyards and uses the celebrated black truffle of central Italy in many of its most popular dishes.

Olive Ascolane

From Ascoli Piceno, these green olives are pitted, stuffed with a filling of meat and cheese then breaded and fried to perfection. Served as an appetizer or a snack, you can get them from street vendors to eat on the go as well. 
Le marche food
Any meat you choose is grilled over a wood-fire grill (often olive tree), giving it a smokey flavor with the tangy sweet smell of olives. Photo by Pug Girl (flickr)

Cured Meats

In a region known for its pork and other grazing meats, you can expect some excellent salumi. Try the ciauscolo, a pork-based spread, or the delicious and protected prosciutto di Carpegna (DOP).

Brodetto di Pesce

Throughout the region you’ll find fish soup on the menu, but be careful, the recipe various from town to town. Perhaps the most known is Ascoli’s fish soup, flavored with saffron. Others include Pesaro and Ancona’s red fish soup, made with tomatoes. Either way, expect nearly 14 different fish in your brodetto and a ton of flavor. 

Vincigrassi

This epic lasagna is made with dozens of layers of the soft noodle and a meat sauce made from veal, chicken liver or other offal, cheese and a classic béchamel sauce. Though you can find it throughou the region, the town of Macerata is most noted for a simple vincigrassi

Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conaro

wine in le marche
Though most think of Tuscan vineyards, Le Marche is full of vineyards growing famous reds and whites. Photo by Steve Slater
Two of the region’s most famous reds, these are rarely known outside of Italy. The Rosso Piceno from the Ascoli Piceno area is fruity red wine made from a blend of local Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. While the Rosso Conaro is a full-bodied red grown along its namesake peninsula made from the same Montepulciano grape as Chianti. 

Verdicchio

A region with seafood as well as game needs a solid white wine as well, and Le Marche has it. Verdicchio gets its name from the green-gold color of this white wine, perfect with fish and the various fritti misti of the region. 

How to Get There

Photo by Luca Boldrini
By far the best way to get around Le Marche is by car, and it’s the only way if you want to visit some of Le Marche’s smallest towns and parks. The A14 highway runs from Bologna to Taranto and follows all of Le Marche’s coastline. From there take state routes inland to visit Le Marche’s hill towns. 
For those not up for the drive, there is a railway that runs between Milan and Lecce, Puglia, but it’s only stop in Le Marche is Ancona as well as an airport and port in Ancona. 

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What better way to enjoy springtime in Italy than a stroll through one of its breathtaking gardens? Springtime is a great time to visit Italy. Visitors during the shoulder season save money on flights and accommodation and enjoy fewer crowds than the jam-packed summer months. Mild temperatures reign with hot days possible in the south as the spring season bursts into bloom throughout the entire peninsula.

Take advantage of the excellent weather to tour some of Italy’s most beautiful gardens and parks, from north to south: 

Isola Bella and Isola Madre; Lake Maggiore, Piedmont 

Photo by Ed Webster

Two of the five Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, these two are most noted for their gorgeous gardens. Isola Bella, (literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English) is an Italian-style garden whereas Isola Madre (mother island) was created in the classic English style. Both were made to accompany the beautiful villa dominating the small islands. Huge amounts of soil were shipped over to Isola Bella in the 17th century to create the gardens. Today you can see statues, obelisks, staircases and a remarkable amphitheater, not to mention the island’s infamous peacocks! Isola Madre has served as an orchard, olive tree grove and a citrus grove. Today it’s a gorgeous botanical garden with long, green boulevards and hundreds of different plant and vegetable species. 

Villa Carlotta; Tremezzo, Lombardy

Photo by David Spender

This 17th century Villa was built for a local nobleman, and though the opulent house is worth a visit, the real draw is the nearly 20 acres of gardens overlooking beautiful Lake Como. Tucked between the lake and the mountains, the botanic gardens are filled with a variety of camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, tropical plants, and centuries-old Cedar trees. Though beautiful year-round, see the gardens turn into a veritable heaven-on-earth come spring.

Parco Giardino Sigurtà; Peschiera del Garda, Veneto

Gardens of Italy
Photo by Gabriele Vincenzi

Located near massive Lake Garda, this park is enormous in its own right. In fact, it’s Italy’s largest garden! Covering nearly 60 hectares, the landscaped gardens feature a maze as well as a petting zoo with donkeys, goats, chickens and horses for children. Explore the park on foot or by bike to see the more than 1 million tulips in March and April and nearly 30,000 rose bushes that bloom come May.

