Why Fall is the Best Time to Experience Real Italy

Civitanova Marche in September
Civitanova Marche in September

Without a doubt, fall is my favorite time of year to spend at Casa Pace e Gioia. Warm weather and abundant sunshine stretch the swimming season through September. The Adriatic beaches are quiet and uncrowded, yet the waterfront restaurants still serve fresh seafood and rent lounge chairs and umbrellas. In the Sibillini mountains, wildflowers bloom, backdropped by a kaleidoscope of majestic trees changing colors.

September also means the start of the grape harvest (vendemmia) season! Local wineries are busier than usual, but many of them invite visitors to watch their hard work, from hand-picking the grapes, de-stemming, crushing, to filling the large tanks. Some host wine dinners in the vines to celebrate when the harvest is done.

De-stemming the grapes at Podere sul Lago winery
De-stemming the grapes at Podere sul Lago winery

In October, the temperatures drop but still reach the high seventies, and it’s time for the olive harvest (raccolta delle olive). When the olives are ripe, they are picked and brought to a frantoio for pressing into fabulous extra virgin olive oil. You can watch and taste the process by appointment. 

We fire up the wood-burning stove in November when the temperatures drop into the fifties and sixties. The Adriatic breeze keeps moisture in the air and here in central Italy, winters are typically mild. Nevertheless, we tuck into cozy restaurants and feast on seasonal wild boar with pappardelle, hearty lentil or chickpea soups, and a local favorite, fresh roasted chestnuts. 

The Marchigiani celebrate fall’s harvest and flavors with food festivals called sagre. During these weekend-long festas, the historic center squares become an ever-changing scene with food and market stands; concerts and dancing; parades; street performers; competitions; children’s events; and communal dinners. It’s an opportunity for the community to celebrate the bounty of the harvest, to honor long traditions, and to gather together outdoors before winter. 

As a traveler, attending a sagra is an unforgettable and fun way to experience real Italy, to meet Italians, to try regional dishes, and live like a local. Sagre are held year-round, but they abound in the fall. Here are some of the most notable ones not far from Casa Pace e Gioia. Please note that many are postponed or scaled down in 2020 due to Covid. Mark your calendars for 2021. We are taking reservations and filling up fast. 

Festival del Vino Cotto Loro Piceno
Photo courtesy of Festival del Vino Cotto – Loro Piceno

The Festival del Vino Cotto in Loro Piceno is at the end of August but it’s one of my favorite sagre. Loro Piceno is justifiably famous for its Vino Cotto, “Cooked wine.” For this weekend event, local Vino Cotto producers set up storefront tasting areas scattered throughout the medieval village where you can sample this unusual and delicious wine. Area restaurants have food stands serving regional dishes eaten at communal picnic tables. Several concert venues host live music and performances. 

I Primi d’Italia – This unique festival that celebrates i primi piatti brings visitors from all over Italy to Foligno, in nearby Umbria. Four days of pasta, rice, soup, gnocchi, and polenta tastings; cooking lessons; chef demonstrations; free concerts and shows; and a children’s festival highlight the events that take place in Foligno’s beautiful historic center. 

Cupramontana’s Sagra dell’Uva is the oldest celebration of the grape harvest in Le Marche and is held at the end of September or the beginning of October. Live music in the piazza accompanies wine and food tasting tables. Museums display exhibitions, parades, demonstrations and shows are performed.

The beautiful town of San Severino Marche holds a Sagra della Porchetta, usually the first weekend in October with live music and DJs in addition to all the porchetta you can imagine!

Diamanti a Tavola The first week in November Amandola pays homage to its white truffle with a truffle fair, truffle hunts, loads of organized outdoor activities, like hikes, mountain bike rides, photography tours, markets, shows, restaurant tastings, and much more.

