Italy’s hidden gem, the picturesque region of Marche, offers an abundance of stunning views, charming Renaissance towns, and unforgettable experiences for travel enthusiasts. Located in central-eastern Italy, Marche is home to the Apennine Mountains which produce rolling hills perfect for fortress towns.
The foothills roll down to the Adriatic Coast where beaches showcase far horizons and are caressed by soft waves. Behind these sandy alcoves are rocky cliffs tamed by coastal towns with links to famous Renaissance characters and the home of the Virgin Mary.
Each town offers a similar take. A collection of towers, medieval walls, centuries-old town squares and palaces. Yet it doesn’t become tiresome. Because the picturesque architecture boasts unique stories of warring factions or historic people that would go on to become fixtures of literature still read to this day.
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With this guide, we’ll explore some of the best places to visit in Marche that you should consider adding to your travel bucket list. Picture yourself strolling through narrow, cobbled streets or sipping a glass of local wine as the sun sets over panoramic views. These are just a few of the unforgettable moments waiting for you when you visit the enchanting region of Marche.
In eastern Marche, Ferno sits on the summit of Subolo producing far-reaching vistas. It’s a common trend in Marche, as you’ll soon discover. But it’s a treat that won’t grow old.
At the heart of Fermo, is Palazzo dei Priori. The origins of the palace go back to 1296, yet it remained a work in progress for almost 300 years. Within you’ll find a memorable art gallery and the Archaeological Museum of Picenum. The latter taking you on a journey prior to the Roman era.
History lovers won’t be able to pass on a visit to the Town Library, with over 500 years of history. Further travel takes you along the Street of Vinegar to the so-called Pools of Desperation, a renowned Roman cistern.
While many towns in Marche harbor rich connections to the Roman era and the Renaissance, Loreto has taken a different path. This primeval town is the epicenter of the region’s spirituality.
In Loreto, you’ll find the Sanctuary home to the Holy House of Nazareth. It was here that many believed the Virgin Mary lived and learned about the impending birth of Jesus. The house itself is encased in beautiful travertine.
Further exploration of Loreto can be pursued along the elevated walkways that guide you by old-time towers and above pastel-colored homes. The views are captivating, combining the coastline, village and hills beyond.
12. Conero Riviera
Tale-laden mountains and ancient villages are a common sight in Marche. But the Conero Riviera challenges them both in the beauty stakes. Here, beaches spread along a coast backed by rugged rock shaped by thousands of years of artistic wind.
The coast features remote beaches one can only reach via boat, including the gorgeous Due Sorelle home to two large stacks of rock. Other beaches have attracted numerous hotels such as Sirolo, which bucks the trend by also not losing its historic relevance as a medieval community.
Indeed, the beaches are just a part of the Cornero Riviera that connects such famous towns as Recanati (the birthplace of Giacomo Leopardi) and Ancona. While behind all is the looming presence of Mount Cornero.
11. Serra San Quirico
Close to the Frasassi Caves is another historic village. Serra San Quirico, like many other towns in the region, is set atop the rolling hills, offering beautiful views of valley farms and distant landscapes.
But the views aren’t the only thing worth mentioning. The historic town, whose story begins in the 6th century BC, is surrounded by a towering fortress. The narrow cobblestone streets recreate the sounds of eras past with the maze of roads, making it simple to accidentally walk around in circles.
Highlights of Serra San Quirico include the Church of Saint Lucia. One of the more beautiful churches in Marche has a spectacular interior with a vaulted ceiling splashed with colorful iconography.
10. Acqualagna & Furlo Pass
In central Marche, Acqualagna is known as the Truffle Capital of the World. This should pique the interest of all foodies. Producing over 65% of the nation’s truffles, there’s no better place to indulge in this gastronomic endeavor.
Truffle fairs litter the calendar and travelers can also embark on a guided truffle hunt. Along with restaurants specializing in truffle dishes, it’s a hard thing to escape.
If truffles don’t register on your traveling radar, then head to the nearby Furlo Pass. Here you’ll find vast green fields and dense forests rising out of the Candigliano River. Hiking trails guide you along the deep gorge and later the pass, but not without a visit to a historic Roman-era tunnel.
On the Adriatic Coast, Pesaro is both a popular summer escape and a well-preserved medieval village. On one side, you have the coastline with hotels and budding guests ready to bathe in the sea, eat fresh catch and enjoy the views. On the other is the historic center linked to Roman times.
Days on the beach, swimming and sunbathing may sound attractive. But to properly fill your cup, explore the history of Pesaro. Here you’ll find a city laid out in the traditional Roman way, with four sections.
Begin by exploring the Palazzo Ducale where espresso flows into the cups of those admiring the surrounding architecture. Later, let the facade of the Pesaro Cathedral captivate your mind before exploring the 16th century Imperial Villa.
8. Ascoli Piceno
Towards the southern precipice of Marche, Ascoli Piceno is surrounded by captivating mountains and protected natural spaces. Its story begins long before the Middle Ages. In fact, the town’s origins lie in an era prior to the Romans when the Piceno tribe flourished in the 3rd century BC.
However, what you’ll discover is a town lathered with gorgeous Renaissance architecture. Rather than your classic brick and mortar, many of the buildings here used marble, or travertino.
The town’s square, which harbors a 2,000 year history, has seemingly been frozen in time for the last five centuries. Here, you can admire the Palazzo del Capitani from the 1500s, along with the San Francesco Church.
From there, traverse the Via delle Torri, where you can explore an even older section of town near the Trento River. This is the true gem of Ascoli Piceno, where cobbled streets from the 1200s lay untouched, with historic homes business interrupted only by small old-time churches.
