Some journeys are all about the heart and what it remembers. I lost mine to the Marche region of Italy many years ago.
y husband, Richard, and I first travelled here back in 2001. Marche is a magical landscape set in the east between Rimini and Pescara, with rolling hills, majestic mountains and medieval towns dotted on the hillsides. We stumbled across a small hilltop town called Sarnano almost by accident. It was late one evening, we needed to eat, and we drove into this pretty place, finding a simple restaurant up a steep and winding street.
Housed in a refurbished cellar, it served the most unforgettable ravioli di noci, a pasta stuffed with a crushed walnut filling with fresh Parmesan.
The menu was simple — there were only a few mains — but each dish was the most perfect offering.
Afterwards we strolled to the main town square in Sarnano, had a gelato and watched as local friends and neighbours greeted one another, stopping for an apéritif on their way home. It was warm and welcoming, with the most unspoiled, lush countryside all around. It felt like the kind of place you’d love to call home.
After that, we returned religiously each year, using Sarnano as our base to explore and hike the mountain trails of the Monti Sibillini national park, stretching across the Umbria-Marche Apennines. This is a vast wilderness where you can hike for hours and not meet another person. Wild boar (their meat or salami is offered in many Italian restaurants) and wolves roam in the woodlands. Hiking trails lead you through gorges, across glacial streams and through acres of native forest.
It felt untouched by mass tourism.
It was also the kind of place where you paid €1.10 for a coffee in the centre of town, sitting and watching the comings and goings of locals in a vibrant rural community. It was the kind of place where you could buy bread for sandwiches in the excellent local bakery and by the end of the week be on a first-name basis with the baker and the lady in the old-fashioned grocery store selling local cheeses.