Tucked between the hills and valleys of the Apennine Mountains and the cliff-lined coasts of the Adriatic Sea lies Le Marche, a lesser-known province of Italy. It’s easy to let travel dreams of neighboring Umbria and Tuscany overshadow this area.
But, Le Marche is a dream destination all its own.
It is home to the Frasassi Caves, Monti Sibillini National Park, and enough market towns and tiny villages to keep you occupied for weeks.
But, most importantly, it is home to Mercatello sul Metauro.
Hidden is the hills and approaching the border with Umbria, you will find Mercatello sul Metauro. It’s a place very few tourists visit, where you’re greeted with a buon giorno or even a kiss on the cheek; where the locals spend their days chatting in the plaza, and Romanesque and Gothic buildings house centuries old art.
The warm welcome I received in this quiet village paired with my stay at the medieval Palazzo Donati made my time in Le Marche an idyllic experience that I’ll never forget.
Often overlooked in the hills of Le Marche, a region mostly known for nearby Urbino, Mercatello sul Metauro offers a truly authentic Italian experience. Mercatello’s architecture, history, and quiet community make for the kind of picturesque village that travelers dream of stumbling upon.
Home to only 1,300 inhabitants, the tiny Le Marche village remains secluded from much tourism. If you go, you’re likely to be the only tourist in a town where everyone knows everyone—and you will be welcomed.
There is no doubt that residents will stop you on the street to find out why you came to visit their cute city, and you will in return want to listen to them tell you all the reasons they choose to call this place home.
Just an example of their hospitality — on my first day there, while I was in the main piazza setting up to take an Instagram selfie, a half dozen locals came to say hello and even give me a welcome smooch on the cheek. Some invited me to sit for a drink, while others offered to show me around town, and one gave me a tiny necklace charm as a gift.
Can’t imagine that ever happening in a large city.
The best part was that even in their broken English and my lack of Italian, we managed to communicate just fine.
Palazzo Donati is a 16th century palazzo-turned-holiday villa overlooking the village’s main square, and the place I was lucky enough to call home while staying in Mercatello sul Metauro.
The palazzo is meticulously decorated throughout and has retained its original charm—to say the least—through details like the wide stone staircase, pristine walled garden, antique furnishings and a rustic kitchen. Wandering through the building’s maze of wings, floors, double bedrooms, and family rooms will give you a palatial feel.
The decor in each of the eight bedrooms take you back in time to the Renaissance period in Italy. My cozy room came with a beautiful courtyard view and up-to-date ensuite bathroom.
The living room and formal dining room made for the perfect gathering areas to share a meal or a story, while the downstairs cellar lent itself nicely to a memorable pasta making lesson with an Italian nonna.
In the warmer months the walled backyard is definitely the place be. It is picturesque with ivy crawling along the stone villa, pots of geraniums on the window ledges and a rustic pergola covered dining area.
The perfect place for a summer picnic.
This yard is also where the Academia del Padlot, a group of nine local men who are dedicated to food, wine and friendship, prepared us an Italian feast on our final evening.
The memorable night was filled with laughter, flowing wine, delicious food and the men belting out some acappella songs.
Spending time in Mercatello sul Metauro combined with a stay at Palazzo Donati made for the an authentic Italian experience like no other.
It is exactly as charming as it sounds.
Note: Palazzo Donati is available by either joining an organized group program, like the “Authentic Italian Experience with Luisa – A One Week Holiday in Le Marche” or “Cooking Classes with Jenny Sugar”, or by coordinating your own small group retreat. It would be the perfect place for creative groups to meet, whether it be cooking, performance arts or writing.
The village’s medieval feel comes from its buildings, many of which have been standing for centuries. From the main piazza, you can see the Collegiate Parish Church, a 10th century structure whose Romanesque walls are still (partially) intact.
The nearby Church of St. Francis offers a contrast to the Collegiate Parish Church, making the village’s long history all the more apparent. The 13th century Gothic church holds art and artifacts ranging from the 13th century all the way up to the 17th.
Another notable stop: the shrine of Saint Veronica Giuliani and the Monastero delle Clarisse Cappuccine, which is home to a church, monuments, and a museum in the Saint’s honor.
Visit the Antica Stamperia di Carpegna and meet Emanuele Francioni, a young man who is following his family’s tradition of making traditional block-printed cloth—and one of the last artisans in the trade.
You’ll learn how the prints are made—it involves ink made of vinegar, rust, and flour—and can buy the surprisingly inexpensive goods made from those fabrics in the center of town.
And while you’re in Carpegna, consider buying some ham—its known to be the best in Italy!
See handmade ceramics in Urbania, a town that has been known for its ceramics since the 15th century. Today the town offers an impressive selection of workshops on ceramic arts, and many of the shops in town use patterns lifted from the Renaissance. They have a beautiful selection at Ceramiche d’Arte.
Enjoy an afternoon in Sansepolcro. Sansepolcro is famous for being the birthplace the early Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, and for its many churches and museums. Most notable among them: the famous Sansepolcro Cathedral, which dates back to the 2nd century and houses the venerated “Holy Face” of Sansepolcro.
Take a trip to a new country—San Marino. If you’re up for an early start, you can sneak in a daytrip to one of the world’s smallest countries. Go to the capital city of—you guessed it—San Marino for a few hours, grab a coffee, and take a stroll around the city’s Old Town—a UNESCO World Heritage Site.