9 Enogastronomic ways to Experience Le Marche

Wine Dinner at Cantina Sant'Isidoro
Photo courtesy of Cantina Sant’Isidoro

Enogastronomia is an Italian term that combines enology (wine) with gastronomy (food), and also adds a significance to the unique territory from which they come, their provenance. “Turismo enogastronomico” is an ever-expanding movement in Italy, and I’m often asked by Italian guests what enogastromic activities I suggest. Here’s a compilation of food and wine experiences that you can enjoy near Casa Pace e Gioia, our holiday home equidistant from the Adriatic beaches and the Sibillini mountains in Le Marche, Italy. 

Private Chef

Table ready for private chef dinner at Casa Pace e Gioia
Table ready for private chef dinner at Casa Pace e Gioia

I often recommend a welcome dinner to start your holiday, especially for those who have driven a long distance or arrive with jet lag from an international flight. A private chef comes to the house and will introduce you to the best of la Cucina Marchigiana with a fun dinner of local specialties. He’ll also give you insider tips to explore the surrounding region’s hidden gems, so you’ll know where to go and what to do.  

In-Home Parties

We have a collaboration with Chefaway a team who bring delicious and entertaining in-home parties: your choice or combination of pizza, pasta, gelato, or cheese. 

Wine Tasting Experiences

Destemming the grapes at Podere sul Lago
Destemming the grapes at Podere sul Lago

Casa Pace e Gioia is within minutes of several award-winning wineries that make excellent and affordable wines and are always happy to offer our guests tours and tastings. If you’re here in the fall, you can watch the wine harvest process. Some wineries host dinner parties you can attend to celebrate the end of the harvest. In the summers, they often hold memorable “Dinners in the Vines” and weekly aperitivo tastings in the vines. I post updates as I get them on our Facebook page and our house Area Guide app.

Winery Excursions

In spring through autumn, guided hikes and walks lead to vineyards with wine tastings and cantina tours. On a Passeggiata Enogastronomica like the Magnalonga Marchigiana, you can take an 11 kilometer walk with 5 stops, each one a different course paired with a local wine. Our area also has a variety of Wine Cycle Routes which you can enjoy with or without a guide. 

Food Festivals

Food stand at Festa del Vino Cotto in Loro Piceno
Food stand at Festa del Vino Cotto in Loro Piceno

Sagre are food festivals that celebrate a local food product, and pre-covid you could find one almost every weekend from spring to fall. They are a wonderful opportunity to experience real Italy. (Look for signs or events with the words festa or sagra, which is singular for food festival.) We have a list of events, including sagre, on our website. Typically sagre start on Friday evening and end Sunday evening. Live music, food stands, craft fairs, entertainment, activities for kids, demonstrations, shows, and special group dinners are typical elements. The sagre are slowly starting to reappear in a smaller format, but hopefully in 2022 we’ll be able to celebrate food like we used to. 

Olive Oil Tasting & Harvest

It’s not well known, but our area of the Marche makes excellent olive oil and you can visit a local frantoio, (olive oil press) for a fascinating olive oil tasting year-round. During the olive harvest, usually in October, you can witness the collection of the olives and taste the freshly-pressed oil! It’s an unforgettable experience. 

Farm Visits

Being an agricultural area, we’re surrounded by farms and you can visit them! One even lets you play cheesemaker for a day! You can also stop by for a tasting and tour and buy directly from the producers. 

Cooking Classes

Making pasta at a private cooking class
Making pasta at a private cooking class

We have a variety of affordable and authentic cooking class options, in-house or nearby. I recommend a class at one of our favorite restaurants, Le Logge. Chef Andrea is fabulous, putting his own touch on Marchigiani classics, and he opens his kitchen for lessons. At the end of your class, enjoy your meal paired with a local wine. 

“Real Italy” Dining

In addition to all of these enogastronomic experiences, we’re within minutes of dozens of fantastic restaurants that offer uniquely Marchigiani meals. We recommend more than 25 restaurants but you can read about our favorites here. Each one uses local ingredients that honor the farming or seafaring heritage of this diverse region. 

And the Winning Restaurants Are…

Coniglio in Porchetta, Olive Ascolane, Vincisgrassi
Coniglio in Porchetta, Olive Ascolane, Vincisgrassi

At Casa Pace e Gioia, we are fortunate to be in a beautiful location equidistant from the beach and the mountains. And we’re also lucky because there are a lot of fantastic local restaurants that offer a variety of fresh local dishes inspired by the Adriatic, the Sibillini Mountains, and the valley farmland. We recommend 25 restaurants (and counting) in our Digital Welcome and Area Guide. 

To simplify your selection, Matt and I are awarding “prizes” to featured restaurants that really excel in a particular category. 

We had considered a category for “Excellent Value for the Money” but we’d have to add all of these to that list. None of these prize-winners are overpriced.

Best Family Friendly Restaurants

The play area at Norcineria La Centrale del Gusto

Most of the restaurants in the Marche, and all of them in our Digital Welcome and Area Guide are family friendly to some extent, but our featured winners have something that makes them stand out, especially for younger children. 

Norcineria La Centrale del Gusto near the Abbadia di Fiastra off SP78

This informal restaurant specializes in meat dishes, huge sandwiches, fresh pastas, and daily specials. They have a lot of outdoor seating in a large garden area with swings, a slide, and playground games for children. There is no table service. You order at the counter and when it’s ready you bring it to your table, but in our experience, this meant a very short wait for our excellent meal. 

Ristorante Pizzeria L’Antico Approdo in Ripe San Ginesio 

This family run restaurant is popular with families of all ages. It’s a large space with a casual and friendly vibe. They have a huge grill and pizza oven, and their extensive menu has something for everyone. Their homemade pastas are all delicious and the tagliata di pollo con rucola (sliced chicken on arugula) is a nice secondi. A courtyard provides outdoor dining, and they have takeaway. We eat here often. It’s a particularly good value. 

Terra Nostra in San Ginesio

While I recommend Terra Nostra to everyone, I especially make sure to tell our guests with children about it. The inspired menu features seasonal fresh pasta dishes and meat-centric secondi choices that are all prepared creatively. Their thin crust pizzas crunch when you bite into them, and in addition to their usual delicious pizza options, they also offer seasonal specials. Terra Nostra is located in the city park with a lovely view of the Sibillini Mountains, and a playground, which is one reason I recommend it to families. They have outdoor dining and offer takeaway. 

