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Le Marche trip report 5-06 (long-winded)

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Driving in Italy

We picked up our rental car at Piazzale Roma, Venice, at Auto Europa on Sunday morning. Would have preferred picking up at the train station, but they are not open on Saturday afternoon when we would be returning. The office we needed was hidden away on the right side of the road, behind the tiny bus station, and we went to another agency first. We met two other couples who made the same mistake, or reversed the error.

Everything had been arranged and paid for in advance through www.gemut.com, thanks to a hint from this forum. Clerk spoke English, car was delivered as promised, no extra. charges except the road tax of 12 euros which gemut had told me to expect. They refused to take my credit card because it will expire within six months. First time I had heard of that. In case we absconded with the car and disappeared for six months, the company would not be able to collect extra charges?? Fortunately, we travel with two different cards. We checked out the car and it had no obvious dents. Asked about fuel and learned it took diesel. (ALWAYS check the car and ask about fuel.)

The car was a Fiat Punta, manual drive with A/C and Gemut’s rate was $314 (not Euros) for a week (including necessary insurance) which beat everything I compared it to. The best part of renting through Gemut is that you can cancel at any time. If the rates go down, you can cancel and rebook at the lower rate. I had asked if the class of car we were getting was adequate for the mountains we would drive over and they said it was but it was pretty sluggish on steep roads. My husband does all the driving, because I left my stick shift skills behind when I was 18 and my family got their first automatic shift car. My husband, on the other hand, revels in all that pushing and wrestling of gears, and particularly loves mountain roads, a must if you are driving in Le Marche.

He read up on Italian road signs and important vocabulary covered in the Rick Steves phrase book, and a terrific short guide to Driving in Italy and Southern Europe that I found on this forum. (sorry, don’t have the exact url)

We had printed out Michelin route directions (www.viamichelin.com)to get us to our first Le Marche destination. I decided to save the money and see more of the countryside by asking for a non-toll road version. This version took us through edges of cities, but since it was Sunday, the traffic was negligible. Off the main roads, potholes prevail. We had been warned to follow signs indicating cities ahead on the route rather than route numbers, and it is true that you often don’t see route numbers for hours. The Michelin route, while very accurate, sometimes gave a different set of place names as guides than were shown on the signs and a couple of times we briefly got off track. It takes constant attention when you are not familiar with an area. We also had the excellent map of Le Marche printed by the Touring Club Italiano. Free from www.le-marche.com or from the Italian Tourism Agency. I did not take a road map of all Italy, so for short portions we were off the map, and I wish I had taken a road map of the entire country as well as the regional map.
Sunday: Getting There, Wherever ‘There’ Is

The route took us through San Marino, a very scenic route. We were ready for lunch by the time we arrived at the lower town and stopped in the first restaurant we saw, which turned out to be a very good piece of luck. Although Hostaria Lina was called a Pizzeria and Ristorante, they were not serving pizza. There were large families there, some celebrating children’s birthdays. Obviously a local favorite. They have rooms to rent on the upper floor and an enoteca in the basement. The décor is rustic in the warren of rooms and the menu extensive.

We shared the “priest strangler” gnocchi with four cheeses and raviola with asparagus. My husband also had minestrone. All the dishes were very good. (E21.00)

You will notice that we seem never to order all the courses available, and therefore our meal costs are fairly low. D.H. does not drink and I sometimes had one glass of wine. Even so, having been to Rome, Florence and Venice, we were amazed at how economical Le Marche was.

We did not want to arrive after dark at our first hotel, so opted not to explore the castle part of San Marino, and since it was Sunday we could not buy stamps and mail postcards, one of the major activities of visitors. But we had another country to check off our list, and a trivia question for our friends. We never left the outer boundaries of Italy, but visited three countries. What are the other two?

Now we were in Le Marche and excited to see the electric green hills and the fortified villages off in every direction. I was amazed that Michelin provided guidance right to the tiny village of Caprazzino-Strada, the mailing address of our hotel, Le Torricelle. From there, we followed the directions sent to us by Le Torricelle (www.letorricelle.com) for the road between Lunano and Sassocorvaro that leads up (and up and up) to their agritourism retreat. I had booked directly by e-mail and paid half the cost through PayPal. When we left, they said we could just wait and pay through Pay Pal when we got home if we would rather. Total cost was E 195 plus E12 for breakfasts.

The road is paved (sort of) but very narrow and leads past several quaint places that COULD have been an agritourism. After several, “Is that it?” pauses, we came to the top of a hill with all the world seeming to stretch beneath it, and saw the mosaic symbol from the web site, placed discreetly on the side of a small building. We parked and Suzanne came down the grassy slope from the house to meet us. When we asked about the lack of a sign, she said that in high season, people drive around the countryside looking for a place to stay and if they had a sign, too many people would bother them, so they have no sign—just directions for their guests. Hmmm? Was I supposed to have a secret password, too?

Le Torricelle more than lives up to the quaint and quirky beauty shown on the web site. One of the things that attracted me here was the fact that rather than a bombardment of facts, the site starts with a poem. Since there were no other guests, we were upgraded from the small one bedroom apartment to a two-story, three-bedroom. We had a kitchen, a few steps up from the ground level. Everything here is hilly, so ground level varies from building to building. Up a staircase was a living room with fireplace and windows with great views, our spacious bedroom and bath had wonderful views, also. The two extra bedrooms were closed since we did not need them.

Five people live here permanently. They all came from Bavaria. They spent nine years rebuilding the crumbling old stone farmhouses. The rentals consist of the small apartment, the apartment we were in, and a house that could hold up to ten people. Suzanne says they frequently have families with small children.

