The rolling hills are greening fast, the snows are melting on the mountaintops, and everyone is busy spring cleaning for the Easter visit by the parish priest to bless their homes and families. After an unusually long and cold winter, at last it's spring again and time for another Marche Voyager newsletter.
If you're in Le Marche at Eastertime look out for the fragrant, yellow loaves of Crescia (or pizza) di Pasqua al formaggio, a rich bread with eggs and cheese baked in homes across the region only at this time of year. Traditionally it's eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday morning with eggs blest by the priest and the first salame now ready from the January pig killing.
Each family has its own slightly different recipe, some with more or less cheese, some with just grated Parmesan, others with some grated mature pecorino ewe's milk cheese, some with small cubes of young pecorino. But all feature eggs, flour, yeast, and plenty of good olive oil. In the days after Easter enthusiasm for crescia begins to wane and leftovers begin to go stale - the best way to perk them up is to serve slices spread with tuna and mayonnaise.
And cheese again...
The small medieval town of Gualdo in Macerata province is the setting for Formaggio d'Autore on 29 & 30 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.
Formaggio d'Autore website
Slow Food is also the moving spirit behind Distinti Salumi, the National Festival of Italian Charcuterie on 30 April, 1 & 2 May in the northern Marche at Cagli. In the courtyards of the town's historic palazzi you can taste some of Italy's finest salumeria. Distinti Salumi website
Meanwhile further south, all things fried feature in the nine-day Fritto Misto festival at Ascoli Piceno from 24 April to 2 May when you can try a range of deep-fried wickedness from Italy and abroad.
Fritto Misto website
Other foody events in May include the La Piazza del Gusto, dedicated to local bread at Cantiano (PU) on 8 & 9 May, the Sagra del vino Lacrima celebrating the delicious red wine at Morro d'Alba (AN) on 30 April, 1 & 2 May, and the Sagra del carciofo centred around the local artichokes at Montelupone (MC) on 8 & 9 May.
Keep them coming
Le Marche played host to 2,101,603 visitors in 2009 - an overall increase of 4% on 2008 - with the number of foreign tourists increasing by 6.9%. Visitors to the region stayed for an average of around 7.2 days. Of the total visitors, 85% were Italian and 15% were from abroad; of the foreigners Germans made up 19%, followed by 11% for Dutch tourists and 7% for France and Swiss.
From Le Marche to Ming
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, the Marche-born Jesuit priest who was a pioneer in opening Chinese culture to the West. Born in Macerata in 1552, he spent the last 28 years of his life in China under the Ming Emperor where he became one of the first Western scholars to learn Chinese script and created the first ever dictionary between a European language (Portuguese) and Chinese. He died in Beijing in May 1610.
As part of a series of events to mark the anniversary a major exhibition, entitled Matteo Ricci - An Encounter of Civilizations in Ming China and backed by the Marche Region, is currently on tour in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing.
Happy Birthday Giovanni!
This year also marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the celebrated Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi who was born in Jesi in 1710. During his brief life - he died from consumption at the age of 26 - he became one of Europe's most celebrated composers of comic opera. During 2010 world-class performance of his works are being organized at Jesi; for full details visit this Pergolesi website.
Watch this space...
As mentioned in the last newsletter, Hollywood divo Dustin Hoffman has been recruited to promote Le Marche in a spot televisivo. Hoffman can be seen reading Giacomo Leopardi's celebrated poem L'Infinito against a backdrop of some of the region's most idyllic countryside. To see the video follow this link to the Region's tourism site
Borghi and best
The Borghi più belli d'Italia organization promotes Italy's most beautiful villages and now lists 18 in Le Marche out of a total of 193 across the counrty as a whole. In alphabetic order these are Cingoli, Corinaldo, Esanatoglia, Gradara, Grottammare, Matelica, Montecassiano, Montecosaro, Montefabbri, Montefiore dell'Aso, Montelupone, Moresco, Offagna, Offida, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Treia and Visso.
I Borghi più belli d'Italia website (in English)
A number of towns across Italy mark the week before Easter - particularly Good Friday - with full-scale costumed re-enactments of the biblical Passion of Christ. The most striking of these passioni viventi in Le Marche include La Turba at Cantiano (PU), the La Morte del Giusto at Villa Musone, Loreto (AN), and the Rievocazione storica della Passione di Cristo at Mogliano (MC). Many other towns organize atmospheric processions on Good Friday often featuring hooded penitenti, or penitents, walking barefoot through the streets.
Still on a religious theme, the Sunday after the feast of Corpus Domini, or Corpus Christi, is frequently marked by an infiorata when the main streets of many towns in Italy are decorated with lavish quantities of flower petals in suitably religious designs. This year it falls on Sunday 6 June and towns in the Marche worth visiting to see good examples of these floral tapestries include
Castelraimondo (MC), Fabriano (AN), Montefiore dell'Aso (AP), Ortezzano (FM), San Paolo di Jesi (AN) and Servigliano (FM).
The town of "Ruffano" in Daphne Du Maurier's entertaining novel The Flight of the Falcon (1965) is based on Urbino; the climax of the book takes place on the twin towers of the Ducal Palace.
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