Agriturismo La Selva in the Natural Reserve of Abbadia di Fiastra, Urbisaglia

This is a great place to take kids. They have farm animals, and on our visit, we saw geese, peacocks, donkeys, a small pony, and several cats and dogs. A large outdoor seating area and a playground give the kids plenty of amusement. The staff is family-friendly and can make pretty much anything for children to eat. Their pastas are homemade and delicious, and they use a lot of their own ingredients in their dishes. Their secondi, based largely on meat, are expertly prepared. 

Best Date Night Restaurants

Fresh fish at Il Santo Bevitore

These winning restaurants would be equally good with groups of friends. Indeed I have been to all of them as such. But for a relaxing evening without TVs on the wall, these places are where we go. 

Il Santo Bevitore in the historic center of Tolentino

With a lovely ambiance, airy vaulted ceilings, thoughtful interior design, great music, and big spacious tables that are spread out, this restaurant is easy to recommend. Outdoor seating in the stone-walled courtyard is also available. But the food takes center stage of this atmospheric scene. Il Santo Bevitore is one of the rare restaurants that excels with both fresh seafood and meat. The homemade pasta starters are fabulous and rely on what’s fresh seasonally. The Australian Angus steak sizzles on the platter. This is a great place if you want to try the best of the Marche’s signature dishes with an elevated twist. Paolo and Nadia provide excellent service and wine suggestions.

Il Sigillo in the historic center of Camporotondo di Fiastrone

This intimate restaurant with stone walls and wood beams has a warm ambiance and a relaxed vibe. With two small dining rooms upstairs, and outdoor tables in the piazza, reservations are essential. The Cicconi family is welcoming and passionate about local, traditional, Marchigiani food and wines. All of their meats and cheeses come from local producers that they list on the menu. Pastas and Olive Ascolane are handmade in house. The Marchigiana steak is outstanding and big enough to share. Desserts are innovative, homemade, and worth it!

Locanda Le Logge in the historic center of Urbisaglia

The outdoor dining tables under the vaulted loggia are particularly suggestive but the inside dining rooms also have a warm inviting atmosphere with fresh flowers and crisp linens on the table. It’s a beautiful setting and the Tombolini family is very inviting. Chef Andrea proposes a set tasting menu, or you can choose from the menu which features traditional Marchigiani specialties prepared inventively using local ingredients. They accommodate vegetarians very well.  

Best Places for Live Music

Live music at Osteria San Nicola. Photo courtesy of Osteria San Nicola, Grazie!!! 🙂

Le Marche is not famous for our party scene, but we do have exceptional local talent. If you’re in the mood for live music, these two winners immediately come to mind. 

Osteria San Nicola in the historic center of Tolentino 

One of our local standby favorites, Osteria San Nicola often has live music, even this crazy Covid summer. Check out their Facebook page for the lineup. Their seasonal, fresh, 0 km menu changes often but the food is always great. Their pastas are made in house, and they make pizzas even at lunch. They can make almost everything without gluten for celiacs. Their secondi are a mixture of very local meats and fish. They also have a lot of vegetarian options. In a historic building, tastefully decorated and with outdoor seating, this is a great place to eat even if you’re not listening to live music. 

La Taverna in Loro Piceno

La Taverna is open Wednesdays-Sundays for dinner and often has live music, especially in the summer. Check out their Facebook page for their lineup. They have a varied menu, from typical local fresh pasta dishes to huge hamburgers and fries. My stuffed pasta was delicious. The service is attentive and friendly. The live music was excellent, and it was not too loud so we could still converse freely. It’s a casual place with a local feel to it. 

Best place for Sunday Family Lunch

Ravioli at Ristorante da Rosa

Many Italian families have a tradition to enjoy a leisurely family lunch out on Sundays. If you’d like to take your part, I suggest you reserve your table at one of these winners. 

Ristorante da Rosa in the Natural Reserve of Abbadia di Fiastra, Urbisaglia

Ristorante da Rosa is always a terrific restaurant but it really knows how to host a Sunday Family Lunch. One Sunday we were the table of two next a table of 14, and the service never faltered, and our meals were just as fantastic as they are on date night. On Sunday afternoons, da Rosa is filled with locals who flock to this traditional airy restaurant with stone walls, wood beams, and a lot of natural light. Outdoor seating is available on the large patio, and being in the park, it is quiet and immersed in nature. Their homemade ravioli dishes are notable and are often offered as a special with seasonally inspired sauces. The secondi feature local typical meat dishes.

Pippo e Gabriella in Sant’Angelo in Pontano

Pippo e Gabrielle is popular with local regulars, but the Domizi family warmly welcomes everyone as an old friend. They dress in bow ties, provide stellar service, and offer excellent suggestions. The space is large and light, filled with old art, posters, and awards. The vibe is quintessential Italian. It’s a casual yet serious restaurant with a huge grill that is the basis for most of the secondi. Their primi dishes are all made in house; their cannelloni di carne and crepes are delicious and unique. They make fabulous homemade Olive Asocolane. If we had an award for the best fried potatoes they would win that too. Save room for the homemade tiramisu! 

Best Seafood

Lobster at Il Ristorantino

We’re lucky in the Marche because the nearby Adriatic gives us bountiful fresh fish and we have talented chefs to prepare them a myriad of ways. 

Il Ristorantino in Tolentino

This small restaurant is popular with locals and fills up fast, so I advise reservations. In a light and tasteful ambiance, the service is friendly and welcoming. They brought out the still-squirming lobster that would be my dinner. The chef prepares dishes starring fresh seafood with flair and creativity. The fish may play the starring role, but the breads, vegetables, rices, and pastas that accompany are also top-notch. The homemade desserts are especially inspired. 

Ristorante Seta Cruda in Loro Piceno

This airy restaurant focuses on fresh, local seafood prepared creatively. Their pizzas are also very popular. Do not come here looking for meat. We usually get a tasting portion of each seafood antipasti. They are served (beautifully) as courses, and we never have room to order more food at the end. The owner Elia, and the staff know a lot about the local wines and will perfectly pair a local wine with your meal. They have a large variety of Verdicchio wines. Sometimes they have live music, and they can open the walls up when the weather is nice.

