Osteria Teatro Strabacco

When it comes to restaurants in Ancona, Osteria Teatro Strabacco  is our favorite.  A restaurant that offers typical Italian food in the middle of the city center, but is hidden enough so that it’s not crowded and is frequented only by those that know of it’s existence (now you know, so, go!), this cozy nook has drawn in names from all over the globe.

StrabaccoAt Strabacco, food hospitality is treated like the theater- every evening, and every meal, is a different scene with different props, backdrops, actors, colors, tastes, smells, and audiences.  With its three levels and solely wooden furnishings, even the building itself can be likened to a stage.  Add the mass of colorful objects, old photographs, candles, old-fashioned lamps, and plastic figures, and you truly feel like you’re walking back in time (yet somehow eccentrically modern) through a fairytale.  And this is all before food even comes into consideration.

The quality of dishes leaving the kitchen is always superb, and the selection of wines is truly remarkable (1,200 of them to pick from!).  If asked, the oste Danilo Tornifoglia (known as Kiki to friends and native Ancona-ians) will take you downstairs, where you will find an old piano and a wine cellar that is tough to beat when it comes to showcasing the wines of Strabacco3Marche.  Both cuisine and wine inventory focus mainly on traditional productions from the region, but there are also rotating specials and unusual twists.  Pasta with a minty cream sauce?  Bruschetta al lardo?  Yes, please, we’ll try it all.

And, is is worth to add, that their tiramisu is the best that I’ve ever had- and, while traveling the world, I have made an effort to try my favorite dessert every time that the opportunity presented itself.

Whether you are an artist or a professional, need a nice date spot, a casual dinner, or a wine break, Strabacco will impress.  Even if you are just passing through the streets, alone and without a destination in mind, come set food inside.  Much like a “chef’s table”, there is the special tavolo quattro; one of the large communal tables that is filled with just as many personal stories, laughs, and new friendships as with memories of people (both famous and anonymous) that have sat at its benches and discovered Danilo’s charm.

Osteria Strabacco
Via Oberdan,2
Tel:  071 56748

 

Giulia Mare

One of the restaurants lining Via del Golfo, Giulia Mare was chosen as our lunch stop due to its snazzy design and name (after all, anything with Italian Julia‘s in it can’t be too bad).  Good choice, overall.

Giulia Mare is technically on the beach strand, but on the “city” side of the road.  Thus, you can still watch the herds of bathing suit-clad people stroll by and the line of the sea in the distance, but you are separated from the sand (or, pebbles) by the main street along the Numana beach.  The perpetual roar of passing motors would by my only real criticism of this abode; especially in the outside patio, it’s difficult to hold a conversation with a constant stream of scooters whizzing past on the other side of the low hedge.  Once moving inside though, the noise subsided and I enjoyed the experience.  Walls made up of huge windows; kind of like an aquarium, almost.

The cuisine is simple: seafood.  Especially for popular seaside towns, portions were big and prices not expensive.  After an antipasto misto di pesce and a shared pasta dish, we were both pretty full.  Service was swift and professional, and she answered my indecision with a list of tasty suggestions (and a lot of time for deciding).

Giulia Mare 1The main draw of the place, at least for me, is its design.  Neo-architecture, simplicity, minimalism, glass and the color green.  A nice change of environment from the old, sepia stone houses that host most things in Italy .

Giulia Mare 2Nice atmosphere, clean place, good-sized portions, and fresh food.  If you’re looking for a meal on the summertime Numana strand (near the port, in transition between Numana and Marcelli) this place gets out vote.  Simple, but with taste (both for the eyes and the mouth).

Giulia Mare
Via del Golfo 5
Numana
tel: 071 7360192

Portonovo

PortonovoFrom Ancona: 12 kilometers southeast along the Adriatic coastline, Portonovo.  Nicknamed the Green Bay of the Adriatic.  Hosts several internationally-acclaimed restaurants.  Known for its azzurro waters, numerous mussels, and luxurious resorts.  Full of history and exotic birds.  The new port that became the gem of the Monte Conero park and attracts both food and nature fans.

As a place of nature, Portonovo offers an isolated excursion from the rest of the region.  Monte Conero, the forested mountaintop that breaks the characteristically smooth Marche coastline and juts boldly into the Adriatic sea, has a silhouette recognized throughout the Ancona Portonovo Pondland.  And at its base, a couple hundred meter drop in elevation from the main road, is an ancient fisherman village that strives to protect its natural beauties.  In addition to the sealife (especially the mussels, or, moscioli in the local dialect) off the shores, there is a variety of birds that call this terrain their home.  There are also two lakes: il Lago Profondo and il Lago del Calcagno (also known as il Lago grande), both of which offer a variety of ecosystems due to the mixture of salty ocean water and water from multiple freshwater sources in the bay.  From herds of ducks waddling across the parking lot to information boards with detailed diagrams of flowers, there is a collection of fauna and flora to document.

