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The Marches Region

There must be something special about this rolling land with its thousands of hills sloping down to the sea because [the poet] Giacomo Leopardi and the tenor Beniamino Gigli were born here and it was here that famous artists like Carlo Crivelli and Lorenzo Lotto discovered new roots and inspiration.
What is more, the Marches immediately call to mind the “lonely hill” of the Infinito and the “blue mountains” celebrated by Leopardi, the most beloved Italian poet, romantic and pessimistic, unhappy and tender. Here nature still seems the same as in his poems. Amongst mountains and hills, gorges and valleys that slope gently towards the sea, appear old imperial roads, parish churches, castles, mediaeval towns, cities still bearing witness to their Renaissance glories. Here is the impregnable Rocca di San Leo, [a stronghold] perched on a steep boulder, with its walls and round towers, keeper of the mysteries of Cagliostro; and Sassocorvaro, shaped like a ship; or the splendid fortress of Sant’Agata Feltria: rocca Fregoso. The Belforte castle also stands on a rocky ridge, connected by a bridge to a little village of 16th century houses. However it is in Pietrarubbia, the birthplace of Guido da Montefeltro, mentioned by Dante in canto XXVII of the Inferno, that the oldest castle in the area, recorded as early as the 5th century, can be found.
It was in fact the Montefeltro family, lords of Urbino, who left the remains of magnificent aristocratic residences in this region. Raphael’s birthplace is a real jewel of Renaissance art, which has remained unchanged since the time when Duke Frederick made it into one of the most refined courts in Europe, from which the leading figures of culture and arts of fifteenth-century Italy emerged and which symbolised a new concept of life: no longer a military fortress but a palace-city open to interaction with people and ideas.
The Duomo and the Duke’s palace are architectural wonders, the real treasure of Urbino, still enclosed by its 16th century walls. This masterpiece of Renaissance art, with the famous torricini [slender towers], unmistakable elements of the facade, houses the National Gallery of the Marches, the Museo Lapidario and the apartments of Duke Frederick, with works of art by Piero della Francesca, Bramante, Francesco di Giorgio and Luca Signorelli, while the fifteenth-century house of Raphael has a youthful Madonna and Child.
This is the area where you can taste the delicious noodles known as passatelli all’urbinate, the famous Quark cheese, made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, the Visner dessert wine and the light dry-cured ham known as prosciutto crudo di Carpegna. This is where, according to the legend, Zeus, in love with Danae, changed himself into a shower of gold to possess her and, as the god still desires her, he changes himself into drops of gold every year and every drop that falls to the ground turns into a truffle. And this delicious tuber, with its intense and unmistakable fragrance is the protagonist of the cuisine of The Marches.
Pesaro also has a special charm. It is the town of Gioacchino Rossini to whom an operatic event that attracts musicians and music-lovers from all over the world is dedicated: the Rossini Opera Festival. The old town centre is embellished by the Rocca Costanza [fortress], the Gothic doorways of the churches and the Duke’s Palace; the Ceramics Museum, one of the most important in Italy, is housed in the Toschi Mosca palace. This was where Paolo and Francesca fell in love: the passion that brought the unfortunate lovers to their death came to its end in the Rocca di Gradara.
By the sea lies Fano, famous for its Carnival, with the beautiful Arco di Augusto and other important monuments from Roman times; the old fishing village of Sirolo, one of the most charming on the coast; the Greek Ancona, laid out like an amphitheatre on the hills surrounding its important port. Here gastronomy centres around fish and reaches its acme in brodetto, a fish soup made from 13 varieties of fish. This latter province has many treasures to offer: from the sanctuary of Loreto to the caves of Frasassi, to the gentle green slops where the Verdicchio vines grow.
Macerata is also charming, with the Renaissance elegance of the Loggia dei Mercanti and the compact architectural balance of its old town centre, where all the buildings have decorative brickwork. There are two jewels: the large arena of the Sferisterio and the Ricci Palace, a plain and elegant eighteenth-century dwelling, with its exceptional collection of Italian twentieth-century works of art: it would really be a pity to come to this town in summer without booking a seat at the charming open-air theatre, just as it would be a shame not to taste the typical vincisgrassi [baked pasta].
However, Recanati also deserves a careful visit, not just to see Villa Collaredo, which contains masterpieces by Lorenzo Lotto, but also because we have never really forgotten [Leopardi’s] “lonely hill” and because the hills clothed with vines and olives, the thick network of roads that link the scattered houses, the gentle peaks of the Sibilline mountains can, after all, still recall [his] “unending spaces”, “unearthly silences” and “profound stillness”.

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