Since this place is on top of a hill, you can’t just walk off to town for dinner, but the towns are five minutes away by car. Suzanne recommended La Gatta on the edge of Lunano. No web site. For such a small town, this is a beautiful and sophisticated restaurant. The restaurant is an old farm house with stone walls and vaulted ceilings and fireplaces. A little flower branch lay beside a candle on each table. Dried flowers and copper pots hung from the ceiling. We enjoyed the best pizzas of our trip, and would have loved to go back for another meal, but unfortunately they are only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I had a glass of Rosso Picino, a good Le Marche wine, and a pizza with two cheeses and spinach. DH had tomato sauce on his vegetarian pizza topped with eggplant, zucchini, and raw salad greens. We shared a huge salad. (E 23.50)

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    MONDAY: We Miss a Mountain and a Museum but Find a Torture Chamber

    In the morning, we made ourselves some tea and walked around in the dew-covered grass enjoying the distant hills, their edges softened by morning mist. We had arranged to have breakfast in the dining room, which costs an extra four euros for two. Suzanne expressed surprise, asking, “You know what an Italian breakfast is?” We went expecting only coffee, or in our case tea, and a roll. However, we were delighted to find home made bread accompanied by homemade honey and three jams made from locally grown fruit. Additionally, Suzanne was busy in the industrial sized kitchen downstairs from the dining room whipping up some lovely crepes.

    Suzanne had suggested that since the Urbino museums close on Monday, we start by going to San Leo, which is open on Monday. She pointed out some other stops to us, and we followed her suggestion. Stopping in Lunano to pick up some bottled water, we set out to explore mountain towns. Lunano is a modern town compared to all the medieval villages, but like nearly every town we were in, the streets are immaculate.

    We drove toward Carpegna and detoured to see the small stone village of Fronteno. Like all the hill towns we will see, this one is spotlessly clean and neat and well preserved. We see a man pushing a bin and sweeping the streets. Pots of red geraniums glow against gray stone walls. People live and own shops in the narrow streets surrounded by a huge wall. One of the challenges in Le Marche is sticking to one’s objective. Tempting villages lure you off your planned path and days could go by before you get thirty miles down the road.

    The views from Carpegna are stunning and we attempt to drive up to Monte Carpegna, the highest peak around, but are not sure of the road, and decide to go on to San Leo. Carpegna is a mountain resort town, full of hotels. The road to San Leo entails driving a very curvy road up and a long winding road down past villages, farm houses, walled towns in the valley and on hills opposite our road. You have to enjoy mountain driving to make this trip. Fortunately, my husband dotes on all that down shifting and whipping around sharp curves.

    The next town that grabs our attention is Pennabilla. Two rock spires, Penna and Billa, hold fortresses, with a village between. I need to find a toilette and we search for a museum, but after walking through the streets of the old town, curving around the top of one of the hills, we have spotted paintings on outside of houses, scaffolding-covered castle and an 18th century Theatro Vittoria, but the Museo Diocesano is closed. We wander back down to the main plaza and stop at Caffe Della Nina for chocolate. This is the thick pudding-like chocolate we first experienced in Spain. The bar man shows us a rack from which we choose our flavor. I never knew there were so many varieties of chocolate. MMMMM, we chose orange-cinnamon and an almond flavor that actually had slivers of almond. We sat at outside tables in the sun just off the central plaza beside the Renaissance church, Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie.

    Driving across a long valley, we see San Leo castle which seems to grow out of the rock cliff that rises unexpectedly from green fields. The Romans called the pinnacle Mons Feretrius, Jove’s lightening. From the Roman name came Montefeltro, the name of the 12th century town and the name inherited by the famous Duke Ferdinand of Montefeltro. From the San Leo castle, you can scan the countryside of Montefeltro.

    It is irresistible to point out that this castle on the rocks was designed by a man named Martini. Francesco di Giorgio Martini held the contract for castle construction in these parts, a talented provider of bastions, Martini was a close partner of Ferdinand as he built his Renaissance kingdom in this area. In the 15th century, Martini’s San Leo replaced an earlier fortification.

    The bridge that leads to San Leo provides a cheerful contrast of multi-colored pansies lining the railings of the bridge beneath the austere rock. In the late 18th century, the Papal state took over and used the castle as a prison. From that time come the ingenious instruments of torture on display in a room of the castle. Also of grizzly interest, the cell of Cagliostro, an 18th century con man who swindled a high class of clients, including Catherine the Great and Marie Antoinette and made love potions. The church finally had enough and locked him in a pit cell where his evil eye could not damage his guards. In the bare, stone room where he spent the first part of his imprisonment, bunches of fresh flowers have been left by present-day admirers.

    After our tour of the castle, we wandered down to the main plaza where we found the Osteria La Corte di Berengario II on a side street. We sat at an outdoor table with a group of touring motorcyclists. I tried the grilled beef and crostini that came with four toppings—artichoke pure, mushroom pate, liver pate and chopped tomatoes. D.H. had pasta fagioli. Through confusion, I ordered a full liter instead a half liter of house wine. It was a very young red. The food was okay, but ordinary. (E25.90)

    On our way back to Le Torricelle, we stopped at Sassocorvaro, another 15th-century castle town. Martini also designed this fat-towered, round castle, very different than San Leo’s austere outline. Sassocorvaro sits on a bluff over a bend in a river. Everything curves, as if to echo all those ‘s’s’ in the name. When we walked up to the castle, we saw a young man in a room to the right doing restoration work on paintings. He stopped work and sold us tickets, then led us on a private tour. The castle holds copies of dozens of great paintings that were hidden here for safekeeping during World War II. In the midst of this make-believe art gallery, we found the beautifully preserved 18th century theater. Pastel curlicues and delicate paintings of flower baskets adorn the pink and lavender walls. The ceiling swarms with cherubs carrying musical instruments. About 80 seats on the floor and other seating in the horseshoe –shaped balcony. The theater is still used for traveling music shows.

    Sometimes when we travel, we take a night off from eating dinner. We had been eating too well and just snacked on cheese and protein bars when we returned to Le Torricelle.

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    TUESDAY, the Day we Lose our Car, a Gorge, and a Castle

    Today our objective is Urbino, and we start out on the road through Casinina. Some festival is going on, about to go on, or just past. Blue and white frames hang across the street with small light bulbs, like Christmas decorations. Lighted images of the Virgin and a kind of shield hang everywhere. Flowers and blue and white streamers decorate people’s fences, houses, shrubbery.

