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

Peaceful Location In Attractive Countryside 10 Minutes Drive To Historic Market Town

Casa delle Rose is one of two adjoining properties created from a traditional farmhouse in 2004. It has its own private garden with pool, orchard, and two sunny terraces, one of which is shaded by a pergola. Its large gravelled courtyard is shared...

Villa Montemaggiore Independent house for rent with swimming pool in

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...

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...

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...

Apartment with pool for 4 persons, 10Km to the sea, Corinaldo (AN), Italy

Our guests can choose from five comfortable apartments all with air conditioning, satellite TV, w-lan and safe network. They are also available for guests, swimming pool (size 7x14 mt area for children) large garden with children's playground, gar...

Vacation home Villa Patty in Apecchio (PU), Marches - 10 persons, 5 bedroom(s)

Property details Short description Number of persons: 10. Beach/water: Sandy beach approx. 70 km. Bedroom/s: 5. Floor space: 250 m². Pet: Pet allowed. Next village/town: Apecchio approx. 6 km. Fano approx. 70 km. Town center of Piobbico approx. ...

Vacation home Casa Centofinestre in Filottrano, Marches - 6 persons, 3 bedroom(s)

Property details Short description Number of persons: 6. Beach/water: Beach approx. 30 km. Bedroom/s: 3. Floor space: 190 m². Pet: Pet allowed. Next village/town: Numana approx. 30 km. Sirolo approx. 30 km. Town center of Filottrano approx. 4 km...

Vacation home Casa Monti Azzurri in Ripe San Ginesio (MC), Marches - 8 persons, 4 bedroom(s)

Property details Short description Number of persons: 8. Beach/water: Sea (bathing possibility) approx. 45 km. Bedroom/s: 4. Floor space: 200 m². Pet: Pet allowed. Next village/town: San Ginesio approx. 7 km. Next village/town (from 28 SEP 2014)...

Vacation home Alberto House in Tavoleto (PU), Marches - 10 persons, 3 bedroom(s)

Property details Short description Number of persons (from 26 OCT 2014): 8 - 10. Number of persons (to 26 OCT 2014): 8 - 11. Beach/water: Sea (bathing possibility) approx. 22 km. Bedroom/s: 3. Floor space: 220 m². Pet: Pet allowed. Next village/...

Vacation home Casa Serena in Pievebovigliana (MC), Marches - 4 persons, 2 bedroom(s)

Property details Short description Number of persons: 4. Beach/water: Lake (bathing possibility) approx. 8 km. Bedroom/s: 2. Floor space: 100 m². No pets allowed. Next village/town: Town center of Camerino approx. 18 km. Room/s: 3. Object type:...
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