The Marche is a marvellous region for the diversity of its landscape and territory: cliffs and caves alternating with unforgettable beaches, hills and mountains equipped with ski lifts.
The territory, mostly hilly and mountainous, overlooks the Adriatic Sea with low, sandy beaches.
The region has numerous national and regional parks and WWF oases to discover; the Monti Sibillini and Monti della Laga parks offer a unique spectacle for trekking enthusiasts.
Not only nature, but also many cities of art such as Urbino, Gradara, Pesaro, Recanati, Macerata and many others.
A unique jewel in the world of beauty and wisdom, Urbino is an emblem of the Italian Renaissance and since 1998 its historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ducal Palace is the palace where Federico da Montefeltro lived, described as a “palace in the form of a city” by Baldassarre Castiglione, with its small towers soaring into the sky. Defining the Ducal Palace as just a “palace” is totally reductive: it is a small fortified city commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro and built from 1444 onwards.
Cultured and refined, Federico wanted the Ducal Palace of Urbino to surpass all other princely residences in Italy in terms of beauty: he wanted to transform Urbino into the “Ideal City” of which the Palace was to be the highest expression.
Today it is the seat of the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, which houses one of the most beautiful and important art collections of the Italian Renaissance, with works by Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Titian and Melozzo da Forlì. Here is preserved a painting which is a symbol of Italian art: the “Ideal City“, attributed according to the critics to Piero della Francesca, Leon Battista Alberti, Luciano Laurana, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and other artists.
In Urbino is the birthplace of Raphael: it houses only a few original works by the great Urbino painter, almost all from his youth. On the ground floor is the workshop of his father Giovanni Santi, now used for temporary exhibitions. On the first floor are copies of Raphael’s paintings and tributes by other artists to the great Urbino painter. On the first floor are copies of Raphael’s paintings and tributes by other artists to the great Urbino painter. In the “Raphael’s Bedroom” there is a fresco depicting the “Madonna and Child“, considered to be one of his early works, painted together with his father. On the first floor there is also a small courtyard with a well and a washbasin where his father ground the colours used for his works.
The Cathedral of Urbino is the most important church in the city, but certainly not the most beautiful. The most interesting part of the Cathedral are the Grottoes, which over the centuries have housed a Confraternity. During the Second World War, to protect them from bombs and the Germans, the caves housed the works of the Treasure of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In the caves there are several chapels and the Corridor of Forgiveness: according to an ancient Urbino tradition, forgiveness of sins was secured by walking along this corridor several times during Easter Monday.
The masterpiece of the Oratorio di San Giovanni is well hidden beyond the entrance door and painted on the walls: it is the cycle of frescoes by the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni da San Severino (around 1400), the most important interpreters of late Gothic in the Marche region. Urbino is a vertical, steep city with narrow streets. In 1400, it was therefore the ideal place for those who wanted to ambush the powerful. The danger was well understood by Federico da Montefeltro, who had a bastion built at the foot of the Torricini of the Ducal Palace, with helical ramps inside.
Thanks to this magnificent piece of engineering, the Duke could reach the ducal stables directly from the Palace. To make sure he did not miss anything, the bastion was also equipped with gun ports to control the Mercatale area below. In 1800, the Raffaello Sanzio Theatre was built on top of the bastion, a choice that caused controversy because it was considered a foreign element to the city’s architecture. Recovered in the 1970s, today the ramps are a slow, panoramic but very tiring way to access the historic centre. A curiosity: right in front of the entrance to the theatre there is a curved wall: if you stand at either end of the wall and try to speak very softly, the person on the other side will hear you. This was not done on purpose but is an acoustic effect discovered by chance by some women from Urbino who were gossiping about each other!
Lovers of viewpoints should definitely go to the Fortezza Albornoz, the “green terrace“. From here you can admire the Palazzo Ducale, the streets, squares and bell towers of the city and the surrounding hills.
For those who do not know the Divine Comedy, the name Gradara will not say much.
