I live in Florence, Italy and am from the US. This means I get travel questions from people at home pretty regularly, and honestly pretty regularly in general, and I’d say ninety percent of that travel is focused on an extremely small percent of Italian destinations: Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples (really just to get to the Amalfi Coast) and here in Florence. I was a tour guide for a few years so I normally hand out my restaurant recommendations and best restaurants, but to those few that really want to visit Italy for the “right’ reasons, for those that can handle the language, and the roads, and the Italian lack of structure or logic in many situations, then I tell them what I really want them to experience, and I send them to Le Marche.
For Italians, the region of Le Marche is the forgotten land. When I tell them I lived in Ascoli Piceno their foreheads wrinkled in confusion. Why would an American go there? Tourism in Italy is so entirely focused into the city center of the main historic cities that many people forget there’s an entire beautiful country hidden behind the thrills of Rome, Florence, and Venice.
I tell people to go to Le Marche not because I know the area by heart, but because I know it still has one – a strong agricultural soul still thriving through the generations. I moved back to Florence because it was my only option to return at the time. I chose to stay in this city because I fell in love, and my husband is Florentine, so here we are. Eventually, I fell in love with Florence too, and now this city is truthfully home, but really, my favorite places are still hidden away from the flashy brochures, only known to those that have been born there or the true adventurers that like to explore without a map.
You can even get to Ascoli without a car if you wanted to. You just take a flight into Rome, walk a few blocks from the main train station, and grab a three-hour coach bus ride through the mountains to the other side of the boot. You’d get off at an empty train station, and no one would speak English enough to help you find your way into town, so you’d have to use your Italian, or I guess Google maps would help now – when I was there, smartphones didn’t really exist yet.
If you visited Ascoli, you’d realize there aren’t any restaurants trying to cut corners with ingredients or charge this and that fee. Instead of souvenir shops, there are fruit vendors and kitchen stores, bakeries and little fashion designer boutiques. There are repairmen and workshops, bookstores and cafes. All of it functional, all of it Italian, all of it pure and without the cacophony of suitcases bouncing of cobblestones or the floods of tourists crowding the sidewalks.
Florence is lovely and Venice is a dream, but if you want Italy, real Italy, then talk to me about Le Marche. I’ll talk your ear off for eternity.