The Boboli and the Bardini Gardens; Florence, Tuscany

Boboli Gardens
One of the most iconic views of Florence is seen from the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Photo by stevekc

Behind Florence’s famed Palazzo Pitti is the city’s most celebrated garden: The Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Gardens inside. Covering 111 acres in the center of Florence, this huge park has plenty to explore, from ancient to modern statues, fountains, grottos and greenhouses. Take a break from sightseeing in the city with a relaxing stroll through these impressive gardens. Be sure to visit the Bardini Gardens as well (there is a ticket that allows you to visit both) for one of the best views of Florence you can find.

Borghese Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Borghese Gardens
Photo by Larry Koester

The Borghese Gardens are now a free public park open to all. Once a private garden for the Borghese Villa (now the Borghese Gallery), the Gardens span 148 acres, making them the third largest park in Rome. Though they are a priceless refuge from the Roman heat in summer, come in spring to enjoy this city oasis in full bloom and a pleasant temperature.

Rose Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930’s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It’s an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you’ll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district’s past.

Ninfa Gardens; Ninfa, Lazio

Ninfa Gardens – Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Bojana Brkovic

Once a populous medieval town, Ninfa fell abandoned after economic struggles and a malaria outbreak. It sat mostly unused until the 1900s, when it was rediscovered and transformed into a botanic garden. Though you can only see the gardens at certain times and on a guided tour, it’s worth it to learn the history and soak in the atmosphere. Here you’ll find plants of all types among the town’s ruins. There’s even a castle!

Villa d’Este Gardens; Tivoli, Lazio

Villa d'Este – The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Dmitry Dzhus

These Italian Renaissance gardens are perhaps some of the most famous gardens on the entire list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, near Rome, they’re also considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Go to see the unique fountains that dot the gardens, including the large shell-shaped Fontana del Bicchierone, the Rometta Fountain with a wolf-suckling Romulus and Remus statue and the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains.

Buonaccorsi Garden; Potenza Picena, Le Marche

Though few know of this 18th-century garden, the Baroque, Italian-style gardens are an incredible testament to the era’s attention to detail. Perfectly preserved according to its original design, the Buonaccorsi Garden is laid out with perfectly symmetrical geometric patterns of diamond and star shapes. The garden is free to visit, so go to explore the grotto, the tiny lake and the super-romantic secret garden.

La Mortella Gardens; Ischia, Campania

The most beautiful gardens in Italy
Photo by Andrew Fogg

Invented and created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of British composer William Walton, these tropical gardens completely surround the couples home on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. Here you’ll find more than 3,000 species of exotic, tropical plants, vertical terraces of plants and enormous tropical waterlilies that fill the pond in front of “La Bocca”, a sculpture of a face with a water sprout out of its mouth. Though created relatively recently, in the 1950s, the gardens are a tropical paradise in the Mediterranean sea.

Villa Rufolo; Ravello, Campania

Villa Rufolo
Photo by Curt Smith

The Amalfi Coast is filled with incredible vistas, but at Villa Rufolo you can enjoy the panorama in a gorgeous atmosphere as well. The 14th-century villa in Ravello is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, but its true draw comes from the flowers that cover nearly every centimeter of the property. Stroll under abundant wisteria arches while enjoying a view of the Mediterranean from on high.

Lama degli Ulivi Botanic Gardens; Monopoli, Puglia

The name is apt for these botanic gardens: the highlight is the olive trees. Gnarled and ancient, these olive trees are a testament to the area’s agricultural history, but that’s not all you can see here. The sun-bleached dirt paths will take you past more than 2,000 species of plants, as well as obscure rock churches.

Kolymbetra Garden; Agrigento, Sicily

A view of the Temple of Dioscuri from among the olive trees. Photo by Giulio Nepi

This botanical garden with a strange name is located in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. Dating back to ancient times when the garden was an important lake surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers and filled with fish. Despite this, it sat abandoned for centuries until 1999 when the Italian Environmental Foundation (FAI) took over, drawing out its former beauty with citrus trees, olive groves and tropical plants. Today it’s a verdant oasis beneath the ancient Greek temples.

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