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How to do Le Marche, Italy, on a budget

Stretching for around 100 miles along the Adriatic coast, with hilltowns to rival those of Tuscany and Umbria, Le Marche is a gorgeous and affordable region to explore

If Le Marche seems like one of Italy’s least known regions, that’s probably because we’re looking at it from the outside. Because “the Marches” – the historic borderlands of the Papal States – more than pull their weight in the national psyche. Giacomo Leopardi, Italy’s great 19th-century author, was marchigiano. So was revolutionary educator Maria Montessori. Le Marche brought back more gold medals per head from London 2012 than any other Italian region – two-thirds of an invincible female fencing team were from one small town, Jesi. Even Lionel Messi, the Argentinian footballer, has roots there: his ancestors emigrated from Recanati in the 19th century.

The region stretches for around 100 miles along the Adriatic coast. The undulating hills of its interior are rich farming terrain, and only sparsely peppered with market towns and one-street villages. The only fast road hugs the seaside, so choose your base well if you want to take in both of the region’s cultural blockbusters, Urbino and Ascoli Piceno, without blowing the budget on petrol (now around €1.85 a litre). It is doable: stay fairly close to the main A14 and somewhere around the midpoint between the two.

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Antonio Carluccio’s Piedmont: a region rich in food … and artisan chocolate

Italian cooking with a focus on traditional meat dishes, polenta, and fine pastries defines a region with Turin at its heart

I was brought up in a village called Borgofranco in the Aosta valley. The area is practically made of food. Here you can eat wonderful stuff: polenta is a typical dish, as is chicken or sausage ragù – they do eat quite a lot of meat. You get amazing food knowledge just from standing in the butchers as people in the queue discuss how to cook a particular cut of meat.

Ivrea, near Borgofranco, is a little town that has wonderful markets, and where the seasonal ingredients are exceptional. Even the cabbage in winter is very good. During the carnival in early March the town is covered in Sicilian oranges – there is even a local tradition of fighting battles with them – and it makes Ivrea very pungent.

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