    We see a lone tower standing on the top of a hill.

    We bypass Scheiti, with its pretty church and old houses. We pass a scenic picnic spot with tables a couple kilometers outside of Scheiti.

    Urbino is a REAL medieval town. Most of the town is within the walls, so you must park outside and walk in. Only residents and business people may drive in. We parked along the sidewalk at a place marked one hour parking. Although we saw a parking lot near the entrance gate, we could not find a place there.

    We went into a bar and bought a pastry and used their toilette. Then we walked through an archway and downhill on a cobblestone street. We passed University buildings and signs advertising student apartments. The university here was founded in the fifteenth century and now has 22,000 students. We followed the signs to the Palazzo Ducale, passing by where Raphael lived as a child and soon saw the enormous very white Cathedral with the Diocesan Museum next door. At the next building, the Palazzo Ducale, we told the ticket seller we were seniors and she checked my husband’s I.D. but believed me. Seniors got in free. She has just graduated in world literature and is going to Knoxville, Tennessee to teach for 6 months. Although she had visited Washington D.C. one time, she said, “I think Tennessee is very different.” She was eager to hear what we knew of Tenn.

    The palace has three floors around a large courtyard. The ground floor holds the Duke’s library, an archaeological museum, offices, storage, lecture hall. Underground are a couple of things we did not see. We started with the Duke’s library on the ground floor with some beautiful illustrated manuscripts. His library was one of the biggest in Italy and the Vatican now has the books.

    On the first floor (European style) were the quarters of the Duke of Montefeltro, who liked to have his portrait painted frequently, although he was fiercely ugly. The palace is impressive, and holds the regional museum of art. We had to pick our way around crowds of touring school children. A fascinating small room featured designs worked in wood. The top floor switches to 19th century and the del Roveres, the successors to the Montefeltro family. Going back to the ground floor, we went through the archaeological exhibit, a collection of ancient Roman and Greek carvings that I found fascinating.

    When we emerged, we saw the young woman who was headed for Knoxville and asked her how serious the city is about their one-hour limits on parking. She looked concerned and told us we should move the car. We walked straight up the street from the Palazzo. The street seemed steeper than we remembered coming down. When we got through the stone gate at the top we saw no bar and no car. We walked to the left until the walls went sharply down and we could not walk along outside them any longer. We saw nothing familiar. Two Italian men looked at the map in our book on Urbino and vaguely pointed out where we were. (Note: These maps of hill towns should include topography. Seeing streets laid out on a flat surface is very misleading. The Italian Touring Club map did show major Le Marche towns with topo lines, but of course it was in the car.)

    We turned around and went back in the way we had come out—down the steep street. Halfway we saw a sign pointing to the Palazzo and realized that we had turned going in instead of walking in a straight line. Looking up a side street, I saw a familiar university building and the Cinema sign I had noticed coming in. We got on Via Raphael and climbed up and out to find our car.

    By this time, we were very hungry and we drove around to the Mercantile, which is actually the main entrance to the walled city. We parked and walked back inside the walls for lunch. We by-passed a couple of pizza places and went into La Fornarina, which turned out to be kind of a businessman’s restaurant. It was quite busy and served traditional foods. We enjoyed our meal, but unfortunately, I did not keep notes on this one. (E29.50)

    D.H. was tired of walking and went back to the car to wait while I sought the town theater and the Jewish quarter. According to the map, they were very close to the gate. However, it turned out they were steeply uphill and I gave up part way, but did get some nice pictures of the neighborhood just inside the main gate.

    From Urbino, we went on a search for the Furlo Gorge. The guides we had started on the coast at Fano and proceeded inland on the old Roman road, but we were coming at it from the West instead of from the East. We knew we needed to avoid the autostrada, No. 3, which runs from Fano to Rome. Instead, we wanted the Via Flaminia, the old Roman Road.

    We drove in circles around Calamazzo where a large sign proclaimed (marble) gigante and we peeked into a small gorge lined with marble walls and a stream at the bottom. Our only good look at it was as we crossed a bridge. The road that looked like the one on the map following the side of the river dead ended in a marble quarry. At this point we were thinking, “Is that all there is?” We went back to circle around Fossombrone again, until we got far enough east to get on the #3, after an illegal turn. We hoped we could turn off of the #3 onto the old Roman Road. Our trial at Fossombrone was enhanced by a stop at a filling station where the exasperated attendant lectured us in Italian. Pointing to his clock and my credit card, he seemed to be saying they did not take credit cards after 4:00 p.m. I wanted to try the self-serve, but D.H. was fed up and drove on. Down the road we pulled into another station where another non-English speaker cheerfully filled up our car for us.

    Finally, heading in the direction of far away Rome on Rt. 3, we spotted a sign for Furlo Gola (Gorge). This time it worked. The dramatic towering walls of the narrow gorge were worth the strife. Rock walls soar, enclosing a narrow canyon. We were now on the Roman road and came to a stop light which signaled the approach to the narrow Roman tunnel. Even our little Fiat apparently was wider than a Roman chariot, so traffic into the town of Furlo is through a one-way tunnel.

    Once through the most dramatic part, we stopped in the leafy town of Furlo at a café with a bunch of men and women, obviously locals, who were chatting at outdoor tables, halfway out in the road. We went inside and got orange soda and the local treat, creschi. We could have had it with cheese or meat on top, but tried it plain. To us southwesterners, it resembled Indian fry bread, except it is crisper, like Italian pizza crust.

    If we had wanted to stay longer, we could have taken the Strada Panoramica to see the views. It leads into park land with campgrounds and trails, shown on a map at the parking lot in Furlo.

