The violets are out in the woods - don't forget to eat the first one you see as it's said to bring good luck - the white almond blossom is out, the sparrows are scrapping with the starlings on the terracotta pantiled roofs, and the snows are melting on the mountain peaks - it's spring again in Le Marche.
A Dish for a General?
One of the region's best known pasta dishes is Vincisgrassi, a local variation of baked lasagna with a ragù, or meat sauce, that traditionally includes chicken giblets and sweetbreads or bone marrow. Some cooks maintain that the sheets of pasta should be made with a little added vino cotto or Marsala. It is particularly prepared in the central and southern areas of Le Marche.
Many will tell you that the dish was named by a cook from Macerata in honour of Alfred von Windisch-Graetz, an Austrian general fighting against Napoleon in 1799 during the siege of Ancona. However, a marchigiano cookery book of 1781 features a similar recipe for a type of lasagna called Princisgrass, said to be so named as it was rich enough to be fit for a prince.
And then there was Raphael
The great High Renaissance painter Raphael - perhaps the region's most famous son - is being celebrated with a major exhibition of his early masterpieces in his native town of Urbino between 4 April and 12 July, 2009.
The show, Raffaello e Urbino takes place in the Palazzo Ducale and features 20 paintings and 19 drawings alongside works by his father, Giovanni Santi, and other artists that were his contemporaries. Raffaello Sanzio was born in Urbino in 1483 and died in 1520 at the age of only 37.
The exhibition is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 to 19.15, Monday from 8.30 to 14.00.
Raffaello e Urbino exhibition website
The small medieval town of Gualdo in Macerata province is the setting for Formaggio d'Autore on 23 & 24 May, an annual festival dedicated to cheese organized by Italy's Slow Food movement. Tasting workshops, stands and a host of other events will present some of Italy's finest cheeses alongside some of the best from abroad.
Slow Food is also the moving spirit behind Distinti Salumi, the National Festival of Italian Charcuterie on 1, 2 & 3 May in the northern Marche at Cagli. The town is set to become a large workshop dedicated to the delights of the pig with ample opportunities to taste some of Italy's finest salumeria.
Formaggio d'Autore website
Distinti Salumi website
A reminder to book early if you want to see world-class opera at either Pesaro's Rossini Opera Festival or Macerata's open-air opera festival. The former includes a new production of Rossini's Zelmira with the celebrated tenor Juan Diego Flórez, while the latter features a season with the theme of l'Inganno, or deception, and includes Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Verdi's La Traviata.
Marche Voyager opera page for detailed programmes
World famous wheels
Make for the province of Pesaro and Urbino to catch part of this year's Giro d'Italia, one of the world's most famous cycle road races. On Monday 25 May riders will face one of the most gruelling stages of the race with a 237 kilometre climb up three mountains. One of the hot favourites to win this year's race is the American cyclist Lance Armstrong.
The official Giro d'Italia website
A Peek behind closed doors
FAI, or Fondo per l'ambiente italiano, is an organization dedicated to preserving Italy's lesser-known heritage sites. Each year it organizes a weekend when numerous historic buildings across the country, normally closed to the public, throw open their doors.
This year's Giornata Fai takes place on 28 & 29 March and features some 580 sites in 210 towns and cities.
For details of places open during the weekend in Le Marche see this list of sites in the region.
The five most common surnames in Le Marche are Rossi, Mancini, Ricci, Marinelli, and Moretti (source)
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