LE MARCHE, Italy – I spend about a month every year in a rural medieval town in Le Marche, living the quiet life among the locals: visiting markets in the square every Saturday morning for my weekly shopping, taking aperitivos in the late afternoon, going for bike rides and walks through the countryside, eating pasta at the local restaurant. Many people call Le Marche one of the last undiscovered regions of Italy. It's not touristy, it's relatively cheap, there are lots of little hilltop towns, and village living is real and unadulterated. It's a unique and authentic little piece of the world.
Le Marche is often referred to as the last undiscovered region of Italy. It's just east of Tuscany, but relatively untouched by tourism. I've spent a month or so here for the past couple of years and I can say that the tiny hilltop town communities, family-owned restaurants, beaches, little churches, and beautiful mountain drives are all very authentic. You see real Italian life here, just as it's been lived for centuries.
The town of Peglio is perched on a hilltop straight out of a fairytale. The countryside of Le Marche, which you'll inevitably spend a lot of time traversing by car, is filled with sites like this. You don't have to plan your days too much, just take off in the car and stop whenever you see something that strikes your fancy.
I spend a month every year with my family (we're Australian, not Italian!) in a little town of 1,500 people called Mercatello sul Metauro. Everyone congregates around breakfast and aperitivo hour in the town square, but it's the quiet back streets like this one that make me light up the most. I can breathe here!
In spring and summer, tables appear in the alleyways outside restaurants like this one in Urbania. At family-owned and run Dodi's, simple meals of farfalle pasta with tomato and basil are just beautiful.
The ratio of churches to people in Le Marche is very high. In the town of Mercatello sul Metauro, for example, there are 1,500 people and no less than 15 churches. I'm not religious, but the churches are very old, very beautiful, and always open for passersby.
Le Marche has its share of flashy beaches with chairs and umbrellas and beach clubs stretching for miles and miles. But there are plenty of smaller, retro beaches surrounded by nature — like Vallugola near Gabbice Mare. The Riviera del Conero near Ancona is another great area for smaller, non-touristy beaches. My favourite is Porto Novo.
They take their gelati very seriously in the towns of Le Marche. The pistacchio flavor is always the true test of a good gelateria; it must be slightly brown in color and not too green to prove it's made from real nuts, not flavoring.
Another day, another hilltop town to explore. Sassocorvaro is a little town with a cool history. Local art scholar Rotondi faced great danger when hiding 10,000 pieces of Italian art from Nazis during WWII inside the town fort.
There is a great respect for food and the seasons. In local markets and restaurants, you simply will not find fruit and vegetables out of season. So when figs appear in summer, or it's time for pumpkins in autumn, you're always extra grateful to see and taste them.
The furtive soil of the countryside is perfect for truffles in autumn and winter. We went out searching with a famed local truffle hunter one Sunday, accompanied by his trusty dogs (who did all the hard work of sniffing out these pricy gems in the dirt). We took them home and shaved them over our pasta.
Beep beep, these little Ape (pronounced ah-pay) cars can be seen all throughout the countryside. They make me laugh every time!
I hope you'll come visit soon for views like this one and all the other wonders of this untouched region in Italy.