Appassimenti Aperti Serrapetrona
Photo courtesy of Appassimenti Aperti

Appassimenti Aperti in Serrapetrona. On the second and third Sundays in November, the cantine in nearby Serrapetrona open their doors to visitors who can tour freely and see the notable vernaccia grapes hanging in rows to dry. In the town square, the festivities continue with a market, food and wines, and music.

Things to do in Le Marche with kids

Le Marche is a fantastic holiday destination for families. With our beaches, mountains, parks, museums, castles, and sights, there is something for everyone of all ages to enjoy. Here are some of our recommendations of things to do with kids.

Parco Archeologico Urbs Salvia and La Rocca 

In nearby Urbisaglia this 40-hectare archeological park is the largest in the area and dates to AD 23. Roman ruins from the first century are spread out over a large area of what used to be a bustling and important Roman city. The amphitheater is remarkably well preserved and very suggestive, surrounded by oaks. The criptoportico’s walls are decorated with vivid first-century frescoes. A walk up the hill takes you past the theater, and reaching the top of the hill, and the city walls of Urbisaglia, you can enter the tunnel of the aqueduct that supplied the city with fresh water. The park often hosts special events for children and the large lawn encourages play. 

The restored medieval castle, La Rocca overlooks Urbisaglia’s piazza and gives children of all ages an amazing view from the walkways and towers. 

The Butterfly Garden of Cessapalombo
Photo courtesy of the Butterfly Garden of Cessapalombo

Il Giardino delle Farfalle di Cessapalombo – The Butterfly Garden of Cessapalombo

Less than 30 minutes from Casa Pace e Gioia this nature park and museum in the Sibillini mountains was created with kids in mind and has more than just butterflies! This large green space has pathways, guided tours, donkeys, a play area, and flowers that attract the butterflies. With advanced reservation you can order a lunch to enjoy at the shaded picnic tables immersed in relaxing nature. 

Lake Fiastra

The Lago di Fiastra is a gem in the Sibillini Mountains, just off the main road. The lake’s clear water reflects the gorgeous scenery. At Verdi Fiastra, you can lounge under umbrellas by the beach or rent canoes, kayaks, and bicycles. The onsite restaurant serves local food with lakefront views. 

Photo courtesy of the Adventure Park Lago di Fiastra

Close by Fiastra Lake is the Adventure Park Lago di Fiastra, a  suspended ropes course and zip-line path through the trees and over the water in the Sibillini Mountain National Park. Suitable for children over 140 cm (4.59 feet), additional activities like archery and orienteering are also available.

Lame Rosse
700800Photo grazie a @berr_ver on Instagram

Also near Lago di Fiastra is the hiking trail to the Lame Rosse, a stunning red canyon that appears in the midst of an oak forest. The “Red Blades” are pinnacles of gravel, clay, and silt, formed by the wind and rain that blows through the area. The 7-kilometer round trip path starts at the parking lot near the dam and is rated easy. 

The Frasassi Caves

The Grotte of Frisassi
Photo by Federico Stella, courtesy of Regione Marche

The Grotte di Frasassi is the largest cave system in Europe and among the largest in the world. Its stunning raw beauty matches its size; the first room, the Ancona Abyss, could contain the Duomo of Milan. A guided tour takes you on an easy 1500-meter-long walkway that wends through a variety of caverns with lakes, stalactites, stalagmites, and crystal formations. 

Photo courtesy of Regione Marche

Very near the the Grotte di Frasassi is the Sanctuary of Madonna di Frasassi, which dates to 1029, and the Temple of Valadier, an octagonal church commissioned by the pope in 1828. The shimmering temple is made of white local travertine and inside a cave! It is a 750 meter walk uphill from the parking lot where you can fill your water bottle for the climb. 

The Abbadia di Fiastra

The Natural Reserve of the Abbadia di Fiastra is very close to Casa Pace e Gioia and is a large, well-maintained park with good parking, restrooms, and shaded walking trails in a variety of natural environments with plenty of benches. The Sensory Trail is designed for those with limited mobility or limited vision and is optimized for sound, touch, and smell. The abbey church, monastery, and cloisters are worth a visit and host the Farm, Wine, and Archeological museums. Large lawns invite running and picnics. Several onsite restaurants, (one has a playground and farm animals) ensure that you can easily spend a fun day at the park! 

