To the Adriatic

During our summer trip to Italy we realized that Le Marche is like Umbria’s pool. Or at least Spellani’s pool. Almost everyone we talked to had just been to Le Marche, went when we were there, or was planning a trip. Most of those we talked to went to Numana, and so, like true Spellani, that’s where we set our sights.

It happened like this. Bar Tullia was closed the first week we were in Spello, and the butcher closed for a week a few days after we arrived. And it was hot. Brutally, incomprehensibly, hot. So on our walk back from the macelleria, bags laden with salami, pork chops, lamb spiedini, tartufata sauce, and €3,00 wine, we decided we might as well join the swollen ranks at the water. We got home, found a B&B, and booked it. That fast. The next morning, after loading up on cornetti and coffee at Bar Bonci, we headed over the Apennines, to the Le Marche coast.

It’s a wonder to me that Le Marche is as relatively undiscovered as it is. The landscape alone should draw scores of people. It’s like Tuscany on steroids. We had never been in the summer, and the sight of fields of golden sunflowers cascading down to the crystalline blue of the Adriatic was enough to still my noisy car to blessed silence.

Glorious.

We spent much of that first day at Numana, which required a shuttle bus and a hike, but we arrived to a slice of paradise. The tree-filled hills at our back whispered greenly, and the warm waters welcomed us. What looked like a sawn-off mountain was on our left, and once we were back in Spello, Angelo told us a fantastic story about that mountain.

Of course he did.

He said that long ago, the mountain was mountain shaped. But a landslide tore half the mountain and sent it spilling into the sea. He said that on stormy days, you can still hear the bell-tower of the church that crashed into the water ringing, “Tong! Tong!” To our spellbound faces, breathless with gratitude to be in front of our maestro for a story, Angelo grinned and confessed that this was probably just a story. Probably.

The next day of our vacation within a vacation, we drove a bit further on, to the other side of Numana. To another stretch of small pebbles wedged between rustling trees and murmuring waves. It was here that I discovered the magic of the Italian coast. A system that had always seemed convoluted to the point of repellant was revealed to be brilliant.  All you do is approach the kiosk, ask to rent an umbrella (ombrello) and two chairs (due lettini, literally beds), and they’ll show you to a spot that’s now yours. We hung our stuff on hooks on the ombrello, placed our drinks on the little tray, and took off into the water. For lunch, we strolled to the restaurant where we feasted on Adriatic fish, fried to crisp perfection, and served with light yet nuanced Le Marche white wine.  We struggled to tear ourselves away.

You’ll know from Il Bel Centro how much we enjoyed the area of Le Marche around Ascoli Piceno, this time we explored Urbino.  A city which is notable for many things, but the most important in my book is that Michelangelo so loved fossa, a kind of sheep’s milk cheese from around Urbino, that he bought a farm so he’d always have a ready supply. This may be pure fable, but don’t disabuse me, it’s a compelling image.

We tramped all over Urbino, including the decadent palazzo ducale, where we were treated to an orchestra rehearsing music for their next day’s performance, and had dinner at La Balestra Antica Hostaria. This was one of the best meals of our trip—an antipasti platter heaped with salumi and cheeses (including fossa!) from the region, and then I pretty much fell headlong in love with my dish of house-made tagliatelle with a rabbit and thyme ragù.

The meal was long, as Italian meals are, and so we didn’t head back to Spello until 10:00—meaning we didn’t roll onto Mount Subasio until about midnight. Still full, happy, and smelling more than a little of the Adriatic Sea.