If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the Marche region of central Italy. Depending on your interests, it is an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food, and wash it down with fine local wine. And the Marche region hasnít yet been discovered by tourists. Thereís a tradeoff; you wonít have to fight the crowds to see what you want to see. On the other hand, youíll have a hard time finding fancy hotels. And the roads are not always the best, not much of a surprise when you consider the regionís hilly terrain. Weíll start our tour of this region in the north and work our way south.
The little town of Urbino is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once a great center of learning. The University has about twenty thousand students, considerably more than Urbinoís resident population of approximately fifteen thousand. How do you say town and gown in Italian?
Given that the great Renaissance painter Raphael was an Urbino native, itís not very surprising that this town is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (National Gallery of The Marche) located in the Palazzo Ducale (Dukeís Palace). Would you believe that this beautiful Renaissance building doesnít contain much of his work? On the other hand, you can find Titianís Resurrection and Last Supper there. The Casa Natale di Raffaello (Birthplace of Raphael) includes a Madonna fresco that is definitely associated with Raphael. But experts arenít sure if he painted it himself or if his father painted it and Raphael and his mother served as models. The city also contains several Renaissance churches worth visiting.
Ancona is a port city that was largely destroyed during World War II. But there still are some sights worth seeing including alleys, streets, and city squares. The Duomo di San Ciriaco (Saint Ciriaco Cathedral) was built during the Twelfth Century over a Greek Temple. The Romanesque Santa Maria della Piazza also dates from the Twelfth Century but includes mosaics from a Fifth Century church that it replaced. All these structures are modern compared to the Second Century Arco di Triano (Trajanís Arch) which announced to all and sundry that they were approaching Romeís most important port on the Adriatic Sea.
Loreto on the Adriatic Sea is home to a popular shrine, the Santuario della Santa Casa (House of the Virgin Mary) which some say was transported from the city of Nazareth in 1295 to keep it out the hands of the Muslim invaders. The peak pilgrimage periods are Easter week and the Feast of the Holy House on December 10th.
Ascoli Piceno is a valley town of about fifty thousand people. Itís great for pedestrians because cars are forbidden in a large part of the city center. Youíll want to see the Piazza del Populo (Square of the People) and the Thirteenth Century Palazzo dei Capitani del Populo (Palace of the Peopleís Captains) that now serves as a Town Hall. and Gothic church San Franceso (Saint Francis). There are several other historic churches. Try to get to Ascoli Piceno for the first Sunday in August. Thatís the day the local residents celebrate the cityís patron saint, Saint Emidio, with a parade of over 900 people dressed in Renaissance costume. After the parade thereís a jousting tournament, Giastra della Quintana, in which six richly costumed knights, representing the cityís six neighborhoods, compete one after the other facing the effigy of a Moor warrior.
What about food? The Marches has many regional specialties, for example Prosciutto di Carpegna, a ham produced near the border of Tuscany, and Vitellone Bianco dellíAppennino Centrale (White Veal of the Central Appenines). The Adriatic coast brings its bounty. One local brodetto (fish soup) calls for thirteen kinds of fish and seafood.
Letís suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Minestra (Chickpea Soup with Pork Ribs and grated Pecorino Cheese). Then try Quaglie in Tegame (Braised Quails with White Wine and Salt Pork). For dessert indulge yourself with Fristenga (Cake with Figs, Raisins, and Walnuts). Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
Weíll conclude with a quick look at Marche wine. The Marche ranks 12th among the 20 Italian regions for acreage devoted to wine grapes and 10th for total annual wine production. When you read between the lines these numbers indicate that the Marcheís wine output per acre is heavier than the Italian average, not a promising sign for fine wine. Somewhat more than a third of the local wine is red and almost twenty percent of Marche wine is classified as DOC or DOCG wine, described below. The Marche produces thirteen DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. It is the home of two DOCG (the G stands for Guarantita) red wines, the Montepulciano-Sangiovese based Rosso Conero Riserva and the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona based on a local grape. Donít confuse the red Vernaccia wine with the white Verdicchio wine.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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