Sibilini National Park – Monte Vettore and Lago di Pilato
(time: whole day).
For the energetic, a walk up Monte Vettore is unforgettable. The spectacular view to the east stretches over the Apennine foothills all the way to the glittering streak of the Adriatic and Croatia beyond, and to the west there are layer upon layer of blue hills reaching all the way to Rome. Mind you don’t expect to see either Croatia or Rome – they’re both far too far away!
Nestled in a natural hollow almost on the summit is Lago di Pilato, a tiny lake home to a unique species of tiny coral coloured shrimp that evolved nowhere else on earth – it swims upside-down, tummy up! It can be hot up here but don’t try taking a dip in the lake – the waters are protected and the Park Rangers will drop on you like a ton of bricks.
By the way, you don’t have to climb the peak of Monte Vettore to reach the lake but this excursion does require a reasonable level of fitness.
Sibilini National Park – Gola d’Infernaccio
(time: 3 hours, to one day).
The Gola d’Infernaccio (Throat of Hell) is a spectacular gorge cutting deep into the Sibilini mountains. It’s a stunning forest walk along the banks of the River Tenna, mostly shaded from the sun by beech woods and if you go far enough, rewarded by a breath-taking waterfall.
A curiosity up a side path is San Leonardo Church (perfect place for a picnic lunch). Built by Camaldolesi monks in the 9th century it was abandoned around 1500. In 1960 Padre Pietro, a Cappuccian monk, made this his hermitage and began building his own gothic church – beautiful and simple and surrounded by nature, the church has been his mission for over 40 years and if you are lucky you may meet him working on the church or tending his vegetable patch.
Sibilini National Park – Castelluccio
(time: a long half day).
This attractive frontier town right on the border of Marche and Umbria is set at one end of the Piane Grande, a vast natural basin formed by a glacier. In the winter the town itself is completely cut off by snow and the population shrinks to just six families, but for two or three weeks in early summer it becomes a ‘world famous’ (in Italy) garden paradise of wild flowers. The entire basin is covered in spectacular carpets of reds, blues, yellows and white. Later in the year they cultivate lentils here, highly prized for their unique taste and nutritious contribution to zuppe (soups).
This is high mountain country which you can enjoy without stepping out of the car, though a picnic on the slopes or a stroll around Castellccio will make it even more enjoyable.
Although it is possible to get to Castelluccio and back in half a day, the whole trip is so wonderfully scenic, much better is to saturate yourself in a whole day of unforgettable views, making a round trip via the ski fields of Bolognola (no snow in summer!)
Adriatic coast / beaches
(time: minimum half day).
You will find yourself spoilt for beaches. The nearest, at Pedaso (40 kms), is a small pebble beach sporting Il Faro – an excellent seafood restaurant. It’s much less crowded than the more popular sandy resorts of Porto San Giorgio a little up the coast to the north, or the famous major resort of San Benedetto del Tronto to the south. Both resorts are very popular in high summer, their beaches littered with bathing beauties topping up their tans on the golden sands or taking cover from the sun in the countless beachside cafes and restaurants.
If beautiful secluded rocky beaches and coves are more to your liking, it’s worth the extra 30 minutes it takes to travel a little further up the coast to Monte Conero near Ancona.
Note that many beachside cafes and restaurants only open in the summer season.