Resting where the region of Le Marche brushes up to Abruzzo, the city of Ascoli Piceno is full of surprises. Its more elegant than you’d expect, and part of its splendor comes from the fact that the entire city is built of creamy-colored travertine. The gorgeous Piazza del Popolo is paved in it, looking like gleaming marble. The stone makes the city look prosperous and grand.
And it was; it had a heyday of prosperity from the wool merchants and other trade guilds, today’s streets are still lined with the palazzi they built with their wealth. One of the ways they liked to flaunt it in the Middle Ages was by building a tower, and Ascoli was awash with them. It boasted more than 200 of the tall status symbols, under Frederick II order half of them to be destroyed. He thought they were getting a bit too ostentatious.
So then the trend became a door inscription. Nobody seems to know why but inscribing a favorite verse in the travertine lintel of the entry door became a fad, so as you wander around town keep your eyes open for these talking walls that bestow words of wisdom, catch phrases or religious maxims to anyone willing to read them. Many are in Latin or in the old dialect. And while they were inscribed in the 1400s, they’re still doling out wisdom or a smile all these centuries later.
Ascoli Piceno is an underrated place, with beautiful sights, a wealth of good restaurants, a beautiful historic center to explore – all only a half-hour from the Adriatic Sea. It is located on the ancient Roman road, the Via Salaria.
Every year Ascoli Piceno transforms back into the important and bustling Middle Ages city it once was. La Quintana, Ascoli’s high-energy medieval jousting match, rivals the excitement of Siena’s Palio but without the crushing crowds. The beautiful centro storico fills with colorful banners and resplendent costumes as the city pays homage to its storied past. Carried on since the early 1300s, the thrilling, historical events take place over a month-long period, starting with the flag-throwers competition. Read more
On Ascoli Piceno’s much beloved Piazza del Popolo rests the grand dame of the city’s meeting places, the Caffe Meletti. The historic hang-out has been featured in a number of films (including one by Fellini and another with Dustin Hoffman), and has played a starring role in the daily life of the Ascolani for a century.
It all starts innocuously, solemnly. A pious procession emerges from the church and parades through the streets, following after the town’s patron saint, the Madonna of San Giovanni, who is perched on the shoulders of four strong and worthy men. They stop periodically to recite a prayer then continue along their somber way, returning to the church. A Mass ensues then the congregants file out while the bells toll loud and long. Read more
This place is as near to idyllic as you’re likely to find: a farm stay with all the amenities you could want, in the hilly countryside of Le Marche with welcoming hosts and silent nights for perfect sleeping. Oh, and home-cooked meals by mamma, fresh jam and juice from their orchards, and every imaginable amenity in the apartment. This is what an agriturismo is supposed to be! Read more
On the steep hillsides north of Ascoli Piceno you’ll find a heritage grape native only to this area. The uva pecorino has produced fine wines for centuries but has only recently begun to receive attention outside the region. Read more