Let's Get to Know Le Marche: A Marvelous Region of Italy
Guest piece written by Dr. Salvador Bartera.
I was born in Corinaldo, a little village in the province of Ancona, located on the Adriatic coast in the region called "Marche." The Marche region lies beside Tuscany and Umbria, both of which are far more famous, thanks to movies and good marketing, but not more beautiful (some would even say that the Marche are indeed more beautiful). Because of their less touristic character, the Marche (referred to in the plural--hence "The Marches," in English) enjoy lower prices and smaller crowds; in sum, better vacations for visitors. My family has lived in the Marche since at least 1490. I now live in the United States, but I visit my region, where all my family still lives, at least once a year, usually in the summer.
Whenever I go back, I try to make the most of it, especially in terms of food. The Marche are home to some of the most delicious food and best wines of Italy. Food, some would say, is excellent everywhere in Italy. I agree. Wine, too, is almost everywhere good, but we produce some wines that are not famous, hardly known outside Italy and yet as good as some of the most famous Italian wines. My two favorite picks from the Marche are Verdicchio, a dry, robust white wine, and Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a fruity, full-bodied red. Both wines are produced in my area, also in my own town. There are hundreds of wineries all over Marche, wine being part of our culture. Wine of course goes well with good food, and we have plenty of that too. On the coast of Marche one can enjoy the best seafood on the planet. In the countryside we are famous for meats and cheeses. Everywhere vegetables and excellent olive oil make every meal unforgettable.
I just returned from Italy. Here are some of the restaurants in my area where I have recently eaten (other than at my grandmother's!), which I would highly recommend to anyone who loves good food. At San Marcello, near Jesi, try Vintora, a small restaurant that specializes in local produce, mostly organic (their tortino di patate [potato tart] is excellent). Their menu is traditional but also different, and they serve an exquisite local house wine, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, $5 a bottle! In Maiolati Spontini, again near Jesi, try Erard. This restaurant specializes in fish: try their pastas, but save room for dessert. It's a little more expensive, but worth it. In Frontone, a breathtaking medieval castle near Cagli, try the Taverna della Rocca, where you will enjoy, at a very reasonable price, the most authentic regional food, all carefully cooked in a huge fireplace in front of you by local women. You should eat the famous crescia and save room for their panna cotta.
If, instead, you want to splurge and relax at a spa, like I did, go to Ca’ Virginia near Urbino, where you will enjoy--again at a reasonable price--massages and other spa treatments surrounded by beautiful nature (it's a paradise for cyclists). The restaurant, too, is excellent and the management very cordial and helpful.
The Marche don't amount to a very large region--and I have limited myself only to the northern part of it--but they are culturally rich with plenty of museums and castles to visit, among which Urbino stands out as one of the most impressive Renaissance city of Italy, perhaps second only to Florence.
Should you, after enjoying some culture and food, decide to spend time on the beach, you have several choices. I like Senigallia, Portonovo, and Sirolo for their beaches. Senigallia offers large, sandy beaches, plenty of restaurants, and a very lively nightlife, with bars, clubs, and outdoor events of every sort. Portonovo, on the Conero Riviera, is a lagoon in a spectacular natural setting, with blue water and a steep mountain overlooking the ocean. Sirolo is a little medieval town near Portonovo, on the other side of the Conero mountain, similar to some famous towns on the Amalfi coast, but less crowded. Both Sirolo and Portonovo offers a large selection of mostly seafood restaurants. Senigallia, moreover, is home to two of the most famous seafood restaurants in Italy: Uliassi and the Madonnina del Pescatore. They are both very expensive, of course. For a less-expensive alternative, try the nonpretentious Angolino sul Mare. If you want an up-scale meat-oriented restaurant, go to Symposium near Pesaro--the standard of the food is matched by its price.
The Marche are a hidden gem. I understand that the Rome-Florence-Venice triad is a must-see, especially for first-time visitors. However, on your second trip, rather than spending a fortune in the countryside of Tuscany, visit the Marche. You will get the same experience, save some money, and perhaps eat and drink better. But, most importantly, you will see an area that is not heavily colonized by American and British tourists and one that remains true to its ancient traditions. And I leave you with one note: The "Marchigiani," the people of the Marche, are at first sight not as friendly as you would find in other parts of Italy. This is because we Marchigiani are tough people. We are farmers. Do not get offended! We are not rude, just real! We love America and Americans. Come visit!