The region of Le Marche is located in central Italy, between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea, where crystal blue waters mingle with a luxuriant landscape of lush green hills and charming mountaintop villages in a blissfully unhurried atmosphere.
Italy is an immensely popular tourist destination but there are still many off-the-beaten-track gems waiting to be discovered and the region of Le Marche is one of them.
Despite being pretty close to the rockstar region of Tuscany, Le Marche is still quite under the radar, yet it’s absolutely gorgeous. And it truly has it all: splendid beaches, charming towns steeped in history and a fantastic landscape of lakes, hills and mountains where the more adventurous travelers can experience a wide range of outdoor activities.
I put together the following itinerary based on a number of places I wanted to visit, including the hometown of a friend. This means that it’s definitely not one of the most classic routes, but it surely gives a good idea of what the region has to offer. Also, I chose Porto Sant’Elpidio as the base for this tour because I wanted a place by the sea, close to all my must-see places and this cute town fit the bill perfectly.
Day 1 & 2: Mount Conero National Park
Mount Conero National Park is a stunning stretch of coastline facing the Adriatic Sea, well known for its unspoiled nature and stunning beaches.
I started my exploration from the bay of Portonovo, the jewel of Conero, with a fantastic landscape of crystal-clear waters surrounded by a green valley.
Just a short drive south of Portonovo is charming Sirolo, featuring an amazing balcony piazza with sweeping views over the sea. Not to miss is also the old fishermen village of Numana with the beautiful staircase called La Costarella that connects the port with the historic center and is lined with colorful houses.
- DON’T MISS: some of the best spots for a swim are the wild Mezzavalle beach in Portonovo and the Sassi Neri beach in Sirolo. If you have time, do check out also the Due Sorelle beach, a magic spot that can only be reached by boat.
- EAT: the local specialty here is mosciolo, a wild mussel that has been included in the Slow Food presidia. Don’t leave without dining at Bar Belvedere, an unpretentious trattoria on the way up to Mount Conero with delicious food and breathtaking views over the bay (make a reservation well in advance because the place fills up quickly in summer)
Day 3: Ascoli Piceno, Offida, Grottammare, Torre di Palme
At 70 km from Porto Sant’Elpidio, Ascoli Piceno is an elegant town of towers, churches and palaces, steeped in history and art. With its beautiful sights and the general laid-back atmosphere, I could easily picture myself living there!
Next stop is Offida, the reign of lace-makers. Lace is a serious business here and the tradition of handmade bobbin lace has been handed down from generation to generation. If you are lucky you can still see women seated at their doorways working intently on their laces!
Heading back towards the coast, Grottammare is an absolute must-see with its great beaches and a fairy-tale historic center on the highest point of town – think charming alleys, a cozy piazza where locals gather and pretty brick and pastel-colored houses all around! Oh, did I mention the incredible views?
I couldn’t choose a better place to end the day than Torre di Palme, a delightful medieval village set atop a hill. This place is tiny, beautiful and super romantic! Try to reach the place for sunset because the views from piazza Lattanzi at that time are truly amazing…
- DON’T MISS: an aperitivo in the beautiful Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli Piceno and a visit to the Lace Museum in Offida, where you can see the gorgeous lace dress worn by Naomi Campbell for a fashion show in 1997.
- EAT: try some fritto misto all’ascolana, a mixed fried platter of stuffed olives, fried custard cream and breaded lamb cutlets typical of this area, and book a table at Focarò in Torre di Palme, where you can dine on a cozy piazza facing the sea!
Day 4: Offagna, Castelfidardo, Loreto, Recanati
Driving north of Porto Sant’Elpidio, my first stop for the the day is Offagna, a pretty medieval village with an impressive fortress dating back to the XV century.
A short drive south is Castelfidardo, a small town with a big reputation: it’s the world’s most important accordion production center! There are about 40 accordion makers in the area with professional musicians and enthusiasts alike arriving from all over the world to get one. Walking around the quiet historic center while browsing music shops and exchanging a few words with the locals is an absolute delight.
Leaving this little music heaven behind, my next stop is a place of faith and spirituality, Loreto, home to the Sanctuary of the Holy House. This is one of Italy’s most important pilgrimage sites and it is believed to enshrine the house where the Virgin Mary lived. An absolute must for religious visitors, but also for non-believers who will be amazed by the richly-decorated interiors.
