The violets and primula are even earlier this year after an uncannily warm winter, and the skylarks are already singing their hearts out; but beware the late frosts. A frost-free welcome to the spring edition of the Marche Voyager Newsletter. And a Buona Pasqua to all of you.
The fixed star in the firmament of Easter Sunday lunch is always roast lamb, and Marche shepherds are celebrated for rearing some of Italy's finest ovine meat.
While lamb here is usually eaten young, some may well enjoy the stronger flavour of castrato, older lamb slaughtered up to a year old and, as the name suggests, neutered. It's best marinated in olive oil, salt, rosemary and garlic before being grilled on embers, or roasted.
Fair squares #21
This spring's image of one of the region's piazze features the elegant yet small square at Servigliano in Fermo province, an example of 18thC Enlightenment town planning unusual in the Marche.
The annual Fritto Misto festival in Ascoli Piceno celebrates its twelfth year with another feast of fried food. The event, which includes plenty of chances to try the town's signature stuffed olives, runs for ten days from Friday 22 April to Sunday 1 May.
Fritto Misto website (in Italian).
The Borghi più belli d'Italia organization promotes the prettiest of Italy's villages with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. In Le Marche there are now 22 out of a total of 253 across the whole country.
In alphabetic order these are Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Gradara, Grottammare, Macerata Feltria, Mondavio, Mondolfo, Montecassiano, Montecosaro, Montefabbri, Montefiore dell'Aso, Montelupone, Monte Grimano Terme, Moresco, Offagna, Offida, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Servigliano, Treia and Visso.
Borghi Più Belli listings for the Marche.
Around 120 works from the private collection of the heterodox Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi are to go on show in Osimo this summer. Entitled Lotto, Artemisia, Guercino: le stanze segrete di Vittorio Sgarbi, the exhibition runs from 18 March until 30 October 2016 in the noble setting of Palazzo Campana.
Reading the onions
We've mentioned before the use of onions at Urbania, in Pesaro & Urbino province, to foretell the coming year's weather. It's a tradition said to date back to medieval times, and the knack is currently guarded by Emanuela Forlini, a local teacher who inherited the skill from her father and grandfather.
This year signora Forlini's onions suggest it'll be a wet spring, an unusually hot summer (after a cooler start though), and a very windy autumn with snow as early as November.
Emanuela Forlini explains her method in this Youtube video (in Italian but relatively easy to follow).
Furlo Gorge closure update
The spectacular Furlo Gorge in the northern Marche has been closed to motor vehicles and pedestrians for over a year in the wake of severe landslides.
Works to repair the road are reportedly almost finished and hopes are high that it will re-open before this year's summer season.
Meanwhile, it is still possible to visit the Roman tunnel and to walk some two kilometres of the gorge from the eastern end (coming from Fano, exit at Calmazzo before the modern, long tunnel). Arriving from the western end, the beautiful 11thC romanesque church of San Vincenzo and the village of Furlo is still visitable, and the strada panoramica will take you up for breathtaking views of the gorge.
Wine first in Pesaro
This year sees the very first Pesaro Wine Festival, from 17 to 18 April. The event takes place in the splendid setting of the 15thC Rocca Costanza fortress, and features leading wine makers from across Italy.
Pesaro Wine festival website (in Italian).
All must have holidays
Just a reminder that spring sees a succession of public holidays in Italy - on 25 April, 1 May and 2 June most shops and businesses are closed, although most museums, restaurants and bars will be open.
Those Guardian angels
The British newspaper The Guardian featured the Marche in its New Year's holiday "hotlist" for 2016. It listed some 40 places around the world as the top destinations for the coming year, and described the region as "Beaches and art without the crowds".
The Guardian's 2016 hotlist of holiday destinations.
There are 326 libraries in the Marche, including Giacomo Leopardi's remarkable 19th century biblioteca in Recanati.
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