I was at a laundromat in Mantova watching my clothes tumble dry when a car going backwards down the street caught my eye. The driver approached an improbably small parking space on the left side of the street. Traffic behind him came to a standstill. As the driver backed in, his rear bumper hit the car behind him. He did not appear concerned, repeated the maneuver, then pulled ahead, hitting the car in front.
The driver got out and nonchalantly walked down the sidewalk. Traffic moved again. ‘So that’s how you parallel park,’ I thought, ‘just hit the cars in front and behind yours.’
The day prior, I had tried and failed to parallel park and drove well past my destination to park in a spot I could pull into.
Despite my inability to parallel park, I’ve driven, and parked, all-around Italy, from tiny Sicilian villages to rush hour in Milan. If I can park in Italy, surely you can too. If you can parallel park, you’re a big step ahead. And if you’re like me, I have hints to help you avoid it.
Parking in Italy is pretty straight-forward once you understand the signs and symbols. Parking spots are marked in lots or along the streets. Blue lines mean you have to pay, white lines are free, and yellow ones are reserved for residents, deliveries, or otherwise off-limits to the average tourist. Parking areas are denoted with a blue sign and a white P.
To understand no parking signs, remember that parking is blue, and things you can’t do are red. No parking is denoted with a blue circle with a red frame and a red backslash though it. Signs are posted on the side that forbids parking. You may also see the words “passo carrabile” on garage doors that seem like a great parking spot until you notice it’s a driveway. No stopping signs add another line to make a big red X over the blue circle. If a street does not have a no-parking sign, you can most likely park along it, as long as you keep the driveways clear.
To pay for blue-lined parking spaces, find the small machine nearby. Often the directions are in English. The price per minute will be posted. Insert euros in coins, bills, and increasingly, a credit card, or payment app. The machine will then print out a small slip which you put on your dashboard with the date and time displayed. I have seen the police check, so it’s worth the small amount to comply.
White lines represent free parking, although it may be time-limited. If you see a parking sign with a blue rectangle and what looks like a white smiley-face, you’ll need to set your disco orario. The sign indicates the duration of your free parking – 30 minuti and un’ora are the most common. Your rental car should have a disco orario, either in a small pouch stuck to the windshield or on the dashboard. If your car does not have one, you can buy one inexpensively at a tobaccaio which is a small store displayed by a “T”, or a gas station. Set the spin-dial on the disco orario to show the time you arrived. And no cheating – the police may check.
If you see a sign with crossed hammers it means the parking limit posted only applies Mondays through Saturdays. In other words, on Sundays or holidays, the posted restrictions are not enforced.
Typically, it is harder to find and more expensive to pay for parking in larger cities and as you near any town’s centro storico. Walled cities and small villages often have large lots outside the perimeter for campers and oversized vehicles. If you can walk distances, this is a great way to pull into a space without parallel parking and to avoid driving in cramped areas. If there is a fee, it usually costs less than within the town. On market days or holidays, it can be a huge time saver as well.
Most parking lots are unattended and require prepayment at entry, or you’ll take a ticket upon entrance and pay upon exit after inserting your ticket.
The smaller the town, the more likely you are to find free parking. It’s not uncommon to see parked cars facing both directions, but often parking is limited to one side of the street only.
If you are staying in a hotel, B&B, or Airbnb, ask your host about parking. Some can get you a pass or register your car with the local authorities so you can access a limited traffic zone (ZTL) and park. Especially in large cities, the nearest parking lot outside the ZTL is a long distance away. Some urban hotels have their own lots—if you can get in and out while avoiding the ZTL, but expect to pay. One hotel we like in Rome charges €70 per day to park.
You may want to upgrade your rental car to one with distance sensors and a backup camera. Once you’re parked, fold in your side mirrors. I was excited when attending a large festival to find a great parking spot in a large empty lot. By the time we left, the lot was packed with cars. I thought we would be stuck there. Even with sensors, it took a friend and a police officer to direct me out of the tight squeeze.
The phrase “Dove posso parcheggiare?” may come in handy. It’s pronounced doe-vay poe-so park-eh-jar-eh. It means where can I park? I’ve always been given good guidance by passersby when I’ve asked. Once, after struggling to translate a sign in front of a parking lot, a local gentleman came over to explain it was free. My confusion stemmed from the lack of any lines whatsoever in a giant lot just across the street from a Mediterranean beach in Sicily.
In a tiny medieval village in Sicily I found a free overnight parking spot on the left with nothing in front of it. Thrilled, I backed into it no problem. But, never having successfully parked on the left, when I opened the door, it whacked the curb. I put three scratches on a brand-new black rental car. Thankfully I always travel with a Sharpie marker. If you do end up parking on the left side of the road, take care when opening your door, and consider packing a marker.
