Almost every corner of Le Marche, from the largest town to the smallest mountain village, seems to have something outstanding to offer. Here is a rundown of just some of the places worth hunting out.
On the Town
Of the Marche's five provincial capitals, Urbino is perhaps the most interesting for the tourist. This jewel of a renaissance city remains little changed from the days when Duke Federico of Montefeltro set up his celebrated court here in the second half of the 15thC.
The beguiling old town of Ascoli Piceno lies at the southern end of Le Marche and is well worth an overnight stay. Its marble-paved main square is one of the most beautiful in Italy.
The regional capital of Le Marche and the largest city is Ancona, a place with less obvious attractions for the traveller. Give it time, however, and you might find you enjoy the salty charm of this bustling sea port. It's also one of Italy's main ferry ports with boats to Croatia, Greece and Turkey.
Another of the region's provincial capitals, Pesaro is both an appealing seaside resort and a thriving commercial town. Good shops, fine beaches and great fish.
The last of the region's main centres is Macerata, a dignified town, famous for its annual open-air opera festival.
Smaller inland towns in Le Marche that are well worth visiting or that might make a good base for touring include (from north to south) San Leo, Cagli, Fabriano, Jesi, Cingoli, Recanati, Camerino, Fermo, Sarnano and Offida.
Of the many seaside resorts, the prettiest is Sirolo on the Conero peninsula, while the most lively include Gabicce Mare, Fano, Senigallia, and San Benedetto del Tronto.
Many tourists visit Le Marche for their natural beauty and most of the spectacular inland mountain country remains unscathed by the worst excesses of the 20th century. Here are some of the major sights that should not to be missed:
The Frasassi caves are some of the most spectacular limestone caves you are ever likely to visit and include Europe's largest single cavern.
Limestone again is the leading player at the Furlo Gorge, a dramatic natural pass through the mountains that has been in use since prehistoric times.
Most of Italy's Adriatic coastline is stubbornly flat. Monte Conero, just south of Ancona, is a rare exception - a high limestone mountain that plunges into the sea and guards a handful of delightful little bathing resorts.
You'll find some of the Marche's most impressive mountain scenery to the south of the region amidst the Monti Sibillini, whose peaks are often covered with snow until the late spring. Plenty of dramatic hill towns, serious walking, and skiing in winter.
The best mountain views to be had in the north of the region, on the doorstep of Urbino, are around the giant Monte Catria and Monte Nerone. In spring their upland meadows are carpeted in alpine flowers.
The countryside of the Montefeltro area in the far north, dominated by flat-topped Monte Carpegna, boasts fine old castles, switchback roads and great walks.
On the Pilgrim Trail
Le Marche possess one of the world's most important religious shrines - the Sanctuary of the Holy House at Loreto, one of the most important holy places devoted to Our Lady. But the area also has a number of other towns associated with less well known saints, such as the shrine to St Joseph of Copertino at Osimo, and St Nicholas at Tolentino.