The cultural highlights of Le Marche

See the best side of central Italy's “forgotten region”

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Donald Strachan

Donald Strachan 
HomeAway travel expert

Porto di AnconaFrom left to right, the band of regions crossing central Italy begins in Tuscany—which hardly needs an introduction. Landlocked Umbria, “Italy's Green Heart”, is sprinkled with forests and olive groves and art towns that have been destinations for tourism and pilgrimage for centuries.

Then comes the other one.

Le Marche—“the Marches”—is the least visited of the three, by foreigners at least. But it has a quiet, authentic charm that still seems strangely untouched by mass tourism.

The region has a special place in the cultural history of Italy, too. Great Italian Romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi was born in Recanati in 1798. Bramante, architect of St. Peter's in Rome, came from a village near Urbino. Painters Gentile da Fabriano and Raphael (also from Urbino) were both marchigiani. And an artist from a different era, Argentine footballer Lionel Messi, traces his own family roots to Le Marche (also Recanati).


Donald Strachan's verdict on the cultural highlights of Le Marche

  Festivals. From themed food gatherings to small-town sagre, there's always something going on in Le Marche. Key dates in the musical diary include the Macerata Opera Festival (July and August) and Pesaro's Rossini Festival (August). There's a handy calendar of major events at the official tourism site for the region.

 Small town life. A holiday is not just about the blockbusters and bucket-list sights. Le Marche has an abundance of towns where it is a pleasure just to be, not necessarily to see. Hilltop Jesi was fortified in the 15th century, and has a lively arts scene centred around its Teatro Pergolesi. Macerata has one of the region's liveliest weekly markets (on Wednesdays).

 Lorenzo Lotto. In the first half of the 16th century, Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto was a bit of an eccentric on the northern Italian painting scene. Much of his best work was done for patrons in Le Marche, and most it is still in the region's small towns. Lotto is one of those painters that rewards a closer look: the more you stare, the more you see. Follow the backroads of the Lotto trail to Jesi's picture gallery; the little church of Santa Maria in Telusiano, in Monte San Giusto; and the Santuario della Santa Casa di Loreto, one of Europe's most important sites of Catholic pilgrimage. Lotto died in Loreto in 1556.




Donald's picks of places to visit in Le Marche


Urbino Urbino

Gloriously remote now, Urbino was one of Italy's major cultural centres during the Renaissance. The Montefeltro family called the shots around here from the 13th century, reaching the peak of their power and fame in the late 1400s under Duke Federico. The fairytale Palazzo Ducale was built for him. No less an artist than Piero della Francesca was hired to paint the duke and duchess—side-by-side portraits hang in Florence's Uffizi Gallery—and Piero's enigmatic Flagellation of Christ now forms part of Le Marche's best painting collection, in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche. In 1416, the Salimbeni brothers—from San Severino Marche, 60 miles south-east of Urbino—painted the frescoes of the tiny Oratorio di San Giovanni, in the town's narrow backstreets.

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Pesaro Pesaro

Pesaro is one of several family-friendly beach resorts along an Adriatic coastline that stretches for 110 miles. The “resort” has a long history, however. First as a Byzantine port: intricate mosaics are on show below floor level in the Duomo. Later Pesaro was a fortified stronghold of two of Italy's most powerful noble families, the Milanese Sforzas and the Della Rovere, whose two popes include one who commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the Sistine Chapel. Pesaro's painting collection is now in the Musei Civici, with works by Bellini, Guido Reni, Lorenzo Monaco, and Marco Zoppo. Opera fans can tour the birthplace of bel canto composer Gioachino Bellini.

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Ascoli Piceno Ascoli Piceno

The southern Marche's architectural set-piece is a handsome (and mercifully flat) town whose piazzas and palaces are hewn almost exclusively from travertine, a honey-coloured limestone. At sunrise and sunset, the whole town emits a warm glow. Locals have a cultural history all of their own: until the Romans invaded in AD 89, this was the capital of the Piceni civlization (remains of both conqueror and conquered survive in the Museo Archeologico Statale). Ascoli Piceno was also home-base of Venetian Gothic painter Carlo Crivelli (1430–78). Crivelli panels hang in the cathedral, Museo Diocesano, and Pinacoteca. Ascoli's own street food is olive all'ascolana, green olives stuffed with meat and breadcrumbs, deep fried and served in a bag.