Italy’s most popular tourist destinations are easily reached by plane, train, or cruise ship. But to see Italy’s hidden treasures, to travel like a local, to experience first-hand Italy’s dolce vita, rent a car and drive to smaller cities and tiny villages.
Driving in Italy is a sport. Italians drive fast, except when they drive slow. They tailgate, then slam on the brakes at a “zebra crossing.” They use both hands to speak while driving, and they drive in-between designated lanes, as if to create additional ones.
And yet, my trips to Italy were more immersive and enchanting once I got behind the wheel. It will for you too. Here is everything you need to know to drive in Italy.
Before you Drive
You’ve taken pictures of your rental car and are ready to leave the lot. Before you do, turn on your headlights. Low-beam and parking lights are required at all times in suburban areas and the motorways.
Buckle your seatbelts, even passengers in the back seat — it’s the law. Children under the age of four must be in an approved safety seat and children aged four to 12 are required to use a booster seat until they reach 1.5 meters tall (about 4.9 feet). Your car rental company can provide both.
Program your destination into Waze, or a similar GPS system that displays the speed limit, and alerts you when you’re exceeding it. Speed limits change often, even on the same road, and are not always marked. If you’re American, you may want to change your GPS settings to metric so they match the road signs.
Mobile phone use is allowed only in “hands-free” mode.
Leave your International Driving Permit in the vehicle. It won’t do you any good in your luggage in your hotel room. You also need your driver’s license.
As a general rule, the speed limit on major freeways, (Autostrada, some Strada Statale) is 130 km/h (80 mph), reduced to 110 km/h (68 mph) in rain or bad weather. On divided highways in suburban areas (Strada Statale), the limit is 110, or 90 (56 mph) in inclement weather. On secondary and local roads (Strada Provinciale) the speed limit is 90 km/h, reduced to 80 km/h (50 mph) when raining. In cities it is 50 km/h (31 mph) regardless of weather.
Speed limits are enforced by a vast network of cameras, which are marked but easy to miss, especially when you don’t speak the language, you’re trying not to get lost, and you’ve got one eye on your rearview mirror. Waze is good at warning when you approach a camera, but be advised some locations change weekly.
To add to the confusion, two different systems monitor speed. One is clearly marked “controllo elettronico della velocità con sistema tutor.” Usually on the Autostrade (plural for Autostrada), the Tutor system uses two cameras at fixed points to establish an average speed. If your average speed is over the limit, expect a ticket to arrive by mail. The second method, signaled by “controllo elettronico della velocità” is simply a camera with a radar, either in a box along the road or hand-held by a police officer.
As with the Tutor system, don’t expect to be pulled over and fined for speeding. You’ll get a ticket in the mail. If you really want to prepare, the Polizia di Stato website publishes camera locations, updated weekly. (In Italian, but you can use Chrome or an extension to easily translate.) Many small towns also have speed cameras that should be designated, but even at a slower speed, they are easily overlooked.
As stated on my speeding ticket, drivers are given a 5% tolerance over the posted limit, with a minimum of 5 kmh for a speed limit of 100 kmh or less. Anything above that speed is subject to fees that start at € 41 and can reach € 336. Fines increase incrementally with higher speed violations, and if it occurs in the evening, a surcharge is added.
Your first indication that you have a ticket is if a charge appears on the credit card that you used to pay for your rental car. You might even receive an email from the car rental agency advising you that you have received a ticket and they have charged you an administrative fee to provide your information to the local authorities.
The ticket itself may take months to arrive. The police have 360 days to notify you. My ticket arrived by registered mail almost 4 months later. My fine, for driving 4 kmh over the threshold in a 70 kph zone, was € 44.60 including “notification and procedure costs” if paid within 5 days of the receipt of the notification, which they know because they sent it certified mail. Hertz also charged me € 25 for the aforementioned administrative fee, lower than the € 50 that Europcar charged me for a “ZTL” infraction.
My ticket arrived the same day as my husband’s, although his was from a different region and 4 months before mine. Both were in English and provided websites to view our crimes captured on camera. They offered methods to appeal but none were convenient for a guilty foreigner. The only way to pay was by international wire transfer, for which many American banks charge exorbitantly.
I don’t know what happens if you don’t pay. Our tickets stated that after 60 days, “relevant tax authorities will be entitled to recover the half of the maximum amount of the violation” — more than double the fine. We drive often in Italy, so for us non-payment was never a question.
Italian Driving Quirks
Especially when driving on the Autostrada, you might think speed limits are not enforced in Italy, or that the drivers flying past you have some sort of immunity. Whether on the 8-lane Autostrada or a 2-lane country road, you’ll look in the rearview mirror that you just peeked at 3 seconds ago and suddenly a car has appeared out of nowhere, the driver is tailgating you, flashing their headlights, and gesticulating wildly. What we consider criminal tailgating is Italian habit. Don’t take it personally.