Il Santo Bevitore in the historic center of Tolentino

Their fresh seafood dishes warrant including them in two categories. (See also Best Date Night.) They offer a tasting menu of seafood with an antipasto, first course, second course, and a side and I highly recommend it. But they also offer fish-based courses off the menu. Their seafood carbonara is delightful and they are very creative in pairing fresh fish and pasta for innovative first courses. I usually prefer meat, but I’ve eaten seafood I never thought I would try here and loved it all. You really can’t go wrong. 

Best Outdoor Dining

A view from Duilia

Outdoor dining is even more in demand this summer and I can’t think of a restaurant that does not have it. But these three winners are in quiet and peaceful locations, with exceptional views that add to the experience. 

Ristorante Duilia in the historic center of Sant’Angelo in Pontano 

This jewel of a restaurant has fantastic views of the valley and the village from their outdoor tables, so reserve in advance to enjoy the sunset! Signora Caporaletti started her restaurant in 1968 and at 90 years old, still makes pasta by hand. Her son Roberto now runs the restaurant which is noted for its traditional local cuisine, especially lamb. Their stuffed olives are homemade and you can taste the difference! The service is friendly and attentive, and the food is fantastic. In fact, if it was raining, I would eat indoors, but for a fabulous view, Duilia can’t be beat! 

Ristorante da Rosa in the Natural Reserve of Abbadia di Fiastra

Ristorante da Rosa is also a best Sunday Family Lunch winner, but their outside dining deserves special merit. It’s a large, tiled patio space with umbrellas to shade the tables, which are not tippy. The restaurant is in the large peaceful Natural Reserve, so traffic does not detract from the tranquility. One side of the patio faces a small garden area. It’s a lovely environment and the food and service never disappoint! 

Terra Nostra in San Ginesio

Terra Nostra is located in a large city park with views of the Sibillini Mountains, which is one reason it also won a Best Family Friendly award. It’s a gorgeous backdrop at any time, but especially at sunset. They have several outdoor tables spread throughout a large area. The adjacent street is not busy so it’s quiet. Their food is always delicious, whether it’s empanadas, a fresh pasta starter, a local meat second, or a seasonal pizza. The music adds to the atmosphere and the service is always fantastic. 

Best for Vegetarians

Fresh vegetables at Osteria San Nicola. Photo courtesy of Osteria San Nicola, Grazie!!! 🙂

While the Marche is famous for fresh fish, pork, rabbit, wild boar, and lamb, we also have fabulous local vegetables. When my pescatarian daughter came with me, I thought I’d be eating seafood all week but we found these restaurants had fantastic options for vegetarians. 

Osteria San Nicola in the historic center of Tolentino

In addition to being one of the Best Places for Live Music, Osteria San Nicola is also a great place to go for vegetarians (and Celiacs, and people who eat fish and meat)! I brought my daughter here for lunch and Letizia was very accommodating. They always have a variety of vegetarian antipasti and first course options on the menu, but they also had a soup special that used vegetable stock rather than a meat soup base. 

Locanda Le Logge in Urbisaglia

I brought my daughter here for dinner and when we mentioned she was a pescatarian to our waitress, she ran into the kitchen to see what was available. She came back with an abundance of options that Chef Andrea could create either from scratch, or by omitting meat from dishes already on the menu. I was impressed with the variety they were able to offer, especially without advance notice. My daughter said it was delicious, and I was happy that I could enjoy my rabbit. 

Il Sigillo in the historic center of Camporotondo di Fiastrone 

In addition to winning in the “Best Date Night” category, Il Sigillo is a good choice for vegetarians. They always have a first dish of pasta with cheese and /or truffles, and they also offer a seasonal 4-course tasting menu for vegetarians complete with a salad, pasta starter, a second course, and a dessert. 

Best Pizza

One of my many favorite pizzas from Best Of

Pizzeria Best Of  just off SP78 in Colmurano 

We always get take away here on the first night we arrive and are jet-lagged. They are very close to Casa Pace e Gioia so the pizza stays hot and delicious. If you prefer to eat there, they offer table service with indoor and outdoor seating. Their dough rises for days, and they offer a lot of innovative topping combinations using local, quality ingredients. Check out their seasonal specialty pizzas. The service is super friendly and it’s an informal, local place. If you want to take out, you can order by phone or wait there while they make it.  

Restaurants Worth the Drive 

Osteria Scherzi a Parte

Osteria Scherzi a Parte just outside of Sarnano 

Osteria Scherzi a Parte is a 35-minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia just outside of Sarnano in the Sibillini Mountains. Gabriele is the consummate host and his wife Tiziana reigns supreme in the kitchen. From their particularly good antipasto misto to the delicious homemade desserts, everything is local cuisine made with care and quality ingredients. The ambiance is friendly and relaxed, with very good background music. They are open for lunch and dinner daily except Wednesdays. It’s worth driving here expressly to have dinner, and to plan a day trip to the Sibillini or the surrounding areas to lunch here. 

La Taverna dell’Artista in Montelupone, a Borghi Più Belli d’Italia

Montelupone is famous for the artichokes that grow here and are listed in the Slow Food Presidium. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia and the town is indeed beautiful and worth a visit. La Taverna dell’Artista has an entire menu that features artichokes when they are fresh in season. Try the artichoke-stuffed Olive Ascolane! But even out of artichoke season, La Taverna has an extensive menu of typical local specialties, pizzas, and risotto dishes. They use very traditional local ingredients and add a creative spin to them like prosciutto-wrapped risotto. In an 18th century palazzo, the ambiance is historic, and the outside garden dining area is very relaxing. 

Picciolo di Rame in Caldarola

In the walled medieval hamlet of Vestignano, Il Picciolo di Rame is only a 30- minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia, but it’s definitely worth reserving a table! Down the stairs, in a 16th century former olive oil mill, in a 13th century castle, stone walls and candlelight provide a memorable ambiance for 25 diners. Dining here is more than a meal. Twelve tasting-sized portions are offered, of which five are fixed and the others change seasonally. Using local high-quality ingredients to prepare historic local recipes, this is a gastronomic feast and a cultural delight.

