The Le Marche region, sometimes called the Marches in English, is one of the more remote regions of Italy and sees fewer tourists than its neighbors. Le Marche is bordered on the east by the Adriatic Sea and the tiny country of San Marino juts into part of the northern Marche. Its border touches five Italian regions:
Le Marche has a varied and beautiful landscape with coast, hills, and mountains. The coast is full of sandy beaches and is more populated. The Sibillini National Park is in the Sibillini mountains in the southwest. Many hill towns dot the sparsely populated hills between the coast and mountains. While the beaches become crowded in summer, the inland areas are rarely crowded and can be visited almost year-round, although the best months are May, June, and September.
Top Towns and Cities
Ascoli Piceno, the southern Marche's major town, is a beautiful town surrounded by rivers. Ascoli Piceno has an imposing main square, beautiful architecture, and a good historic center. Ascoli holds a historic jousting tournament, La Quintana, the first Sunday in August. The tournament, one of the best medieval festivals in the Marche, is preceded by a huge parade with people dressed in period costume. Near Ascoli Piceno, visit the pretty town of Offida, a center for lace-making.
Urbino, another of Le Marche's top destinations, is a beautiful Renaissance town and the birthplace of the painter Raphael, whose house can be visited. The fine historic center of Urbino is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ducal Palace is one of Italy's most beautiful Renaissance palaces and it houses the National Gallery of the Marche with one of the best Renaissance art collections in Italy.
Urbania is a lively medieval walled town in a lovely setting on the Metauro River, not far from Urbino. Urbania has an imposing Ducal Palace that was originally a 13th-century fortress and a good museum with paintings, ancient maps and globes, and ceramics. The town has long been one of Italy's top places for ceramics. In the Chiesa dei Morti is a small and unusual display of mummies.
Mercatello sul Metauro, near Urbania, is an even more off the beaten path town. Mercatello sul Metauro is a good place to experience local life. This part of Le Marche is known for its fall truffles and there's a big truffle fair in Sant' Angelo in Vado during October.
Frassasi Caves, Grotte di Frasassi, are Italy's top caverns. A guided tour takes you through the most spectacular rooms of the caverns. In the same area is the town of Sassoferrato with several interesting sights and the Museum of Roman Gilded Bronzes.
Jesi is the center of the Verdicchio wine region, one of Italy's most famous white wines. Jesi has an elegant historic center surrounded by huge 14th-century walls built on Roman foundations. Jesi has many fine buildings and squares, both Baroque and Renaissance. Teatro Pergolesi holds the fall opera season and there are other cultural and music events in Jesi.
Macerata is a medieval walled hill town. Its Universita degli Studi di Macerata draws students from all over the world. Macerata has one of the biggest museums of nativity scenes in Italy - Museo Tipologico del Presepio, an art museum, natural history museum, and a carriage museum. Macerata holds an opera festival, open-air jazz performances in summer, and other cultural events.
San Leo is a medieval town that used to be part of the Marche region but was moved into Emilia Romagna in 2009 (it can still be visited on a trip to the Marche though). San Leo's huge fortress sits on a rocky hill and can be visited by walking up from the town.
Adriatic Coast Towns
Ancona is a big seaside city built on two hills with its harbor between them. Ancona was settled by both the Greeks and the Romans and was an important port in the middle ages. Unfortunately, Ancona was bombed during World War II and then hit by an earthquake in 1972 but some of its old buildings still remain. There are good views from the high parts of the town.
Fano, once the Roman colony of Fanum Fortunae, is a small seaside resort and fishing port between Ancona and Pesaro. A Roman arch serves as the gate to Fano's historic center. The central piazza has a 16th-century fountain and a palace with the Civic Museum and Pinacoteca. The more popular northern beach is sandy and mostly covered by umbrellas and deck chairs for rent while the pebbly southern beach has a long promenade.
Pesaro, on the coast, is an attractive seaside resort with many hotels and good seafood restaurants. Its central beaches are lined with umbrellas and deck chairs that charge for their use but you can find free beaches north and south of the center. Pesaro has a large main square lined with bars, a beautiful Renaissance palace, an art museum, and a museum of Renaissance and Baroque pottery. Its cathedral has a beautiful mosaic floor.
Gradara, just inland of Pesaro, has well-preserved town walls, complete with towers, and the walls can be seen from the coast. There is a parking lot at the bottom of the town. From there you can walk up the main street through the city gates and on to the impressive castle at the top of the hill. This is one town in the Marche where you'll find lots of souvenir shops.
Loreto, near the coast, is an important religious town and holds one of the world's most important shrines to the Virgen Mary, whom many people believe once lived here. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world visit Loreto each year. The Santa Casa, Shrine of the Holy House, holds many important works of art.