From mountains to the sea
It may be non-touristy and rural but Marche, in Italy, has much to offer says Michael Fewer, who joins a town parade
In the 16th century some of the finest majolica (ceramics) of the Renaissance was produced here, and in recent decades young ceramic artists, assisted by the mayor and council, have been developing new 21st century technologies and producing ceramics in fabulous new forms, colours and designs.
You can watch the artists at work, and even get involved – the town has ceramic workshops for all ages.
The summer palace of the Duke of Urbino houses a great museum and historic library, and it’s worth trying to have your visit coincide with a performance in the tiny 19th century Bramante theatre. There are 70 such local theatres in the Marche region, almost one for every town.
Don’t miss the Urbania cuisine – coradella of lamb is to be recommended, and passatelli soup and do sample, for desert, the traditional cake called bostrengo.
The town of Jesi, a treasure house of architecture and art, retains its tall medieval walls.
The main corso, where the townsfolk promenade, stretches almost the length of the town, and just off it are a series of galleries and museums including the glorious baroque Palazzo Pianetti and the Pinacoteca Civica, which has a collection of works by the Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto, who lived for a while in the town.
Just 40km south east is the medieval town of Fabriano, which owed its great prosperity in medieval times to its pioneering work in paper manufacturing: it may be hard to believe, but the extensive museum of paper-making, with live demonstrations of rags being turned into fine water-marked paper, is fascinating.
The town’s rich heritage includes the 13th century Palazzo del Podesta, one of the oldest examples of medieval civic architecture in le Marche.
We found ourselves in Sassoferrato, another of the Marche’s ancient towns, on Liberation Day, when Italians celebrate liberation from Mussolini and his Nazi allies and remember their war dead. It was a warm, sunny morning and we were invited by the friendly locals to join in their parade. Feeling honoured to be asked, we formed up behind the brass band with the townsfolk, the chief of police, the head of the fire brigade, boys in their late teens carrying colourful banners and nuns in navy capes, white veils and gloves. Two young men proudly bore the red, green and white flag of the partisans who had helped rid the country of its Fascist oppressors in the latter days of the second World War.
Then, with the band striking up a martial air, the procession moved off and made its way out of the square and down winding passages between ancient buildings towards the park and war memorial.