The region of Le Marche is not as well known as Tuscany or even its close neighbor, Umbria, which has some advantages. There is a more relaxed pace here and even the popular sites are uncrowded—except for the occasional school groups in May. The food is as good as you’ll find anywhere in Italy and the prices are not as high. Even the espresso is a better deal here. Sometimes, it’s less than one euro. Also, when you go to a restaurant for dinner, you are more likely to be greeted with a complimentary Prosecco and an antipasto before you even order your food.
For this visit, we chose the small town of Cagli, not far from Urbino, as a base. We found a cosy apartment in the historic old town, which is picturesque, with narrow, cobblestone streets, quiet piazzas and little traffic. We are a few blocks from the main piazza, Piazza Matteotti, where, besides the town hall, we can find small shops, bakeries and great espresso at Caffe d’Italia.
The town has ten churches, an old watch tower, a beautifully restored theatre and a Roman bridge. In one of the churches, San Domenico, there are two frescoes by Giovani Santi, Raphael’s father. Best of all, it has several excellent restaurants and good gelato. The Le Marche region stretches from the Adriatic Sea in the east, to the Apennine Mountain range in the west. We decided to stay closer to the mountains, just south of Urbino, the capital city of Le Marche. From Cagli, we can drive scenic roads to visit the small villages and historic sites in the area. Each town has something to experience—from stone castles and abbeys to Roman ruins. This is the homeland of Raffaelo and Bramante, and many other famous Renaissance Architects, so each town has its share of beautiful palazzos and impressive town hall buildings.
Driving the two lane highways in the is area is pleasant. There’s little traffic and the roads wind through the towns and lush valleys with flowing rivers. The green hills are covered with deciduous trees and bushes. As you get lower towards the valley, the terrain turns to farmland. Grapes are grown here, but the vineyards are mostly small, family-owned parcels. Often, we see only three or four rows of old vines. We were told that the grapes from this region are not as prestigious as the ones found in Tuscany and Piemonte, so the wine isn’t as expensive, and therefore, not worth the risk of starting a major winery. There are only a few public wineries dotted throughout the countryside. We stopped at Terra Cruda near Fratte Rosa, a small town with fun ceramic shops. On a Thursday afternoon in early May, I was the only one tasting wine. I explained that my husband didn’t drink and that I just wanted to taste a few white wines and select one. Our host, Lucca spoke excellent English and proceeded to explain all of the varietals they had. He gave me generous tastings of four different white wines while he explained their origins and distinct characters. Meanwhile, he fixed up a plate of bread and olive oil to clear the palate. Then, he brought out some fresh Pecorino cheese and a truffle tapanade. I could have stayed there all afternoon drinking his delicious wines made from the bianchello grapes.
The Le Marache region is not for everyone. If you want night life and more action, you won’t find it here. During the summer, there are more feasts with Medieval reenactments and summer concerts. Often you will find free concerts in a piazza before the main events. But if you go anytime other than July and August, plan to relax, enjoy the scenery and see what Italy was like fifty years ago.