    Instead of tarrying, we went on west to Acqualunga, which has a small fortress also and then NW to Urbania. A modern, ordinary town surrounds a small historic center and a picturesque castle. We followed the signs to “historico centro” until they disappeared. We drove down narrow streets of the old town to a spot overlooking the river and parked there. Walking down the street, we could see the castle across a bend in the river so we went back to the car and tried to drive across to the castle. We made several trips through the town, but never did see a sign indicating how to get to the castle. Later our hostess at Le Torricelle looked surprised and said, “You just have to ask people.” Well, we didn’t.

    really see many people on the street and also never saw the tourism office. Felt dumb, but it was not the first time.

    From Urbania we went west to San Angelo in Vado, which has a very impressive old center. We did not get out to wander around, as it was getting late and we needed to get back to the hotel for our specially arranged dinner, but it looked like a wonderful town to explore. Although there is a new road which tunnels through the mountains toward Lunano, we totally forgot we had been told about that road, and took the winding, mountainous road north to Piandemeleto. No regrets, although D.H.’s arm gets sore from all the down shifting. The views back on San Angelo in Vado were wonderful and we oohed and aahed over the countryside. Some sharp curves and no guard rails, so it is not a road for the timid, but we loved it.

    Back in Le Torricelle, we had time for a nap before our 7:30 dinner. Suzanne prepared gnocchi with sage butter (sage was in season). Gnocchi with gorgonzola and red cabbage. (Probably the best taste on the whole trip). This dish has onions, but she served them separately since I can’t eat them. The dish was heavenly. The third dish was homemade pasta with fresh asparagus and small tomatoes from their garden in a creamy sauce. We had both white and red wines of the region, after dinner drinks and dessert. The charge was E 24 for both of us.

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    Wonderful trip report about an area less traveled.

    <Later our hostess at Le Torricelle looked surprised and said, “You just have to ask people.” Well, we didn’t.>

    This reminds me of a comment from my Spanish teacher -- who grew up in Mexico. She said that if a stranger came into their town looking for an address, people would expect him or her to ask for directions -- they would think it odd or stand-offish if the person DIDN'T ask.





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    Wednesday: From North to South via Assisi where We Make Another Mistake

    We leave Le Torricelle to head to the southern part of Le Marche, by way of Assisi. So many people had told us they loved Assisi, we added this detour.

    Over mountains and down into the Region of Umbria. The valley we are seeing as we descend the mountain is more heavily populated than Le Marche. A very long, broad valley.

    In Assisi, we lucked out and were able to park in the highest parking lot, closest to the Basilica. We walked up to the grand basilica, much too grand for our image of St. Francis, and enjoyed seeing the overwhelming amount of religious art. We were amused by the guards who periodically picked up bullhorns and loudly said, “Silencio,” followed by “Silence.” I did feel sorry for people who came to meditate and pray in the midst of throngs of chattering tourists. We went down to the shrine where St. Francis is interred under the main church, and then out to the small museum which has some beautiful things in a former convent.

    Then we made a mistake. Instead of climbing the steps to the upper church, I decided that we would just walk back into the town. Before we had to get back on the road, I wanted to see the Temple of Minerva. We walked and walked uphill and uphill, until D.H. said “No more.” He opted to go back to a café and wait for me. I soon realized that I should have gone to the upper church, because then I would not have had such a steep climb. I gave up before reaching Minerva, rejoined him and we stumbled into the nearest restaurant, thinking it was probably not a good choice since it was near the gate where most people enter the Basilica. However, it turned out to be part of a hotel, and not bad. Albergo Ristorante Bar Minerva. Do not have notes on exactly what we ate, but the bill was E 27.

    Since I missed the Temple of Minerva and the other churches, I wanted to at least see St. Damian, the simple church where St. Francis spent a lot of time. I had read about its peaceful setting in an olive grove. We drove there (just outside the walled town) and had to wait twenty minutes until it re-opened after the mid-day break. It was charming, humble, quiet, small, peaceful—everything the Basilica is not. We left Assisi feeling glad we had come but knowing that we had missed a lot of it.

    We followed our Michelin route to Macerata and beyond to Villa Potenza. From there, we tried to follow the directions on the Le Case web site, but got very confused and wound up calling them before we could get to the hotel. www.ristorantelecase.it
    This place started as a restaurant out in the country in southern Le Marche. They added hotel rooms in some of the 15th century stone farm buildings, then added an indoor swimming pool and spa and last year added a second restaurant, Enoteca. We would rate Enoteca as a destination restaurant—one you would travel from far away to eat at.

    Although it is set in the middle of fields and trees, there is nothing rustic about Le Case. It could not be more different from Le Torricelle. Classical 18th century décor, classy service, even wine body treatments and chocolate facials in the spa. The rooms go for E 125, expensive for a Le Marche agritourisme but not for what you get here.

    Because we had had a long day, we opted to eat at the Le Case Ristorante, even though they do not start serving until 8:00 p.m. and my D.H. still does not like to eat later than seven. It was worth the wait. I had been eagerly awaiting the deep-fried stuffed olives of the region and they were served with cubes of a fried sweet cheese. I also sampled the local verdicchio white wine, which has a slight bitter after taste and holds its own against the olives. D.H. had minestrone and “blue fish” and I had cresci with pan-fried vegetables and veal.It was all wonderful. The dinner cost E 45.

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    THURSDAY: A Visit to Accordion Town and a Memorable Dinner

    A lavish breakfast is included with the room price at Le Case. The breakfast room is below the lobby and decorated with some lovely paintings. Locally grown and home made are the key words here. Fig tart, lemon tart, acacia marmalade, honey, kiwi/berry jam, heavy wheat bread, fresh fruits, etc.

    We recently visited Cajun country in Louisiana, and learned about their link to an Italian town that makes accordions. We set out for Castelfidardo, the accordion capitol, and drove through some pretty towns on the way. Mercello sul Mutauro has some pretty stone buildings, very rustic with a large church. Lamoli is a medieval village. The road heads straight for the village clock tower then curves left and leaves town. The drive is very scenic through Montecasiani, a walled city that looks very prosperous. The next castle town, 10 km. away (they come fast and furious around here) is Montefano. We stop for gas at an API but they do not have diesel fuel. A little way up the road (filling stations are frequent) we stop at Tamoil. An older woman came out and pumped the gas (E 1.218 per liter). My husband gestured that he would like to wash the windows, but she shoos him away and goes to get a bucket and washes front and back. In Montefano we see older homes, but streets totally clean and free of any debris.