Ancona Portonovo BeachOther than the short-scale walking paths throughout the area, there is also a nice stretch of beach.  At the northern end is la spiaggia di mezzavalle, a long stretch of white pebbles reaching all the way up to Il Trave.  At the southern end is another series of beach stretches (le spiagge della vella, dei Sassi Bianchi, and dei Gabbiani), but access varies throughout the seasons due to water levels.  Regardless, both extremes of the beachline tend to be of finer pebbles, while the middle stretch consists of gigantic boulders separating buildings from sea; these are great fun to climb on.  Especially during a windy, rainy night, when the waves crash against the lowest level of rocks and cast great walls of ocean mist.  Caution advised though.

For the architecture enthusiast, there is an old tower named Torre Clementina (La Torre di Guardia).  Ordered to be built by Pope Clemente XI in an effort to combat the pirate intrusions (pirates!), this beautiful building has since been handed down through generations of a particularly wealthy family.  I used to have daydreams of buying this property, but the only way to do so would be to marry into the royal family and become the next heir- and I am quite happy with my current Italian love life, so I’ll let that be.  Although, once a year, the tower is open to the public, so that everyone has the opportunity to walk its balconies and pretend that it is their estate for a few minutes.

For the history geek, there is La Chiesa di Santa Maria, a roman gem erected in 1034 and dedicated to monastic life.  There are also the remains of an old fortress built in 1810 by Napoleaon’s Italian viceroy.  Every year, there is a procession to honour its military history.  Today, the fortress has been converted into a remarkable 4-star hotel and restaurant.

Ancona Portonovo1For the food lover, there are several restaurants and bars dotting the oceanfront: Da Anna, Da Emilia, Il Laghetto, Il Molo, Da Giacchetti.  All of these dining establishments specialize in seafood, especially in the different types of clams and other shelled critters in surrounding waters.

Portonovo is, theoretically, ‘uninhabited’ in the sense that there are no residential houses there.  There are, however, two camping grounds (Camping Club Adriatico and La Torre), and several upscale hotels containing either dining options or spa facilities (or both).

Whether you are looking for a scenic afternoon walk through oaks and pebbles, or a luxurious weekend away, Portonovo is sure to fill the task.

Getting there:
During the summer, Bus 94 takes you straight from the city center of Ancona to Portonovo.  During the winter… call us, and we’ll show you around ; )

Grotte di Frasassi

The Marche region really has it all:  lakes, beaches, mountains, hills, fields, forests… and caves.  The Grotte di Frasassi is the largest karst cave system in the region (the first section of the cave itself could easily fit the Milan Cathedral), and its abundance of water trails results in a vast amount of stalactites and stalagmites.  In other words, this cave is really big and really cool.

Grotte di Frasassi6Located a few hundred meters outside of Genga is the first stop of the Frasassi experience: parking and ticketing.  Sounds simple, right?  And the actual parking and ticketing portion of that is very simple and straight-forward.  But, there’s more!  The ticketing booth is in the middle of a little, primitive plaza filled with dozens of booths bustling with artisan crafts, toys, souvenirs, glass-works, and a vast assembly of interesting creations.  There is also a row of food booths, which sell mouth-watering delicacies from the region (and further).  Both Gregory and Julia suggest the last booth on the left; the old man running the stand is adorable, the focaccia, porchetta, and formaggio col tartufo is delicious, and his apple pie is definitely one-of-a-kind (try it).

Frasassi3From this little parking terminal (which also offers free public bathrooms- you know that this is a big deal in Europe), everyone that wants to go to the caves takes a bus that rolls around every few minutes.  It’s about a three minute ride to the actual cave entrance.  Going inside, you pass through a long tunnel lined with the region’s wines (some of the bottles look really old) before the first cavern.  Grotte di Frasassi is comprised of a several smaller ‘rooms’ of caves, and the typical tour consists of a 20-minute walk through all of its wonders.  The tour guide’s presentation is in Italian, but you can pick up an audio guide in several different languages if you wish.

After the tour is done, you can either take the bus back to the ticketing fairgrounds or make the stroll back along the road.  It’s an easy walk downhill with some picture moments.  There is a little trail that goes down to the river, a church with a playground, and some little nooks for exploring.

