Backcountry

The Marche is a part of Italy where history, culture and countryside have helped create a unique and extraordinary region well worth visiting.

The Marche offers visitors more than just a chance of discovering a calm and patriarchal atmosphere, in the quiet of gently rolling hills, it gives them an opportunity for inner and cultural enrichment provided by the encounter with works of art, historical events, literary memories and legends in places one might not even dream of finding them. The historical-cultural heritage of this land has been treasured virtually everywhere, and includes numerous works of art. The reason for this is that nobles and men of the church turned every village into a personal fief and because the municipal history that divided the region for centuries enabled artists to work in separate communal entities.
The hilly areas that constitute 69% of the region reveal a remarkable combination of natural beauties and of changes made by human beings through history, initially for crop farming, forestry and animal rearing reasons and then, more recently, for industrial purposes. A living testimony of this process, the result of a centuries-old culture and history are the old roads: the Via Salaria, traced by the Picenes and used by the Romans to link the capital of the empire with the Adriatic Sea (the salt coast), and the Via Flaminia, the consular road to the ager gallicus as far as Fano.

Part of the old Via Flaminia can still be trodden at the Furlo Pass, by walking through the tunnel knocked out with hammer and chisel during the period of the Emperor Vespasian.

Wandering through the hills and valleys of the Marche, lots of small villages and towns can still be seen perched on high, generally a light-brown mass of tiled roofs, scenic balconies overlooking valleys, surrounded by walls, with municipal towers rising up alongside bell-towers. Here, for centuries, history was made by princes, many so devout as to erect churches after destroying castles, and by warlike popes who erected castles and fortresses. Many historical pageants are still staged in the old-town centres, along with spectacular festivities tied to religious commemorations or the carnival. Sometimes the hills are interrupted by erosion furrows, many of which are truly fascinating, especially in the area behind the Marecchia Valley (near the ruins of the historical Fortress of Maiolo) and in the province of Ascoli Piceno, within the municipal area of Castignano and Appignano del Tronto. The natural environment of the Marche mainly consists of farmland.

The marks left by history continue to remain today, despite the profound changes that have taken place in the region: from the widespread and polycentric system of historical towns and villages to the closely knit network of roads (some very ancient), to the wealth of isolated monuments (parish churches, abbeys, convents, villas, towers, castles, furnaces and mills). The rural aspect of the hilly countryside of the Marche was forged by the share-cropping system and mixed-farming, today partly replaced by intensive and specialised agriculture, as in the case of the orchards of the Aso Valley or the vineyards that extend as far as the eye can see in the Esino Valley and the Picene hills. Many old villas and country mansions have now been turned into tourist farms, especially in the higher hill areas; ideal places for a relaxing holiday, or purchasing biologically-grown products, or for simply enjoying the traditional dishes of the Marche. Further inland, the soft rolling hills become austere, rocky mountains, with projecting spurs and deep gorges. Near Cagli, for instance, along the Via Flaminia, are the Burano and Furlo Gorges.

Along the Valley of the Esino, the river which in the early-4th century B.C. marked the boundary between the area occupied by the Picenes and that conquered by the Senone Gauls, in the municipalities of Serra San Quirico and Genga, truly breathtaking are the great limestone wall faces of the Rossa and Frasassi Gorges, in the park of the same name.

Over 80,000 hectares of land in the Marche, nearly 10% of the regional territory, is protected. The region counts in fact two national parks (Monti Sibillini and Gran Sasso and the Monti della Laga), over 60,000 hectares of which are in the Marche, four regional parks (Sasso Simone and Simoncello, Rossa and Frasassi Gorge and, on the coast, Monte San Bartolo and Monte Conero), covering about 20,000 hectares, and two nature reserves (Abbadia di Fiastra and Montagna di Torricchio) which account for over 2,000 hectares, plus 100 floristic area and 15 State forests.

The jewel of the Marche region is the Sibillini Mountain range This area became a national park in 1993 - with headquarters at Visso extends over 70,000 hectares and is about 40 km long lt comprises 16 Marche and 2 Umbrian municipalities. The territory contains evidence of the Quaternary glaciation and Alpine type flora and fauna abound. Very majestic is the natural scenery created by the atmospheric agents over thousands and of years. Deep glacier cirques that testify to the landscape modelling strength and power of the ancient glaciers. The best examples are to be found on Mount Rotondo, Mont Vettore, Mount Bove and in the Upper Panico Valley. 

Many of the mountains rise above 2000 metres, including Mount Vettore (2,476 m) with lake Pilato, the only natural lake in the Marche, home to the unique and rare chirocephalus of Marchesoni with its bright red colours. Not far away is Mount Sibilla (2.173 m) where the prophetess, famous throughout Europe, once lived; a place that brings to mind atmospheres and stories of past ages.

