Le Marche Italy Travel Guide with Pictures

Le Marche Italy nestles among mountains and plains with blue flag beaches, castles, and towns like Ancona, Urbino, Pesaro, and Ascoli Piceno. The Marches, as they are known in English is one of Italy's most attractive areas and the least visited.

This is a pity as this is a wonderful area that in some ways I even prefer to Tuscany as where Tuscany can be fairly closed in with the hills and mountains, Le Marche is very much open countryside where your eyes are drawn to the horizon of one rolling hill to the other.

One of the main reasons why Le Marche Italy is not visited very often is that traveling around is not as easy as Umbria or Tuscany. Beyond the narrow coastal plain and away from the major towns, the roads are steep and twisting.

The treeless Mount Sibillini range in the south-west corner is considered one of the most impressive stretches of the Apennines, and could keep even the most die-hard walker busy for days.

But it is the small Medieval hill towns that are Le Marche's most endearing feature. Urbino, Macerata and Ascoli Piceno are the more well known, but there are hundreds of lesser known villages and towns worth exploring.

Level ground in the region is almost non exisitent as the hills and mountains rise straight out of the sea throughout the region. The mountains are fairly low, the highest being Monte Vettore, which is almost 2,500 feet higher than the second highest.

The climate is better than that on the other side of the Appennines as the situation of most of the settlements above sea level tends to give lower than average temperatures in the summer, except right on the coast.

A wide variety of vegetation can be seen in the region such as chestnuts in the mountains, grapevines in the valleys and lower hills, olive trees, cereals and grazing lands.

With regards to the animals in the area, where you will see wolves if you are very lucky, or not so depending on the nature of your encounter! - foxes, and even eagles can be seen soaring the thermals in the mountains.

Train travel in Le Marche Italy can be slow, and destinations are limited, although one can reach Ascoli Piceno by rail and there is an efficient bus service from the coastal town of Pesaro to Urbino, the other principal tourist city of the region.

Le Marche Countryside

Le Marche Countryside

Where is Le Marche in Italy?

Le Marche is a region of Central Italy that shares its borders with Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lazio. (For more details see the map at the end of the page.)

When is the Best time to Visit Le Marche?

The best times to visit are spring, autumn, and even summer if you are going to avoid the coastline. If you are wanting to visit in the winter then head for the Sibillini mountains where you will find a couple of ski resorts. (See Activities for kids below for details.)

The 4 Most Beautiful Towns in Le March

1) Ancona 
Ascoli Piceno

Le Marche  Towns to Visit

Ancona, Le Marche Italy

The Arch of Trajan in Ancona with city wall and cannons

The Arch of Trajan, Ancona

Aconona is the region's capital, and boasts the history of a port already well established in Roman times, with an amphitheatre that could host 8000 spectators in the 1st century AD although today it is in ruins. And there is the beautiful Arch of Trajan which was built in 115 AD.

Not far from the Arch is the magnificent Duomo or Cathedral that  is built between the 12th century and 13th centuries and dedicated to San Ciriaco.

Urbino, Le Marche Italy

The Ducal Palace in Urbino

Urbino is one of the pearls of Renaissance Italy and its palace is the home of the Marches National Gallery which is one of Italy's most important. The Palace is extensive and filled with ornate furniture, fine carpets and some magnificent art work.

Among other works in the gallery one can see the Ritratto di Gentildonna, known as La Muta, by Raffaelo, the Miracolo dell' Ostia Profanata by Paolo Uccello, the Veduta della Cita Ideale, attributed either to Luciano Laurana or Piero della Francesca, the Madonna di Senigallia, the Flagellation by Piero della Francesca and the Last Supper and the Resurrection by Tiziano.

Gradara Fort Le Marche at night

Gradara Fort 

The province of Urbino also encompasses the city of Urbino with is spectacular Ducal Palace, the Oratory of Corpus Domini and the 16th century Palazzo della Ragione; and Gradara, with its Rocco (the fort)  erected between the 13th and 15th centuries.

Pesaro, Le Marche Italy

Pesaro town square with the palace on the right

Pesaro Town Square with the Ducal Palace on the right

Pesaro has a fine historic center and is the birthplace of Rossini and Raphael. Visit the Ducal Palace of Guido da Montefeltro with its many paintings and beautiful courtyard.

Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche Italy

The town square of Ascoli Piceno at night

The Town Square of Ascoli Piceno

Having spent a week here one year I have to say that this is my favorite town out of the 4. Ascoli Piceno has the stunning Piazza del Popolo, one of the prettiest town squares in Italy.