    Swinging by Ossimo on its steep hill, we went to Castelfidardo, where we drove past the considerable modern part of town uphill to the old walled town. On the town hall plaza, we stop in the tourist office and got a map and a list of accordion makers and information on their accordion festival. In this town (and a few neighboring places) 85% of the accordions in the world are made. The tourist office is on one side of the 18th century city hall and a few steps down on the other side, the Museo Fisharmonica commemorates the town’s main industry.

    We drove downhill and stopped at a manufacturer. After learning that four bombs hit his factory, I asked one of the owner to tell me a little about what happened during WW II and he started with the Battle of Castelfidardo in 1860! The people of this town are extremely proud of the fact that a decisive battle in Italy’s unification was fought here. “Have you seen our memorial statue? Here the Piedmontese troops defeated the Pope,” he explained. Then he led me over to the window and gestured to the hilltop town of Recananti in the distance. “The Americans, Polish and English were in Recananti. The Germans were here. When the Americans came down the valley, the Germans fired on them, and the Americans bombed Castelfidardo.” In the forties, the industrial buildings did not exist. The Americans were marching through a valley of farms.

    “How long was the battle?” I asked. “Four days.”

    “Ah, only four days.” He looked at me strangely and shook his head.

    Then he taught me the Italian word for “enough.” “Abbastanza,” he said with a mixture of sadness and despair.

    Then I asked him for a recommendation for a restaurant and he walked me outside to the next street and pointed down to a corner with two good restaurants. We ate at Osteria Mattarelli. We had a dish called chicche della nonna ai fromaggio (grandma’s gnocchi), ravioli al ragu, insalata verde and more of those heavenly olives ascolane. I lost the receipt, but it was very inexpensive.

    A beautiful town park stretches along the outside of the walls on the eastern edge of town with a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside. The scent of acacias fills the air and the sound of bulldozers drowns out the bees. As in many towns, repair and rebuilding of old walls continues. As we drove out of town, we realized that there are a lot of new buildings within the old walls, some attached to those walls, probably replacing buildings destroyed in WWII.

    That evening we tried the other restaurant at Le Case, the Enoteca, which takes traditional recipes and modernizes them. While Le Restaurante Le Case is very good, Enoteca is an EXPERIENCE. We were served a complimentary prosecco and a plate of five different small appetizers—amuse bouche—two bites each. A fried, battered cherry tomato with a blackberry on top, a fried cheese ball, pizza sticks and a tiny vegetable club sandwich. I ordered guazzetto di pesce, because it is one of the well known dishes of this region. DH, who was not very hungry, went for another traditional dish, crescia with greens. I asked for a suggestion on wine and the waiter gave me a local white, Fra Moriale, produced by Cimarelli Fonte della luna from Staffolo, Ancona, another verdiccio with less bitterness than the one from the previous evening. This link talks about it and the rosa piceno I had earlier. www.licata.be/leveranciers/meerinfo/cimarelliUK.htm
    Although I only intended to have one glass it was so good that I asked him to leave the bottle. The waiter told us we needed to order our desert because it takes 20-30 minutes to prepare. Every one is custom made.

    Well, I’ll never know what the traditional fish stew is like but I would gladly have this one again. Mussels, blue fish, octopus, cuttlefish and a heavenly langostine gathered on a plate on a small puddle of rich sauce. Instead of the traditional crescia, the Enoteca version came with frozen cream, small tomatoes and fresh greens. DH ‘s dessert was called Sacher Torte, but bore no resemblance to the Viennese cake. Instead, he got a rich, warm chocolate pudding surrounded by cake with green tea ice cream on the side, embellished with “spaghetti” made of gelatin (I think). My “pera cotta, crema of caramello, yogurt, granita di vaniglia e cannella” was a little tower of pear and yogurt with leaves of coconut and a slice of dried pear on top.

    We thought we were through eating, when a complimentary final tray was served. Six kinds of chocolate—two tiny bites of each included coffee ice cream covering of chocolate, a chocolate-mint, a milk chocolate, an orange chocolate truffle and a coconut chocolate. Heaven. And just under E 60.

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    Thanks for the comments. I know there is not much on Le Marche on these boards, and it is a wonderful place to visit. We were amazed at how LITTLE we saw of the region in a total of six days. Of course, part of that was because we kept getting lost and backtracking.;-)
    Although we had no intention of going back again, we are certainly very tempted.
    One more full day to go, and then a little about our drive back to Venice.
    Vera

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    I enjoyed reading your trip, Vera. I was in Le Marche last October and had many of the same adventures you did.

    In a strange twise of luck, yy husband got slightly carsick watching the map for me while I was zipping around all those curvy mountain roads in Montefeltro, and when we neared Sant'Angelo in Vado, he asked if we could just get out of the car and walk around a bit. At first we thought the town was deserted, and then we saw everybody all seemed to be crowded into a single piazza. It turned out we had arrived on the Feast Day of Sant'Angelo, the day when his statue is taken from the duomo and marched all through the town, followed by all the town children dressed up in angel costumes. (Sant'Angelo is the Archanngel Michael.) It was so cute! And the centro storico of the town is fantastically antique and well-preserved.

    The road to the Gola di Furlo was temporarily shut when I was there and, worse, I blew a tire right outside Fossombrone, and it may have been the same gas station that put on the spare for me and sent me off to Acqualangna in hopes I could buy a replacement. I spent 3 hours in the repair shop there, having a hilarious time with the Italian family that owned it, so I never got to see the castle either. (Acqualagna is most famous for its truffles, however, which only appear in October.)

    I enjoyed San Leo, ate the most fabulous food in the vicinity of Urbino and I hope your next installment takes us in the countryside near Gubbio or Ascoli Piceno. I never got the coast of Le Marche, but I do hope to go back to that region of Italy. It's full of interest.