Gradara will immediately provide you with a strong scenic impact thanks to its two walls and the excellent state of conservation of the castle, furnished with 15th and 16th century furniture.
Gradara Castle and its fortified village represent one of the best preserved medieval structures in Italy. The fortress, perched on a hill 142 metres above sea level, is known for the love story of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, made immortal in the verses of Canto V of Dante’s Inferno.
Around the fortress you can walk the Lovers’ Path that encircles the hill, from which you can admire an enchanting landscape. The keep, the main tower, rises 30 metres, dominating the entire valley.
The Ornithological Park – Falconry Centre “The Theatre of the Air” is also located in the medieval fortress. Here you can admire demonstrations of birds of prey in flight – hawks, vultures, kites, eagles, owls, owls, goshawks and buzzards – and watch exciting shows with birds of prey.
It is also worth visiting Recanati, the birthplace of the poet Giacomo Leopardi, the famous opera singer Beniamino Gigli and the famous composer Giuseppe Persiani.
Situated in a strategic position between the coast and the hinterland, Recanati is a typical balcony town with a wide panorama.
The nerve centre of Recanati is the main square dedicated to the poet.
The square is overlooked by the Town Hall, inside which the Aula Magna, Sala degli Stemmi and Aula Consiliare are noteworthy.
The places linked to Giacomo Leopardi in Recanati are almost infinite. Every alleyway, every view or outlook in the town is closely linked to the poet: the “Piazzetta Sabato del Villaggio“, overlooked by Palazzo Leopardi, the house where the poet was born, with its precious library containing over 20,000 volumes, and the “Silvia’s House“; the “Hill of Infinity“, the remains of the ancient Tower of Sant’Agostino which inspired the “Lonely Sparrow” and the summit of Mount Tabor which inspired the poem of the same name composed by the poet when he was 21 years old.
Its historic centre is surrounded by walls dating back to 1200: worth seeing are Villa Colloredo Mels and the Church of San Domenico, containing masterpieces by Lorenzo Lotto, and the Cathedral of San Flaiano, with sarcophagi dating back to 1400, including that of Pope Gregory XII.
As mentioned above, Recanati is not only a city, it is also closely linked to music, thanks to two of its illustrious sons:
Beniamino Gigli, a tenor of international fame, is one of the most famous opera singers of the 20th century. Beniamino was born in Recanati and approached music, taking his first steps in the Cathedral choir. In the last century he has appeared on the stage of numerous opera houses, singing works mainly by Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni and Puccini.If you want to find out more about the singer, you can visit his monumental tomb and the museum dedicated to him in the municipal theatre.
The theatre is named after the composer Giuseppe Persiani: it is a small jewel with three tiers of boxes and a gallery that hosts an annual theatre season with shows ranging from ballet to poetry, including prose, musicals and shows for children.
Music lovers should definitely visit the brand new Music Museum, adjacent to the theatre. A space that hosts exhibitions, interactive stations and an immersive audio room for innovative listening.
Inside this space is the EKO Guitar Museum, a leading international company founded here in Recanati in 1959, whose products have been used by some of the biggest names in music over the last 70 years, including Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
Pesaro, the city of Rossini: the best way to discover it is by bicycle.
It is one of the most lively cities, where you can enjoy many different types of holiday: from the sea to the hills, from sport to music, and from art to culture. It is home to Arnaldo Pomodoro‘s famous “Palla“, a sphere made of brozo, created by the famous sculptor in 1998.
As mentioned, the best way to visit Pesaro is by bike, following the numerous cycle paths, in particular the Bicipolitana, which runs along and connects the various areas of the city: a project developed over the years to make the city “bike friendly”, which in 2017 led to Pesaro taking first place, tied with Bolzano, in the ranking of “Italy’s most bike-friendly cities” according to Legambiente.
Pesaro’s green lung is undoubtedly Monte San Bartolo and the natural park to which it gives its name.
From its cliffs it is possible to admire a unique panorama from the hinterland to the north coast towards Romagna. As well as preserving a priceless natural treasure, the park is home to beautiful historic villas.
