Raphael's Renaissance 'hood, the vibrant university town of Urbino is often the first stop on a trip to Le Marche and understandably so. The patriarch of the Montefeltro family, Duca Federico da Montefeltro, created the hippest art scene of the 15th century here, gathering the great artists, architects and scholars of his day to create a sort of think tank.
Straddling low-rise hills, Macerata combines charming hill-town scenery with the verve of student life – its university is one of Europe's oldest, dating to 1290. Its old town, a jumbled maze of cobblestone streets and honey-coloured palazzi, springs to life in summer for a month-long opera festival.
Parco del Conero
Only minutes from Ancona but a world unto itself, Parco del Conero is stunning, with limestone cliffs razoring above the cobalt blue Adriatic and crescent-shaped, white pebble bays backed by fragrant woods of pine, oak, beech, broom and oleander trees. Walking trails thread through the 60 sq km park, which is a conservation area.
Straddling the Le Marche–Umbria border in rugged splendour, the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini never looks less than extraordinary, whether visited in winter, when its peaks are dusted with snow, or in summer, when its meadows are carpeted with poppies and cornflowers.
Straddling a hilltop and visible from afar, Loreto is absorbed entirely by its bauble-domed Basilica della Santa Casa. While the original basilica started in 1468 was Gothic, Renaissance additions have made today’s basilica an architectural masterpiece, with its riot of gold-leafed halos, impressive frescoes and religious triptychs.
Spilling photogenically down a hillside, its medieval heart a maze of narrow cobbled lanes, Sarnano looks every inch the Italian hill-town prototype, particularly when its red-brick facades glow warmly in the late-afternoon sun. It is a charming, hospitable base for exploring the Monti Sibillini range.