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    nessundorma:
    fun to compare notes. Sorry you didn't get through the Furlo Gorge, it is gorge-ous.
    When I finally get that last installment posted it will be some small towns between Macerata and the coast. We "tasted" the coast, but did not care for it. Didn't get to Ascoli Piceno, which I regret, but we needed to slow down a bit on our last full day.
    Vera

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    FRIDAY: Theaters in Old Towns
    We had planned to go to Ascolo Piceno because it is known as the 2nd most beautiful city in Le Marche (after Urbino). But DH was getting tired of driving, so we passed on the opportunity to see the southern mountains and the city of A.P. and focused instead on tracking down some theaters.

    First we went to Recanati which we had seen in the distance on our trip to Castelfidardo.Yesterday we had stopped for a drink just outside the walls, and thought it would be a good city to explore. The road from Villa Potenza goes through an industrial area that stretches along the Potenza River Valley. Ruins of a Roman theater stand just outside Villa Potenza, but it did not appear to be open to visitors, so we never stopped there. Downstream there is the hill town of Potenza Picina and on the coast Porta Potenza. On Thursday, we had tried to find some Roman ruins near Porta Potenza, but never found them.

    Recananti stretches across the top of a long narrow hill and at one time actually held three separate fiefdoms. They united and held a formidable position. Today the town is lovely and sophisticated. Besides the normal flower shops and bakeries on the narrow back streets, we saw fashion stores and people carrying bags from shops like Benetton. About 20,000 people live in Recananti, which no doubt includes the area outside the walls.


    We parked on the Leopardi Plaza across from the town hall, in front of a geletaria. Leopardi is the town’s pride and joy, a famous Italian poet. His statue, looking pale and wan, stands in the center of the main plaza. His dad had big bucks, donating a library, starting a school and the town theater. We walked into a room in the town hall that held contemporary paintings and a woman nicely shooed us out, talking entirely in Italian. She asked if we were looking for the pinoteca and gave us some directions. Then she pointed in the opposite direction and said the Palazzo (home of the famous poet Leopardi) stood down that way. I actually understood what she was saying to us, to my amazement.
    We walked past the poet’s likeness, admired the gigantic clock tower, and followed the directions until we found the Civic Museum (pinoteca). The man at the desk did not speak English and had no English guidebooks. After he walked away, we noticed audio guides with a sign that said they were in English but we did not bother. The man did give us a brochure of museums in Le Marche and a good map of Recananti.

    The museum holds many religious paintings--surprise, surprise—heavy on Lorenzo Lotto, a local boy who painted startled figures in bright colors. A few rooms were dedicated to archaeological finds. Patton’s forces took this hill in WW II, but its history goes back to prehistoric man, and the Romans who had villas here.

    The museum building was an 18th century palazzo and ceilings were beautifully painted. Some rooms contained period furniture.

    We walked back to the car, nervous when we saw a “meter maid” although we had not seen any no parking signs. Whoops, we had a ticket. As near as we could make out, it was asking us to mail 35 euros within 15 days. Since we could not figure out any other possibility, we decided to at least temporarily ignore it, moved the car a block to a place with a box where you pay for parking and get a ticket to leave in the car.

    I had read about the plethora of refurbished 18th century theaters in Le Marche, and since I had majored in theater in college, I was very interested. We saw the sign for the Recananti Theater a few doors away, and went over to take a look. They had a sign out front with a very impressive list of shows that were coming to the theater (including the English director Peter Brooks). We lucked out, and the manager, a young lady who spoke very good English, was in the box office and agreed to take us inside to see the theater. I took loads of pictures of the charming, baroque theater with its towering five rows of boxes surrounding the 400-seat theater. She gave us the names of some other theaters in nearby towns, and that determined our itinerary for the rest of the day.

    Near where we had parked the car there was a small park with a lovely view out from the city walls, and below the level of the park, at the city wall, a pizza restaurant. We wanted a table with a view and went inside only to be told that there were no tables. The waiter tried to seat us in an even lower room with absolutely no view, but I protested that I wanted a “vista.” He shrugged—not falling all over himself to be helpful. We asked if we could eat outside. There was a patio but the tables were not fixed up. He said yes and we stood around and waited until he finally came out and set up a table and opened an awning overhead. They had no pizza. (What’s with all these restaurants called pizzerias that don’t have pizza?) We had a mediocre meal with a fabulous view. I specifically asked for no salt on my salad, and the waiter understood me, but the salad came loaded with salt. I had read that some people thought Italian food was too salty. The only thing I found too salty was the salad. Several times we watched waiters dress a salad with olive oil and then pour on the salt.

    By the time we left, the whole patio was full of diners. We had saved room for gelato from the gelateria where we got the parking ticket. Had three flavors each of delicious gelato. By then it was too late to visit the Palazzo home of the famous poet, so we drove out of town in search of other theaters.

    Everything was closed for siesta time when we arrived at Potenza Piceno and the streets were quiet. After the enormous Recanati, this seemed like a miniature town and the theater is also a miniature. We heard singing coming from the open door of the Teatro Bruno Mugellini. A group of school children were rehearsing a musical. I could not take pictures, but I snuck into the theater and took copious notes. There were only 53 seats plus three rows of boxes surrounding the nearly round auditorium. There were lovely ceiling paintings and raised figures in classical style decorating every surface of wall in the auditorium. This hill town seems to have fewer medieval and more 17th century buildings. From here, we drove on to the nearby Montelupone, finding it eventually.

    Faded, hand-painted signs indicated a detour to Macerata (the direction we wanted to go). We followed the signs out of town and drove through some beautiful countryside. Until—Oh NO—is that the Adriatic? We were going east instead of west. Well, the view from a high ridge of farmland toward the sea was stunning, and we would never have seen it had we not gotten lost. We had to turn around and go back to Potenza Piceno where we saw different hand-painted signs to Macerata and got on the right track. Montelupone’s signs say (in Italian) “One of the most beautiful towns in Italy.” That’s quite a boast in Le Marche, where every town seems more beautiful than the one before, but it is indeed a spic and span medieval town. When we saw the towering walls and the fancy gate and narrow roadway on the other side, we thought we should park outside the walls and walk in. However, when we started in, adventurous husband decided he could drive these streets just fine, so he went back and got the car and picked me up. We were able to park a couple of blocks from the main square. The smaller the town, the easier the parking.

