Why the Marche?
Travellers who want the best of central Italy are now heading for Le Marche, the third region, alongside
Tuscany and Umbria, that makes up central Italy. It is pronounced "lay markay", is plural (Le Marche) and is sometimes translated into English as "The Marches".
The region lies on the eastern side of central Italy, between the Adriatic Sea and the high Apennine mountains and much of it remains unspoilt by the ravages of mass tourism.
True, the Adriatic coast has been a mecca for "sun n' sand" holiday makers for decades; but few venture far from the beaches. Inland, perhaps more so than
anywhere else in central Italy, you will find places where time really has stood still. Compared to its central Italian sisters, here culture comes in more easily digestible
proportions but quality, as at Urbino, is often of the very best.
When to go
While it can be hot between mid-July to mid-August, it is
rarely overcrowded and up in the mountains the breezes are cooling.
May, June and September are the ideal months to tour Le Marche if you can't take the heat; the landscape is clothed in spring green or the first tints of autumn, any
rain tends towards brief showers rather than endless drizzle, and it's usually possible to find a bed without booking.
The wettest seasons are mid-February to mid-April and mid-October to mid-December when days of grey mist and rain can set in up in the mountains. It can also be
cold in midwinter, particularly when the bitter northerly tramontana winds blow.
Where to go
Whether you want to admire masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, trek across wild
uncharted mountains or hunt out the best of the catch in a Mediterranean fishing port, Le Marche has enough to keep you busy for years. And you will rarely have to jostle with hordes of other foreign tourists.
Many visitors who come to Le Marche are looking for a taste of the "real" Italy, unsullied by mass tourism, yet welcoming to foreigners - if that's what you want, you
won't be disappointed.
The main towns
Here is a rundown of the largest towns in the region -
click on the names to get a full "guidebook" entry for the place or go to the places index or the clickable Marche map:
Of the region's principal towns, Urbino is our favourite. This jewel of a renaissance city remains little changed
from the days when Duke Federico of Montefeltro set up his celebrated court here in the second half of the 15th Century.
The provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno lies at the southern end of Le Marche. This beguiling old town is well worth
at least an overnight stay. Its travertine-paved main square is one of the most beautiful in Italy.
The administrative capital of Le Marche is Ancona, a city with less obvious attractions for the tourist. Give it time,
however, and you may find you enjoy the salty charm of this bustling sea port. It's also one of Italy's principal ferry ports with boats to Croatia, Greece and Turkey.
Another of the region's provincial capitals, Pesaro is both an appealing seaside resort and a thriving commercial
town. Good shops, fine beaches and great fish.
Another of the region's main centres is Macerata, a dignified town, famous for its annual outdoor opera festival and capital of the province of Macerata.
The alluring hilltown of Fermo is the capital of the recently-created province of Fermo and boasts a fine
historic centre and outstanding main square.
Many of the smaller inland towns are well worth visiting and most make a good base for touring. These include , Cagli, Camerino, Cingoli, Jesi, Offida, Recanati and Sarnano.
Of the many seaside resorts, the prettiest is Sirolo on the Conero peninsula. See our beach guide for details of having fun beside the seaside.
Many tourists visit Le Marche for its natural beauty and
most of the spectacular inland mountain country remains unscathed by the worst excesses of the 21st Century. See our nature page for a run-down of the region's
Here are the major sights that should not to be missed:
You'll find some of the most impressive mountain scenery to the south of the region amidst the Monti Sibillini,
whose peaks are often covered with snow until the late spring.
The Frasassi caves are some of the most spectacular limestone caves you are every likely to visit.
Limestone again is the leading player at the Furlo Gorge, a dramatic natural pass through the mountains that has
been in use since prehistoric times.
Most of Italy's Adriatic coastline is stubbornly flat. Monte Conero, just south of Ancona, is a rare exception - a
high limestone mountain that plunges into the sea and guards a handful of delightful little bathing resorts.
The best mountain views to be had in the north of the region, on the doorstep of Urbino, are around the giant Monte Catria. In spring the upland meadows are
carpeted in alpine flowers.