We spent a fantastic week in the Italian region of Le Marche this summer staying in a villa with friends in the countryside not far from the beach resort of Grottamare. I love Le Marche, it is such a stunning region of huge contrasts from dramatic mountain scenery to rolling farmland and mile upon mile of sandy coastline.
So here are my reasons (in no particular order) why Le Marche is the perfect place for a family holiday:
- The beaches
The Adriatic coast has miles of sandy beaches. The water is calm, clean, warm and shallow making it perfect for toddlers. Resorts such as Grottamare and San Benedetto del Tronto are ideal destinations if you’re travelling with small children; there are sunbeds and umbrellas for hire and toilets, ice cream, pizza and coffee are all readily available in the countless bars and restaurants which line the seafront.
Families with older children will enjoy the beaches of the Parco del Conero in the north of the region where the coastline is more rugged and many of the beaches are accessible only by boat or on foot. Teenagers meanwhile might enjoy the bright lights of Rimini, even if their parents might not…
- The mountains
Whether you fancy a gentle ramble or a proper hike, the Sibillini Mountains National Park has something for all abilities, there’s even snow if you fancy visiting Le Marche for a spot of skiing come wintertime. The meadows are carpeted with wild flowers in late spring and early summer (May half term is perfect), an ideal time for families to visit before the summer sun becomes a barrier to serious hikes.
In Le Marche you can have the best of both worlds. Make the most of the stunning rural scenery by staying in a self-contained villa or in an apartment at an agriturismo (where there’s often a shared swimming pool) but still be within day trip distance of the coast. If you prefer to stay at a beach resort, there are plenty of hotels, apartments and campsites right on the coast which offer pretty good value for money.
- The food
Obviously this is Italy where pizza, pasta and ice cream are the staples of any holiday with kids. As with all Italian regions, Le Marche has its local specialities: you’ll find plenty of meat, particularly pork; lentils; truffles; fish stews and also the famed (in Italy anyway) stuffed fried olives of Ascoli Piceno. There are plenty of vineyards in Le Marche, I particularly enjoyed the mineral flavours of the pecorino white wines.
- Child-friendly towns to explore
There is a multitude of charming towns to explore in Le Marche and they are all manageable size-wise for sightseeing with small children.
Narrow medieval streets perfect for little explorers and car-free piazzas for energetic toddlers abound in Le Marche. For older children, you’ll find agreeable levels of nightlife to expose your teens to and maybe you can all enjoy a civilised passeggiata with other families along the seafronts.
There are more food and cultural festivals than you could possibly fit into a lifetime in Le Marche, let alone a summer holiday. There is jousting in Ascoli Piceno, open air opera at Macerata, jazz by the sea in Fano. And then there are the “sagre”, pretty much every town or village in Le Marche has a gastronomic celebration of something during the summer months so you’re bound to be able join in somewhere; Sassoferato celebrates wild boar; Corinaldo celebrates polenta; Fermo celebrates shellfish and come harvest time (if you can escape in the autumn with pre-school kids) everyone celebrates wine. Expect to eat and drink a lot.
- Getting there
Apart from the region’s own airport, Ancona, (currently only accessible by bad-guy Ryanair from Stansted), you can also reach Le Marche from Rome in three very scenic hours through the mountains on good roads which flew by for our kids. You can combine Le Marche with a quick break in or near Rome (as we did) or indeed other cities such as Pisa, Florence or Bologna, all of which are three or four hours’ drive away. One of my favourite drives in Italy is through the Sibillini Mountains from Norcia to Ascoli Piceno.
- Low key tourism
Le Marche is where a lot of Italians take their holidays. If you’re a bit of a travel snob and don’t like hearing an English accent in your holiday destination, this is the place to come. By being off the tourist radar this also means lower prices and a more authentic experience.
- Outdoor pursuits
Aside from the obvious attractions of the sea, there are lakes and rivers for kayaking, rafting or wild swimming; caves to explore; mountains to walk or bike down (or up) and adventure play parks and water parks to expend energy in.
- History, art and architecture
If you enjoy big-hitters like Florence and Siena, try Urbino: a hilltop beauty in the north of the region packed with Renaissance art and architecture but overlooked by most tourists.
In the south is Ascoli Piceno with its delightful Piazza del Popolo where a long and lazy lunch is essential if you want to fully appreciate its elegant palazzos and the town’s cathedral.
As with all Italian regions, you’ll find castles to explore, bell towers to climb and other architectural wonders which allow you to slip a bit of culture into your unsuspecting offspring.