    Here our theater luck ended. The theater and its box office were closed. We sat outside at the Teatro Café next door and DH sipped a tonic and I sipped a limoncello while we waited hopefully, but nobody came to open the theater.

    We wandered through the streets a bit and enjoyed the 14th century buildings. Much scaffolding where repairs are being made to the old buildings.

    From Montelupone we easily found our way back the now-familiar roads to Le Case. After two nights of wonderful meals at their restaurants, we were a little embarrassed to ask, but we really wanted a good pizza. The woman at the desk consulted with the young man who had been our server at Enoteca and they went through the yellow pages, pondered and pondered and finally recommended Vesuvio, just a short distance down the road. After a short rest, we were back on the same road and easily found Il Vesuvio which is on the main drag that leads to Recananti. Two people were picking up pizza to go, but the restaurant was empty. (We were unfashionably early as usual—7:30 on a Friday night). The owner spoke NO English, but we had more conversation with him than we had had with anybody in Italy. He asked us where we had been, how we liked Italy, and insisted that since we had been in central and northern Italy, we must go to Southern Italy which is bellissimo. Given the name of his place, Vesuvio, he probably is from around Naples.

    He made custom-made pizzas for us, diverting from what was on the menu. The crust was buttery and delicious. I said it was like creschia, but he replied that it was not as heavy on the stomach. You can imagine all the charades that he was using to express this! Using my phrase book, I tried to say that we would go to the “sud” later. He corrected my choice of words to “prossimo”—next time. When we left he said “Arrivederci prossimo,” and we were very moved.

    Back to pack and get a good night's sleep. We had brought a 22” roll-on and a 24” roll-on, a carry on that fits on one of the roll-ons, and I had a fairly large shoulder bag. We also brought a cloth bag with a zipper top that DH could carry stuff he wanted to get to quickly on the airplane. And we packed a collapsible bag in the outer pocket of one of the suitcases. We used them all coming home, but not packed tightly.

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    SATURDAY: Final thoughts and Arrivederci Prossimo

    We had breakfast in the hotel’s breakfast room and left before anyone showed up at the front desk. (We had taken care of the bill, don’t worry.) They did not seem to come around until after 9:00 a.m. I left them a thank you note, and we drove out the cypress-lined drive and headed back the road past Recananti to the coast to pick up the A-14 toll road north.

    We had seen enough of the coast with its cheek-by-jowl condos to know that we would not enjoy a vacation there. The freeway is high enough that you can see the Adriatic in many places. We stopped at Ravenna for a break. DH was impatient to get on to Venice, but I talked him into driving into the old part of the city. We parked outside the gates and walked in. Had not seen so many bicycles any place else in Italy. Here everyone seemed to be riding bikes. We walked in to a square where there was a flea market beneath old archways, and sat at a sidewalk café and watched people. He drank chocolate and I drank water. Wanted iced tea, but they only had sweetened canned tea. The case everywhere I went. Someone here had said to ask for tea shaken with ice, but even though I wrote the term down (can’t find it now) never had any luck with it.

    Drive time estimated by Michelin, 4 hours and 10 minutes. We took about an hour and a half longer, including the stop. Notes on our return from Venice will be posted along with the other half of my trip report—Rome, Florence and Venice.

    Final thoughts on Le Marche.
    At present very little guidebook information is available. We bought the Cadogan guide to Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches. These guides are fun to read, and we got good background information, but they lack practical information. For instance, the maps are not detailed and recommended sites, hotels, etc., are not located on the maps. The web site www.le-marche.com has loads of valuable information. I did not look at the Heritage Guide Marche by the Touring Club Italiano. I imagine it is good, but was published in 2000. If you search for books on the internet, use both Le Marche and the Marches (British way of referring to the region). The Italian tourism office has some very nice booklets (free for the asking if you can get them to respond) on Le Marche region—one on Jewish touring, one on sea life and boat travel, others on culture or food. Some of these are written by Peter Green who does the web site mentioned above.

    The books we could not have done without were Rick Steves irreverent Italian phrasebook (don’t miss the ‘love’ pages) and “Eating and Drinking in Italy” by Herbach and Dillon. Both are small and easy to carry. You are more likely to run into menus printed all in Italian and people who do not speak English in this region than in more touristy places. At first, we felt strange pulling out our “Eating and Drinking” book, but it is arranged well, so it takes only seconds to find what you are seeking and helped us immensely. As for the phrase book, I always find that non-English speakers tend to look over your shoulder or even grab the book in order to communicate. You don’t look stupid to them. You look like someone who cares enough to try to carry on a conversation. I sat in the bookstore and compared four different phrase books and although I’m not a Rick Steves fan, his phrase book was head and shoulders above the rest.

    The tourism offices in the cities and towns are not as clearly marked as the ones we saw in Spain. In some places we never did find them. However, we did get maps of the towns either from our hotel, from museums, or from a couple of tourism offices.

    The Touring Club Italiano map from www.le-marche.com is indispensable. Among other things, it shows where the exits are from A-14. We paid a total of 85 euros for diesel fuel and about 8 euros in toll costs.

    Prices are at least a third less than you pay in the more touristed areas and sometimes even more than that. Just one more reason to choose Le Marche.

    I will be happy to continue to answer questions if I can. And hope to post a much shorter trip report on Rome, Florence and Venice. After all, everything we know about those places, we learned on the Fodor’s forum. :-)

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    Vera,
    This is an outstanding trip report. We were in Italy the very same time, but in a different region. I didn't know anything about Le Marche until I read your trip report and now I have another place in Italy that I must go visit!
    Thanks for all the detailed and I agree with the above poster that said a trip report CAN'T be long-winded!
    Thank you for all your time in writing this.
    Carol

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    Hello Vera, I have so enjoyed your trip report, but of course I got so enthralled my bills still have not been paid this afternoon, it is all your fault!!

