This piece was written in happier times about happier times.
Doesn’t seem that long ago and TML hopes it will not be too long before we can feel as peaceful among friends as we did then.
TML is fortunate to have made acquaintances all over the world.
But we also have some very special personal friends who live for much of the year in Le Marche.
If you think of Italy as a boot, Le Marche is in the upper calf from the mountainous Apennines in the middle down to the Adriatic Sea facing Greece.
There is a railway and a flattish road along the coast but not far inland it becomes very hilly, with few big cities or autostradas.
The major towns are Urbano, Ancona and Macerata. Recently factories making modern crafts like furniture, textiles and leather goods have added to the traditional agricultural output of the area.
But to drive in on the twisting roads from the West is to be in a fairytale version of ancient countryside. That is how we entered.
We took a train from Rome’s Termini to Foligno in the rugged spine of the country, where our mates met us and after a modest and suitably bucolic lunch we were driven to San Ginesio, about 40 km from the coast.
Quiet life in the country
Our house for the next four days was a couple of hundred years old, but with all the modern comforts, solid creamy stone, roofed with those luscious, curved orangey terracotta tiles. Our friends have been working on it for fifteen years. Their shaded loggia overlooks a vigorous vegetable and herb garden then down and away to valleys of green grazing land, patches of untouched woodland and the occasional tracing of rocky wall or the punctuation of a simple house.
It could have been hand-painted in Hollywood.
You realize that in most cities today there is a regular background of aircraft, close or distant. We heard none for four days. Whatever animals were about they were too content to break the stillness.
Not all perfect however…
Right next door to our impeccable lodgings was a huge, house-sized pile of stones. Hmm. What were they for?
No. What had they been?
They were the remains of the neighbours’ home, previously bigger than ours, completely collapsed in the earthquake of 2016.
Not the only one.
On our drive through the eternally winding roads we saw quite a few such piles. Some in the process of restoration. Most not touched. There were a few tiny ‘villages’ of shipping containers, temporary housing provided by the Government
In our local town, San Ginesio, it was heartbreaking.
A small and perfect hill town, cuddling the crown of its hill for many hundreds of years, from whose ‘heights’ you can see through the hot clear air to two or three other hill towns near the limits of your sight.
It was sad to see such a gently aging creature monstered by the Big Bad Earthquake. The square tower of the church is now wrapped in rough planks and steel cables. Weather worn stone arches are reinforced by coarse timber formwork and a mesh of steel scaffolding.
Ages in the making, they are now possibly never to be repaired as the kids head off to the big cities and the Government doesn’t have the money to fix all these gems.
But life went on. Splendidly
Apart from the gently unfolding beauty around every curve of road or cobbled passageway we discovered pecorino.
Not the cheese. The wine. From a grape local to Le Marche. It seems to exhibit to its sense of place. Bright fresh, approachable, light on its feet but generously dancing with confident fruit and a dash of citrus. We found several levels of quality. The bargains were easy gurgling, chilled by the pool. More serious examples contributed worthily to piled plates of seafood, risotto, chicken and cheeses.
Your Palio starts here
Our stay was a fortunately unplanned during the festival of Ferragosta.
A good time for some of the locals to saddle up for their Palio. And a good time for them to tell us, over a glass or two of pecorino, that the much more famous one in Sienna had its inspiration here in San Ginesio. The formats are different but to stand close to the thundering hooves on this village arena is equally heart-stopping.
‘Our’ Palio is the culmination of 5 days of medieval dressing and dining.
Four riders in the colours of the four city gates gallop their charges around a figure eight within an oval track. With garments whipping at the wind, they carry a lance to strike at a target attached to the outstretched arm of a rotating wooden figure in the middle of the intersection. Points are awarded for the accuracy of the strike, and they are timed for their speed of their circuit. Exciting stuff!
This all takes place in front of the 11th century hospital whose balconies are filled with men, women and children in colourful costumes.
When we showed photos of this to folks back home they assumed they were of medieval paintings. Such was the feeling of authenticity.
Down Home on the Farm in Le Marche
The next day was not as heart-stopping and much more modern. A walk on a winding path edging the woods below the house, known to be the home of families of wild boar. The dogs walking with us would sometimes disappear in search of them. One of them had found a tusker a few months ago and came back with bloodied nose and flank. We suspected they were not trying too hard to renew the acquaintance today.
Back for a swim in the pool, whose equipment shed had for centuries been the piggery. Perhaps some wild boar had been sacrificed there in the past to make something like we find on our salumeria board at lunch today. The modern version of wild boar sausage is almost spreadable in a thick squishy smear that is pungently delicious.
Wild boar is also on the menu later as we head up to the village square for dinner. A huge and boisterous cinguale stew. More pecorino. More than one bottle. What is it they say about the wine of the district? Tastes better over there? It was great over there but we have tracked down a few bottles locally and the magic holds up back home.
So back home we are. But with so many good memories of a country that has suffered mightily. We wish them well and hope to call in on them before too long.
Le Marche was named one of 2020’s top 10 regions in Lonely Planet.