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 Montemaggiore Independent house for rent in Montemaggiore al Metauro

Villa Montemaggiore is an ancient summer residence of the Archbishops of Urbino and dominates the “Metauro dalla Gola del Furlo” valley in Fano, an ancient Roman city on the Adriatic Sea. After long and careful restoration work, the villa, meas...

VILLA MATILDE 6 Sleeps, Villa With Pool dominant position with a view stretching from the sea to the mountains

Villa Matilde stands in a charming, dominant position with a view stretching from the sea to the mountains. The entrancing landscape is rendered even more so by the scenic garden full of a variety of colours and several relaxation areas. The area ...

SAN BASSO 8+2 sleeps, surrounded by a picturesque landscape, is a charming villa with pool not far from the sea of the Marches

PRIVATE STRUCTURE. Casale San Basso is surrounded by a picturesque landscape, drawn in the green countryside by the geometric lines of the vineyards, among steep ravines and gentle slopes lined with olive trees. The house, which dates from the fir...

VILLA DILETTA 8 sleeps, charming villa with pool, hydromassage, sauna and gym, with breathtaking view of the sea

Prestigious contemporary villa located in a splendid area with a breathtaking view of the sea, whilst being close to basic services. This is the ideal spot for those in search of a exclusive structure only a few minutes from the city. The villa, h...

IL SETTECENTO 14 / 10 sleeps, villa with park, Jacuzzi and infinity pool

THIS VILLA IS AVAILABLE ALSO IN 10 SLEEPS VERSION, PLEASE CONTACT EMMA VILLAS. RECEPTIVE STRUCTURE. The Settecento farmhouse, a refined property dating from the residence period, is located just at few kilometres from Force, Marche, exactly halfwa...

CASALE ROSY 6+2 sleeps, splendid holiday villa with private park, pool, outdoors Jacuzzi tub, and amazing hills view of the Marche

PRIVATE STRUCTURE. Casale Rosy is an antique and elegant country house from the end of 1800, knowingly restored with great care by the present proprietors. The building has classical Marchegiano outdoors characteristics, and modern style, open spa...

ROSARA RELAX 9 sleeps, independent villa near Ascoli Piceno (Marche), with pool, park, fitness equipment, multiuse court, external heated whirlpool tub, and panoramic view

PRIVATE STRUCTURE. The splendid scenery of Rosara Relax spreads out inside 15,000 sq m of magnificent woodland on a hill above the town of Ascoli Piceno. The property consists of a small, recently built cottage and the Roccolo, an old hunting lodg...

TENUTA BELGATTO 10+2 / 6+2 sleeps, beautiful villa with private pool, just a few kms from the beach of Fano (Marche)

THIS VILLA IS AVAILABLE ALSO IN 6+2 SLEEPS VERSION, PLEASE CONTACT EMMA VILLAS. PRIVATE STRUCTURE. Immersed in the luxurious tranquillity of an old park, Tenuta Belgatto is a beautiful property just a stone’s throw from the beach of Fano. The main...

LA TERRAZZA 4 sleeps, lovely seaside apartment located in the centre of Cupramarittima, just a few steps from the beach

PRIVATE STRUCTURE. La Terrazza, a lovely apartment located in the centre of Cupramarittima, is just 200 metres from the beach of fine golden sand. The building, dating back to the early twentieth century, has been renovated with refined taste, rec...

LA SORGENTE 14 / 8 sleeps, villa with park and pool in the Marche, surrounded by a fantastic countryside scenery with a view of the sea

THIS VILLA IS AVAILABLE ALSO IN 8 SLEEPS VERSION, PLEASE CONTACT EMMA VILLAS RECEPTIVE STRUCTURE. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, in the midst of sunflower fields and vineyards, with a view of the sea beyond, this magnificent property stands i...
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