    You have seen so much more of Le Marche then I have. What a wonderful experience you two had.

    I trust your grandson's wedding was beautiful..I look forward to hearing about your experience in Veneto.

    Thank you for your beautiful trip report! Now I must get back to those bills, LOL. Best regards.

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    Thanks for the replies. I'm glad somebody has found the report and slogged through it!
    LoveItaly, my grandson could not cope with the Italian bureaucracy and they wound up not getting married in Italy, but we got to spend a day with him and his fiance in Venice.
    I PROMISE I'm working on the Rome-Florence-Venice report.
    Vera

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    Hi Vera, ah yes, the Italian bureaucracy, it even drives the Italians crazy! I am sorry the wedding did not take place but am glad you had a day together.

    BTW, I too have never heard of a car rental place not excepting a credit card because the expiration date is in six months. Good information to those planning on renting a car to check into before leaving on their trip.

    Thanks again for the enjoyable read, I look forward to the balance of your report!

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    Hi Vera,
    Just finished reading thru your report. I don't think it was too long at all. I'm glad I stopped by, I had no idea about that part of Italy and it looks really beautiful. I especially enjoyed your history inserts-makes it interesting to know what's behind a place like that WWII story about the bombing. Also thanks for all the web links I've added them to my favorites. I'll be looking for your report on the other cities.

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    Hi Vera,
    I was lucky enough to spend several weeks in Le Marche in 1969 - way off the tourist track then. Thank you for your report which brought back wonderful memories after all this time!

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    Vera,

    On June 12 you wondered why so few responses to your trip report.

    There are some people who may want to know all there is to know about Le Marche. Most people, in my opinion, would prefer an overview, a highlights trip report.

    While there is nothing wrong with your report keep in mind what a French philosopher once wrote in apology "I sent you a long letter because I did not have time to write you a short one."

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    Hi

    About long trip reports...I have also gotten some comments about my trip reports on http://gardkarlsen.com being too long. But I feel that as long as you break the information into chapters, put in pictures, links etc then long reports are not a problem. Hopefully the long trip reports can be of some use to others that are going to the same destinations :-) Maybe you should get a website to and post the trip reports together with some picture.

    Regards
    Gard

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    Hi Vera
    What a great trip report. Makes me wish our trip was to Le Marche.
    My DH and I are taking two grandsons 21 and 15 to the favorite places in Italy as well as Sicily
    Maybe next time we can do Le Marche.
    Thanks for the infromation.
    DEL

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    Vera, perhaps too it makes a difference if a traveller has been to "out of the way" places in Europe.

    I smiled when you mentioned hearing about the WWII scenerios while in LeMarch. Having spent a lot of time in Molise and having a friend who is like a dear sister from there..all her family still live in the region of Molise..I have found that they talk about what took place during WWII as though it was yesterday. We all relate differently to different trip reports. I happen to not only relate to your report regarding LeMarch but also your original questions regarding your trip especially since your grandson and his fiance are based at the Aviano Base. Best wishes to you.

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    Vera, we will be in Le Marche beginning next weekend and I have enjoyed your report. As you note, there is not much information about Le Marche in the guidebooks, and I expect that part of our time will just be spent wandering through the hills and visiting some of the hill towns.

    We will be staying 3 of our 4 nights in Le Marche in Ascoli Piceno, so a good deal of our time may be spent in the southern part of Le Marche, south of your routes. I am wondering if, of the towns you visited, one or two stand out for the scenery, views or charm. Obviously it's a large area and we not cover the same territory, but if there is any particularly memorable town, I would like to know about it.

    Thanks for any ideas.

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    Vera:

    It was wonderful reading your trip report! My husband and I live in Le Marche--in the town of Macerata--and it was really interesting to read your thoughts on the area that we live in. I also really liked reading about northern Le Marche--I was amazed that you want to the Furlo Gorge! How neat--we were up near there on a spelunking trip just a couple of weeks back! Also, I'm sorry you weren't able to see Urbania's castle--it's very nice! We also recently took a Sunday trip up there.

    It's great to see you enjoyed yourself in Le Marche. I agree-there's not an awful lot of stuff written about this region, it's really just a secret place, and I think the marchigiani like it that way. As summer rolls around, things are getting more touristy, but nothing like the rest of central Italy (Tuscany/Umbria).

    Also, it looks like you didn't make it to Macerata? Oh well--next time. And of course you will have to see Ascoli. It's one my favorite cities. Like you mentioned, it sounds like you got to see quite a bit of Le Marche, but there is soo much more to be explored. It is an amazing region with lots to offer!

    -Jackie

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    Jackie: Thank you for your comments. I read a lot of notes you had posted some time ago, when I was preparing for the trip. No, we drove through Macerata, but got busy looking at little places with theaters, and spent quite a bit of time with the accordion makers, so never got back to Macerata.
    One of the joys/frustrations of traveling in Le Marche, is that it is so easy to get side-tracked from your main objective for the day. You're driving down the road and see this irrisitable little village, and just have to stop and explore...
    You're fortunate to live there.

    Vera

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    Vera: I think it's great that you guys went on a tour of the theatres. I've actually always wanted to do that, but I always end up in a city when the theatre is closed! : ) I know that the tradition for theatres here is wonderful though, and the theatres we HAVE seen are splendid--the one in Macerata is great, and seeing concerts there is amazing. Anyway, glad you got to tour the theatres!

    Also, I agree about the 'getting-distracted' problem :). this happens to us often, but we've made some of our favorite little discoveries as a result!

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    The hotel you mentioned, Le Torricelle looks so interesting, but the website address is no longer valid. I did finally find it though so I'm posting it here for others.

    We are trying to go end of Aug 2008 for a long holiday (we only live in Naples).

    http://www.letorricelle.eu/index.html

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