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.


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).


During our stay at Locanda Nemorosa, we took a day to drive around the region of Montecarotto.  The entire area of land is scattered with little towns and vineyards; it’s quite the landscape to slowly float around through on a lazy afternoon without an agenda.  And, while there are so many various paesini scattered throughout the land, many of them barely marked, they each seem to hold something special, and people always suggest them with enthusiasm.  I’m not quite sure just what it is that makes them each so unique, as after a dozen of these thick-walled, top-of-the-hill clusters of deserted houses, the rooftops start to blur together… but, while there, there is a special excitement just for being there, and I would happily suggest each little, nameless town to anyone.  Just because.

On a cold December Friday afternoon, the only souls we ran across in Palazzo were a couple of cats and a few construction workers.  So, there’s no caffe’ or presepe to boast about.  But, it’s a nice collection of streets to run around through (or crawl through, if you’re trying to get pictures of felines, like me) on your drive through this part of the land.