Stay in the middle or right lane on the freeways. Use the left-most lane only to pass and be quick about it. Signal your intent, but don’t expect other drivers to do so. Constantly check your mirrors, especially when changing lanes. Don’t try to understand why some drivers leave their turn signals on. I’ve asked several Italians and they don’t know either. If the driver behind you on a freeway flashes their lights, move to the right. Signs above the Autostrada display blue circles and speed limits by lane. Those are the minimum speeds you can drive in each lane.
Lane dividing lines are painted but don’t be surprised to see cars straddle them and drive in-between lanes, especially the left and middle ones.
Entrance and exit ramps are shorter on Italian highways so accelerate quickly to merge with traffic. Italians are fairly polite about moving over to accommodate incoming cars. The next exit is painted on the pavement in the right lane in addition to roadside signs.
Emergency stop areas are marked and often include a telephone. In the event of a breakdown or problem, wear the fluorescent safety vest usually found in the trunk of your rental car and place the warning triangle 50 meters from your car. In the unlikely event that you cannot reach your car rental agency, roadside assistance is available from the Automobile Club of Italy 24/7 by calling 800.116.800 from a foreign mobile phone.
Autogrill is the most common rest stop in Italy. I’ve had a light lunch in a couple of them and have left thinking that I could have eaten better for less money elsewhere. If you’re hungry and it’s lunch or dinner hours, exit the freeway, consult Google Maps, and find a local restaurant nearby. We stumbled upon a family owned bar and restaurant on the road from Rome to our house in the Marche. They source their own meats and breads locally and our lunch there was less expensive than Autogrill.
If it’s outside serving hours, Autogrill’s sandwiches are not bad. Ask them to heat it for you (caldo means warm). I’ve never had their cafeteria-style hot food. If you see several police cars or a lot of semi trucks parked at a rest stop, that’s a good sign. They know where to find a good meal on the go.
Drinking and Driving
Italy’s blood alcohol limit is 0.5 gr/l, or 0.05%, lower than many states in the U.S. If you are found above that, the penalties are severe. You can be fined € 527 to € 6,000, banned for driving, prosecuted, and imprisoned up to one year. Police routinely perform random security and sobriety checks. And not always at night. My husband Matt was driving from a wine tasting on a weekend afternoon when a police officer stepped into the road holding a stop sign. He approached our car and asked to see his license. Matt handed it to him, along with his International Driving Permit, which I think was the first one the police officer had ever seen by the curiosity with which he regarded it. The officer shook his head at his boss sitting in the car and waved us on. Thankfully, Matt had not been drinking, but don’t assume you won’t get stopped in broad daylight.
Most autostrade have tolls. At the first stop, you’ll get your ticket (biglietto). Do not pick the Telepass lane. As you exit the autostrada, you’ll have to pay. Again, do NOT take the Telepass lane. Pick a lane that shows a credit card symbol to pay by credit card (American cards accepted), or the money symbol to pay in cash. Insert your ticket, the machine will tell you what you owe, and gives change. If an agent is available, the sign will display a hand giving change. You can estimate the tolls for your route on the Autostrada website.
I found roundabouts pretty fun once I got the hang of them and it’s an easy way to turn around when I get lost. In a one-lane roundabout, you enter to the right when it’s clear and signal only when you get to your exit. In a multiple-lane roundabout, if you’re taking the first exit, you must use the right lane to enter and signal right. If you’re going straight, use the right lane to enter, and signal only when you approaching your exit. If you need to go left, enter the roundabout from the left lane and signal left, then move to the right lane, and signal right. That sounds more complicated than it is, and it becomes intuitive.
On two-lane country roads you might get stuck behind a tractor or a slow driver. You can pass on the left if it is not a “no passing zone” indicated by solid double white lines, and/or with a sign that has a red car to the left of a black one. That being said, ensure you check for oncoming traffic with the understanding that an approaching car can appear seemingly out of nowhere. Likewise, if a driver wants to pass you, move to the right a bit. I recommend familiarizing yourself with Italian road signs before you get there and bringing a printed version for quick reference.
Strade Bianche – White Roads
Are so called because they are typically white gravel. They might be paved or dirt, but in all cases, they are narrow. Commonly found in the idyllic countryside, these roads are not heavily trafficked or maintained. If you meet another car, the one going up a hill has priority. You may have to reverse to find space to allow them through. Take your time, relax, tranquillo. Italians driving in the countryside are generally very accommodating.