Frasassi5For the more adventurous, there is a more intense level of caving offered (we have yet to try it), in which you get a flashlight attached to your head and poke around some of the darker, tighter corners of the cave system.  There are also package deals and multiple-day excursions available, if you would like to explore the area a little bit more.  Open year-round, the caves offer a lovely retreat from the summer heat and something to break up the bleak winter days.

Frasassi Caves
Tel. 0732 97211

Lago Castreccioni (Lago di Cingoli)

Lago CastreccioniIl Lago Castreccioni, also known as Lago di Cingoli, is a lake created in the ’80 when a dam was placed across the Musone River.  The biggest artificial lagoon in the Marche region (rather, in all of Central Italy), Lago Castreccioni covers more than 2 squared kilometers and reaches depths of 55 feet.  The dam itself is 67 meters long and stretches for 280 meters.  Standing in the middle of it, there is a great contrast to behold: on one side, a peaceful pond, one the other, a sudden drop that stretches on for a while before the forest ground and stream at the bottom.

Lago Castreccioni1The area surrounding the lake is rich with all kinds of local flora and fauna, as well as migratory birds.  The clean water offers a variety of fish and reflects the surrounding mountains with surprising clarity.  Activities comprise of those pertaining to excursions during summer vacation: long hikes along the lake’s perimeter, fishing (Category B fishing license and an authorized regional membership ticket required… but it’s Italy, who checks?!), renting out paddle boats, picnicking, and lounging upon its few secluded shores.  There are RV facilities and a couple of caffe’s directly on the lake, as well as several agriturismo establishments a little bit further off that have popped up in the past couple of years.  If you’re feeling particularly brave, there is also Cingoli Avventura, central Italy’s first adventure park that recently opened and offers a variety of tree-climbing and zip-lining courses for both younger and older adventurers.

But, above all and despite the growth of tourism in recent years, Lago di Cingoli’s greatest lure is its long stretch of nature.  It is true that in the summer, the caffe’s and RV ramps are filled up, but, somehow, the people diffuse into the wilderness.  If you’re looking for a long walk with just birds for company, you’ll find it.  And if you’re looking for something even more special, I suggest visiting the lake just before sunset (remember that the lake is surrounded by mountains, so, take that into account when figuring out sunset times) and watching the reds and purples paint a mirror reflection upon the lake’s surface.  Note: if you are ambitious enough to watch it from the middle of the dam, I suggest that you bring a flashlight to make it back along the road to the main parking area.  From personal experience.

Il Porto (Port)

As a seaport city, the port is obviously a big part of Ancona’s economy, geography, and orientation.  The first Italian city with an international port, both cargo and cultures have continued to travel for thousands of years (all the way back to 387 B.C); today, it is estimated that around 1,500,000 tourists pass through its harbors annually.

Ancona Porto2

In addition to tourism, merchandise and fish also hold a major part of the port’s composition.  As a direct outlet to Eastern Europe, many cargo trucks start their travels out of Italy at this station.  Fishing-wise, Ancona is the second biggest port in the Adriatic sea.  And for a completely different flash of scenery, there is also the Lazzaretto on the southern edge of the porto– a former quarantine station for travelers built upon an artificial island that, today, hosts a variety of entertainment events.

Other than the train station, the port is the only other part of the city that has some kind of activity happening at almost all hours of the day.  There are usually a couple of passenger ferries that leave every day, and the fishermen and truck drivers occupy the rest of the gates.  There are a few caffe’s and restaurants along the port, a very primitive public bathroom, and a train station that was meant to connect Ancona Port with Ancona Main Station, but remains mainly unused (except for the roof that provides shelter for the homeless).  Nonetheless, the port is ideally situated for those leaving and arriving to the city; bordering the historic city center on the western side, there is a vast assortment of clothing stores, bookstores, grocery stores, and random souvenier nooks right up the hill.  Thus, it really is not too inconvenient to take a stroll through the city upon arrival on Italian shores…

AnconaDuomoPorto - Copy
Here is a list of passenger ferry operators out of Ancona (click on name to check current schedule and rates):

Adria (Durazzo)
ANEK Superfast Ferries [aka Blue Star Ferries] (Igoumenitsa & Patras)
Blue Line (Split & Hvar)
Jadrolinija (Zara, Spalato, & Stari Grad)
Minoan Lines (Igoumenitsa & Patras)
Montenegro Lines (Bar)
SNAV (Spalato)

Ancona Porto 1
Julia’s adventures with Gregory started because she needed a couch in Ancona for the night before leaving for Greece.  So, despite its sprawled layout and contribution to unaesthetic cranes, the Ancona port continues to bring happiness into the lives of those least expecting it.  Go have a look.