La Cascata del Mulino
La Cascata del Mulino. Photo by Heather von Bargen

Hidden Waterfalls

In Sarnano, a borghì più belli d’Italia (one of the most beautiful villages in Italy) the access trail to reach the charming waterfalls of the old mill just reopened. In Italian, il Percorso Cascata del Mulino. Park by the municipal pool and sports park on Via del Colle and follow the posted signs that bring you to a small but suggestive area with shallow water and a lovely waterfall. 

The Adriatic Beaches

The beaches of Civitanova Marche are only 30 minutes away! The Lungomare Nord has shallower water and sandier beaches than the Sud and rocky outcroppings give bigger children something to jump from. If the kids tire of swimming, many beach establishments have playgrounds. All of the balneari have food available and umbrellas and beach chairs for rent. 

What locals love most about spring in Le Marche

Poppy field in Le Marche, Italy. 
Things to do in Le Marche in Spring
Poppy field with a Roman ruin

Spring in Le Marche brings fields of red poppies, grapevines growing, and baby olives sprouting. After a winter spent largely indoors, the Marchigiani enjoy the primavera outside. This year is an obvious exception. The Marchigiani have been in lockdown for 8 weeks as of this writing. 

I asked our friends in the Marche what they like best about our area in the spring, and what they look forward to doing as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Here are their responses, some edited for clarity and some translated by me. While we are unable to enjoy Le Marche’s springtime delights this year, we can look forward to 2021. 

Baby olives in Le Marche, Italy
Things to do in Le Marche in spring
Baby Olives

“In the spring, in the Marche, there are beautiful things to do. First of all, there are beautiful country and hill paths to travel. They are not tiring, therefore suitable for everyone, dazzling vegetation, flowers of a thousand colors, wild animals (foxes, porcupines, hedgehogs, owls, pheasants, hares, roe deer, wolves). Various paths lead to caves (here, near us, there are the caves of Sant’Eustachio that can be visited), others develop along the rivers. Almost always you get to some small village and many are truly wonderful. Then there are the Apennines to visit, with easy routes and others more demanding (some also very demanding): mountains to climb (from the Bove to the Vettore). And then go out to find and taste the local products: ciabuscolo, pecorino cheeses, lasagna, excellent native wines. Finally, never forget to visit the cities of art that are not lacking in the Marche.”
-Adelaide and Sandro at Il Podere sul Lago, who make amazing wines and offer welcoming tours and tastings by appointment.  

“Take walks in our oasis the abbey of Fiastra! To head towards the sea during the weekend, the mountain is also another half that we love!” 
-Our friend Donatella

The lawn at the Abbadia di Fiastra, Italy. Things to do in Le Marche in Spring
The lawn at the Abbadia di Fiastra

“ONE OF MY FAVORITE MARCHE SPRINGTIME FAVORITES — The BICYCLE RIDE up to FIASTRA LAKE
Given that in Italy’s version of lockdown, we are NOT permitted to ride our bicycles, this is one I’m missing mightily and anxiously anticipating. One of my Marche springtime favorites is the ride from San Ginesio, down into the valley, a quick coffee at Gianni’s Bar Monti Azzurri in Morichella, and then the magnificent climb from there up to Fiastra Lake. The first time you do it in the spring, the morning air starts out chilly. As you make the climb into the mountains the sun warms you, the fresh air fuels you and the spectacular scenery inspires you. How is this not a center of world cycling tourism?!”
-Kevin Gibney, Registered Le Marche Real Estate Agent, Property For Sale Marche (and the reason we have Casa Pace e Gioia!) 

