Holidaying and Eating in Italy: Veneto to Marche and Tuscany (and back), Part One

“Are you sitting comfortably?” my man asked as I mounted our motorbike upon departure. My day was made with this concern of his over my well being, let alone the fact we were heading to Italy for a summer vacation.

By the early evening we would arrive to a wonderful town of Urbino
First stopover: Menegaldo in Veneto

Since we left home a bit later than planned, we needed to adjust our plans for where to stop for lunch. When we travel to Italy our first lunch break is usually in Rubano, near Padua, because of this great bistro run by Alajmo brothers. This time we wouldn’t reach it early enough to arrive within the Italian lunch hours so, instead, we stopped near Pralongo just before Venice in a restaurant with delicious seafood. (Their dessert trolley carries many a treat too.)

Unquestionably I went for the grilled razor clams as a starter, followed by spaghetti alle vongole – both molluscs came from the Adriatic Sea. I really couldn’t think of a better way to start a holiday. On another plus side, I didn’t feel sleepy at all after the meal.

It’s a place where we are always greeted with the widest smiles, this time being no exception which, if you’re superstitious, or not, is a very fine beginning of a holiday. By the end of the meal the proprietor would come over from behind his till desk to inquire if everything was right with our meal.

I was beyond happy to find capelunghe on the menu, a Venetian shellfish delicacy reminiscent in form and taste of long prohibited datteri di mare, another extraordinary shellfish (prohibited in Italy since 1988, in EU since 2006, due to irreversible damage caused to rocky coasts by excavating the shellfish that grow inside the rocks).

Next stop: Urbino, Le Marche

Driving past the grande dames of Italy, Venice, Padua, crossing the Po, then past Bologna, Ravenna and San Marino, we reached the wonderful Renaissance town of Urbino. It’s a remarkable walled town sitting graciously atop a high hill that lends to its breezy summer evenings.

The great Raphael was born here, among many other famous Italians, so was the pope Clement XI who restored the town to its glory.

Raphael, the great artist, was born in Urbino
Courtyard of the house in which Raphael was born (now a museum)

Urbino, with its historic centre proclaimed World Heritage Site by Unesco, was a very pleasant, sweet surprise: it’s as pretty as a picture. The buildings are of dull pink and honey coloured bricks, there is no visible street advertising (save for the communal information boards in the portico of the Piazza della Repubblica carrying political messages – if this is considered advertising then this was it), everything is tidy and well preserved.

Narrow & steep

The town’s feeling is of youth that study there (Urbino’s university Carlo Bo has a history of over 500 years), the great artists and patrons of the past, and of tranquillity of the surrounding hills and scenic countryside.

From pink to orange, the builders of this town knew their pantone

 

Life.

The food in this area comprises mostly of meats and mushrooms, explained our landlady, but if you go down to the coast there’s fish to be had. I absolutely loved the cibo marchigiano (food of Marche), either di terra or di mare.

There’s crescia sfogliata, a type of flatbread we never heard of before. We had it both plain and stuffed with prosciutto and I regret not having more of it.

Tagliatelle al ragu was my strong favourite because ragu was so good every time. Obviously, if it’s done from scratch with the best of ingredients, without rushing it, it cannot come out as anything other than the most satisfying dish. Additionally, the red wine of Marche goes well with the food and is good too.

Tagliatelle al ragu

In one of the backstreets of Urbino, beneath the walls of giardino botanico, there is a restaurant Osteria L’angolo divino where on the day fish was served for dinner. I believe I have never ever had so wonderfully executed monkfish in my life. You’ll have to take my word for it because it certainly wasn’t photogenic.

Ricotta stuffed tortellini and fave (broadbeans)
Exploring northern Marche

The best thing about Marche is definitely its people. They’re very friendly, very nice and hospitable, always making sure a visitor is felt looked after. All this comes naturally to them, without making any fuss; it’s just plain, good old friendliness and hospitality. You wanna move there right away, that’s how welcoming they are.

Three breakfasts in Urbino, three different table settings at the lovely b&b. Prosciutto was excellent, as were Casciotta d’Urbino, the local sheep and cow milk cheese, and the tender ricotta, not to neglect the selection of home-made cakes by Beatrice and always a bowl of fresh fruit salad. She went out to her garden for gooseberries, mind you.

One day we took the Cesane scenic route outside Urbino to drive among the fields and hills very similar to those in Tuscany: sunflowers, wheat, vineyards, olive groves. It’s an agricultural paradise.

We drove the ancient Via Flaminia, these days a modern country road through several villages and towns, which in the times of the Roman Empire used to be the main road connecting Rome to Rimini on the Adriatic coast. Via Flaminia led us to a fabulous coastal town of Fano, very neat and elegant, that was formed as a Roman colony where Via Flaminia reached the Adriatic.

Statua della Fortuna (Statue of Fortuna) in Piazza XX Settembre in Fano
Seeking shade in midday heat

We strolled Fano’s pedestrianised old town, the sun heated streets of a typical Roman grid layout, window-shopped a bit, had a drink and a few scoops of superb ice cream at Gelateria Maki (local for right here).

We liked this ice cream (and Fano) so much we returned for a stroll and additional scoops the next day!
Parco naturale del Monte San Bartolo separates the inland slopes and hills from the Adriatic with its spectacular sandy cliffs. View from the top edge is amazing: there’s only the endless blue of the sea and the accentuating music by an orchestra of the cicadas.

I knew there was something misty and mystic about Gradara but I couldn’t pin it till after we visited. According to a legend, two lovers from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paolo and Francesca, symbols of pure love, made condemning mischief in Gradara. Anyway, it’s a strikingly beautiful medieval village, still very much inhabited, with dramatic walls and a commanding fortress. Vistas extend over the fields lining the gentle hills to the inland of Marche over to the Adriatic coast on the other side.

Picture-perfect Gradara

Gola di Furlo, a gorge on the ancient Via Flaminia, is another beauty in the northern part of Marche. The tunnel, built by the Roman emperor Vespasian, is still intact and the natural highlights include sky-high vertical rock mountains and several caves carved by the water.

I’m very glad we chose Marche as one of our holiday destinations this summer. It was a new discovery for us (except for this one-night stop beauty near Senigallia a couple of years back which made us aware of the region in the first place) and, luckily, there are many more places within the region that we didn’t have time to explore this time, so we have a reason to revisit (as if we need one).

La dolce vita in the shade of the arches in Urbino

Next, over the Apennines to Tuscany. (Coming soon.) If you feel like it, do come back for details of our pleasurable trip and indulgent moments on the other side of the Italian boot.

EDIT: Here’s part 2 of our 2018 Italian getaway: Maremma, Tuscany (and more)

Related:

Razor clams recipe

Absolutely wonderful B&B in Urbino Residenza Ambrogi

Another great restaurant in Urbino La Stella

One of the best gelateria’s in Italy Gelateria Maki

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *