It trails other regions in Italy for foreign tourists – and that’s a good thing.
In 1989 Richard Dixon and Peter Greene left England to settle in the Le Marche region of central Italy with the goal of attracting English-speaking visitors to a corner of this country untrammeled by hordes of foreign tourists. They were attracted by the slow pace of life in a landscape of golden wheat fields and green vineyards stretching from the loftiest peaks of the Apennine Mountains to the sparkling beaches of the Adriatic Sea.
The Marche (pronounced MAR-kay) was so beautiful, they reasoned, others speaking their language would follow and rent their country houses, La Casetta and La Pieve if they only spread the word. And they started sending this message across the planet via their Web site Le Marche Voyager, and later in Greene’s book, Le Marche, An Insider’s Guide.
Nearly 25 years later they can claim only limited success.
And that’s a good thing.
“It’s still quiet, it still hasn’t been molded (by tourism),” said Dixon.
Added Greene, “The pace of life is much slower here. It is important to be patient.”
For those searching for charming Renaissance-era villagers, friendly and welcoming people, great wine and food and comforting pastoral countryside – in short what everyone expects from Italy – Le Marche is a wonderful outlier in the story of Italian tourism. This nation ranks No. 5 in the world tourism trade, flooded by 46.1 million visitors each year. Yet few of those tourists ever come to one of its most beautiful sections.
A Google search tells the story. Type in the name of one of Italy’s 20 regions, followed by “Italy,” then hit enter and the totals returned are undeniable.
Le Marche brings 4.95 million hits – by far the lowest of all the regions, usually by tens of millions.
Le Marche’s neighbors easily outpace it. Tuscany gets 37.9 million, Umbria 21.7 million, Emilia-Romagna 31 million and Abruzzo 18.9 million. The Trentino-Alto Adige region in the extreme northern end of the country leads with 124 million.
Figures on tourist visits collected by Le Marche officials mirror those findings – to their surprise.
Peter Kammerer, a retired University of Urbino sociology professor and German ex-pat has a simple explanation:
“Tourists are stupid and follow trends and currents.”
Those tourists are missing a lot.
The Marche is a place where one can establish a relationship with the people and nature in a short amount of time. Located on the east-central side of the peninsula and on the Adriatic Sea’s coast, its population of 1.5 million is spread over a landscape that is mostly mountains and hills.
There is a lot to do.
The most popular national park is The Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and is located in the provinces of Macerata, Fermo, Ascoli Piceno and Perugia. It is home a wide range of wildlife including the wild cat and the Marsican brown bear. The plant life is rich and features the famous for the flower edelweiss of Monti Sibillini. The park’s website provides leads to guided tours among other useful information.
The Grotte di Frasassi is a regional park that features a look into some of Europe’s most famous limestone caverns. Its website gives in-depth historical information about the caves as well as contacts for guided tours.
The Marche also has a vast variety of cuisine that is original to the region. According to Greene, official statistics claim that the marchigiani – Marche residents – eat more than any other Italians in the country. The food in the region comes from both the sea and the land, giving those who eat a large variety of food.
The website, “Marche Breaks,” gives an extensive look into other kinds of food found in the region. Brodetto, a famous fish stew on the Adriatic coast, is different in each coastal town. The stew contains red and gray mullet, cuttlefish or squid, oil, garlic and saffron while being served on either fried or toasted bread. Vincisgrassi is the famous lasagna of Le Marche and is made with ground pork, mushrooms, tomato and bèchamel sauce. The province of Pesaro is famous for its white truffles and is the biggest truffle producer in the country.
The food isn’t the only thing that Italians are soaking up here in the Marche, but also the wine. Greene’s guidebook lists the wine choices, including the region’s pride, which is Verdicchio. This white wine has a distinctive bitter finish that goes well with the seafood from the Adriatic, he said.
The reds from the region aren’t as popularly known as the whites, but are still recommended by many. One that stands out is the Rosso Conero that is made from the Montepulciano grape.
Greene and Dixon suggest the following tips for newcomers hoping to learn the secrets of their favorite part of Italy:
1. Learn as much of the language as possible
2. Travel light
3. Tipping is not expected in the Marche like in Italy’s larger tourist destinations
4. May and September are the ideal months to tour the Marche is your prefer to stay cool; if you like it hot, visit late June to mid-August
It is the little things that make the Marche region of Italy memorable, they said. It often is compared to Tuscany in terms of its cultural and artistic heritage, but it has escaped the tourists that flood that region.
Le Marche, instead, still offers a reflective way of life, reminding its visitors the importance of patience and natural beauty.
Few foreign tourists have yet to discover this. And that’s a good thing.
|Le Marche||4.95 million|
|Valle D’ Aosta||13.2 million|
|Friuli Venezia Giulia||21.6 million|
|Emilia Romagna||31 million|
|Trentino Alto Adige||124 million|