The Marche is one of the less well-known Italian regions but that does not mean that it does not have a lot to offer, whatever your interests may be. The capital is the coastal port of Ancona. The city’s long history is attested to by the Arch of Trajan built when the city was the major Roman port on the Adriatic. In the port is the 18th century Lazzaretto. A pentagonal building, built on an artificial island originally as a quarantine station, it would be nice to think it inspired its more famous American cousin. Sadly, more prosaic explanations have been offered for the adoption of the five-sided plan by American architects.
The region is mostly hilly – its western border is high up in the Apennine Mountains. Here there are many fine hilltop towns, none more so than Urbino with its fabulous ducal palace dating from the mid-15th century. The duke himself was the subject of the famous portrait by Piero della Francesca in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. This was also the birthplace of Raphael.
The eastern border is the Adriatic Sea and there are miles of coastline and beaches to enjoy whilst nature lovers can enjoy the fabulous scenery of the national park of the Monti Sibillini.
Before discussing the wines, honourable mention must go to olive ascolane, a delicious snack from this area made of olives stuffed with minced beef, pork, or chicken before being dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. In fact, the food from Marche is very good indeed.
Of the wines of this region perhaps the best known is the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, famous for the distinctive curvaceous bottle that it is often, but not exclusively, found in. Lacking the shapely bottle but still worth looking out for is Verdicchio di Matelica. Both these wines are DOC in their normal forms but rise to DOCG status when they are riservas. It is worth noting that 95% of the Verdicchio grapes are grown in the Marche so these are real regional delicacies.
The area around the town of Offida offers another opportunity to taste native grapes with the eponymous DOCG wine that, in its white form, uses either Pecorino or Passerina grapes, both varieties that are generating international interest at the moment.
The Marche may be best known for its white wines but red wine drinkers are not ignored and the native Lacrima grape stakes its claim in the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC, although Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes are more common. All told, the region has much to offer the wine lover who is prepared to explore a little and, as a bonus, this is an area relatively undiscovered by tourists.