Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Marvelous Marche Region of Italy

Glorious view of the Adriatic from Hotel Emilia near Ancona 

While throngs of visitors flock to Tuscany and Venice, the region known as Le Marche or simply Marche on the east coast of Italy is just waking up to tourists. If you refer to the country’s geographic comparison to the shape of a boot, Marche (pronounced ‘mahr-keh’) is positioned just above the heel so would be the calf of the boot. From the lavender lined cliff views of the Adriatic to the hilly Renaissance towns filled with priceless art and gilded historic theaters there’s much to discover and very little competition to see the sights.

Bronze water horse fountain and no crowds in the square, Ascoli Piceno 

“It’s way out of the way. There are no tourists down there,” says Atlanta native Doug Strickland of Integrity Wines who’s traveled to Marche to source sustainable wines. “It’s a beautiful region with great chefs. There are cool chapels and well restored ancient buildings.” During my visit to the Marche I was delighted with the freedom to explore places on my own. Unlike Florence and Rome where you have to wait in long lines to gaze upon the statue of David or crush into the Coliseum, it was so quiet I could have reached out and touched the works of Raphael at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where the great artist was born. A rustic farm house lunch of fava beans, pastas and rabbit at the Locanda Ca’ Andreana near Urbino was enjoyed in the company of the family dog sleeping by the door.

Fresh cherries and friendly dog at Locande ca' Andreanna 

We’re Glad You’re Here !

What I found the most compelling was the welcoming attitude of the people who were honestly happy to see tourists and share their enthusiasm for this lesser known region of Italy.

Adorable bartender and a bowl of joy

My focus was culinary, of course!  I visited organic cheese producers, biodynamic wineries, savored seafood lunches by the beach and experienced elegant candle lit dinners with a little opera thrown in for entertainment.

Fusilli with fresh clams at Mattia in seaside San Benedetto del Tronto

Lunch begins with this colorful plate at Locande ca' Andreana 

The Marche is a dream destination for food and wine lovers searching for festive and authentic settings. Hey, they invented lasagna here. Oh, and the accordion.

Italian Lessons

With the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in mind I interviewed several svelte Italian women who live in the Marche and while pasta may be on the menu they were all adamant about how and when they eat to help them stay slim.

Daniela Pirani- dining in sequined top, skinny pants and heels -“I love sweets and cakes. But I really try to limit. I never eat pasta for the evening meal. Only once a week for cakes and sweets.”

Marta Paraventi- touring in pink t-shirt, black jeans and loafers - “I eat pasta or risotto for lunch maybe once a week, but only 100 grams of pasta.” (about ¾ cup)

Heather Griffin – translator originally from Pinehurst, North Carolina lost weight when she moved to Marche - “I walk a lot more now can’t park in front of your house. There’s a different way of eating here. Italian women don’t like to eat pasta in the evening. They have a salad in evening maybe with boiled eggs, tuna canned in water, olives, fennel and mozzarella. They don’t eat bread at night. And pasta portions are rich but small. I’m hooked on smoked bacon, tomato sauce and cream.”
The Happiest Hour
An Italian culinary custom which seems contrary to calorie control is the relaxed pre-dinner tradition of Aperitivo with a drink and little snacks such as olives, potato chips, nuts or bites of bruschetta. But that’s usually accompanied by the practice of la passeggiata – an early evening stroll- which aids digestion and adds physical activity. Griffin says, “It’s my favorite time of day.”

Marche has rolled out a new tourism campaign but are residents ready for more tourists to share the beauty of their land and lifestyle? The region’s President Gian Mario Spacca responds, “Yes, slowly but surely.”

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