Fermo, Le Marche Italy

Pesaso Beach, Fermo Le Marche

Pedaso Beach, Fermo

If you are looking for some interesting Roman architecture then head for Fermo. Here you will find some fascinating underground Roman cisterns built between 40 - 50 A.D. There area about 30 underground chambers that were designed to purify the water. Fermo also has some lovely beaches.

The Medieval center has some fascinating little corners and important works of art and architecture, including the 13th century cathedral with its Romanesque-Gothic facade.

Amandola is one of the prettiest villages in the region

Le Marche Italy Beaches

Cupra Marittima Beach in Le Marche with umbrellas and loungers

Cupra Marittima in Le Marche

Le Marche has many fine beaches. In fact, they have 28 blue flag beaches which is the assurance that these beaches are clean and safe for swimming. All along the Adriatic coast there are wide sandy beaches that are sought out by the locals during the warmer months.

In some places the coastline has definitely been overdeveloped and in summer the locals head to the coast like lemmings and the traffic moves at a snail pace over the weekends.

Good beaches in Le Marche can be found at Gabicce, Pesaro, Fano, Senigallia, Civitanova, Cupra Marittima, San Benedetto del Tronto, Porto Recanati and Porto Potenza Picena.

Near Ancona there are the two fashionable seaside resorts of Numana and Sirolo with the high cliffs of Conero Riviera.
Sailing, windsurfing, fishing, sun bathing, swimming and other water sports can be enjoyed along the length of the Le Marche coastline.

Conero Riviera Le Marche

The beautiful Conero Riviera

Le Marche Italy Activities

There is certainly lots to do in Le Marche Italy. With the spectacular and foreboding looking Sibillini Mountains there are a host of activities for your travel to Italy.

This range of mountains is an excellent place for walking, rock climbing, bird watching, skiing, cycling, horseriding and hiking. One sport that is very popular is hang-gliding and if you are in the region look up and you are bound to see a hang-glider or two taking off from Monti Sibillini.

Mount Sibillini in winter covered with snow

Mount Sibillini covered with snow in winter

Le Marche Italy for Kids

40 kilometers west of Ancona along the s76, is Grotte de Frassasi, one of the most extensive cave systems in Europe with underground lakes, stalagmites, stalactites and crystal formations. The caves extend for 18 km.  A 1.5 km trail has been carefully carved out taking you to the many chambers.

To give you some idea of the vastness of these caves, the Ancona Abyss is almost 200 meters high, 180 meters wide and 120 meters long. It is so large that it could easily accommodate Milan's cathedral. If you have ever been to Milan and seen the duomo then you will know what I am talking about!

Certainly a great day out for the adults and kids alike. Visiting caves is always a sure bet for pleasing your kids in exchange for dragging them around one church or museum after the other.

There are several festivals that take place. There is the Carnival of Fermo which is always a colorful affair. It is the oldest carnival in Italy with large floats, street processions and a bonfire to end the carival.

Another festival that children will enjoy is the Torneo della Quintana is a Medieval-style joust that takes place on the first Sunday in August in Ascoli Piceno.

Carnival time in Fano Le Mache on the street

The Fano Carnival

Ski Le Marche

There are 4 skiing areas in Le Marche that have good facilities. As you can see taking the kids here will not break the family bank! And the best thing about skiing in Le Marche you don't have to waste your time queing for ski lifts and chairs.

1) Sasso Tetto where there are 7 button ski lifts
2) Pintura where there are 8 ski lifts
3) Frontignani where there are 7 ski lifts, 4 chair lifts and 1 cable car
4) Monte Prata where there are 4 ski lifts

Skiing is cheap here compared to Northern Italy.  For example a 5 day pass at Sassotetto, excluding weekends will cost you Euros 46, and Euros 25 for a 1 hour lesson.

For those of you are more adventurous and experts at skiing then you may want to do the cross-country courses that the Sibillini mountains have to offer. There are at Piani di Ragnolo and Piano Perduto.

Le Marche Italy Art Guide

Most of the artistic treasures are found nearly all outside of its cities, and even some in particular can be found in remote places.  One suce place is Offida, famous for its lacemaking, its singular triangular piazza is dominated by the Palazzo Comunale which is also home to the Archaelogical Museum and the majestic Abbey of Santa Maria della Rocco.

Then there is Ripatransone which also has an interesting  Archaelogical Museum, a cathedral worth visiting, the Corte delle Fonti and if you take a trip into the historic center of Ripatransone where you will find the narrowest alley in all of Italy - Vicolo Stretto- it is only 43 centimenters wide! For those still in imperial measurements that is only 19 inches!

San Leo is another interesting Le Marche town in Italy. It has a tiny town center with an ancient fort built on an outcrop with pre-Romanesque parish church.