For those wishing to relax by the sea, the Pesaro coastline is wide and sandy, perfect for families because its waters are shallow and safe enough to merit the Green Flag for child-friendly resorts.
Pesaro is the city of music thanks to Giochino Rossini, who was born here and remained very attached to it, so much so that upon his death he left a sum of money to establish the Rossini Conservatory, one of the most prestigious music schools in Italy.
Fabriano, a UNESCO Creative City, the City of Paper and Paper Mills, which today mainly produce banknote paper but was once famous for F4 drawing sheets. In the town centre is the Paper and Watermark Museum: starting with the handmade manufacture of paper and ending with the display of watermarks, you can follow the historical journey of paper. Among the various activities organised in the museum is the possibility of getting your hands dirty in the “pulp” of raw materials that will make up the sheet of paper, just as the Fabriano master papermakers did in the 13th century.
Inside the museum, the guides never forget to talk about paper made from artichokes or the rarest banknotes in the world.
Other noteworthy museums are the Historic Piano and Sound Museum and the Museum of Ancient Crafts by Bicycle. The first one offers an exhibition of 18 historical pianos from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, with a real journey through the history of the evolution of the piano and, at the same time, the music of great composers.
In the second, we find a collection of 87 bicycles equipped according to the work they were used for. We find the knife-grinder’s bicycle, the barber’s and the milkman’s, and even the parish priest’s bicycle equipped for blessing.
The famous Fabriano salami is worth a taste: it is the typical salami of the Marche region, promoted by the Consortium of Production and Protection.
Also worth tasting is the Fig-Honey Salami, made with honey aged in barriques and mead.
Loreto and its Sanctuary represent the heart of the spirituality of the Marche region: it houses the famous relic of the Holy House of Nazareth where, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary was born and lived and where she received the announcement of the miraculous birth of Jesus.
According to tradition, the Holy House was transported in 1291 as an ‘angelic mystery’ from Nazareth, first to ancient Illyria and then to the hill of Loreto on 10 December 1294. When the Crusaders were expelled from Palestine in 1291, the masonry house was transported to ancient Illyria, to the present-day town of Trsat, where a Marian shrine stands today.
On the night of 9-10 December 1294, the house was transported to Italy, to the lands of the ancient municipality of Recanati, and was placed on a public road where it is still kept today.
A rich and sumptuous marble enclosure, designed by Bramante, covers the Holy House.
The Sanctuary of Loreto is a beautiful example of a fortress basilica, characterised by patrol walkways, towers, guardhouses and leaded defensive systems. It is wonderful to walk along the walkways from which you can admire the gentle Marche countryside and enjoy a wonderful panorama that sweeps from the ‘blue mountains’ to the sea!
Other noteworthy cities are Macerata, the city of the Sferisterio, home to one of the oldest universities in the world; Jesi, the birthplace of Frederick II of Swabia, a Unesco “exemplary city” for its ability to preserve its centuries-old architectural heritage; the capital Ancona, the city “born from the sea”, with its Roman amphitheatre, the Cathedral of San Ciriaco and its fabulous historic centre; Ascoli Piceno, the city of travertine, with its Piazza del Popolo, considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.
For lovers of mystery and magic, we suggest an excursion to the Sibillini Mountains: situated between the Marches and Umbria, they have more than twenty peaks over 2000m. From the 14th to the 16th century, they were the centre of necromantic initiations and magical tales which then spread throughout Europe.
The Cave of the Sibyl, also called the Cave of the Sorceress Alcina or of the Fairies, is a cavity located at 2150 m on the northern slope of Mount Sibilla.
The Sibyl was a good witch, a connoisseur of astronomy and medicine, who gave out predictions and prophecies in typical prophetic language that was not always easy to interpret.
The handmaidens (fairies) who surrounded her were allowed to go down into the valley to teach the girls how to spin and weave: at night they attended festivals in the neighbouring villages, but had to retreat to the mountains before dawn.