“Zona Traffico Limitato” The Dreaded ZTL
More than forty Italian cities have restricted traffic zones (ZTL), usually around the “centro storico” city center. In ZTLs vehicular traffic is restricted to residents, or authorized at certain times of the day, or a congestion charge is required to access. Research the areas where you plan to drive in advance and in Rome, look for signs that say “Varco Attivo” meaning the ZTL is active and you cannot enter. “Varco non Attivo” means you can drive freely. A sign that says “Zona Traffico Limitato” with a white circle and a red border is another sign not to cross, unless the hours posted below it indicate otherwise. In Milan’s center is an “Area C” for which you can buy a pass online and activate upon your arrival in Milan. In some smaller towns, your host or hotel may be able to register your car with the police to allow admittance.
As with speeding, ZTLs are enforced by a surprisingly efficient camera system, and if you violate one, you will be fined both by the authorities and the rental car agency.
Stop signs are red and say stop, so that’s easy. If you see a red circle with a white horizontal rectangle it means wrong way, do not enter. A narrow, white arrow on blue indicates one-way traffic, is often faded, and shockingly small. You may see the words “senso unico” which mean one way. A quick hint to determine if you are about to go the wrong way down a one-way is to look for parking signs on the street. If you can’t see any, you may be making a mistake.
I’ll cover parking signs in the next article of this series but “no parking” is represented by a red-framed blue circle with a red line through it. Just remember, parking signs are blue and things you can’t do are red.
You’ll see “Varco Aperto” on signs on the highways. It just means there’s a short stretch of road ahead where the center divider is missing.
Galleria means a tunnel, and they are marked with an odd sign that is clearly intended to represent a tunnel but when flying past it at 130 kmh, it doesn’t look like anything.
Crosswalks and other town hazards
At zebra crossings, or crosswalks with black and white striped lines, you are legally required to stop to allow a pedestrian to cross, usually screeching to a halt to do so. As a pedestrian though, do not assume the driver is paying attention and cross only when you know it’s safe.
There is no right turn on red in Italy. A red light means you can’t go anywhere.
An Italian would want to avoid traffic and drive their car in the bus lane but it’s a fineable offense. Thankfully, when I accidentally drove in the bus lane the only witnesses were curious bystanders.
In villages with narrow lanes, you may want to fold in your side mirrors when negotiating tight spaces.
Don’t blindly obey your GPS instructions. The app does not know it’s market day and the road is closed. If, like me, you find yourself driving through a crowded market in Sicily, smile and shrug in a rueful apology. You won’t be the first.
Diesel cars are common in Italy. Double check your rental’s fuel type before filling it with gas. “Benzina senza piombo” is unleaded gasoline and diesel or “gasolio” is diesel. Getting gas in Italy can be an adventure, and one you’ll pay a lot for. We recently paid € 1.73 per liter for diesel, or about € 6.65 per gallon.
Especially in rural areas, it may be hard to find a gas station open 24/7 and some close for lunch. Many gas stations offer full service, so if your rental car lacks washer fluid (it happens often to me) and you need your windows washed, pick full service. They sometimes give you a free coffee too.
To pump your own gas, look for “Fai da te” which means do it yourself. You may have to pre-pay at an outdoor kiosk by entering your pump number and credit card or cash. Some gas stations let you pay inside the store afterwards, or to an attendant outside with a credit card reader, or my favorite, a drive-through booth with an attendant. Some gas stations even have disposable gloves you can use. In large cities, micro gas stations are tucked along the streets.
The Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast
I have been to both but have never driven them. In the Cinque Terre, the villages do not allow cars, so you pay to park outside the town, then walk (typically uphill). The narrow roads are hairpins and may induce carsickness. A train connects the villages from the La Spezia station, I recommend that or the ferryboats instead.
The Amalfi Coast is breathtakingly beautiful and the driver will miss it all because their eyes will be on the road. The passengers may get carsick, and if you drive there in the summer, you’ll spend a lot of vacation time in horrendous traffic and looking for a parking spot. The roads are narrow for two-way traffic and overridden with tour buses you can’t see coming around the curve. Unless you’re driving in the off-season, I recommend taking the public bus, hiring a driver for a day trip, or better yet, ride a ferryboat.
An Italian friend of mine thought his wife had not understood my Italian when she told him that I had driven in Sicilia. He later asked me, wide-eyed with incredulity, if the rumor was true.
Even some mainland Italians confess a fear of driving in Sicily. But if I can do it, so can you. That being said, do not drive in Palermo or Catania. Many Sicilians have cautioned me against doing so, and I heed local advice.
The rest of Sicily is drivable, with caveats. In my experience, GPS is not as accurate, so expect to get lost. In some areas, the roads are potholed, missing shoulders, and without dividing lines. A Sicilian driver behind me blared his horn when I dared to stop at a stop sign. Another driver honked his displeasure when, at the end of a road, I stopped to look, then waited for oncoming cars to clear before I proceeded. During a morning traffic jam in Trapani, we all drove around two stopped cars while the drivers conversed in the busy intersection.