San Leo

San Leo's Ancient Fort

Macerata has a unique open-air theater that hold concerts and operas on a regular basis, and particularly in the summer months.

Loreto has the Basilica della Santa Casa or the House of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that this 15th century sanctuary was the home of Jesus's childhood. This is one of the most loved religious shrine in the world.

Finally, there is the tiny hamlet of San Vittore delle Chiuse named after a fine Romanesque church.

Slow Food Italy - Le Marche

Each town within Le Marche holds their own food festivals called Sagre. In this Olive Ascolane, stuffed olives in a bowl region you will also see people with their dogs truffle hunting or looking for the prized porcini mushrooms.

There are wine and olive oil tastings as well as homes that open their kitchens to the public for cookery lessons where Marchigiani dishes are prepared and shared.

Because the region has a long coast line fish appears on menus in various forms. One of the dishes characteristic of Ancona is brodetto, a rich fish chowder containing as many as 9 types of Adriatic salt-water fish.

Ascoli Piceno, inland, is famous for two dishes; olive ascolane, which I can vouche for and couldn't get enough of when we visited, and vincisgrassi.

Olive Ascolane

Olive ascolane are large olives stuffed with chicken livers and other ingredients and then rolled in breadcrumb and then deep fried. Great to eat with drinks before your meal.

Vincisgrassi is a local version of lasgane, far richer than you are likely to find anywhere else in Italy. This is a delicious lasagne with meat sauce, chicken livers, and black truffles but surprisingly, no tomatoes. Don't miss it!

Ascoli Piceno is also home of the licorice-flavored liqueur anisette. However, Le Marche is also a wine growing area and one of the best drops is the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, a sparkling red wine. But then, perhaps I am biased as I only drink red wine, however, the dry, white Verdicchio is the best known wine in the region. Jesi is the area you want to head off to for wine tasting.

What I love about this region is the traditional way of living and being as self-sufficient as possible. People still keep and slaughter their own pigs to make cured hams and salami. Sheep's cheese is made and is often flavored with thyme and matured in caves.

Truffles, black, white and grey are sold in the markets at Aqualunga in the Pesaro area.
A lot of the food in the Marches use stuffing to stuff all sorts of things, not just olives. Pigeons and rabbits are stuffed, along with artichokes and squid. The stuffing, especially when stuffing the pigeons and rabbits, is made with truffles, salami, raw ham and Marsala wine among a few other ingredients.

The stuffed and baked artichokes are called Scarcilfuli a l'abrea, and combine olive oil, wine, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs. Squid is stuffed in the same way, but when they cook red mullet in Pesaro they stuff it with raw ham and sage leaves.

But it is not just fish, pigeons and rabbits that are on offer. The meat is of an excellent quality here, and so good in fact that the meat consumption here is the highest in Italy!
The mixed grilled meats cooked over hot embers on an open fire are unsurpassed!

If you have a sweet tooth there is a sweet ravioli from Ascoli Piceno and Ancona. You can also find a rice pudding with candied fruits and chocolate chips called Bastrengo that is made especially for Christmas.

Shopping in Le Marche Italy

Le Marche is well known for its leather products and so if you are looking for leather bags, and more particularly shoes, then you will be able to indulge in some good retail therapy. Head for Macerata and Fermo if you want to see the leatherwork on sale.

There area a number of other crafts that are practiced across the region.  Around Offida you can find lace makers making pillow lace.

In Mogliano cane, bamboo and wicker work is made and sold here.

There are also wrought iron workers, coppersmiths and goldsmiths.  Goldsmiths can be found in Jesi, Fossombrone and Fano. Coppersmiths are found in the Ascoli area, but particularly at Force and Comunanza.  Wrought iron workers can be found throughout the region.

Finally, if you want to buy some Majolica head for Urbino, Urbania (formerly Casteldurante), Pesaro and Ascoli Piceno where these sought out pottery items are produced.

Day Trips in Le Marche

Day Trip from Ascoli Piceno 1

If there is one town that you have to see in Le Marche it is this one. The historic part of town has remained unchanged for more than 500 years.

Take the SS4 eastwards from Ascoli as far as Sant' Antonio where a minor road runds off to the left up a tributary valley of the Tronto to the village of Offida which still has some remains of its fortified walls. The Palazzo del Comune, which houses a museum is one of the finest in the Marches.  

But perhaps one of the main reasons why I like visiting Offida is because you can often lace maker in Offida, Le Marche see the women of the town in summer sitting at their doors of their cottages, or even sitting on stools outside their doors, making lace, one of the town's main sources of income since the end of the 15th century.

There is even a bronze statue of a group of women lace making that is situated at one of Offida's gates.

