overview of the coastal line in marche italy

It’s fair to say that Marche is the least-known region in Italy. Tell someone you’re headed there, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. (It doesn’t help that the name is a grammatical confusion that’s sometimes written Le Marche instead.) Show them on a map: it’s on the Adriatic Sea, on the east coast of the country, east of Tuscany, north of Umbria, and south of Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto. Like all of Italy, it is rich in history and has its own distinct gastronomy — truffles feature prominently — and wine terroir. Psychologically, it’s between the famously different temperaments of Northern Italy and Southern Italy, and it has both gentle mountains and pebble beaches. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t much care about tourism.

“Le Marche is a great destination for those looking for authenticity who don’t want to feel like a tourist but a piece of a community,” says Moreno Moretti, who grew up in a farming family in Marche and now runs the luxury travel company Italy Charme. While he plans incredible itineraries all over the country, he maintains a soft spot for his native land and encourages his clients to visit. “In terms of landscape, it’s one of the most beautiful countrysides of Italy, but nobody knows about it.

a field of sunflowers and greenery in marche italy
Image by Moreno Moretti

“Tuscany is a destination that can become touristic and the main industry is that,” he continues. “But in the Marche region, we have an extremely interesting landscape and quality products. People are happy to share, but if you’re not there, [we’re] not going to cry. Tourists are more than welcome, but only if they like to live in the local lifestyle.” (Case in point: if you buy postcards at the most famous café in the most picturesque town, they’ll come pre-stamped — with domestic postage.)” If you’re looking for a fake destination,” Moretti sums up, “that’s not a place to be.”

Where to Stay 

If you want international-brand hotels, five-star palaces, or all the US-style conveniences, you’re out of luck. The best places to stay in Marche are the simplest and most soulful. Since the region abounds with beautiful rolling hills and produces excellent food products, it’s no surprise that it has its share of agriturismos, which combine farming and hospitality. One of the best is Agriturismo Ramusè, which truffle farmer and exporter Paolo Ciccioli operates in his grandparents’ farmhouse. He spent two years restoring the terracotta in the floors and the local stone in the bathrooms of the six cozy guest rooms. But you aren’t there to sleep; you’re there to hunt with Ciccioli and his dogs, and to eat the piles of truffles that he shaves over simple pastas and even breakfast eggs. Another standout agriturismo is Le Castellare, where co-owner Nadia Buratti takes guests on guided hikes in the Sibillini Mountains, during which her neighbors might come out to offer cookies or local wine served from jugs.

If history is more your thing, the newly opened Castel di Luco is a stunner. The round castle atop a travertine knoll — parts of which date from the year 1052 — opened this spring after a four-year restoration led by artisans and historians. The dining room is filled with 18th-century frescoes (some of which have notes and tallies written on top), and the nine bedrooms offer a sort of refined time travel and have a gracious simplicity. The biggest suite, named Giovanna in honor of the interior designer, is a romantic duplex with a freestanding bathtub and a floating bronze-color staircase.

What to Do 

a water fountain near a rustic stone building in marche italy
Image by Moreno Moretti

The flipside to the rusticity and fighting history of the countryside is the gorgeous Ascoli Piceno, a tidy municipality that’s older than Rome. Much of the town that exists today dates from medieval times, which are celebrated with a jousting festival every summer — with all the pageantry and little of the crowds of the Palio in Siena. The architecture is largely luminous travertine from the area’s quarries, and the piazzas are elegant. Elsewhere, nature is a main attraction, particularly the network of hiking and cycling trails in the Sibillini Mountains. To take it all in, the Grande Anello is a ring route of nearly 75 miles divided into 9 stages that show the diversity of the natural landscape and its cultural heritage. Mountain refuges provide simple but comfortable accommodation along the way.

Where to Eat 

closeup of a pasta and shrimp dish in marche italy
Image by Moreno Moretti

Caffè Meletti has stood on a corner of Ascoli Piceno’s main square — one of the most beautiful in all of Italy — for more than 100 years. It  began life as a post office (presumably with domestic stamps), and it still has its 19th-century frescoes of the newspaper and mail businesses. Beyond that, it was designed in Liberty style, a decorative reaction to the Industrial Revolution. The food, from the aperitivo snacks served on the terrace and on the rooftop, to the classic pasta dishes inside, is simple but quite good, and guests are sent home with chocolates filled with anise liqueur, a nod to the product on which founder Silvio Meletti built the fortune that allowed him to  build the café. For refined-rustic countryside fare, De Sebastiani in Ortezzano offers four-, six-, or eight-course menus based on Slow Food and foraged ingredients. And on Portonovo Bay in the Adriatic Sea, Ristorante Emilia has a veranda that’s practically on the beach, and a classic coastal menu that emphasizes charcoal-grilled fresh fish and fried Adriatic seafood like calamari, shrimp, and cuttlefish.

Featured image by Moreno Moretti