At the southern end of the Sibillini Mountains lies Arquata del Tronto, with its superb medieval fortress, the only municipality in Italy to be located in two National Parks. The Sibillini Mountain Park in fact adjoins the Gran Sasso and Laga Mountain National Park, without interruption. The latter is well known for its marble-sandstone rocks, thick woodland and splendid waterfalls like those of Volpara and Selvagrande.

Worth visiting are the last examples of 16th-century stone houses in the tiny villages of Acquasanta,Castell di Luco and Paggese di Acquasanta, the latter renowned for its round shape; Umito, a typical mountain village, with its splendid centuries-old chestnut groves, an idea departure point for interesting excursions into the surrounding woods, which are also full of beech and sauer fir trees, this being one of the only two places where this tree grows in the Marche. Another place ideal for walking in the woods, for instance in the beech groves of Pianacquadio, is the Regional Park of Sasso Simone and Simoncello, in the heart of Montefeltro - where Cosimo de Medici built his famous "City of the Sun" only the ruins of which remain today. 

In the province of Ancona is the Rossa and Frasassi Gorge Regional Park with another interesting biotope, the charming Valley of Scappuccia. Through the Frasassi Gorge, the river Sentino cut its bed producing a complex system of underground caves called the Caves of Frasassi, considered among the most interesting in the world Thousands of visitors come to see these every year. lt takes about an hour to walk along the silent path through the caves and every step is marked by wonderful small lakes, naturally carved stalactites and giant stalagmites, the biggest of which is the majestic Ancona Abyss (240 m high). The Rossa Gorge is similar in appearance to that of Frasassi with large karst cavities such as the Vernino Cave. Further south, in the province of Macerata, are the Nature Reserves of Fiastra Abbey and Torricchio Mountain. In the first, farming landscapes dominate, with medieval type environments including the monumental abbey erected by the Cistercian monks in 1142 using the stones of the ancient Roman city of Urbs Salvia.

The Torricchio Nature Reserve on the other hand, located between Camerino and Visso, near the Sibillini Mountain National Park, covers an area of 317 hectares and has all the characteristics of Marche high hill countryside. lt has been accredited by the Council of Europe as a biogenetic reserve.

Das Naturreservoir von Torricchio liegt zwischen Camerino und Visso, in der Nähe des Nationalparks der Sibillini-Berge, und hat eine Fläche von 317 Hektar, es bewahrt hingegen die typische Gebirgslandschaft der marchigianischen Hügel, und wurde vom Europäischen Rat als biogenetisches Reservoir anerkannt.

There are numerous localities in the Marche hinterland ideal for a relaxing holiday, at all times of the year. These are especially suited to anyone wanting to escape the overcrowded tourist resorts on the coast or for visitors seeking peace and quiet, nature walks, leisure activities, or enthusiasts of horse-riding, canoeing, golfing, fishing, hiking, mountain-biking, hang-gliding, paragliding, mountaineering, etc.

There are ten ski-ing resorts in the mountains of the Marche Apennines, with slopes of varying length but also interesting cross-country ski-ing routes, alpine ski-ing, grass ski-ing, hiking and mountaineering. To visit the Marche hinterland also means discovering a wealth of age-old crafts passed down from father to son in the numerous workshops. Ceramics, copper, terracotta, majolica, lace work, hand-made carpets, wooden pipes, hats, wrought-iron, leather, musical instruments, toys, footwear, furniture gold work, paper made using traditional methods, travertine stone, marbles, stonework, wicker work, rush mats, straw-work, bamboo work, restoration of antique furniture, etc. are just some of the major craft and industrial products of the region. Another interesting aspect of the Marche is that for each change of landscape, a new culinary tradition exists. As one gradually moves away from the coast and approaches the mountains, the smell of fresh Adriatic fish is replaced by the typical flavours of the backcountry.

Das Naturreservoir von Torricchio liegt zwischen Camerino und Visso, in der Nähe des Nationalparks der Sibillini-Berge, und hat eine Fläche von 317 Hektar, es bewahrt hingegen die typische Gebirgslandschaft der marchigianischen Hügel, und wurde vom Europäischen Rat als biogenetisches Reservoir anerkannt.

There are lots of dishes to try and enjoy: "Vincisgrassi", "olive ascolane", "maccheroncini di Campofilone", "ciauscolo", "frustingo", "bostrengo", 'lormaggio di fossa di Talamello", truffles, mushrooms, pecorino cheese, "casciotta di Urbino", "prosciutto di Carpegna", "salame di Fabriano", honey, extra-virgin olive oil, etc. The Marche have 11 DOC (controlled denomination of origin) wines, one for each hill: Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno and Rosso Piceno Superiore, Colli Maceratesi, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, Falerio, Bianchello del Metauro, Colli Pesaresi, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Verdicchio di Matelica, Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, Esino

But above all, besides the seaside, the Marche region offers the natural beauties of an unspoilt backcountry, with charming itineraries through the "high country" in search of the rich historical-artistic and cultural heritage which has been looked after so well.