Sicily is one of my favorite places in the world. Sicilians are warm-hearted, and if you get lost they will help you.
In my next articles I’ll cover everything you need to know to park in Italy.
If you think I’ve missed something or if you have any questions please leave a comment.
If you want to experience authentic and idyllic Italy, you’ll find it by driving through gorgeous countrysides and historic villages that don’t have train stations. You’ll discover artistic treasures, hyperlocal food and wines, jaw-dropping scenery, ancient ruins, soaring architecture, lower prices, and fewer tourists.
I do not like to drive, I cannot parallel park, and I have terrible navigation skills. Yet I’ve driven rental cars from Milan in the north to Sicily in the south, and the central mountains in-between. I’ve crept along cobblestone cart paths six inches wider than my Fiat and raced on the autostrada in an Audi, getting a speeding ticket and a ZTL fine along the way. I’ve been charged for damage to a rental car that I did not cause, which I chalked up to karma, having previously used a Sharpie marker to hide scratches that I did cause.
Here’s everything you need to know to rent a car in Italy.
Bring your IDP
Italians drive on the right-hand side of the road, so for Americans-no challenge. You’ll need a valid drivers license and an International Driving Permit, which you can get at a AAA office, or by mail. You do not have to be a AAA member. It costs $20 and is good for one year from the date they write on it. Hint: Ask the clerk to date it the first day of your rental.
Before reserving a car, check your credit card for Collision Damage Waiver insurance on rental cars in Italy. Many credit cards exclude Italy. Mastercard World Elite cards offer it in Italy for rentals less than 31 days and up to $50,000. If your card offers insurance, ask them to send you a letter of coverage that you can bring to show the agent who may try to upsell you into their coverage options. Remember to decline the rental agency’s CDW, or you’ll pay for theirs.
If your card does not provide insurance, add it to your rental at booking or at the counter. A rental agency employee once told me that 90% of their agency’s rentals come back with some sort of damage.
Can you Drive a Stick Shift?
Automatic transmissions are not as common in Italy. You may have to pay higher rates for an automatic car, although it varies by area. If you can drive a stick-shift, you can save significantly.
Consider a smaller car, especially if you’ll be driving in busy cities or small medieval villages. Many small-town roads were once cart paths and are shockingly narrow. Medieval walled cities are often accessed by centuries-old gates. A gentleman who had moved to an apartment in a walled town told me that the van he had rented to move his belongings got stuck in the city gate! Most villages have a carpark outside the walls for larger vehicles and campers.
If your destination includes mountainous or rural areas along gravel or dirt roads, don’t rent a low-profile sports car, like an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Get something with more height, and consider an automatic transmission if you’ll be in a hilly area.
Start your car rental search on Kayak.com for a rough idea of anticipated rental costs, then book direct with the rental company website. If you’re a AAA member, start on the AAA website. They often have a Hertz discount and have always had the lowest prices for Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty. I’ve had no problems renting with Europcar and Sixt, who are transparent about added insurance costs. Leasys Rent is an Italian company that often has excellent prices.
Rental prices may be less expensive in off-airport locations and at train stations.
One-way rentals are available but you may pay more to drop off at a different location.
Drivers less than 26 years old may be charged a young-driver surcharge.
Car seats are required for children aged 4 and younger. Booster seats are required for those under 12 or 1.5 meters, approximately 4.9 feet. If you do not bring your own, rentals are available.
Check your roaming data allotment and speed to make sure they can support GPS. You may want to pay extra for a car with built-in GPS.
At major airports, there might be a “Gold” counter, but in most cases you need to queue to get your keys and contract, so allow extra time to pick up your rental. We once waited almost 2 hours to get a rental car from a well-known agency. Be aware that in some off-airport locations the office will close for lunch and have stated opening hours, outside of which you cannot pick up or drop off a car.
Check before you Rent
Research the parking and driving laws where you’ll be driving. A good place to start is your accommodation facility. For example, much of Rome’s historic center is in a “ZTL” area which means auto traffic is limited to residents with permits. Most cities have vehicular restrictions, but in some cases your hotel can register your car with the local authorities or you can purchase a pass for admittance. If I had bought a five-euro Area C pass for Milan, I would have saved the $50 fine assessed by the rental car company.
Yes, the rental car company will charge you anywhere from $30-75 in “administrative fees” for handing your information over to the local authorities if you violate any parking, driving, or speeding rules. In other words, every fine you incur is charged twice: once by the car rental agency, and once by the police.
If you are driving in the winter, November 1-April 30, you may need snow chains or winter tires, even if it’s not snowing. The police conduct random checks and the fines for noncompliance range from €41 to €335. Some car rental agencies offer this option when selecting your car online, but if not, ask at the counter, and expect to pay a modest fee. Each region sets their own schedule so check before you rent to determine your destination’s rules. (Please note that these links are in Italian but you can use Google Chrome to automatically translate.)