7. Monti Sibillini National Park
Set between Marche and Umbria, Monti Sibillini National Park takes you away from the Renaissance towns and places you within the Italian wilderness. But the stories from that era remain, as these mountains carry the tales of lost treasures and are haunted by ancient witches.
The real magic and treasure, however, lie along the hiking trails. These take you deep into an untouched nature that boasts high alpine lakes such as the Lake of Fiastra and the stunning Lame Rosse.
Known as the Grand Canyon of Le Marche, Lame Rosse sits upon rich woodlands where russet rocks take over and soar towards the stratosphere. A steep trail will take you up and through where you’ll be far above the valley below and able to soak in the contrasting landscapes.
Often overlooked, Fabriano rewards each traveler that’s willing to wander off the beaten path. A major highlight is the Frasassi Caves (listed below), but its historic center is worthy of ample time.
Lathered with ancient monuments, mesmerizing churches and old-time piazzas, Fabriano is a look into the eye of Old Italy. At its heart is the 13th century High Place. This is the town’s old triangular piazza that was once that center of Fabriano’s government and high society.
Within the High Place is a gorgeous circular fountain from the same period, along with the Town Hall from the 1700s. However, architectural marvels don’t end there. The Palazzo del Podesta made of a captivating white stone was first built in 1255.
All told, every building has a story to tell, a time capsule back to the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. With some local gelato or espresso in hand, sit back in town squares, take in Fabriano’s rich culture and admire each brick planted centuries ago.
5. Frasassi Caves
Since its discovery in 1971, the Frasassi Caves have captivated locals and travelers alike. Close to Fabriano and 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Ancona, the caves feature one of the largest subterranean systems in Europe.
There are 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) of underground walkways to discover. Each littered with soaring stalagmites and glimmering stalactites dangling from the ceiling above.
Exploring the caverns requires a guided tour that takes around an hour. With charming wit and knowledge, your guide will take you through this subterranean world where you’ll uncover individual chambers that can be as tall as 240 meters (790 feet). Some even boast light effects to add to the mood and illuminate distant parts of the cave.
The highlight of the experience will be the Cave of Wind. Not only is it the largest here, but no cave in Europe is bigger. Despite its size, the Cave of Wind is perhaps more famous for being the base of an odd reality TV program.
In the 5th century, Greek exiles escaped from modern-day Sicily and fell in love with this spot on the Adriatic Coast. They established what would become Ancona in a natural harbor, whose stunning views have changed little in the years since.
Ancona is a popular arrival point into the region of Le Marche. One can also climb aboard a ferry and make their way to Croatia and Greece. But it’s the gems that lay within that will quickly command your attention.
Ancona, while badly damaged during the Second World War, still features a gorgeous Old Town. It’s spread between a citadel on one side and a lovely cathedral on the other. In between is Loggia dei Mercanti, an intricately designed trading center that dates back to the 1400s.
Another highlight is the 18-meter (60 feet) Trajan’s Arch that is almost 2,000 years old. Near the harbor, it’s a memorable hint that this region was once a prominent part of ancient Roman life.
Close to the region of Romagna, Gradara is yet another captivating medieval village. Like Urbino, Gradara is a fortressed town that played a prominent role in Renaissance Italy.
Surrounded by green, rolling hills, the views are astounding. The old castles, towers and town squares mix in effortlessly with the otherwise lush landscapes. The classic brown brick is an unlikely companion.
But this is how it’s been since the late 1400s, when the likes of Francesca di Rimini and Lucrezia Borgia made their way to Gradara. Two classic Renaissance characters that would be the cornerstone of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Renaissance and romanticism are alive and well in Gradara. The best way to explore town is on foot as you make your way along the Path of Lovers. Here you can see the distant horizon, but first the Adriatic Sea.
For more unique experiences, head to Ornithological Park, where you can learn about the art of falconry.
2. Frasassi Gorge
Before you even reach the renowned Frasassi Caves, you must first pass through a natural landmark just as memorable. The Frasassi Gorge is a photographer’s dream, combining a vibrant mix of greenery that clings on to the rugged, steep rock.
But the gorge itself is just one piece of the puzzle. Each view of the gorge changes thanks to man-made structures that create beautiful foregrounds. They are the buildings of Genga, a town surrounded by the very cliffs you’ve come to discover.
The seemingly remote town wakes early to the sounds of birds and the low-hanging sun bouncing off the gorge. Energized with espresso, explore the town along the beautiful River Sertino where ancient bridges cross the emerald green water.
A part of Frasassi Gorge not to miss is the Tempio del Valadier. Built in 1828, this octagonal temple can be found within one of the gorges’ caves.
In northern Marche, Urbino is a medieval city set high upon a hill. Looking down towards the valley below and the distant Adriatic, it’s easy to see why it became a vital fortress for the Romans in the 6th century.
Urbino may be small, but the walled town is a marvel to discover. Stories from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance float through town like the alpine breeze. In fact, it’s one of the best-preserved towns from these eras in Italy.
Most of the town’s architecture dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries in which Urbino prospered. This includes the triumph of Renaissance design, otherwise known as Palazzo Ducale. Prominent characters from the era stayed here, and it became a vital place of learning.
History aside, there isn’t a bad view in Urbino. From various points, you can admire the beauty of the Apennines mountain range, the Foglia valley and the Metauro River. The best spot for a view is the Fortezza Albornoz. This rectangular building features ancient towers and a spacious terrace looking over both the countryside and all of Urbino.