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.
Tucked away, not far from the municipal pool and sports park on Via del Colle, the delightful Cascata dell’Antico Mulino (waterfall of the ancient mill) is reached by walking a marked path 10 minutes, and is the first of three waterfalls on a route.
I highly recommend lunch or dinner at Osteria Scherzi a Parte five minutes down SP120.
Servigliano, 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.