Take pictures of your rental!
When you do pick up your rental, examine it thoroughly for damage and verify that all of the damages are noted in your contract. Take pictures of the car with your phone before leaving the lot. One time I forgot to do so in a fit of jet lag, and I was charged $140 for a scratched rim that I did not scratch.
As you’re putting your luggage in the trunk, you might see a kit or a pouch in it. Italian law requires that drivers have a warning triangle and place it 50 meters away from the car in the event of a breakdown. A reflective vest must also be worn when stopped at night, in poor visibility, or in the emergency lane. Those items are usually found in the trunk but sometimes in the glove compartment.
Italians have a saying: “ne vale la pena,” which means, “It’s worth it.” And it is. Italy’s secrets are revealed to those who rent a car and drive to hidden gems.
In the next posts, I’ll cover everything you need to know to drive and park in Italy.
If you have any questions or think of something I have forgotten please leave a comment.
At Casa Pace e Gioia we are lucky because there are so many things to do in our area, all year round. So we put together our version of an ideal summer week at Casa Pace e Gioia that introduces you to the Marche’s nearby hidden gems, and also gives you time to relax in the quiet countryside, without hurry. Because when returning home, no one wants to feel like they need to recover from their vacation. Presenting our 7 Perfect Summer Days in the Marche…
Arrive and relax with a glass of wine, wander the grounds and take in the views.
If it’s lunchtime, try Osteria San Nicola, il Santo Bevitore, or Alimentari Fioretti in the historic center of Tolentino, a 15 minute drive.
In the afternoon after the shops reopen, head to nearby Colmurano and pick up award-winning wines directly at the Saputi family’s cantina. They’ll treat you to a quick tasting if you’d like to try before you buy. Then head to the renowned bakery I Sette Artigiani, for breads and sweets. Up the main street through town you’ll find an excellent butcher, a small but well-stocked grocery store, and a large fruit and vegetable market with delicious olives.
There should be enough time for a swim or to relax in the hanging chairs before your Private Chef is ready to serve your Welcome Dinner! You’ll dine under the loggia with views of the sun setting over the valley and depending on the month, fireflies. Your private chef will prepare traditional local foods, paired with wine, and explain the provenance. They’ll also clean up everything, so no mess for you to deal with.
You’ll spend the day on a Wine and Food Tour with Marco’s Way.
Marco will pick you up at 9 AM for an unforgettable introduction to our local foods and wines. You’ll visit 2-3 small family owned wineries that use native grapes to make a stunning variety of exceptional wines. He will also take you to a local olive oil producer for a tour and tasting. You’ll lunch very well at a winery or a local typical restaurant. Marco is a native Marchigiano who has a wealth of history and information about the area which will further enrich your tour.
Once home, if you have any room, find a casual dinner nearby, like Il Muretto, Pizzeria Best Of, or L’Approdo.
Tour the nearby First-century Roman ruins of Urbs Salvia with a guide to put it all into context for you. Preserved by a landslide, the ruins are now excavated and scattered among the 40 hectare archeological park, where they continue to unearth more discoveries. The upper part in Urbisaglia includes the aqueduct reservoir, within the city walls, which shows how the Romans engineered a safe water supply. Descending the hill, you’ll see the theater, the amphitheater, and the temple with first-century frescoes.
Also in Urbisaglia, La Rocca is a 12–15th century castle overlooking Piazza Garibaldi. It has amazing views of the countryside from its four towers. Enjoy a gelato, caffè, or an aperitivo at our favorite bar in the piazza that faces the church behind La Rocca.
Lunch in Urbisaglia under the loggia at Le Logge, a favorite restaurant of many. The Tombolini family is welcoming and Chef Andrea offers creative interpretations of traditional local dishes.
Enjoy the afternoon at home in the pool.
For dinner tonight you’re headed to Il Sigillo in the lovely medieval town of Camporotondo di Fiastrone. Il Sigillo is an intimate family owned restaurant with stone walls and a relaxing ambiance. Stefano, who runs the front of the house, has curated an excellent wine list and is an expert at pairing them with the delicious homemade dishes that his sister and mother make. Save room for Cinzia’s special desserts.
Sleep in and get a good night’s rest after what might have been a late evening. Hang out in the pool, play bocce or ping pong.
At lunchtime, drive to the nearby Abbadia di Fiastra Natural Reserve. Eat on the patio at Ristorante da Rosa, and pick from many traditional local dishes and seasonal specials. Their homemade ravioli is particularly outstanding, and their homemade desserts are fabulous.