On the way back to Port Sant’Elpidio I spent a couple of hours in Recanati, the hometown of the famous XIX-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. I must admit that it was fun to retrace the places that inspired the poems they teach us in school. If you love books, do pay a visit to the poet’s family house, where his heirs still live, to admire the beautifully preserved volumes used by the poet himself for his studies.
- DON’T MISS: the super interesting International Accordion Museum with over 300 pieces on display that retrace the history of accordion
- EAT: consider having dinner at Porto Recanati, about 12 km from Recanati, to taste brodetto, a delicious soup of freshly-caught fish typical of this seaside town
Day 5: Fermo, Sant’Elpidio a Mare
My exploration of Le Marche continues in Fermo, another charming medieval town with an elegant airy piazza and some pretty delightful alleys all around. Unfortunately there are a number of cultural sites including, Palazzo dei Priori and its famous Globe Room, that are still closed for restoration after the earthquake that hit the region in 2016… a good reason to come back!
And now time for shoe-shopping! Yes, because the area around Porto Sant’Elpidio is a very famous shoemaking district, with many factories and outlets where you can get high-quality shoes at great prices. Also, every Thursday night in the summer months Porto Sant’Elpidio hosts a shoe market with excellent products straight from local manufactures.
My hunt for shoes brings me to Sant’Elpidio a Mare, about 7 km from Porto Sant’Elpidio, to visit its famous Shoe Museum… only to be told that the place is closed due to the earthquake. However, I found a delightful historic center where locals enjoy talking to the adventurous traveler venturing here.
- DON’T MISS: join a guided tour that will show you the incredible Roman cisterns and the exquisite Teatro dell’Aquila in Fermo (tickets are available at the ticket office in Piazza del Popolo).
- EAT: book a table at Il Veliero, a fantastic restaurant by the sea in Porto Sant’Elpidio
Day 6 & 7: Montappone, Pollenza and Filottrano
I used the last couple of days of this tour to visit a friend who lives in Pollenza, amidst green hills, vineyards and sunflower fields (I know, lucky him…). But before seeing him, I drove to Montappone, a hilltop town renowned for being the center of Italian hat production, with tens of artisanal workshops continuing the family tradition.
After learning all about the hat making tradition of Le Marche, my last stop is Pollenza, a cute medieval town with a long tradition of antique furniture restoration that can still be seen in the many workshops dotting its streets. Its pocket-sized historic center features charming alleys, a fantastic Vespa museum and a lively atmosphere all around.
My friend brought me to Filottrano, which has been dubbed the ‘town of fashion’ for the many local tailors and manufacturing companies specialized in men’s fashion. It features the unique Museo del Biroccio (biroccio is the two-wheels cart dragged by oxen), offering a glimpse into local rural life in the XIX century.
- DON’T MISS: the Hat Museum in Montappone, with a fantastic array of antique machinery and unique pieces, including the last hat worn by Italian film director Federico Fellini (the museum is open by appointment only)
- EAT: have dinner at Cà Vecchia Beerstrot, a beautiful farmhouse where you’ll enjoy craft beers and excellent burgers seating on the panoramic terrace while watching the sun go down, or take part in one of the special events organized over the summer months at Villa Sant’Isidoro, a stunning family-run retreat not far from Pollenza (they also produce excellent wine!)
Getting to Le Marche
For this trip, I drove to Le Marche from my hometown in northern Italy (about 5 hours). The main airport is Raffaello Sanzio Airport near Ancona , alternatively you could arrive by train (check out the Trenitalia website for train connections ) or by bus with Flixbus.
The region of Le Marche is best explored by car, but there is also a very good public transportation network (check Le Marche main bus schedules, although it’s available in Italian only).
- I stayed at B&B Il Piccolo Giglio in Porto Sant’Elpidio, which proved to be a great base for this trip; right in the town center, very close to the beach and sparkling clean.
- Many of the most famous made-in-Italy brands were born in Le Marche and their products are still realized here, hence you’ll find many factory outlets and shopping malls offering super quality products at fabulous prices (take a look here) – just saying…
Until next time,