Ancona PortoGetting There:
There are clear signs throughout the city pointing toward il porto.  If you need to get to the Ancona Train Station from the port (or visa versa), there are 2.5 km along Via Guglielmo Marconi/Via Flaminia that you can walk in about 15 minutes.  There is also Bus 1/4 right outside of the port (stop at Piazza della Repubblica) and takes about 5-10 minutes to reach the train station.  Taxis are also available: 071 43321.

Il Trave

Ancona Il TraveBetween Ancona and Portonovo are about 12 kilometers of jagged shoreline.  And while Bus 94 will take you from the city center of Ancona to the heart of Portonovo in a few minutes, the 12 kilometers of Via del Conero can also be covered by foot (though it is not generally recommended, as there is no sidewalk along the country road- and forbidden at night, as there are no street lamps either).  About a kilometer north of Portonovo, you will find a hiking trail (“Sentiero del Trave”) stemming left from the main road, which will take you through a couple of fields and down a steep hill onto Spiaggia di Mezzavalle.  This spiaggia libera can likewise be reached from Portonovo, although tides usually require wading through some shallow water before reaching the higher elevation of the beach.

Ancona Il Trave7Regardless of arrival method, the beach boasts natural, untouched surfaces and a geographic phenomenon called Il Trave.  Extending out of a cliff, this strand of rock reaches about a kilometer into the sea, skimming the surface of the water nearer to the beach before trailing off into the depths.  On top of this carved rock is an old, abandoned house called “Casotto Fattorini”.  Before years of destruction from the elements, this cement building used as one of the two fishing houses.  Today, it serves as the iconic silhouette of Il Trave, still standing after so many years, even if its condition is not quite at the same level.

As on most of the rock formations in the Riviera del Conero, Il Trave is coated with a layer of mussels (moscioli, in the dialect of Ancona), the catching of which is strictly forbidden and regulated.  The freedom of the mussels to grow naturally and without disruption of their environment is important to Portonovo, a sea post recognized globally for its seafood cuisine.

Ancona Il Trave9

The beach around Il Trave is a treasure chest; thousands of shells and unusual pebbles take the place of sand, and various sea life gets washed ashore.  Among volleyballs, glassy stones, and single shoes, you never know what you’re going to stumble across.

Passetto

Passetto 8Passetto is the name of the most famous beach of Ancona, as well as the accompanying neighborhood.  Heading east from the city center is Viale della Vittoria, a long boulevard lined with trees that cuts through the entire city and ends with a giant monument on top of a pedestal (in the summer, day and night, the steps are covered with couples, school groups, and old men with dried bread in their hands).  Designed by Guido Cirilli, this massive, white masterpiece was created to honor the fallen soldiers of World War I.  When you look out the other side of the monument, you realize that you have reached the edge of the city; out of nowhere, you hear the powerful roar of waves, smell the sting of salt, and feel a certain thickness in the air.  At the edge of your feet is a sudden drop; hundreds and hundreds of little steps bring you down from Passetto at city-level to Passetto at sea-level.

When Gregory was a child, he went often with his mom and grandpa to eat at the grotte of family friends.  In the past, fishermen used these grotte to store their boats, but today, the great majority of them serve as converted living rooms for families that lounge at the Pasetto from sunrise to sunset on colorful summer days.  Taking a left at the bottom of the long series of stairs, you will see a series of gates attached to the side of the cliff; during the summer, these grotte are open and people are playing music, making bonfires, and enjoying a lunchtime glass of white wine.  During the winter, these sheds remain closed, but you can still admire their colorful facade.

Passetto 4aThe entire curve of the Passetto stretches on for a bit, ending with a huge diagonal plane of rock that is great for sunbathing or merely lounging on a towel and reading a book.  When you want to return to the city level, there is a hidden staircase tucked away in an alcove that will bring you back to the park (and provide some Kodak moments), as well as a panoramic elevator.  Or you can make the trek back up the many stairs. Standing at the bottom of the staircase and looking up, you can see why it it nicknamed “The Crowned Eagle”:  the looping, symmetrical stairways form the wings of the bird, and the pillared monument on top serves as the crown.  To any ships sailing toward shore, this stone bird would have greeted them from miles away.

At the top of the ascend, you are back at La Pineta del Passetto, a little park surrounding the monument and the heart of the district.  The residential district is developed around the War Memorial in Piazza IV Novembre and extends into the hills of Monte Pelago and Monte Santa Margherita.  Mostly residential, but there are also a few hotels, caffe’s, and kiosks scattered throughout.  This neighborhood is one of the pricier piers in Ancona, but features spectacular views, free of charge, to anyone that takes the path along the cliffs on the southern side or strolls to the top of the park on the northern end.