Walk off lunch along the walking trails throughout the park, including one designed without obstacles for the visually impaired and incorporates the senses of hearing, touch, and smell. Another trail traverses past a woodland area and is the last example of the historical forests that once covered Le Marche.
Visit the park’s namesake Abbey Church, founded in 1142 and one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in Italy. The cloisters are particularly beautiful. The Farm Museum, the Archaeological Collection, and the Wine Museum provide a fascinating history to this unique area.
Dine in the historic city center in Tolentino at il Santo Bevitore, known for their creative seafood dishes and excellent wines to pair with them. If you haven’t already, stroll down the block to admire our notable clocktower and continue on to the nearby Basilica of San Nicola and its peaceful cloister.
Today you’re driving to the Sibillini National Park to reach the trailhead of the hike to the Lame Rosse. The famous“Red Blades” are unusual and amazing rock pinnacles and towers caused by erosion and held together by clay and silts. In the mornings they glow red, but they are spectacular any time of the day. The 7 kilometer hike takes about 3 hours round trip and begins with a walk over the Fiastra Lake and the dam that created it.
When you’ve finished your hike, lunch at nearby Rifugio di Tribbio which has a peaceful position in the mountains and fantastic local dishes.
After lunch, drive up the narrow road to the ruins of the Malagotti castle and the church of San Paolo. From the summit, admire the panoramic view of the Fiastra Lake and wander among the ruins, scattered with wildflowers and frequented by birds.
Take a scenic route back and head towards Bolognola, Sassotetto, and Sarnano to experience more of the park. You may encounter sheep in the road and see cows grazing in the fields. Wild orchids, other wildflowers, and flowering trees often line the roadway.
The medieval fortified town of Sarnano is named one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. Park in the piazza and walk through the gate to wander the concentric circles of this attractive brick town.
From Sarnano, it’s an easy drive on SP78 to return home.
After a long day hiking, for dinner, take it easy and have a pizza night. Il Muretto in Colmurano is only 5 minutes away and has excellent pizzas. They also have take out if you prefer to eat at home.
After hiking the mountains, relax at the beach!
The closest beach is 30 minutes away at Civitanova Marche where both the North and South beaches have Blue Flag status for cleanliness and quality. Select one of our recommended beach chalets and rent chaise loungers and umbrellas for the day, several chalets also have beach sports and kids activities.
Alternatively, the Mount Conero coast beaches south of Ancona are just an hour away. Under tall cliffs dotted with villages, these suggestive beaches boast a beautiful panorama. Stand up paddling, canoe rentals, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are offered. You can also rent an inflatable boat and see the famous “Due Sorelle” rock formation and spend your day on a beach accessible only by boat.
No matter what area you choose, have lunch on the beach barefoot or at a nearby waterfront restaurant where you’re certain to find fresh Adriatic seafood on the menu.
If you make it back to the house in time for dinner, I suggest Terra Nostra, in nearby San Ginesio, where you can eat inspired local dishes outside with a view of the mountains and the setting sun.
It’s your last day. So you’re enjoying it fully, at home in the pool, playing lawn games or ping pong. If you don’t have leftovers for lunch, head to Norcineria. It’s very close by, casual, they have outdoor dining, a playground for kids, and delicious antipasti, pastas, sandwiches, meat dishes and more.
For your last dinner, if you have not yet been, definitely try Ristorante Pizzeria L’Antico Approdo. It’s one of our favorites. It’s also nearby, casual, family-friendly, with indoor and outdoor seating, and a broad menu that give you a chance to try your favorite Marchigiano dish one last time.
Checkout isn’t until 11 o’clock and we sometimes have complimentary late check outs available, just ask! Have some breakfast and pack calmly. There’s time for a morning coffee (and/or Prosecco) from the hanging chairs and one last swim before you leave.
In the Marche we are lucky because we have the largest variety of traditional local foods in all of Italy. You could stay two weeks and try a different dish every day.
We have our beautiful geography to thank. The Sibillini mountains to our west provide truffles, sheep, cheeses, cattle, chestnuts, and boar. Countryside foothills abound with wheat, vegetables, olives, and fresh produce. Area farms raise pigs, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. And the Adriatic to our east supplies not only our area, but all Italy with an abundant variety of fresh fish and seafood.
Our location also reflects our food heritage. Being just over the mountains from Rome, and connected by the ancient Via Salaria, we have Roman influences. Greeks and North Africans landed on the coastline and settled, imparting some of their culinary customs. So there really is something for everyone, no matter what your food preference is.
15 of our favorite “Must-Try” Traditional Marchigiani foods
Vincisgrassi is a multi-layered lasagna that originated in Macerata. Everyone makes it a little differently, and some use vino cotto in the pasta dough. The meat and cheeses used can vary but often include veal, prosciutto, chicken livers and giblets. Historically it was made at special occasions but it’s often a menu item, and surprisingly light considering the many layers.
