So where exactly is Le Marche you ask?
Well, that’s the number one question friends have asked us when we describe our trip to Italy. The Marche region lies on the east coast of Italy, between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. So if you drive from Rome towards Umbria and hang a right just before Florence, you’ll pass through Le Marche on your way to the coast.
What you’ll find is a region comparably ‘untouched’, borrowing the best of Umbria’s rolling hills and juxtaposing it with a long coastline of white sandy beaches and fortified coastal cities.
For us, the region was actually second to La Tavola Marche, an agriturismo and cooking school that lured us 3.5 hours drive from Rome for an indulgent week of ‘live like a local’ (which roughly translates to eat a lot, drink a lot, take a nap – aannnd repeat).
We arrived at La Tavola Marche in the afternoon on the wettest day of our trip so far. While the road from Rome is mostly well-maintained autobahn, traversing it in a tiny Fiat 500 convertible during driving rain was a little hairy at times. Luckily we made it with only one wrong turn and host Ashley quickly ushered us into our simple but cosy apartment, one of four in the 300-year-old stone farmhouse.
Once the rain cleared we took stock of our surroundings. Rolling green hills, check. Flowering elderflower trees lining the road, check. Tweeting birds and the general sense of being in a place out of time, yeah check. What a contrast from Rome’s busyness, to be out in the open, walking down a rutted sandy road at end of the day and to come upon the ruins of an abandoned mill, covered in blackberry and begging to be explored.
Le Marche region is much like this. In mid-May, when Umbria is pretty much reservations only, Le Marche is where Italy is still just Italy, and not some Italian experience prepared for tourists.
We were back from our walk as the night’s welcome dinner was just being set, a five-course scene setter for the week ahead paired with some delicious local wines of the region. It was a chance to let the stressful drive from Rome unwind and get to know the rest of the week’s class, which, happily, was nice and small at a total of six. The week’s schedule was then presented, beginning with pasta making the next morning.
Our lovely hosts Ashley and Jason are clearly passionate about Italy and it shows through in their approach to La Tavola. The atmosphere is informal, welcoming and homely. It’s clear the couple genuinely care about preserving and promoting the local food culture, and Jason’s cooking classes are fun, energetic and easy to follow for all levels of culinary expertise.
Over the course of the week, we learnt to learnt to cook and eat like Italians, enjoying the simple pleasures of fresh, locally sourced ingredients cooked just enough to let the natural flavours do their work.
Our week was a package called Made in Le Marche, which meant for 5 days we didn’t spend a cent on food, instead, enjoying an incredibly generous unfolding menu, some of which we prepared ourselves in class and others were prepared for us.
Between lessons we went on local excursions including a wine and cheese tour (Marco’s Way Wine Tours) where we sat with a local family for lunch and visited their subterranean cheese cave, and lunch at the nearby Hunters Hideaway – a local hunters lodge turned foodie hangout with an impressive dedication to preparing all their own meats on site.
On our free days, we travelled to the nearby coastal towns of Pesaro and Fano, where we enjoyed a local Artisan Gelato Festival and sipped extremely large Aperol spritz’ with some new found friends as the sun went down. While not as pretty or tourist friendly as the towns of Amalfi, Fano, in particular, has a real rustic charm with its ancient fortified walls.
Urbino is another treat, and much closer at just over a half hour from La Tavola. An impressive medieval city with a thriving university scene, plenty of great restaurants and a hive of twisting streets to discover. Well worth spending a day here.
Really, we barely scratched the surface of Le Marche. While not a big region, its relative remoteness makes it feel like there’s more to discover simply because you’ve heard less about it. Le Marche seems, by and large, more interested in catering to Italians than to tourists, and the experience is all the better for it. Here traditional life is easier to spot, waiter’s speak less english, and more often than not, the person in the kitchen is part of the same family who owns the joint.
Of all the places we travelled in Italy, we seem to talk about Le Marche the most. Not for the sights, but for the sheer generosity of experiences enjoyed at La Tavola and the people we shared it with. If you want to cook, but you really want to eat, then you won’t be disappointed.
If you missed Part 1 of this series, catch up on our first week in Rome.
Written by Mark Welker and photographed by Monique & Mark Welker.