Bicycle ride to Lake Fiastra, Italy
Property for Sale Marche
Photo from Kevin Gibney, Property for Sale Marche

“The Marche’s infinite beauty, there are many things to do and visit starting from the greenery that abounds in spring and we will begin with a nice walk to Lake Fiastra nestled in the mountains and maybe even a walk to collect wild asparagus for a nice tagliatelle. To see the sea from the balcony of Torre di Palme, and why not sip a wine in a beautiful wine shop, in this small-but-full-of-surprises land.”
-Our friend Amelia

“Spring is wonderful weather-wise. Warm, clear blue skies, temperatures reaching regular 20’s [68-75° F] and total silence, apart from the birds and the occasional tractor. If it is peace and tranquility you need in your life, Colmurano is certainly offers this and much more.” 
-Our friend and neighbor Graham who offers Wine Vacations in the Marche and owns Laughter in the Leaves with his wife Saranne. 

Sibillini mountains, Italy 
Things to do in Le Marche
Springtime View of the Sibillini Mountains and the countryside from Casa Pace e Gioia

Sagra del Carciofo
“Montelupone’s artichokes are special. So special that the town has celebrated them in an annual festival in May for 58 years. [It has been cancelled for 2020.] The festival is naturally focused on food, and dishes prepared with artichokes at the heart of them (sorry). There’s also a parade and folklore group performances, a variety of other entertainment, and guided tours of the beautiful old town and its treasures – Montelupone is one of I Borghi più belli d’Italia (one of the most beautiful villages in Italy), and has also been awarded the Italian Touring Club’s Bandiera Arancione (the orange flag awarded to small towns for eco-environmental tourism, excellent service, and welcoming atmosphere).” 

Corso alla Spada e Palio 
“The province’s first medieval festival of the season kicks off with Camerino’s Corsa alla Spada e Palio over several weeks in May and June. [Cancelled for 2020.] The festival recalls the days when the powerful Da Varano family ruled their papal dukedom for over 200 years. Dating back to the early 13th century as a community competition and pageant to complement remembrance of the town’s patron saint, Venanzio, it was resurrected in 1982, keeping the centuries-old traditions largely intact.

The festival is centered around several main events:
• Offerta dei Ceri: Offering of the candles – medieval procession and lighting of the bonfire 
• Fiera di San Venanzio: Fair of the town’s patron saint in the streets of the town 
• Corteo Storico: Sumptuous parade in period costume 
• Corso alla Spada: Race for the Sword – the town’s three terzieri (districts) compete in a foot race through the town’s streets for the prize of the sword.

There are many, many other events including markets, archery, the ladies’ and children’s palio, flag-waving, and music or some other form of entertainment virtually every night. Each of the town’s divisions opens their respective tavernas every night at 20:00, serving period food.” 
-Duncan Campbell, our friend and neighbor. 

Why you should visit Le Marche in winter

Le Marche’s winter landscape

While Le Marche is enchanting year-round, those who visit in winter are rewarded with lower prices, amazing seasonal food, and unique opportunities to travel like a local. 

You may need a jacket, but the views are still sublime. Morning fog rolls in the valleys and chimney smoke spirals upwards. Leafless trees and thin grapevines enlarge the patchwork landscape. Adriatic influences moderate our weather, making winters here relatively mild. Le Marche’s blue skies don’t fade in the winter and the sun shines brilliantly, albeit for fewer hours.

The holiday season is celebrated in Italy like nowhere else and Le Marche is no exception. Towns usually decorate on 8 December (Immaculate Conception) until 6 January (Epiphany). The piazza often has a Christmas tree and many villages display a nativity scene (presepio) and some even have costumed villagers act out the parts of the nativity. Christmas lights and window displays along the streets and in the piazze add to the festivities. 