Ciauscolo, or ciabuscolo is a pork sausage made with highly ground meat and often white wine or vino cotto. It is lightly smoked and dried in a cool place for a couple of months. Eaten raw as an antipasto, it is often spread on bread. It’s also delicious as an ingredient in filled pasta or polenta.
Brodettois a fish stew famous along the coast. It is thought to have been invented in Athens and spread throughout the Mediterranean by the Greeks. Each town makes their own version and asserts it as the best. I have 5 different recipes for it in one Marche cookbook. Every preparation calls for an assortment of fish, often as many as 13 types. Scorfano, or scorpion fish, is almost always included in a traditional Marchigiano Brodetto.
Olive all’Ascolana, or fried stuffed olives are ubiquitous at restaurants and as street food, and originated in the Ascoli Piceno province just south of Casa Pace e Gioia. Perfect as an appetizer, local Ascolane olives are pitted, stuffed with a meat mixture, breaded and fried. The filling can vary but typically includes a meat mixture with nutmeg. Vegetarian options exist and the Montelupone artichoke stuffed and fried olives are fabulous!
Cinghiale con le Pappardelleor wild boar with pappardelle, can be found in other Italian regions but what distinguishes a Marchigiano dish is wild fennel, which grows abundantly in our area and complements the flavor of the boar. The boar is marinated at least overnight, if not for days, prior to making the sauce.
Bistecca di Scottona Marchigiana, a grilled steak of a young, prized Marchigiana cow which has IGP status, a symbol of high quality. The Marchigiana is a powerful white cow with muscles that have an excellent proportion of fat to create a succulent marbled meat. Until the 1950s they were also used as working animals.
Coniglio in Porchetta, or Rabbit with Wild Fennel is a local traditional dish for both the rabbit and the wild fennel, two Marchigiani trademarks. Preparations vary, and sometimes the rabbit is stuffed, but the ingredients always include pork, wild fennel, and garlic.
PorchettaRoasted pork, not to be confused with Coniglio in Porchetta, above. Is roasted pork usually served as street-food style sandwiches, is popular throughout Italy, but is distinguished in the Marche again by the presence of wild fennel. Historically, the Marchigiani prepared a porchetta for the festival celebrating the wheat threshing.
Cicoria, or chicory is on almost every menu in our region. Indeed, it grows wild in between our grapevines. These slightly bitter leafy greens are usually boiled, then tossed in a pan with olive oil, chili pepper, garlic, and salt. It’s a must-try, at least once.
Cappelletti in Brodo di Cappone is a homemade pasta stuffed with a mixture of cooked veal, chicken, pork, mortadella, and parmesan cheese, then folded to resemble a hat (cappelletti). They are served in a delicious capon broth. In the past, this was served only at Christmas but nowadays is available in the fall-spring seasons.
Agnello allo Scottadito is seasoned lamb roasted over a hot grill and served so hot it will “burn your fingers” (scottadito). It’s often included in a “mixed grill” dish. This is Matt’s all-time favorite.
Pecorino dei Monti Sibillini is one of our many fantastic local cheeses. This one in particular is in the Slow Food Presidium and is slightly aged. Cheeses are often featured on antipasti platters or as a dessert. You can also find it at weekly markets and the grocery store in Colmurano.
Chickpea soup (zuppa di ceci) was often consumed by local farm families because chickpeas were cultivated locally and they could be stored for a year. It’s often featured on menus and is really delicious. Sometimes prosciutto is added but usually it’s a vegetarian dish.
Gnocchi with Duck Ragu is typically slow cooked in a sauce of red wine, tomatoes, and herbs until the duck meat falls from the bones. Fresh potato gnocchi are folded into the sauce. It’s especially popular around our nearby area, especially the Abbadia di Fiastra.
Truffles with anything. The Marche is internationally underrated for our truffles but we have both white and black varieties, which makes our truffle season longer. If fresh truffles are available you will see them on menus (tartufo). My favorite is truffles shaved on top of carbonara.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Prefer something slower paced? Rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards along the coast and at Lake Fiastra and Lake Caccamo.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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, 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 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.
Click here for a Google Map of these Borghi più Belli.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Gioiahere.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
“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
“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!)
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 in October or November and is done by hand or with mechanical help. You can watch the olive collecting, or even try your hand at it. 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.
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 Borgo in Festa 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.
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.
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.
7. Admire the changing fall colors
Although there are many beautiful forests in the Marche where you can photograph fall foliage, the nearby Parco del Monte San Vicino is where I would start. The Confaito Beech Forest’s century-old trees are a splendor of colors in autum. The oldest tree is around 500 years old and on a list of the 300 monumental trees in all Italy. In the same park, another path leads through the woods and reaches the summit of the mountain from which the view is breathtaking.
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.