Every summer a lace fair is held in the Palazzo Comunale during the month of August. It is called the Il Fusello d’ Oro (The Golden Spindle) and  the competition is built around a theme.

After leaving Offida go into the Tesino Valley and after crossing the river follow it for 4.5 miles towards the sea until a side road climbs up the steep hill towards Ripatransone. Part of the town is still typically medieval in appearance within the old defensive walls and with its fine views in all directions it is a town well worth visiting. In fact, it has been awarded an Orange Flag by the Italian Touring Club as a symbol of excellence.

Ripatransone is built on top of a near impregnable hill which was very important stronghold during the Middle Ages. Despite the general medieval atmosphere most of the public buildings, with the exception of the Palazzo del Podesta finished in 1304, are  relatively modern.

Don't forget to look for the narrowest street in Italy while you are here as mentioned earlier!

This town has a small population but it is a vibrant little town that has a number of traditional events throughout the year.

Leaving Ripatransone and taking the gradual descent into Grottammare 8 miles away is a beautiful drive. Long stretches of coast is visible along with the Sibillini mountains, the Maiella, the Gran Sasso d' Italia and the Monte dell' Ascensione.

Grottammare is an old medieval hill top town that stands high above the modern sprawling suburbs lining the seashore. Although one of the most popular seaside resorts in the Marche, the closeness of the hills to the sea has meant that only a thin strip has been built up and although the beaches do get crowded the are not nearly as bad as those further north.

Countryside around Grottommare, Le Marche, Italy

Countryside around Grottammare, Le Marche

Follow the coast for a short distance down to San Benedetto del Tronto, and then turn inland, up into the hills again towards Acquaviva Picena where the main occupations are making fishing nets and working with straw. It is an interesting town with an irregular-shaped 15th century fortress with its round keep and powerful corner towers with defensive walls around the town.

From Acquaviva drop down to the SS4 in the Tronto Valley and head back to Ascoli Piceno.

Day Trip from Ascoli Piceno 2

Take the road west traveling on the minor road signposted for Venerotto which begins with a very steep hill to climb away from the city. Turn left at Venarotta then right after 3 miles. From here the road climbs steadingly for 6 miles up the side of Monte Teveraccio. At the top of the climb is a little church with a minor road running off to the left alongside it. Take this road and then follow the signs for Montemonaco.

Montemonaco is the second highest town in Le Marche and so this is an excellent little town to visit if you want to hike or do some walking. Two of the best excursions from Montemonaco are those to the top of Mount Sibilla and to the impressive ravine called Gola dell Infernaccio which separates Monte Sibilla and Monte Priora.

The ravine, which is well over 2 miles long is at times no more than 10 feet wide. Legend has it that Monte Sibilla was once the home of Sibilla, priestess of Apollo. Whether this is true or not cannot be established, but the cave a few feet below the summit, called Grotta della Fate, has been used in the past by witches and members of other cults.

Leaving Montemonaco 9 miles away is Amandola. There are a number of wonderful churches, although none as important as the Abbazia dei Santi Rufino e Vitale 5 miles away in the north-east. The abbey was rebuilt in the 12th or 13th century on the site of an earlier 6th century Benedictine abbey and contains several fine 13th and 14th century frescoes particularly in the crypt.

The most important base for those who like winter sports is Sarnano 7.5 miles to the north of Amandola and higher.  

Make your way back to Ascoli Piceno.

Accommodation in Le Marche Italy

If you are looking for campsites in Le Mache many sites have been created along the coast and attract a large number of foreign tourists particularly from Germany. Inland however, camping facilities are rare and only the large towns have hotels for guests. However, with over 500 hotels to choose from, no doubt you will find something to suit your budget.  However, when it comes to slow travel there are many villas to rent for your Italian holidays in the region.

Getting to Le Marche Italy

By Car:

The Adriatica superhighway the A14 runs north-south along the coast, linking the Marches to Bologna and Venice.

Major inland routes contect  the coastal A14 to the larger towns in the Marches, inlcuding Urbino, Jesi, Macerata, and Ascoli Piceno. However, inland secondary roads in mountain areas can be narrow and tortuous.

By Train:

The main rail line from Rome to Ancona passes through Narni, Terni, Spoleto and Foligno. Branch lines link the central hub, Ancona, with the inland towns of Fabriano and Ascoli Piceno.

By Bus:

The urban and suburban bus system, in the Marche, is efficient and reaches the areas not served by major road or rail links.

By Plane:

The nearest international airport is at Rimini, but it is a small one. It may be better off flying into Rome, Florence or Bologna if your country doesn't have access to this airport. Getting to the region would then involve renting a car or relying on public transport.

Map for Le Marche Italy

map of le marche
Map courtesy of Italy weather and Maps

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