If you have a recommendation that deserves to be added please let me know, we enjoy trying new places but keep coming back to these! 

Buon appetito! 

The Best Outdoor Activities in the Marche

View of Colmurano from Casa Pace e Gioia
View of Colmurano from Casa Pace e Gioia. Photo by Heather von Bargen

Our holiday home, Casa Pace e Gioia, is the perfect place to nurse your Covid hangover. Nestled on a hilltop in the Italian Marche countryside, our private sanctuary is the ideal place to enjoy fresh air, plentiful sunshine, and amazing views. 

Our area also boasts an abundance of outdoor activities that make the most of our mountains, sea, and midland hills. And you can partake in them safely while social distancing. Here are some ideas to consider.

Cycling in the Marche
Photo courtesy of Turismo Marche

Land

Le Marche’s reputation as a cycling destination is well deserved. But you don’t need to be an expert to pedal up our hills. E-bike rentals make the ascent easier. Mountain and racing bike rentals are also readily available, and we have a lot of information on local routes if you want to set out on your own. Or meet the locals with a guide who can steer you to insider places. Organized cycle tours are conducted in accordance with Covid protocols. 

If you prefer walking, the nearby Abbadia di Fiastra has several well-maintained paths that traverse a variety of environments and are kid friendly. Just up the road from our house, Colmurano has a walking and biking path along the main road and is a popular place for an evening stroll. 

Just a half-hour away, in Sarnano, the 6 kilometer Path of the Lost Waterfalls connects 3 waterfalls (two of which were just uncovered in 2020) not far from the historic center and is suitable for children. Also 30 minutes away, the Valle dei Grilli in San Severino Marche, is a mostly flat walking path immersed in nature to the Caves of Sant Eustachio, which houses an abandoned church carved into the rock. 

Trekking Monte Sibilla. Things to do outside in the Marche
Photo courtesy of Turismo Marche

Themed guided walks throughout the region are offered with social distancing. These inexpensive excursions are a great way to let locals introduce you to our area’s treasures and breathtaking views. Think: a full moon night hike in the Sibillini; photo walks with other photography enthusiasts; a hike to the top of Monte Conero with a celebratory aperitivi; sunset hikes to the balcony of the Sibillini where you enjoy local wines and food; organized star gazing and meteor watching with an astronomer; wine tasting treks; and even “rivering,” which is trekking in a river in diving suits. 

Hikers have a lifetime of nearby options. The Sibillini Mountains are only a half-hour away from Casa Pace e Gioia and have a stunning amount of marked hiking trails that crisscross diverse environments. You are sure to find one that’s the perfect length and difficulty level. One popular scenic trail starts at Lake Fiastra and then goes to the Red Blades, Le Marche’s version of the Grand Canyon. Another hike leads to a hidden hermitage in the mountains. At least 72 other trails reveal the beautiful treasures of the Sibillini. We have a book of Sibillini hikes with maps at the house. 

If you’d like to explore our area on horseback, several nearby riding clubs offer guided trail rides for all ages. Maneggio Alma is the closest at the Abbadia di Fiastra, but there are several near the water in Civitanova Marche, and some towards the mountains. 

 Golfers can play Conero Golf Club’s 18-hole, par 71 championship course, or their 5-hole, par 17 executive course. Club rentals are available, so you don’t have to pack yours. The highly rated course is conveniently located just off the freeway towards Ancona and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. 

Water

Conero beach. Outdoor activities in the Marche
Photo courtesy of Turismo Marche

Hit the beach while social distanced! Typically in the summer, and especially on weekends, Italian beaches are crowded, but this year you’ll get more room with social-distancing measures in place. The Adriatic Beaches are set to open May 1 for an extended season that stretches until Oct. 3. And don’t worry, restaurants will still serve local fresh seafood and chilled white wines outdoors. 

Take to the water and rent a boat! Small inflatables don’t require a nautical license and give you the chance to explore coastal areas that can’t be reached by land. 

Let someone else be the captain and take an excursion on a sail or motorboat. You can charter a private tour or join an already-organized socially distanced outing. Food, drinks, and music will make your day along the Conero coast unforgettable. 

Portonovo – Scoglio della Vela

Prefer something slower paced? Rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards along the coast and at Lake Fiastra and Lake Caccamo. 

Air

Admire our area’s breathtaking views from the sky. Try hang gliding or paragliding! You don’t need to have experience; an instructor can join you. We see paragliders fly near Casa Pace e Gioia frequently. Get a bird’s eye view. 

Go high in the sky in a memorable hot air balloon ride. The pilot will be masked, and the views will be incredible. As always, I’m happy to make suggestions and arrangements for our guests.

Discover Italy’s most Beautiful Villages near Casa Pace e Gioia

Borghi Piu Belli Logo

If you see a sign in Italy that says: “I Borghi più belli d’Italia” follow it. It will bring you to one of the 313 villages that have earned the designation as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The Borghi più belli Association was formed in 2001 to protect, preserve, and promote smaller villages that are typically overlooked by travelers. A Borgo più belli is selected for its aesthetic beauty and for the welcome and resources that the town offers to visitors. 

Not surprisingly, the Marche has more Borghi più belli than any other region, with 28. And our holiday rental home, Casa Pace e Gioia, is in the enviable position of being within an hour’s drive of 12 of these beautiful villages!

Most of them are medieval walled towns perched on hilltops with breathtaking views. All of them have historical churches and buildings with notable artworks and architecture that reflect a long past. And each village has its own unique traditions, culture, and craftsmanship. 

I describe each borgo below, organized by location to help you plan your visit.
(If the linked websites are in Italian only, use Chrome to translate it.) 

Treia. Photo courtesy of Comune di Treia
Treia. Photo courtesy of Comune di Treia

Treia is a thirty-minute drive north of Casa Pace e Gioia. Twenty-five centuries ago, it was called Trea and was located where the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso is today, outside of town in the countryside hills. This monumental church was built with the ruins of the old town and is famous for its 15th century wooden Crucifix. As the Roman Empire was falling, the inhabitants fled up the hill to where the town is now. 