Getting there:
If you do not want to make the easy, but not-too-short, walk down Viale della Vittoria from the city center, you can take the Line 1/4 bus, departure also from “il Porto” and theTrain station.
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PasettoSunrise*Julia loves this place so much, that she even dedicated a canvas to it.  She suggests that, for maximum pleasure, you wake up when the sky is still dark, make the walk down to the rocky beach, spread a blanket on the ground (or on some grotta‘s front porch), open up your thermos of hot tea, and wait for the sun to peak over the horizon and bring illumination to the most breathtaking view of Ancona.

Numana

Numana City 4On the other side of Monte Conero are two cities that tend to overlap in the minds of tourists: Sirolo and Numana.  It wasn’t until I attempted to sort through all of my pictures that I fully understood the difference between the two.  Sirolo stretches on for a bit along the hilltop before blending into the similar layout of Numana- “Lady of the Conero”, and of the Adriatic coast.

Numana 2The city of Numana can be divided into two parts: Numana alta and Numana bassa. Numana alta is the historical section of the town, at the top of the hill.  There are quaint streets, long sets of shallow staircases, colorful flowers, and an amazing observation plateau that provides views of Monte Conero, the beaches below, and a shoreline that continues into the horizon for another few hundred kilometers.  From this scenic balcony, there are steps that lead down to la Spiaggiola, a beach in the midst of a sea alcove.  This beachline stretches on to the right, crossing the line into Numana bassa: the Marcelli port, the newer section of town adjacent to it, and the stretch of coast next to that.  Ecco Numana.


Beach Talk:
Numana’s most northern beach is Dei Frati, and it is the quietest and most secluded of the four.  La Spiaggiola, the main beach of Numana Alta, is made up of similar white pebbles and offers chair/cabin rentals.  Due to a line of rocks in the sea parallel to the beach, the waters here are usually very calm.  During the summer, there is a free bus that offers transportation every thirty minutes between the city center and the beach.  Around the corner is Numana bassa Beach; adjacent to the marina and full of restaurants, beach facilities, playgrounds, and bars.  There is free parking for cars around the harbor and paid parking along the seaside- although both fill up almost instantaneously in the summer, so it might be better to park outside of the city center and have a stroll to the beach.  Finally, to the south, is Marcelli Beach: a domino stack of beach facilities and restaurant bars on the golden-pebbled beach.  During the summer (especially Friday nights, June and July), there are dance parties on the beach that last most of the night.

City Talk:
Around the city and beachside, there is a variety of offered activities:  birdwatching, beach volleyball, card tournaments, cycling, horseback riding,boating,  running (Monte Conero Marathon), kite flying, snorkeling, golf courses.  But there are also a few pedestrian streets through the historic center that offer architectural treasures (see the Santuario del Crocifisso and the Bishop’s Palace) and historical treats (see the arco di torre e acquedotto, both stamps of Roman rule and construction, as well as the antiquarium statale).  There are window shopping opportunities and a few art galleries, as well as a beautiful observation deck and authentic restaurants.  As in the rest of the Ancona region, local cuisine focuses on mussels, bordetto, rabbit, anchovies, and other fresh shelled sea creatures (and gelato, of course).

Elcito

The tagline (I’m sure there is an Italian term for this that is more accurate…) for this village is: qui le stelle sono più vicine.  Translating to: here, the stars are closer.  Meaning that this tiny cluster of houses it at the very tip of quite a large hill; a division in the San Severino municipality in the Marche region.  It is in places like this that you wonder if the inhabitants (the really rich ones that can afford to have a house there to retire to for a month or two during the summer) even get electricity or running water.  It is separated from everything by a few kilometers of winding, steep roads, and there’s not much around other than the tall mountains in the distance.

It’s a little fairytale to visit, though.  To make the drive through the region, walk around for a few minutes, breathe in the fresh air, admire the view, and fantasize what it would be like to reside in a place where even the bumblebees beat their wings at a slower pace.  In the summer, you can see clothes hanging out to dry and bright patches of red poppies throughout the village.  There also seems to be quite the horse population in this area; the first time I visited, I saw an old man running around the hilltop, trying to lure in his escaped animal.  The second time we went there, we had to park the car for a while on the way back down the hill due to a couple of men with a group of donkeys cutting down trees and carrying it down the hill.  Then we played with the horses and went on our way.

I have yet to be there during the nighttime, but I would love to test the validity of Elcito’s slogan!