Wedged between the verdant Apennines and a turquoise Adriatic, Le Marche is a varied region that is often described as being all of Italy in one Regione. It is said that on a good day in spring it is possible to ski on the mountain slopes in the morning and swim in the Adriatic in the afternoon. The chances of ski and sea in one day may well be an unlikely possibility, but the thought is a pleasant one nonetheless. The majority of the population of Le Marche, which numbers approximately 1.5 million, is concentrated along the coastal areas of the Adriatic whilst the inland areas, especially in the Southwest, are unspoiled and relatively tourist free.
Wherever you may find yourself in the Marche, the Apennine Mountains are never far away. They form the region's western border and offer some of its finest scenery as well as providing a home for some of Italy's most fascinating wildlife. Large areas have now been designated natural parks. The Parco Naturale dei Monti Sibillini, in the southwest corner, is the region's largest, spreading over 40 km of mountain peaks and continuing westwards into Umbria. Monte Vettore (2476 metres), at the centre of the park, is the highest mountain in the Region. The huge rocky walls and crags in its eastern side, with such eerie names as Pizzo del Diavolo (Devil's Beard) and Gola dell'Infernaccio (Hell's Gorge), are every bit as dramatic as the landscape of the Dolomites. The most unusual feature of the area, however, is the vast area of upland plain called the Piano Grande to the west, and mostly in neighbouring Umbria. In May and June, this huge expanse of treeless plateau, 1250 mts above sea level, eight kilometres long and five wide, is transformed into a carpet of wild flowers.
Ancona, the regional capital, has been a port for 3,000 years and gives way heading southwards to the dramatic and beautiful Conero Riviera with natural white-pebble beaches that are backed by milky Dover-esque cliffs. In contrast north and south of the Ancona area the coastline is dotted with new-build resorts and beaches of coarse sand. Pesaro is the largest seaside town with a stunning Renaissance centre and slightly further south lies Fano where the Via Flaminia reaches the sea. Away from the seaside fun the most appealing and best known town is the student packed Urbino with its spectacular Renaissance palace. The dramatic fortress of San Leo, where the infamous occult figure Count Cagliostro was imprisoned and eventually died, is just over the border from San Marino. Further south, the architecturally fascinating Macerata is a sleepy university town surrounded by lovely countryside, and, right on the regional border is the beautiful city of Ascoli Piceno which has a history to rival any Italian city. Loreto is just south of Ancona and is one of Italy’s top pilgrimage sites, the basilica is built over what Catholics claim is Jesus’ childhood home, air freighted to Le Marche by four angels (via Croatia) just before the final expulsion of the Christian crusaders from the Holy Land.
Le Marche has given birth to a number of famous characters; from Raphael who was born in Urbino to Giacomo Leopardi the writer and philosopher who was born in Recanati along with Beniamino Gigl. Arguably the region's most famous opera connection however is Gioachino Rossini who was born in Pesaro. Maria Montessori, the Italian educator and humanitarian whose method of education is in use today in schools throughout the world, was born close to Ancona. More modern examples are the photographer Mario Giacomelli and the motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi.
The lack of major towns, the hilly landscape and narrow country roads combine to make Le Marche feel removed from the outside world. It takes time and patience to get to one pretty place from another so, if you are looking for a peaceful location immersed in natural beauty, it may well be the place for you.