The Museo Civico Archeologico, in the Church di San Francesco, displays artifacts from the Neolithic era and numerous finds from the original Picene settlement. Treia’s municipal theater is a gem, with a beautiful frescoed ceiling and box seats. Ask the tourist office for a guide to open it for you.  

The view from the horseshoe shaped Piazza della Repubblica is stupendous and spans the Conero Mountain to the Sibillini Mountains. Treia hosts many fairs and food festivals and is especially famous for playing the ancient Roman sport pallone al bracciale

Cingoli. Photo courtesy of Cingoli Tourism
Cingoli. Photo courtesy of Cingoli Tourism

Cingoli is a twenty-minute drive northwest of Treia, or 55 minutes from Casa Pace e Gioia. The panoramic views from hilltop Cingoli are among the best in the region and give it the nickname “The Balcony of the Marche.” The most famous monument in Cingoli, the Collegiate Church of Sant’Esuperanzio, is outside the city walls. It was built in the late 12th century to accommodate the tomb of Esuperantius, the patron saint of Cingoli. The magnificent Romanesque portal was carved in 1295 and the interior walls are covered with frescoes. 

Inside the city walls, Cingoli’s center is calm, thanks to traffic restrictions. With many churches, Renaissance palaces, fountains, piazze, parks, and a medieval district, there’s something for everyone here. City Hall, on the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, houses the Museo Civico Archeologico, which exhibits finds from the Paleolithic to Roman eras. In the hall of the coat of arms an impressive Lorenzo Lotto painting, the Madonna del Rosario, is displayed. The Baroque Chiesa di San Domenico has several notable artworks, one of which is another Lorenzo Lotto painting, Madonna of the Rosary and Saints.  

Montecassiano. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism
Montecassiano. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism

Montecassiano is a hidden gem of a well preserved medieval village not found in many guidebooks. It is a 35-minute drive northeast from Casa Pace e Gioia, 15 minutes northeast of Treia, and 15 minutes west of Montelupone, the next Borghi più Belli

Concentric streets joined by alleys and stairs spiral their way to Montecassiano’s central piazza which is flanked by the main attractions of the town. The Palazzo dei Priori is now the City Hall and was rebuilt in the 15th century in Gothic style. The nearby Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built in 1234 on a pre-existing temple and later modified, boasts an exquisite glazed terracotta altarpiece.  

The deconsecrated church of San Marco is elegant with a light interior and numerous crystal chandeliers. It hosts events and conferences and is opened upon request to the tourist office. The former Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista is now a museum of sacred art and also opened upon request at the tourist office. 

Montelupone. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism
Montelupone. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism

Montelupone is a welcoming town with a medieval historic center on a hilltop surrounded by intact city walls and towers, with a park at one end from which the views of the countryside are amazing. Montelupone is famous for the artichokes they grow and they host a festival featuring artichokes every May. 

Many important sights are located near the Piazza del Comune. The 14th century Palazzo del Podestà houses the Civic Art Gallery, with artworks ranging from 16th century frescoes and paintings to works from the 1900s. In addition, you can see archeological finds from the Roman and ancient Picene settlements in the area. 

The Palazzo Comunale (city hall) also faces the square and houses the splendid Teatro degli Angeli, a small theater with a gorgeously frescoed ceiling. In the basement, the Museum of Ancient Arts and Crafts displays a collection of historical agricultural and artisanal tools, old school desks, cinema projectors, clothing, and in short, a wide variety of interesting objects. Ask the tourist office for a guided visit to both of these sights as they are not open regular hours. 

If you’re interested in photography, arrange a visit to the Historical Photographic Museum, a collection of 800 photographs and more than 700 old cameras in excellent condition and still fully functional. 

Just four kilometers north of Montelupone is the fascinating ancient Abbey of San Firmano, built in 980, and reconstructed in 1256. The portal is from the original building and has a Byzantine lunette and five figures carved into the back of a Roman statue, visible inside. The presbytery is elevated 17 steps, probably to avoid flooding by the Potenza river. The remains of Saint Firmano are in the crypt, supported by an arch, and according to tradition, passing under it 9 times relieves bone pain. In addition to several important artworks, the terracotta floors are unique. If the door is locked, ask at the bar. They have a key and can let you in. 

Montecosaro. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism
Montecosaro. Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism

Montecosaro is a 40-minute drive northeast from Casa Pace e Gioia, not far from Civitanova Marche, and about 10 minutes from Montelupone. A pleasant and clean hilltop walled town, it has one remaining city gate and a park with 360-degree views of the Adriatic, Monte Conero, the Sibillini mountains and the countryside. 

Outside the city walls, the octagonal church of San Rocco boasts a fresco by Simone de Magistris. Within the walls, the Collegiate church of San Lorenzo has a gorgeous interior with 15th century frescoes and a wooden Crucifix from the 13th century. The church of Sant’Agostino is known for its 18th century organ. 

The Museo Cinema a Pennello is a unique private museum of sketches, drawings, and painted movie posters and other cinema memorabilia. It is highly recommended and if you reserve in advance, Paolo Marinozzi, the collector can give you a guided tour with his insights. 

Down the hill towards SS77, in Montecosaro Scalo is the Basilica di Santa Maria a Pié di Chienti, a national monument and a masterpiece of Romanesque art and architecture. The first written mention of it dates from 936. The current church was built in 1125 with some later additions and changes. Surrounded by green parkland, the brick structure looks rather severe from the front but when you walk around to see the graceful apses behind, it is stunning.  

The interior is very unique and harmonious. Two levels high, with three arched naves, a 15th century wooden Crucifix is visible upon entering. A high presbytery on the second floor was created in the 15thcentury after a wall collapsed and is embellished with frescoes. The church is an active parish and holds services daily. 

Esantoglia. Photo courtesy of @gaetanocessati via I Borghi più Belli
Esantoglia. Photo courtesy of @gaetanocessati via I Borghi più Belli

Esanatoglia is just west of Fabriano, tucked up in the mountains and surrounded by nature near the Umbrian border. This small medieval town is a 55-minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia. Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main road that goes through the town, is lined with 7 bell towers. As you wander the town, be on the lookout for medieval houses with three doors. One was for daily use, one for the entrance of bridal couples, and one for the coffin to exit. 

