As with Abruzzo (see earlier post), Marche is a part of Italy that is unknown to most American travelers. It is a beautiful region, with coastal resorts on the Adriatic and scenic landscapes inland, with ancient towns that make for great day trips.
We based ourselves in Senigallia, a beach town that also has a charming historic center. The Hotel Cristallo is close to perfect, across the street from the beach, a short stroll from the historic center, with free street parking (after 9/15). We were also in luck, as we had reserved a double room, but being off-season, they upgraded us to a massive one-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, zoned air-conditioning, and 2 balconies with sea views. All this for 113 euros for 2 nights. The staff could not be nicer, advising us on restaurants and making reservations (and you do need to reserve at the good places).
Dinner was at Vino e Cibo, a small, simple trattoria with a small menu of the day.
Stanley had the pane e sgombro, bread topped with a mixture of mackerel and tomato (a huge portion), while I started with the tuna tartare. Next I had small sardines coated with bread crumbs and he had triglie (similar to red mullet or rouget) with a spinach puree and grilled endive. We shared a mixed salad. With a bottle of Pecorino, which we have never had before (very good) the bill was 72 euros.
Today we backtracked somewhat to visit the Southern Marche. Exiting the Autostrada North of Ancona, we took country roads to Folittrano, which was charming but there was no place to park so we just did a drive-through, continuing on to Macerata, where we stopped and strolled for a little while.
Our final destination was Ascoli Piceno, which turned out to be a gem.
For lunch I had decided on Nonna Nina, but we arrived to find it closed for vacation, and oddly, not indicating when it was to reopen. There were 2 other restaurants listed in Michelin, one of which specialized in seafood, which we wanted to avoid as that is what we were having for dinner in Senigallia. The other, Caffe Meletti, features mainly meat, and the menu, though short, showed what looked like creative dishes. It turned out to be excellent. We did not regret missing Nonna Nina.
We started with buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and tomato, then had pappardelle stuffed with rabbit and ricotta, saffron potato cream and truffles, and for the main course grilled veal topped with truffles, and glazed roast pork on potato puree, both served with a side of broccoli. You might wonder, as we did, how pappardelle could be stuffed. Well, this is not what we normally think of as pappardelle, more like elongated ravioli. It was delicious. With a wonderful bottle of Rosso Piceno (which I only now realized they forgot to charge us for, but I think was 15 euros), water, and 2 coffees, total was 62.50 euros.
Back in Senigallia, we strolled around the old town
and had a lovely dinner at Pagaia, where we sat outside facing the river.
Our first 2 courses, seafood salad and spaghetti with seafood, were superb. The main course was less successful. We had fried calamari and shrimp, and breaded shrimp and calamari spiedini. Not bad, but with no sauce of any kind they quickly became boring. Portions are so huge it would have made sense to share one dish. What we really should have done, as evidenced by what we saw being prepared for other tables, was to order a whole fish, filleted before serving. We were envious. One really special touch here is that at the end of the meal they bring a small bottle of limoncello and another of amaro, and you can drink all you want, no charge. The bill came to 78 euros, so no complaints. I would definitely recommend Pagaia.
We headed off in the morning on a tour of the Northern Marche, first stopping in Fano, a bustling town with a Saturday market that filled every Piazza.
Next we continued to Pesaro, where we did a drive-through as the historic center did not look fascinating. Our next destination, Urbino. was the most interesting of the day.
Here are some street scenes and interior shots of the Ducal Palace:
We had lunch at Trattoria del Leone, which I had picked out from Tripadvisor reviews.
It was excellent. We started with tagliatelle with game sauce and juniper berries, then stewed wild boar and roasted rabbit stuffed with olives and bacon. With a bottle of Rosso Conero, water and coffee, the bill was about 65 euros.
Continuing Northward, we made a quick stop in San Marino. The idea of a totally separate country right in the middle of Italy seemed interesting. Don’t bother. It’s a modern town made to look like medieval but doesn’t do it convincingly. Total tourist trap full of shopping, souvenirs and crappy cafes. And busloads of obnoxious tourists. A complete waste of time. It does have a nice view, though:
From here we moved on to Ravenna, to be reported on in the next post.