The Christmas Market in nearby Tolentino. Photo from Tolentino Notizie

The weeks leading up to Christmas mean holiday markets, complete with roasted chestnuts, live music, and local food stands. On New Year’s Eve concerts and fireworks are held in the piazze, and on Epiphany, the Befana, an older woman who rides a broom and leaves toys or treats for good children, arrives to great fanfare in the piazza. 

Winter also means it’s time to play outside. In the nearby Sibillini Mountains, ski resorts offer downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. Chalets serving local food and wine provide an atmospheric place to warm up afterwards! The Sibillini National Park also plays host to guided snowshoe hikes, often ending with a dinner at a chalet. Rental equipment is available for all of these events, so you can pack light! Several towns set up an ice rink for iceskating and there’s an excellent sledding hill just off the road in the Sibillini Mountains. 

Mozzarella stretching

For those who prefer to remain indoors, winter is a fabulous time to participate in a culinary demonstration held in our own kitchen. Find out how mozzarella cheese is made and the many forms it can become – tasting them all! Learn how to stretch your own crust to make a traditional Italian pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven using techniques you can use at your own home with standard equipment. Take a cooking class and discover the secret to quick ravioli (yes, there is such a thing) and find out that tiramisù is actually pretty easy to make! 

Speaking of food, Le Marche is famous for its black and white truffles, and winter is an excellent opportunity to go on a truffle hunt with an English-speaking truffle hunter and his dog. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and take home a fresh truffle souvenir!

Winter also means Carnevale! Parties and events are held in many local towns but Ascoli Piceno’s Carnevale is a five-day celebration with costumes, contests, confetti, concerts, dancing, and local food! 

The off-season is a great time to visit local wineries. The grapevines might look sparse but the owners usually have more free time for personal tours and tastings. Winemakers often host holiday dinners and winter tasting events.

Carbonara with fresh truffles at Ristorante Casa Mia in Tolentino

One of our favorite things to do in Le Marche’s winter is enjoy a hearty meal at a leisurely pace. Restaurants remain open year-round, and with fewer tourists, it’s easy to get a table near the fireplace. Wild boar sauce with pappardelle and chickpea soup are local cold-weather favorites. Pasta with freshly-shaved truffles is sought-after in the winter. Many of our recommended restaurants have delightful warm winter ambiance; we come to Le Marche often in winter. 

Things to do in Le Marche in the fall

The grape harvest (vendemmia) at Podere sul Lago, Serrapetrona.

Le Marche’s unforgettable autumn experiences spotlight the region’s natural treasures and celebrate Le Marche’s fabulous local foods and wines. Temperate weather brings gorgeous morning fog to the valleys and golden afternoon light, making this a prime time for outdoor pursuits. Autumn in Le Marche means grape and olive harvests and an abundance of food and wine festivals.

Here are our suggestions for the top 7 fall activities da non perdere (not to be missed) in Le Marche:

1. La Vendemmia – The Grape Harvest!

In Le Marche, grapes are picked by hand in September and October, depending on the weather. Most winemakers welcome visitors to watch the winemaking process that starts immediately after harvest. If you’re lucky, a local winery will host a harvest meal among the vines. It’s an unforgettable event.

2. Hike the Sibillini

Burn calories and enjoy fall’s changing colors on a trek in the Sibillini Mountains. Organized group hikes in the autumn are often themed for photography, wildlife, and food. One event starts with chestnut collecting, followed by a lunch of typical products, and ends with a hike to the beautiful Gole dell’Infernaccio.

3. La Raccolta delle Olive – The Olive Harvest

Olives and olive oil from Le Marche have a centuries-old history of renown and quality. The harvest typically starts around the beginning of November and is done by hand or with mechanical help. You can watch the olive collecting, or even try your hand at it—if you’d like a good workout! After the olives are picked they are brought to a local frantoio to be washed and pressed to become savory extra virgin olive oil. Visit a frantoio to see it done and for a memorable olive oil tasting.