The parish church of Santa Anatolia is Esanatoglia’s oldest, first recorded in 1180, has a 13th century portal, and is possibly built on a pagan temple. The church of Santa Maria Maddalena displays a painting from 1565 by the de Magistris brothers and a painted wooden choir. The church of San Martino was built in the 13-14th century. 

The source of the Esino river is just west of town along Strada Sorgenti Fiume Esino, and is the site of a picnic area and a walking path. Numerous trekking and biking paths in the area are well maintained and marked. The hermitage of San Contaldo is on Monte Corsegno and is a recommended hike. 

San Ginesio's Piazza Gentili. Photo courtesy of Heather von Bargen
San Ginesio’s Piazza Gentili. Photo courtesy of Heather von Bargen

San Ginesio’s twin towers are visible from Casa Pace e Gioia. Known as the Balcony of the Sibillini, San Ginesio has spectacular views of the Sibillini mountains and the countryside from three city parks. Earthquakes in 2016 hit San Ginesio hard. Many buildings remain closed to the public and are braced with metal supports, but the town is still lovely and merits a visit. 

Just past Porta Picena, the main entrance to the town is the Ospedale dei Pellegrini, a 13th century building that hosted pilgrims who traveled on foot to and from Rome and Loreto. It is temporarily closed but you can admire the lovely portico and loggia. 

The town’s main piazza is named for Alberico Gentili, who was born in San Ginesio, taught at Oxford University, and is considered the founder of international law. The unique Collegiate Church overlooks the piazza and is an emblem of the city. The church is Romanesque with a Gothic facade with a travertine arched portal and terracotta adornments above. It is currently closed for repairs. On the other side of the piazza the Bar Centrale has delicious gelato. 

Four parks along the perimeter provide shade trees, play areas, and fantastic views. In the Parco di Colle Ascarano, the restaurant Terra Nostra has terrific crispy thin pizzas and savory pasta dishes. With plenty of outdoor seating, it’s an excellent place to enjoy the sunset.

Sarnano. Photo courtesy of Heather von Bargen
Sarnano. Photo courtesy of Heather von Bargen

Sarnano is a 30-minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia, and is an ideal starting point to explore the Sibillini mountains. The walled historic center is a labyrinth of streets that wend their way up to the Piazza Alta, from which the views are stupendous. You can download a free audio walking tour of the historic center on the izi.travel app. (In Italian only but if you know some it’s very clear and there are pictures.) 

The 13th century Chiesa di Santa Maria di Piazza Alta is the most important church in Sarnano. The Gothic entrance portal is elaborately carved with a triple cornice and complements the brick building. The single nave interior features several 15th century frescoes. 

The Pinacoteca on Via Leopardi displays an impressive selection of artworks from the 14th-17thcenturies. The jewel of the collection is a panel painting by Vittore Crivelli, Madonna Adoring the Child with Musician Angels. Additionally, the Pinacoteca has preserved important artworks from the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Piazza Alta. 

Tucked away, not far from the municipal pool and sports park on Via del Colle, the delightful Cascata dell’Antico Mulino (waterfall of the ancient mill) is reached by walking a marked path 10 minutes, and is the first of three waterfalls on a route

I highly recommend lunch or dinner at Osteria Scherzi a Parte five minutes down SP120. 

Servigliano. Photo courtesy of Comune di Servigliano
Servigliano. Photo courtesy of Comune di Servigliano

Servigliano, 35 minutes southeast of Casa Pace e Gioia, has a long history, but the old city began to collapse in 1758 when the hill it was built on became infiltrated with water. In 1771 Pope Clement XIV ordered a new city to be built 4 kilometers away on a plain near the 12th century Church of Santa Maria del Piano. The current historical center was designed in a contemporary quadrilateral shape with straight streets of brick buildings and is enclosed by three gates. 

The Collegiate Church of San Marco is on Piazza Roma, as is City Hall, a two-story building with 7 arches. The nearby restaurant Pane e Vino is highly recommended. Shops and bars scattered around the clean historic center make a pleasant stroll without steep hills. 

In 1915, a prison camp was built in Servigliano to guard Austro-Hungarian soldiers. During World War Two it imprisoned Allied soldiers and served as an internment camp for Jews. In 1943, about 2000 Allied soldiers escaped and many were sheltered by area families. After the Italian armistice in the fall of 1943, the Germans took over and at least 61 Jews were imprisoned here. During a bombing attack, 30 Jews managed to escape but the rest were sent to Auschwitz. Only 3 survived. After the war, the camp became a refugee center until 1955. 

You can see traces of the wall through which the Allies escaped, and barbed wire and glass shards on top of the wall at the Peace Park. The Casa della Memoria is in the old railway building (from which the prisoners were transported) and is a memorial museum with objects, photographs, and documents. To request a visit and tour, available also in English, arrange at least one day prior.  

Torre di Palme. Photo courtesy of Città di Fermo
Torre di Palme. Photo courtesy of Città di Fermo

Torre di Palme is a medieval hamlet perched on a hill on the Adriatic coast south of Porto San Giorgio. It is a 55-minute drive from Casa Pace e Gioia. The village is well kept with harmonious brick buildings, cobbled streets, and fantastic coastal views. 

At Piazzale della Rocca, the access point of the town, you’ll find the Archeological Museum, which displays finds from three of ten recently excavated funeral tombs nearby. The oldest dates to the Bronze Age (9th-7th centuries BC.), the others date to the 6th century BC and shed some light on how the Picene people lived. 

The 10th century Church of St. John the Baptist is the oldest in the village. A small structure built in stone blocks, it has been recently restored. Just down the road is the Church of Sant’Agostino, where the polyptych by Vittore Crivelli is a stunning highlight. Stolen in 1972, it was found a month later (missing 4 panels in the predella) and subsequently restored. A 16th century painting of the Madonna by Vincenzo Pagani hangs on the left wall. 

Further down the road, the 12th century Church of St. Mary by the Sea has fantastic Byzantine frescoes and a 14th century bell tower. The end of the road is the Piazza Lattanzi, with its breathtaking views. Numerous bars and restaurants in the area offer panoramic dining options. 

