Could the little-known region of Le Marche be home to Italy’s most alluring stretch of coastline? Dotted with cliffs falling away into emerald seas and pebble-coated beaches smoothed over centuries by the currents, these few miles of jagged shorelines are dispersed with hidden caves, reachable only on foot or – even better – by boat.
The landscape at the foot of Le Marche’s Mount Conero is a rich, luscious area, abundant in such flora as holm oak, pine, juniper, lavender, wild orchids, and, above all, arbutus berries. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in this perfectly preserved natural paradise, which is calling out to be explored on foot, mountain bike, or horseback.
The ideal Le Marche itinerary takes you from the littoral paradise of Portonovo to the historic town of Recanati.
Take time out en route to lounge around guesthouses or explore rural medieval estates, breaking up the day with the occasional plunge into Portonovo’s transparent waters. Just inland from Portonovo at Recanati, art lovers can make the pilgrimage to the historic Palace of Giacomo Leopardi to admire the magnificent Ascension of Lorenzo Lotto.
A room at the picturesque Solea Hotel at Ripe, the rural hinterland of Ancona, offers the best base for exploring Le Marche. Ten years ago, Enzo Scalone and Barbara Carabalona renovated this farmstead to create a country house characterized by minimal, neutral tones. With rooms furnished with natural linens, the Solea Hotel boasts an atmosphere that blends monastic simplicity with luxurious design.
Discovering Le Marche with Scalone and Carabalona, who escaped the bustle of Milan for the slow pace of country living, is a truly authentic experience. Spend your day truffle hunting, taking part in painting sessions, or getting creative in the kitchen in one of their cooking courses. Then wind down with a dip in the courtyard pool between Solea’s rooms.
Nestled in Le Marche’s hills and vineyards just half an hour’s drive from Solea is Filodivino, a guesthouse and wine cellar. Opened just a few years ago by husband and wife Alberto and Alida Gandolfi, Filodivino is the perfect place to relax in the shade of the vines. Bathe in its beautiful spa before stocking up on its finest wines, from Verdicchio to Lacrime di Morro d’Alba – so sought after they’re exported all over the world.
Take the plunge into Le Marche’s deep blue seas.
Continue down to the coast until you reach Portonovo, then make your way to Clandestino, a chic and gourmet eatery opened by celebrated chef Moreno Cedroni. This luxury beachfront bar offers an unparalleled dining experience and unforgettable sensory treat, all the more heightened when slowly sipping on a fine glass of local wine.
Another locale for an exquisite dinner is Uliassi in Senigallia, the hometown of the genius photographer Mario Ciacomelli (to whom there is a wonderful museum in the town). Here, on Senigallia’s most charming stretch of seafront, lose yourself in its exquisite dishes – a roller coaster of flavours brought to the fore by the salty sea air.
For easier, more minimalist – though no less gourmet – dining options, try Nana Piccolo Bistrot or the new Sepia, a sleek Mediterranean restaurant whose dishes are exquisitely infused with the flavours of the sea.
Searching for chic hospitality in an aristocratic country estate? Look no further than the Villa Giulia.
Situated in the hills above Fano, the Villa Giulia boasts 84 hectares of countryside surrounding an estate that has been owned by the same family since the early 1800s.
Its current owner, Anna Passi, began transforming the villa into a relais in 2004. “I haven’t changed much,” she stresses. “I’ve just opened it up to guests. Before it was our family home, and every summer we would all meet up here – friends, cousins… It was always full of people.”
Today there are 12 bedrooms and five apartments from 60 to 80-90 metres squared, some of which are joined together. Its breakfast, which you can consume on the terrace overlooking the sea, consists of either savoury or sweet treats, as well as cakes with homemade jam, copious fresh fruit, cereals and yoghurts.
The “blue suite” has a breathtaking panoramic, as do all the rooms on the first floor which look out over the sea. In the evening, guests wanting to take full advantage of the villa’s restaurant can make themselves at home with a wonderful gastronomic selection.
“We accommodate everyone in their own way, as if they were friends from all over who’d come to see us,” Anna says. “The villa is much as it always was; there’s no sense of a hotel about it. Here you’ll find the sorts of objects and books you would in any other house of this kind.”
No vacation in Le Marche would be complete without a visit to Sirolo and Numana, booking a room at Novecamere or the Locanda Rocco.
Nove Camere is a beautiful hillside residence adorned with a garden bursting with lavender. True to its name, it’s made up of just nine rooms, all of which are designer furnished and lead on to an open swimming pool perched above Sirolo’s historic centre.
Similarly, the Locanda Rocco, in the heart of the Borgo Marchigiano on the Conero seafront, is one of the most prized destinations on the Riviera, with chic rooms and a highly reputable restaurant.
Finally, seemingly falling away into Portonovo’s blue seas is the Hotel Emilia, each room of which comes with its own small garden looking out over the azure coast of the Adriatic.
If you want to visit an artisan pastificio that produces its pasta with non-GM grain harvested from the fields beside the mill, seek out Pastificio Mancini. At its annexed shop, you can fill your luggage to your heart’s content with the freshest Italian produce.
A special place to finish our tour of Le Marche is Wabi Sabi – ‘imperfect beauty’ in Japanese.
This authentic ryokan, situated in San Ginesio above Macerata, offers a small corner of Japan in the open Italian countryside. Furnished entirely from wood, Wabi Sabi has been built to perfection in the Japanese style with not a piece of iron or plastic in sight (even the bathroom taps are made from bamboo!)
Nor is there anything traditional about the beds. Guests at any one of Wabi Sabi’s three rooms sleep on comfortable tatami (Japanese straw mats) and wake up to a japita breakfast, prepared by Milanese owner Serenella Giorgetti who bakes the homemade sourdough bread and makes the Japanese sweets from scratch.
Indulge in Italian fashion at Le Marche’s surrounding designer outlets.
Before leaving Le Marche, don’t miss out on the Prada Outlet near Sant’Elpidio a Mare (Fermo). As well as a sizeable Prada collection, the outlet also offers labels like Miu Miu, Car Shoe and Church’s. And if you’re looking to stock up on artisan Italian leather bags, make the short trip to Tolentino’s Valigeria La Rancia for soft bags, handbags, satchels, and inexpensive luggage for the return journey home.
Italy is bursting with regional treasures. When you’re ready, Italy with Class is here to help you explore them.