Monday, February 20, 2006

Introducing Le Marche (The Marches)

I am hesistant to promote this area, as other tour guides are already starting to. Because with tourism, comes a bit of loss of the magic of this area. In fact, most of the tourists to this area are Italians. My focus will primarily be on the province Pesaro-Urbino, as I studied here. I will later expand on the other jewels of this region. For a good primer on this region, visit Le Marche Voyager site.

For a brief overview of the Le Marche (pronounced "lay mar-KAY") region:
Geography: The region lies on the eastern side of central Italy, between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine mountains. It borders Emilia-Romagna to the north and Abruzzo to the south. And it borders Umbria and Tuscany to the west. The highest point in Le Marche is Monte Vettore in the Sibillini mountains at 2,476 metres. The coast has long sandy beaches popular in the summer; apart from the limestone Conero peninsula, it is virtually all flat.

Cuisine and Wine: Did you know that this region is home to truffles? (Not chocolates, but the very expensive mushrooms.) This region produces many fine wines. My particular favorite is the red, Rosso Conero or Rosso Piceno. Also worth tasting is the regional white, Verdicchio. To take a Rosso Conero-inspired tour, click here!

Transportation to Le Marche: You can fly into Ancona or another airport and take a train, bus or drive to your final destination. For more info. on travel to Le Marche, read this.

Transportation within Le Marche: Unless you have rented a car (your best option), you will probably have to take the bus. (Bus schedules vary daily, especially weekend and holiday service. Check with the ticket office, which may be the local caffe' or newsstand agent who sells the tickets.) Train service is usually limited in these small untrampled towns. For more info. on travel within Le Marche, read this.

Major Towns
The main towns of Le Marche are Urbino, Pesaro (that comprise the Pesaro-Urbino province), Macerata, Ancona, and Ascoli Piceno. Each region and provincial town has its own flavor, while maintaining marchegiani integrity. Urbino, a small hilly town, reminded me of Assisi and its namesake San Francisco. But at the same time, it has a vibrant university community which infuses young life that distinguishes it from the other towns.

Even Urbino and Urbania are quite different from each other, and they are only 17 km apart. The former is an Italian town of probably 20,000 or more inhabitants, with many businesses (hotels, restaurants) and a university. The latter is a small hamlet of only 6000-7000 people (granted there are less populated towns in Italy), and lacks a university. When I was there, there were only 7-9 restaurants, 3 hotels, a few agriturismi, a couple of caffe's (Italian bars), an underground pub, and several supermarkets, greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, dry cleaners, a library/Internet cafe, a movie theater (that shows movies only once a week) etc. You get my drift, I think I patronized most of the businesses during my month-long stay.

But there was something about living in Urbania. Ok, after the first 2 weeks and settling into the groove. However, when people started recognizing you (of course they would, I'm not Italian!), and say "buonasera! -- it starts to feel like home. And cities, like Urbino begin to feel large. Imagine that!