Le Marche Travel Guide
In the south of Le Marche, near the region’s border with Abruzzo, Ascoli Piceno is one of Italy’s little-known jewels.
The striking city center is made entirely of travertine, an ivory-colored stone that’s been used here since Roman times, first to construct dwellings and temples, and later, churches, palaces and municipal buildings.
Even the pavement tiles in the city’s main square, the Piazza del Popolo, are made of travertine. Any visit to Ascoli Piceno should begin here, at the beating heart of the city.
Flanked by the imposing gothic Church of San Francesco, the 13th-century Captain’s Palace and the 16th-century vaulted Merchant’s Lodge, the piazza seems to glow when the light hits a certain way.
Many residents still walk in the square each evening to catch up with neighbors and friends, a custom now abandoned in most Italian cities.
Stop in at Caffè Meletti, located in one corner of the square, for pastry and an espresso in the morning or an aperitivo in the evening. Its Liberty-style architecture is a nod to Old World refinement and charm.
The recently reopened restaurant on the top floor serves delicious, creative interpretations of traditional cuisine, including olive all’Ascolana—fried olives stuffed with a mixture of meat, Parmesan cheese, vegetables and herbs.
This delicacy is made with the Tenera Ascolana olive variety, which, as the name suggests, are tender and fleshy. The local olive oils are among the best in Italy.
Walking is the best way to visit the city and take in the numerous Romanesque churches and medieval towers. In Piazza Arringo, stop at the Cathedral of Saint Emidio, named after the city’s patron saint and, according to local legend, protector against earthquakes. Inside, marvel at the intricately frescoed ceilings and vaulted crypt.
Outside of the town center, visit the Malatesta Fortress and the Cecco Bridge, as well as the temple of Sant’Emidio alle Grotte, built into the hillside. If staying in town, stay at the charming Cento Torri.
Ascoli Piceno is in the Rosso Piceno denomination, which spans 120 towns in four provinces. Given the vast territory and the flexible blending regulations (varying amounts of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and other varieties), this red wine generally lacks identity and also has variable quality levels.
One of the estates making good Rosso Piceno is Le Caniette. Rosso Piceno Superiore hails only from the Ascoli province, which local producers maintain has the best growing conditions.
Yet, the most interesting wines from the undulating hills around Ascoli Piceno are white, especially the small production of Offida Pecorino DOCG.
Nearly extinct in the early 1980s, the Pecorino grape was saved by local winemaker Guido Cocci Grifoni, who, after years of experimentation, made his first vintage of 100% Pecorino in 1990.
Because of its intense floral aromas of acacia and jasmine, rich white-fruit flavors, creamy texture and mineral notes, more wineries are now producing this fascinating wine, which pairs well with fish and white meats.