Olives at Frantoio Agostini. Photo from Frantoio Agostini

4. Party at a sagra – Food festivals!!!

It seems that every weekend in the fall, at least one village, if not many, throw a festa to celebrate a local food tradition. San Severino Marche’s Sagra della Porchetta, Macerata’s Street Food Festival in early October, and Colmurano’s Paccuce in Festa at the end of November are just some of the many weekly events that include live music, shows, food stands, markets, and children’s activities. Our website has a list of events and sites to check to see what’s happening.

Festa in Macerata, photo from Comune di Macerata

5. Drink fabulous wine at Appassimenti Aperti

Le Marche’s unique and delicious Vernaccia di Serrapetrona wine is made with native grapes, typically in three diverse styles (two sparkling). Often, the grapes are dried for three months to concentrate the flavor. On the second and third Sunday in November, Serrapetrona’s area wineries open their doors for guests for tours and to see the dried grapes. The lovely village of Serrapetrona hosts a festa with food and wine stands, a market, and music.

Vernaccia nero grapes drying. Photo from Appassimenti Aperti

6. Get your White Truffle fix

Every November, Amandola celebrates its famed Tartufo Bianco at Diamanti a Tavola. In addition to the live music, markets, and local food stands you’d expect, you can partake in a truffle hunt or dine at a gourmet dinner prepared by notable chefs who pay homage to the white truffle.

White truffles. Photo from Diamanti a Tavola.

7. Play with Legos!!!

The Tolentino Brick Art exhibition displays amazing Lego creations and offers workshops and an interactive area where children of all ages can play with Legos. 17 October, 2019–6 January, 2020.

Our Magical Marche

In the last thirteen years Matt and I have had the good fortune of visiting many places in Italy.  But it was not until we went to Le Marche that we experienced “Real Italy.” It was here where locals welcomed us with friendly curiosity, where we learned to pay the restaurant bill at the counter rather than wait for “il conto,” where we could admire 1st century frescoes in a Roman ruin with only 2 other people. 

Le Marche is, to us, the magical Sibillini Mountain backdrop: sometimes obscured by clouds, but always there, a reassurance. The rivers that flow down valleys through the rolling countryside fields of sunflowers, erba medica, olive trees, and grape vines. The medieval walled towns with labyrinthine roads so narrow I hold my breath as we pass through a gate. It’s where you show up without an appointment at a winery and they give you a free impromptu tour and tasting. 

Le Marche is Stefano at Il Sigillo, who is passionate about local food and wines, and tells you about the local farm that supplies their meat and cheese and encourages you to visit. After our first dinner at Il Sigillo, his father Domenico got in his car (on his birthday, no less) and drove us to a shortcut back to our home. Le Marche is Gaby at Osteria Scherzi a Parte who greeted us like long friends on our return months later, and made an international toast for the entire restaurant. Le Marche is Paolo at Il Santo Bevitore, who served us a fantastic wine and called the winemaker who then hosted us for a visit and tasting on his day off. 

Le Marche is where, at the market, we did not understand “ottanta centime” because it seemed unfathomable that a bag of produce would cost less than one Euro. Le Marche is the stonemason working on our house who, after seeing my husband cut firewood with a saw, brought his chainsaw and cut a huge pile for us. Le Marche is where, at dinners in the vines, the people seated next to us became good friends who invited us to their home for dinner. 

Le Marche is fantastic food: delicious and unpretentious, grown with passion, cooked with skill, and served with warmth. Le Marche is fascinating unique wines, cultivated respectfully, made reverently, and priced affordably. 

Le Marche is impossibly blue skies and breathtaking views that lifelong residents never tire of. Le Marche is the smell of the sea in the breeze towards the mountains. Le Marche is church bells, cowbells, birdsong, dog barks, and tractors. 

In Le Marche, strangers on the street greet each other with a “Buongiorno.” When you sit down for dinner, don’t be surprised if the other diners greet you with a “Buonasera.” When you have drinks in the piazza, watching kids play football, you’re the only tourists, and you feel like a local.