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Ancona Ancona

There's a gritty side to Le Marche's port city, certainly: you probably don't want to pick a base in the sprawling outskirts. But Ancona makes a perfect daytrip. The city was founded as an outpost of Greek Syracuse in the 4th century BC, and signs of a distinguished past peek through gaps in the urban fabric, particularly in the old city that climbs above the port (where an arch erected by Roman Emperor Trajan still stands). The city Pinacoteca (picture gallery) has a collection that includes a Titian, as well as more Crivelli and Lorenzo Lotto. At the hill's summit—with the best view over the Adriatic—is the 11th-century Cathedral of St. Cyriacus, built over (and using stones from) a Roman Temple of Venus. Ancona is also the home of brodettto all'anconetana, a regional spicy seafood soup traditionally made on deck from unsellable bits of catch. The dish is a little more refined these days.

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Main image by Enrico Matteucci
Urbino & Ducal Palace by Gunnar Grimnes
Pesaro by Peter Leth
Ascoli Piceno by Alessandro Bonvini


Marche Holiday Homes

Villa Il Noceto, with swimming pool,for 12 people, 5 bedrooms, Wi-Fi, Italy

The House has around nine hectares of land, has a large park of walnuts, Hazel, ash, lime trees and hedges of blackberries and Hawthorn.The scents of nature, along with the sovereign silence, make the place very exclusive. The House has been recen...

Luxury spacious apartment, large private pool, terrace, country views

The apartment is part of a large Liberty villa, restored with the help of local artisans to a high standard, set within extensive private grounds. The apartment is completely private and self-contained, with its own entrance and a large west-faci...

Il Roccolo, Ascoli Piceno - Eco Friendly Family Holiday Cottage In The Marche

La Casetta is a self-contained single storey stone cottage situated on the side of Monte Piselli with views down over Ascoli Piceno and the Tronto valley right the way down to the Adriatic coast. Comprising three bedrooms, a family bathroom, a lar...

Private house with private pool and a large fenced garden, pet-friendly!

La Gulla is a completely private house. The house is characterized by a large and fenced garden, perfect for children or dogs and by a splendid outdoor private pool (size: 4,60 - h. 1.20). The pool is situated in front of the countryside view. To...

Vacation home for 6 persons with 3 bedrooms in Barchi

The holiday home Casa Sadori is a beautiful detached house which is situated in a quiet and panoramic location in the countryside. You are staying at about 0.5 km from the village of Villa del Monte, in the municipality of Barchi, and at 25 km to...

Comfortable cottage in a picturesque hillside, with large garden, private pool and panoramic view up

This comfortable country house is situated in a picturesque hillside in the heart of the Marches. The house has a large garden and private pool. From the grounds you can enjoy a wide view that reaches out to the sea. Here you will find to relax an...

Bright apartment on the third floor of a building in the first row on the beach of Ponte Sasso. Than

Bright apartment on the third floor of a building in the first row on the beach of Ponte Sasso. Thanks to the terrace that runs along the sides of the house, all rooms offer a wide panoramic view of the sea to the Gulf of Ancona. Ideal for familie...

Holiday home with pool in the heart of the vineyards between Marken

The property lies in the heart of the wonderful country-side of the Marche. This lovely residence is plunged into the Verdicchio d.o.c. vineyards of Matelica with a wonderful view over the surrounding hills and is surrounded by a wide garden with ...

Comfortable villa with pool and perfect location to discover the Marche

Perfectly located for those wanting to enjoy the many delights of Marche's pretty coastline and its stunning inland scenery, fascinating medieval hill-top towns and towering mountains. The Villa is located less than 1 Km from Santa Vittoria in Mat...

Apartment in nature with natural swimming pond and waterfall

Appartent Mulino is an ideal place surrounded by nature. Near the house is a river with a 10 meter high waterfall. The river forms a kind of natural swimming pond where children and adults are well entertained. Apartment Mulino is just 200 meters ...
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