Subject: Trip report - Le Marche - Nov 02 (Pt 1)

My wife and I spent two weeks in early November 2002 in the Le Marche region of Italy. This is a bit long, so I will break it up into two parts. If anyone has questions or would like more information, I'd be happy to help if I can.

First, however, I would like to thank the people of Italy -- everywhere we went, the Italians were friendly, patient, accommodating, and helpful.

--General-- To put this trip in context, a little about us. This was our fourth trip to Italy since 1999. On prior trips, we visited Florence; Siena and the smaller towns and rural areas of Tuscany; and Emilia-Romagna. We speak a very little bit of Italian, just enough to ask for and see a room, order a meal, understand signs, and so forth. We constantly carry a phrasebook and dictionary and are fearless in inflicting our poor abilities upon the native-speakers.

This trip, we flew from the US to Bologna via London, picked up our rental car, and headed south. We had no hotel reservations, and only a vague, general travel plan. All things considered, this worked out well.

Le Marche is a beautiful area, with views just as marvelous as those in Tuscany. There are very many charming hill towns and tiny villages, walled fortresses, old churches, and a few decently-sized towns, but nothing on the scale of, say, Florence or Bologna. I am not sure that I would recommend Le Marche for the first-time traveler to Italy, the traveler with absolutely no Italian, or the traveler who wants a very structured, tourlike vacation, but for everyone else, it's a great place. Go and see for yourself!

The best website we found, and the one that helped the most preparing for the trip, is Le Marche Voyager at They offer free booklets for prospective visitors, and their hotel listing and Touring Club of Italy (TCI) map were absolutely indispensable.

Driving in Le Marche is much like driving in the hilly parts of Tuscany. The roads are good and well-marked but tend to be narrow and twisting. There were periods of driving for several hours where I don't think I stayed in the same gear for more than 30 seconds. This can be fun but tiring. In any event, to see the region, you must have a car. Our rental was with EuropCar through AutoEurope, which provided its usual excellent and reasonably priced service. The accurate and detailed TCI road map is a *necessity*, as is the TCI book on Le Marche, available at online booksellers. We also used the Le Marche section from the Cadogan guide; it's a good overview, although their hotel recommendations are not as good as those for restaurants.

We like Le Marche very much and plan on visiting again. If this sort of travel appeals to you, I enthusiastically recommend Le Marche. There aren't many tourists, except on the beach in the summer. Most places, it was obvious we were the only foreign visitors in town. The sights are spread out and you won't be able to see it all in a day or two, but if you have the time and the inclination, a week or more in Le Marche can be a great vacation.

--Itinerary-- We spent a few days at the beginning and end of the trip in Bologna. The driving part in Le Marche broke down like this: Day 1: Bologna - Senigallia via SS 9 and SS 16 Day 2: Senigallia - Furlo, down Via Flaminia to Serrungarina - Cartoceto, back to Furlo Day 3: Furlo - Corinaldo Day 4: Corinaldo - Loretello - Cingoli - Macerata - Osimo Day 5: Osimo - Cagli Day 6: Cagli, Pergola, Cagli Day 7: Cagli - Urbino Day 8: Urbino Day 9: Urbino - San Leo Day 10: San Leo - San Marino - Gabbicce Mare - Pesaro Day 11: Pesaro - Cervia - Bagnacavallo - Bologna

--Places-- Our favorite places on the trip, in no particular order: The Furlo gorge, Corinaldo, Mondavio, Cagli, Treia, Bronzi Dorati in Pergola, Piandimeleto, Urbino, San Leo, Pesaro. I won't try to duplicate the many online and printed resources for tourists, so I'll limit myself to a line or two about some of these places.

If you like very small, quaint villages with walls and gorgeous views of the country, Le Marche has many, places like Loretello, Piticchio, Sorbolongo. If you are driving along and see a sign saying that a village is one or kilometers away off the main road, go there and see what it has to offer. It's a great feeling, standing on the walls in Sorbolongo and looking at the quiet countryside. An elderly man drove up near us in his Piaggio Ape and gave us a stern look - outsiders! I smiled at him and said, turista! then pointed out over the walls and said, bella! He grinned, and said, si, si, bella, bella! These tiny towns have no hotels or restaurants, but are nice diversions along the way.

Another serendipitous result from acting on a whim happened when I saw a sign pointing down a dirt road, saying there's a tenth-century church there. Thus, between Serra San Quirico and Arcevia, we found Sant' Ansovino di Avacelli. The church was closed and a bit rundown, and part was being used as a barn, but there was a signboard nearby with pictures of the inside. The location was lovely and secluded in a deep green valley, a gurgling stream, no other sounds or people, a perfect sylvan paradise -- until a couple of fighter jets streaked by at very low altitude.

Urbino is a great, bustling place. The ducal palace is impressive, and it's sheer delight to sit in the park above the town and see the buildings and countryside spread out before you.

The San Leo fortress is awesome, and almost defies belief. Go there and walk around.

Corinaldo is a beautiful town, and we were lucky to have Barbara Vaughan show us about. There's a million stories in Italy, little glimpses into odd corners and long ago, and we were fortunate to hear a couple of them. Thanks, too, to Barbara for helping us plan the trip and passing along very useful information.

Cagli is very nice, too, and we were glad to slow down a bit there and enjoy the place. Keep in mind, though, that these beautiful small towns are small. Traveling there can be disconcerting to someone used to the crowds in Florence or Bologna -- we often walked around and saw very few people. Some nights it was a struggle just to find a place to eat. The advantage of this is parcheggio: the only times we had trouble with parking were Urbino and Macerata. Every other place, we were able to park just about at the front door of our hotel.

Pesaro was a pleasant surprise, and we wished we had more time there. We expected a town like Senigallia, but Pesaro has enough commercial activity to keep things lively beyond the summer beach season. I love the Pomodoro sphere sculpture, and the contrast with the Ruggieri house nearby is jarring.

Also worth noting: the main piazza in Treia; the Balcony of the Marches in Cingoli; the Roman tunnel in Furlo; and the mad, frenetic Disneyish experience of driving through San Marino.

As you can tell from the itinerary, we didn't make it very far south. This was not intentional; we had hoped to see Macerata, Ascoli Piceno, Ripantransone, and such places. We arrived at Macerata after a day of tiring driving, however, and got into horrendous traffic. The loop around the centro storico was three lanes of mad, dashing one-way traffic, and we went around a couple of times before we got our bearings and found a place to park. It was just too much at that moment, so we gave up and went to Osimo and then started heading back north. I am not sure we would have had enough time, and this gives us a great excuse to go again.