They moved between Lake Pilato, where according to tradition they went for a footbath, and the villages of Foce, Montemonaco and Montegallo, where even today a theatrical performance, “La discesa delle fate”, preserves and evokes the memory of the presence of these creatures.
They are described as beautiful young women, dressed in long skirts from which goat’s feet sprouted and whose footsteps resembled the sound of animal hooves.
Sibylline fairies loved to dance on full moon nights when, secretly appropriating the horses of the residents, they would reach the neighbouring villages to dance with the young shepherds.
Demonised for many centuries by saints and monks, they were forced to hide and take refuge in the bowels of the mountain.
According to some, they still inhabit the Sibillini mountains: proof of this can be seen in the braids on the manes of the mares (it happens that animals taken out to graze freely on the mountains return with their manes braided by the handmaidens of the Sibyl) and the sightings of lights (a phenomenon observed mainly in the area of Santa Maria in Pantano, at Colle di Montegallo). After sunset, small lights can be seen along the mountain ridges, swaying as if they were being carried by people on their way, which some believe to be fairies ascending the slopes.
According to another legend, Pilate, who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and was sentenced to death by the Emperor Vespasian, was placed on a cart pulled by buffaloes and left to fate. The wild buffaloes drove from Rome to the Sibylline Mountains and ended their mad dash with Pilate’s body right into the lake, which takes its name.
Evil and good, the kingdom of Light and the kingdom of Darkness have always been intertwined in the legends of the Sibillini Mountains, describing and provoking feelings of fear and gratitude, curse and redemption: the magnificent landscape of the Marches reflects them, carrying the names and stories of these legends.
On Devil’s Peak stands the Redeemer’s Peak, which in turn dominates Lake Pilato and the medieval sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Ambro, echoed by the wonderful Infernaccio gorge.
Lake Pilato, the only natural lake in the Marche region, is home to the small and rare Marchesoni chirocephalus with its bright reddish colour.
For trekking lovers, a visit to the “Lame Rosse“, one of the best known and most fascinating places in the Sibillini Mountains, is a must!
Starting from Lago di Fiastra, you can admire pinnacle-shaped formations and towers made of gravel held together by clay and silts, formed by weathering. The loop is about 7 km long with a difference in altitude of only 200 m and is suitable for everyone.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, the Frasassi Caves are one of the largest and most fascinating underground routes in the world: they are underground karst caves, a sort of parallel universe, decorated with many stalagmites and stalactites, real natural sculptures created by the inexhaustible work of water and rock, and with the most varied shapes.
The estimated total length of the Frasassi Caves is about 30 km, and its largest environment, the Abisso Ancona, with its height of 240m and volume of about 1,000,000 m3, could even house Milan Cathedral.
In the Abisso Ancona we can admire the Giants, gigantic stalagmites 20m high, and in the Obelisk Hall an enormous stalagmite 15m high. The so-called Traditional route is equipped and easily accessible to everyone, both the elderly and accompanied children, and covers a distance of about 1.5 km for about 1.5 hours. It includes a visit to five “halls”, starting from the “Abisso Ancona”: here you can admire a crystallised lake and an enormous white calcite flow, so large that it has been christened “Niagara”.
The next wing, the Hall of the Two Hundred, takes its name from its length of 200m, while immediately afterwards there is the Grand Canyon where you can admire the striking Organ Pipes, a group of stalactites all close together that resemble the shape of an organ: they are also striking because if you touch them gently they give different sounds. The tour ends with the last two Halls, the Ursa Hall and the Infinity Hall.
The speleo-adventure route involves passing through areas without walkways and artificial lights, under the guidance of experienced speleologists. Helmets, overalls and boots are provided, and participants are 12 years and older.
After visiting the caves, we recommend a visit to the San Vittore thermal baths in the village of Genga. Genga is located right in the heart of the Gola Rossa and Frasassi Caves Natural Park, in an area of great environmental value, characterised by impressive karst formations.
According to some historical finds discovered in the surroundings of Genga, beneficial thermal springs were already known in prehistoric times, even if the first exploitation had to wait until the Roman era.