A well maintained and marked walking path from the parking area off Via Fonte di Mosè leads to the Bosco del Cugnolo, a protected woodland area with views of the sea and Torre di Palme. Continuing on the path, in addition to the flora and fauna, you can see an ancient church, a waterfall, and the legendary Lover’s Cave. 

Moresco. Photo courtesy of Moresco Turismo
Moresco. Photo courtesy of Moresco Turismo

Moresco, 15 minutes inland from Torre di Palme and an hour’s drive from Casa Pace e Gioia, is a medieval mystery. The name Moresco, which appears for the first time in 1083, could derive from a variety of references, none of which are definitive. The imposing castle on top of the hill has no documents regarding its origin. It is mentioned in 1248 and was probably built in the 10th or 11thcentury. What we do know is that this small fortress-village is a jewel to visit. 

The emblematic 12th century seven-sided tower is unique in all of Italy. The views from the top are fabulous (on a clear day you can see Albania) and the tower also hosts art exhibitions. An imposing 13thcentury clock tower stands guard over the village entrance and is also used for exhibits. The town hall displays a large altarpiece by Vincenzo Pagani. The ex-church of Santa Sofia is now a small theater with about 50 seats. To avoid disappointment in viewing sites, contact the tourist office in advance to ensure opening times or to set up an inexpensive guided tour. 

Outside the city walls, just off the main road is the tiny but beautiful Church of Madonna della Salute, said to be 8th century. Leaving Moresco on Via Santa Maria dell’Olmo brings you to a 15thcentury church of the same name, so-called because it is near an Elm tree. The interior features a notable altarpiece by Vincenzo Pagani. A highly regarded winery, Castrum Morisci is just down the road from the church.

Montefiore dell'Aso  Photo courtesy of Comune di Montefiore dell'Aso
Montefiore dell’Aso Photo courtesy of Comune di Montefiore dell’Aso

Montefiore dell’Aso is a 15-minute drive south from Moresco and an hour from Casa Pace e Gioia. Six towers from the 15th and 16th centuries dominate the skyline of this medieval village on a hill. The historical center is compact and reached by three gates.

The former convent of San Francesco, with its cloisters and history, is the evocative setting for the Polo Museale di San Francesco, where the Carlo Crivelli room displays the surviving panels of his large vibrant polyptych that was originally an altarpiece. The famous artist Adolfo De Carolis was born in Montefiore dell’Aso and the Adolfo De Carolis room exhibits hundreds of his drawings, sketches, and woodcuts. Sala Basili is dedicated to stage sets, photos, and cinema memorabilia from local set designer Giancarlo Basili. In a cloister, the Museum of Peasant Civilization has a collection of donated objects and tools used in the past by local families. Last but not least, the Domenico Cantatore collection has 114 aquatints, etchings, and lithographs that the artist donated to Montefiore dell’Aso. 

The facade of the church of Saint Lucia is partially covered by another building but the interior gleams with wood and marble accents. The church of San Francesco d’Assisi was built in the thirteenth century but the interior was renovated in Baroque style. Upstairs, the apse is adorned with exceptional 14th century frescoes. The highly recommended Clock Museum presents a collection of time pieces from Ancient Rome to the present and is open upon request.  

From Belvedere De Carolis, the view spans the Sibillini to the sea. A well-equipped park at the western end of the town has a restaurant, walking paths, shade trees, and games for children. 

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Ten Things to do in the Marche if it Rains

Summers are usually sunny in the Marche but if the forecast calls for rain, here are some ideas to enjoy your vacation at Casa Pace e Gioia regardless of the weather.

Frasassi Caves, Ten Things to do in the Marche if it Rains
Photo from Grotte di Frasassi

1. Go underground at the Frasassi Caves

It’s just over an hour’s drive from Casa Pace e Gioia, and I always recommend that our guests explore the largest cave system in Europe, even when the weather is beautiful. The largest room in the 30-kilometer complex, the Ancona Abyss, could hold Milan’s massive Cathedral. Guides lead visitors on a 1500-meter walkway that take you past shimmering crystals, an underground lake, spires, pinnacles, rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. Pre-registration is required, and tours are offered in a variety of languages. Bring a sweater as the caves are kept at 14°C (57°F) year-round. 

While you’re there, see the nearby Temple of Valadier, an octagonal church that is built inside of a cave and is a favorite Instagram post. 

Poltrona Frau Museum, Ten Things to do in the Marche if it rains.
Poltrona Frau Museum

2. Visit Tolentino’s museums and monuments.

Only 15 minutes away from Casa Pace e Gioia, in Tolentino you can visit our local landmark, the Basilica di San Nicola, a 13th-15th century church famous for housing the remains of St. Nicholas, who was a hermit and preacher to whom many miracles were attributed. People from all over the world pilgrimage here in veneration. The complex is still under restoration from the earthquakes of 2016 but most of it has reopened. The lovely Cappellone di San Nicola is beautifully frescoed and the cloister is peaceful and suggestive. 

Just two blocks away from the Basilica, and facing our famous clocktower and the Piazza della Libertà is the MIUMOR, the International Museum of Humor in Art. The Museum hosts a notable International Biennale in odd-numbered years but displays artworks including caricatures, cartoons, and sculptures year-round. Locals always recommend a visit and it gets great reviews. It’s a quirky and fun way to spend some time indoors. 

In the same piazza, the bar Pasticceria Zazzaretta has outdoor seating under a loggia if you want to stop for a snack or coffee. For lunch options, I suggest il Santo Bevitore, just down from the clocktower, or Osteria San Nicola, a few blocks away at via Flaminia, 6. 

Three kilometers east of Tolentino’s historical center and just off via Nazionale, the Poltrona Frau Museum is a 1400 square meter space devoted to recounting the history and achievement of the legendary furniture-making firm founded in 1912. You can get a glimpse of how their handcrafted furniture is made through exhibits and videos and see their leather in a Ferrari. The outlet store to the left ships internationally and has unbeatable prices. 

Four kilometers east of the Poltrona Frau museum is the well-preserved 14th century Castello della Rancia, a former castle that now houses an archeological museum and often hosts special exhibitions. The view from the tower is fantastic on a clear day, but the rest of the castle is still worth a tour in the rain. 

