Conoscete le Marche? Siete mai stati o solamente passati per le Marche? Provate a rivolgere queste due domande quando vi capiti, la risposta sarà sempre la stessa: no, non ci siamo mai stati. Eppure è uno dei paesi più belli, più italiani che si possano dire: uno di quei paesi che meglio corrispondono all’idea e alla nozione stessa d’Italia.
Do you know Marche? Have you ever been, or just passed through? Try and ask yourself these questions, the answer is always the same: no, we’ve never been. And instead it is one of the most beautiful, most Italian regions: one of those places which is best tied to the idea and the notion of Italy.
Striped umbrellas; the resounding cackles of teenagers playing volleyball and table tennis; parents on bikes with their children sitting on the frame, feet dangling off the side; Roman ruins; colorful fishermen houses; craft shops and restaurants with simple, local flavors. A place where you can breathe an air of community, a vision reminiscent of the 70s when Italy lived by “mano d’opera” (craftsmanship) and not by tourism. Although much time has passed, the coastal comune of Fano is not left behind like other beach towns built for the 70s: it is continuously cared for by its caring residents, like a doting Italian mother. (Though of course, in typical Italian fashion, the people of Fano see much more to be done.)
Our journey started in Fano, situated along the sandy and pebbled beaches of the coast, before we passed through majestic rivers, rolling hills up to fortress towns, and World Heritage Sites with remarkable history—here, we fully take in #howMarchefeels.
The Streets of Fano
First stop: Fano. A town so beautiful that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t yet been covered by all possible travel outlets. As we slowly drove into town, the car stopped its 70s gurgle, as if we had just seen a vision. “It must be Atlantis, submerged under water for the past 1,000 years!”—the only plausible explanation that would allow us to forgive ourselves for not having visited this place before.
The truth is, Marche isn’t well connected to the major Italian tourist attractions, and as is often the case in many beautiful, untouched corners of Italy, there isn’t the infrastructure for hospitality or the marketing materials for mass tourism. Maybe locals just want to keep this place to themselves, because, unlike most of Italy, Marche does not live off tourism.
Located on the coast right below Pesaro, Fano is not only charming, but rich with tokens of its glorious history and diverse pasts that beautifully merge inside the city walls. The absence of crowds can be perceived by the lack of tourist traps: as one restaurant owner proudly puts it, “Here you live thanks to local customers. If I didn’t serve good food, we wouldn’t survive a week.”
The Marchigiani are just as proud of their local culture as they are of their history: the first Roman remains trace back to 207 B.C when the first settlement in the area was built around the Tempio Fortunae (Temple of Fortune), dedicated to the goddess of good luck. That same year, Fano was the setting for the battle of Metaurus, one of the decisive Roman victories over Carthage. By around 220 B.C. the Flaminia, one of Italy’s oldest roads, was built to connect Rome to the important ports of the Adriatic: Fano lies right at the end of it. Through the centuries, Fano remained a strategic port and stronghold, playing central roles in ancient Rome, the Byzantine empire, the Venetian republic, the rule of Malatesta, and later for the Vatican. Fano has not always been a place of victory, however: the town was occupied during the Napoleonic invasions of the 1800s, and WWI and WWII battles destroyed many of its strategic sights and buildings. Nonetheless, the town incredibly lives in a harmonious mélange of history and local culture. (One of our favorite examples: Bastione San Gallo, a bustling aperitivo spot on top of one of the medieval bastions.)
Here, an incredible succession of colors and textures provide a constant stimulus for inspiration. Fano’s shores alternate between clear blue water, where the pebble beaches continue into the seabed, and the more opaque blues of their sandy counterparts. Passing through the sand and the stones, the bright colors of the beach club umbrellas and loungers create what could appear to be a Claude Nori photo or an art installation appointed in honor of the Italian “anni 70”. Walking along the boardwalk, the beach seamlessly merges into the marina where a myriad of fisherman boats, also locally known as vongolai (as they mainly fish vongole!), roll back in at sunset with a flock of seagulls hitching a ride above. As the light fades in the sky, these fishermen head home to their pastel-colored homes along the canals.
In Fano, you feel like the protagonist of an Italian Summer movie, but one of those “real” Italian nostalgic movies that never made it outside national borders.
Beyond the boardwalk, a few straight and narrow streets lead inside the medieval fortress city, first built by Malatesta. Once inside the walls, it’s easy to spot where new buildings replaced the holes left by the great wars of the 20th century. Among the new, the city hides those incredibile remains dating all the way back to 207 B.C. A testament to its roots, the town is holding on to treasures from its many pasts as it moves into the future.
Like most of Italy, the food of Marche is local and fresh. As the region stretches between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennines mountains, the food varies from terrestrial foods such as frascarelli, crescia, olive all’ascolana (stuffed olives) and coniglio in porchetta (rabbit in porchetta) to all kinds of seafood dishes like the Brodetto alla Fanese, a hearty fish stew, to which a whole festival in September is dedicated.
Most restaurants are genuine and you can’t go wrong. Whether it’s spaghetti alle vongole or the local crustacean known as canocchie (recognizable by the two colored spots on its tail) or the local version of the piadina, each dish is guaranteed to be delicious and well-executed!
The Hills Outside of Fano
Second stop: the natural reserve Gola del Furlo–made up of 3.600 hectares of woodland, grazing land, and unspoilt peaks–followed by a brief detour through “Le Marmitte dei Giganti”, cylindrical fractures within a spectacular canyon, created by the force of the Candigliano and Metauro rivers. Their shapes are reminiscent of large pots, where, according to legend, the giants cooked soups.
As we leave, the morning light wakes the city and pokes through the windows of our 1970s Fiat 850, warming the leather seats. Packed and ready to salute the Roman walls of Fano, we turn onto the Strada Provinciale leading to Urbino. With every turn, the surroundings change, the blue hues of the sea become golden wheat fields, and the red bricks turn into leafy greens. Just 15 minutes away from Fano’s boardwalk, we are enveloped by the tranquility of the campagna Marchigiana (countryside of Marche).
One turn and the scenery changes once again: we are on a bridge staring down into the Gola del Furlo itself, a 30 meter deep canyon. The Roman arch of Augustus seems recent compared to the high walls of the canyon dug by natural flows over thousands of years. We stand in awe as we admire the view, promising ourselves that next time we’ll find the time to tour the canyon on a kayak. It’s time to go, and as we take off, we decide to stay on countryside roads all the way back to Fano.
How Sunsets Looks on the Other Side
Once back in Fano, we head back to where we started–the seaside–ready to savor the sunset on the other side of the peninsula, where the sun doesn’t dive into the sea, but gently vanishes into the vast expanse of land that separates the region from the Thyrennian coast. The sky takes on a delicate triumph of pinks, the tones are gentle and so are the contours of Fano…we sit quietly, in stillness, serene, listening to the waves crashing and with the certainty that we will be back in this secret land where the sun rises from the sea and falls into the hills.