The San Vittore spa is fed by the spring of the same name and is characterised by its typical intense sulphurous odour, due to the high concentration of hydrogen sulphide that makes these waters particularly effective on respiratory tract affections and rheumatic diseases. The facility consists of two parts: the thermal treatment department and the wellness centre.
The thermal specialisations for which the San Vittore Thermal Baths in Genga are renowned are undoubtedly those that exploit the beneficial waters of the area for inhalations, nebulisation, micronised nasal showers, sonic aerosol and sulphur humage.
Genga is also well equipped with reaction baths and rooms for mud therapy treatments and has an outdoor swimming pool fed with thermal water.
Also worth visiting in the municipality of Genga is the splendid Romanesque abbey of San Vittore delle Chiuse: it was built by the Lombards towards the end of the 10th century inside a natural “amphitheatre” made up of the surrounding mountains. It is said that the name “Rave of Clusis” was given precisely for this reason, because it was “closed” between the mountains, as if they protected it by hiding it.
It was probably built between 1060 and 1080, although the existence of a Monasterium de Victorianum was documented as early as 1007.
The Abbey of San Vittore delle Chiuse is a place to explore in search of tranquillity and peace. In addition to its origins, which are still shrouded in mystery, there is another aspect that intrigues scholars and visitors alike: on the wall near the left-hand door of the altar, an eight or an inverted infinity symbol is clearly visible, engraved in stone. There are various hypotheses, from those that see it as a reference to the possibility of reaching infinity through faith to those that link it to the passage of the Templars.
An ideal stop to meditate and immerse yourself in nature is definitely the Fonte Avellana Monastery, also mentioned by Dante in the 21st Canto of Paradise. It is situated on the wooded slopes of Mount Catria (1701 m) at 700 metres above sea level. Its origins date back to the end of the 10th century, around 980, when some hermits chose to build the first cells of a hermitage that over the centuries would become the present monastery. The spirituality of these hermits was influenced by St Romuald of Ravenna, father of the Benedictine Camaldolese Congregation.
He lived and worked between the 10th and 11th centuries in areas very close to Fonte Avellana, such as Sitria, Mount Petrano and San Vincenzo al Furlo.
In place of the original cells (which were huts) scattered around a chapel, numerous stone buildings were built from the 11th century onwards, including the cloister, the church with its crypt, the chapter house, the splendid scriptorium, the monks’ cells, the guest quarters and the library, noble and austere rooms that are built around the massive bell tower and still house the Camaldolese monks today.
At the end of the 15th century, under Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, the complex was enlarged and renovated, doubling the number of monks’ cells.
The Scriptorium is the most significant room at Fonte Avellana; the place where the amanuensis monks obeyed the provisions of the Rule of St Benedict regarding their daily work, transcribing ancient classical Greek and Latin texts onto parchment and producing precious illuminated manuscripts. The Fonte Avellana codex is one of the very few that are still original, as it has never needed to be rebuilt following bombings or earthquakes.
It was here that the amanuensis, using sunlight throughout the day, copied the ancient manuscripts, enriching them with artistic miniatures. Among the valuable volumes still preserved is the 11th-century Codex NN, the first breviary of the Avellanite community and a valuable document on the evolution of musical notation. The prestigious Dante Alighieri Library houses over 10,000 volumes, including precious illuminated codes and ancient sacred books.
For those who love the sea, the Conero Riviera offers a crystal clear sea, sandy beaches overlooked by Mount Conero, inlets and small beaches, rocky or stony, all Blue Flag. Dozens of beaches nestled between rocks and lush vegetation, accessible by sea or through paths.
The Beach of the Two Sisters in Sirolo is the emblem of the Conero Riviera, a magical place that takes its name from the twin rocks that emerge from the sea: it can only be reached by sea and is still wild and unspoilt.
For those who love gravel and stones, we recommend Portonovo with its beaches immersed in the Mediterranean maquis. Not to be missed in this pretty town is a visit to the Church of Santa Maria, a Romanesque jewel dating back to the 11th century.