In a country of perpetual surprise and delight, one might think there’d be a time when it would all eventually run out, or perhaps douse one’s proclivity to appreciate it. Not so. Even to the frequent visitor, even the major tourist centres still give a wink to a novel aspect, a new flavour with each successive soiree. That’s why we return.
But it’s perhaps beyond the range of the oft-treaded path that the true treasures lie, unsung and unknown as they are, it feels like we discovered them for the first time. Indeed this would not be a bad description of Le Marche. These “little” surprises are in fact so numerous that it’s precisely why we return … to stay. Consider, for example, just a small clutch of its better-known attractions:
In a little town just 5 miles from the Adriatic coast, is a plain stone building that draws 4 million religious pilgrims every year, subordinate only to Assisi and Rome in terms of its spiritual draw. That’s because the rustic cottage is believed to be the site of the Annunciation and the childhood home of Jesus, transported here in 1294 – by angels – to spare it from the clutches of the Turks.
Further south, nestled in a bowl deep in the Apennine mountains is an innocuous tarn, steel blue in its stark surroundings. The legend goes that the lifeless body of Pontius Pilate was dragged by buffaloes into its “demoniac” waters.
Another legend claims that the Sibyl, priestess and guide to the underworld, lived here in a cave with a hundred mouths, and that her whispers would resound and echo here for all eternity.
Back on the coast, in a small town not far from the shrine to Our Lady, is an industry that fuels a hundred folk music traditions around the world – the manufacture of accordions. It’s said that the world’s first piano accordion was manufactured here in 1863, and each October their melodic airs can still be heard at the International Accordion Festival.
A little further to the north and inland is a 2,000-year-old tunnel showing the chisel marks that were made to carve it – by hand – through a hillside of solid rock. The road that goes through it culminates at a veritable monument to Roman engineering – a still-intact triumphal stone arch built by emperor Augustus in 2 AD.
Go just a half-hour down the coast from this charming seaport and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a compelling array of outlet stores offering the latest fashion in shoes, leather, furniture and other accoutrements.
The list goes on and on … and we didn’t even touch on the food and wine …
This is Le Marche, or The Marche, or simply Marche. Bordered to the west by the Apennine mountains and Umbria, to the north by Emilia Romagna and the independent shopping state of San Marino, and to the south by Abruzzo, it boasts a diversity that few other regions can match. In his 1957 book Viaggio in Italia, Guido Piovene had this to say: “Italy, with its range of landscapes, is a distillation of the world; the Marche is a distillation of Italy.” There’s a good reason Piovene’s is the most oft-quoted phrase about this region – it’s accurate.