Wherever you may find yourself in the Marche, the Apennine mountains are never far away. They form the region's western border and offer some of its finest
scenery as well as providing a home for some of Italy's most fascinating wildlife. Large areas have now been designated natural parks. For contact addresses and emails check out our parks listings.
The Parco Naturale dei Monti Sibillini, in the southwest
corner, is the region's largest park, spreading over 40 km of mountain peaks and continuing westwards into Umbria. The mountains take their name from a legend
that one of the sibyls hid here in a cave on Monte Sibilla known as Grotta delle Fate (Cave of the Furies) when she was chased out of the underworld.
Monte Vettore (2476 mts), at the centre of the park, is the highest mountain in the Region. The huge rocky walls and crags in its eastern side, with such eerie
names as Pizzo del Diavolo (Devil's Beard) and Gola dell'Infernaccio (Hell's Gorge), are every bit as dramatic as the landscape of the Dolomites.
The most unusual feature of the area, however, is the vast area of upland plain called the Piano Grande to the west, and mostly in neighbouring Umbria. In May and
June, this huge expanse of treeless plateau, 1250 mts above sea level, eight kilometres long and five wide, is transformed into a carpet of wild flowers. Among the
poppies you'll find wild tulips and exotic alpine flowers such as carex buxbaumii.
The mountains which frame it are also a botanist's paradise. Alpine Edelweiss (Leontopodion nivale), martagon lily, bear berry, Apennine cinquefoil and alpine
buckthorn are just some of the species here. The park is also rich in bird life - buzzards, kestrels, sparrow hawks as well as rare sightings of golden eagle, peregrine
falcon, rock partridge, eagle owl and chough.
The Torricchio Riserva Naturale, just north of the Monte Sibillini park, is a small World Wildlife Fund reserve covering around 300 hectares (800 acres). The Val di
Tazza at its centre is a narrow gorge flanked by the wooded slopes of Monte Torricchio (1444 mts) and Monte Fema (1575 mts). The area is particularly rich in
flowers - white asphodel, orchids, cyclamen, wild strawberries - which attract many interesting species of butterfly, including the rare alcon blue (Maculinea alcon),
which some naturalists regard as a specie all of its own and which is in danger of extinction. Animals include badgers, red squirrels, wildcats and the occasional wolf.
Monte Conero, just south of Ancona provides the only
really rugged coastline in the Marche, rising spectacularly out of the sea to a height of just over 500 metres. It's position half way up the Italian peninsula has made it an
important meeting point for many species of northern and southern European maritime flora, including rarities like Bellevalia dubia, Fumana arabica and Aspodeline
liburnica. The park boasts over a thousand species of wild plants, as well as a rich bird life. And if that's not enough, the views out over the sea are breathtaking.
There is another nature reserve inland, near the Cistercian abbey of Fiastra. Here the wildlife includes
deer, beech-marten, sparrow-hawk, tawny owl, hoopoe and green woodpecker.
The Gola della Rossa-Frasassi regional park, in the area of Genga, is a series of towering limestone gorges which provide the rocky habitat for several golden eagles as
well as peregrine falcons and eagle owls. The Frasassi caves, in the heart of the area, are the longest and
among the most interesting in Italy with a 240 m high central chamber which is large enough to comfortably hold Milan cathedral.
Below the peaks of Monte Catria and Nerone, the Bosco Tecchie woodland park near Cantiano protects many species of mountain wildlife, including deer, wild boar,
porcupine, wolf, buzzard, woodpecker and honey buzzard.
The sheer limestone crags of the Furlo Gorge, to the East, are home for a family of golden eagles.
In the northern Marche, the beech woods of Pianacquadio, in the Sasso Simone and Simoncello Regional Park, protect several species of wildlife
including deer, fox, badger, beech-marten, heron and Montagu's harrier.
The Colle San Bartolo Regional Park, near Gabicce on the
Northern Marche coast, offers guided tours of areas of marshland which are the winter habitat of the herring gull, the Mediterranean gull and the cormorant.