The abbey church at Fiastra, Ten Things to do in the Marche if it rains.
Entrance to the church at the Abbadia di Fiastra

3. See the church and museum at the Abbadia di Fiastra

The nature reserve at the Abbadia di Fiastra is splendid in fine weather but if it rains, take the opportunity to visit one the 12th century Abbey Church, one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in Italy, with its frescoes and rose window. Tour the adjoining monastery’s cloisters, chapter house, refectory, Cellarium, wine museum, gardens, and the olive oil storeroom that now houses archeological finds from the ruins of Urbs Salvia. Also in the park is the 18th century Palazzo Giustiniani Bandini, owned by the last heir of the property which is now managed by his foundation. 

Several terrific restaurants and bars in the park are open for lunch or a refreshment. 

Marchecraft, Ten things to do in the Marche if it rains.
Grazie to Marchecraft for the photo

4. Meet a local artisan and make your own souvenir

The Marche region has a long heritage of high-quality craftsmanship. Marchecraft recognizes this and has sought out talented artisans to share their techniques with visitors. And in many cases, you’ll get to take home your own Made in Italy souvenir. You can make your own sandals, pottery, paper, jewelry, traditional tambourine, and more! Several experiences are suitable for children. The duration of the experiences vary by type and they are located throughout the region. 

5. Head to Macerata

The sun always seems to shine on Macerata, even when it’s storming here. So you might get lucky and it won’t be raining there, but even if it is, some of Macerata’s best sites are indoors. Macerata is a 30 minute drive and I suggest parking at the Parcheggio Centro Storico, which is covered and has an art-filled tunnel and an elevator to reach the city center. 

The Sferisterio, a gorgeous, elliptically shaped arena, is a must see, although part of it is outdoors. It opened in 1829 after 100 private citizens raised the funds to design and build a venue large enough to play the Roman ball game pallone al bracciale, and to hold circuses and bullfights. 

Twentieth century Italian art is displayed in a 17th century palace with period furnishings, in a unique and intimate setting at the Galleria d’Arte Contemporanea housed in the Palazzo Ricci.

The Palazzo Buonaccorsi has three museums. The notable Carriage Museum in the basement displays a variety of vehicles throughout history. In frescoed rooms on the first floor the Pinacoteca displays 14th-18th century art, among them a Carlo Crivelli. And on the second floor, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna has works by 19th century Italian artists. 

The Basilica della Misericordia is the world’s smallest basilica and a national monument. The interior, with ceiling frescoes, paintings, and gilded accents is gorgeous and peaceful. 

For lunch or dinner in Macerata I suggest Osteria dei Fiori. The Carducci family serves typical Maceratese cuisine in an elevated style, with excellent local wines. Covered outdoor seating is available and their spacious interior is inviting. 

Chefaway pasta demonstration, Ten Things to do in the Marche if it rains
Chefaway demonstration at Casa Pace e Gioia

6. Stay at home and have Chefaway come for an in-house food demonstration.

Our friend Andrea at Chefaway has put together memorable experiences that introduce you to local food traditions and techniques. They offer pizza making, cheese making, pasta making, and gelato making experiences; hands-on cooking classes, and a local dinner experience. Create your own combination or just enjoy one. They can do all of the demonstrations in the house and the loggia and it would definitely entertain children. 

Vino Cotto tasting at Cantina il Lorese
Vino Cotto tasting at Cantina il Lorese

7. Taste local wines!

Most of our local winemakers are available on a short notice to visit. It’s often raining when we visit Saputi down the road during our spring and fall visits. Giovanni at Fattoria Colmone della Marca has a huge tasting room with expansive views. Terre di Serrapetrona also has a lovely vista that you can admire from indoors. Sandro at Podere sul Lago has a gorgeous barrel storage room and is happy to give you a tour of his cantina and tasting room. For something special and very local, visit Cantina Il Lorese to try “cooked” Vino Cotto. Their underground cellar is very suggestive. I can assist with reservations. 

8. Visit Ancona

The region’s capital is about an hour’s drive and perhaps it won’t be raining there? Founded and settled by Greek mariners in the 8th century BC, Ancona thrived as a trading port city. The Romans came and further elevated the city’s status. For five centuries, Ancona was a powerful independent Maritime Republic until 1532 when it came under papal control until the French invaded in 1797.  This rich history has given the city a unique mix of architectural styles and sights to see.

Trajan’s Arch, a famous landmark, is outdoors but many other sites are indoors.

The Museo Tattile Statale Omero is a museum for the blind and a good choice for those with children. Upon entering, you are offered a blindfold and encouraged to touch the many sculptures that are replicas of famous artworks. (They have strong Covid-19 prevention protocol in place and encourage advance booking.) 

The 11th-13th century Duomo di San Ciriaco overlooks the city, shimmering in white stone. It requires an uphill climb, but the views of the city are superb, and the architecture is notable. Some of the floor is glass, allowing you to see the pagan ruins on which the church was built. 

Set in a 16th century palazzo with beautiful ceilings, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche displays archeological finds from the region from Prehistoric times until the Middle Ages, with artifacts from the cultures that have made their imprint on the Marche such as the Picene civilization, the Celts, and the Romans. 

The lovely Chiesa Santa Maria di Piazza has a gorgeously carved exterior and a priceless 16thcentury crucifix. Mosaics from earlier churches from the 5th and 6th century are visible in the crypt. 

Chefs Andrea Tombolini and mother Natalina

9. Take a cooking class

We have several cooking class options. One recommendation is to learn how to make typical dishes from a highly regarded chef, Andrea Tombolini at Locanda le Logge, in nearby Urbisaglia, one of our recommended restaurants. He can come to the house, but I’d suggest the short drive to cook in the restaurant’s kitchen. I can also arrange a class just down the road with our housekeeper Claudia.

10. “Made in Italy” Outlet Shopping

A lot of what is “Made in Italy” is made in the Marche. Well-known brands and private-label producers alike offer discounts at their outlets. Leather bags, accessories, shoes, ceramics, and clothing are among the most popular items. A Google Map of our recommendations is here.  

Book your Marche vacation at Casa Pace e Gioia here.

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.