I Love Touring Italy - the Marche Region

By: Levi Reiss

f you are looking for a European tourist destination, you should consider the Marche region of central Italy. Depending on your specific interests, it is an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. And the Marche region hasn't yet been discovered by tourists. There's a tradeoff; you won't have to push aside the crowds to see what you want to see. On the other hand, you'll have a hard time finding fancy hotels. And the roads are not always the best, not much of a surprise when you consider the region's hilly terrain. We'll start our tour of this region in the north and work our way south.

The little town of Urbino, formerly a major center of learning, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The University has about twenty thousand students, considerably more than Urbino's resident population of approximately fifteen thousand. How do you say town and gown in Italian?

Given that the great Renaissance painter Raphael was an Urbino native, it's not very surprising that this town is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (National Gallery of The Marche) located in the Palazzo Ducale (Duke's Palace). Would you believe that this beautiful Renaissance building doesn't contain much of his work? On the other hand, you can find Titian's Resurrection and Last Supper there. The Casa Natale di Raffaello (Raphael's Birthplace) is home to a Madonna fresco that is definitely associated with Raphael. But experts aren't sure if he painted it himself or if his father painted it and Raphael and his mother served as models. The city also contains several Renaissance churches worth visiting.

Ancona is a port city that was largely destroyed during World War II. But there still are some sights worth seeing including alleys, streets, and city squares. The Duomo di San Ciriaco (Saint Ciriaco Cathedral) was built during the Twelfth Century on the remains of a Greek Temple. The Romanesque Santa Maria della Piazza also dates from the Twelfth Century but includes mosaics from a Fifth Century church that it replaced. These structures are really modern compared to the Second Century Arco di Triano (Trajan's Arch) which announced to all comers that they were approaching Rome's most important port on the Adriatic Sea.

Loreto on the Adriatic Sea is home to a popular shrine, the Santuario della Santa Casa (House of the Virgin Mary) which some say was transported from the city of Nazareth in 1295 to keep it out the hands of the Muslim invaders. The peak pilgrimage periods are Easter week and the Feast of the Holy House on December 10th.

Ascoli Piceno is a valley town of about fifty thousand people. It's great for pedestrians because cars are forbidden in a large part of the city center. You'll want to see the Piazza del Populo (Square of the People) and the Thirteenth Century Palazzo dei Capitani del Populo (Palace of the People's Captains) that now serves as a Town Hall. and the Gothic church San Franceso (Saint Francis). There are several other historic churches. Try to get to Ascoli Piceno for the first Sunday in August. That's the day the local residents celebrate the city's patron saint, Saint Emidio, with a parade of over 900 people dressed in Renaissance costume. After the parade there's a jousting tournament, Giastra della Quintana, in which six richly costumed knights, representing the city's six neighborhoods, compete one after the other facing the effigy of a Moor warrior.

What about food? The Marches has many regional specialties, for example Prosciutto di Carpegna, a ham produced near the border of Tuscany, and Vitellone Bianco dell'Appennino Centrale (White Veal of the Central Appenines). The Adriatic coast brings its bounty. One local brodetto (fish soup) calls for thirteen kinds of fish and seafood.

Let's suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Minestra (Chickpea Soup with Pork Ribs and grated Pecorino Cheese). Then try Quaglie in Tegame (Braised Quails with White Wine and Salt Pork). For dessert indulge yourself with Fristenga (Cake with Figs, Raisins, and Walnuts). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.

We'll conclude with a quick look at Marche wine. The Marche ranks 12th among the 20 Italian regions for acreage devoted to wine grapes and 10th for total annual wine production. When you read between the lines these numbers indicate that the Marche's wine output per acre is heavier than the Italian average, not a promising sign for fine wine. A bit more than a third of the local wine is red. Almost one fifth of all Marche wine is classified as DOC or DOCG wine, described below. The Marche produces thirteen DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. It is the home of two DOCG (the G stands for Guarantita) red wines, the Montepulciano-Sangiovese based Rosso Conero Riserva and the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona based on a local grape. Be careful not to confuse the red Vernaccia wine with the white Verdicchio wine.

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