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Everybody's heard of Tuscany and Umbria, often dubbed "Chianti-shire" for the flocks of well-off Brits who make it their home from home in the summer months. We've swooned at the scenery in movies from "Room with a View" to "Stealing Beauty". We've read all about it in novels from "Summer's Lease" to "Under a Tuscan Sun". We've garnered from the gossip mags about how many celebrities hang out and holiday there. Then, we've turned to the realities of renting a private villa and preferably one with a pool. For many, if not most, the truth is, forget it. The prices, like the cypress trees, stretch sky high.

But there is a way to make that rustic dream come true and the answer lies just a little further down the map. Hands up who has heard of Le Marche? (Pronounced Le Mar-kay) Doesn't even sound that Italian does it? Well it is and it stretches for over a hundred miles right along the Adriatic coast. The inland terrain is rich farming land, with gentle hills and very small towns and villages. The bobby-dazzler when it comes to cities is Urbino. In the 1400s it was a powerful dukedom and as such had a great deal of money spent on it. The steep stony streets lead to an awe-inspiring Cathedral. Great works of art are to be found here, including Piero della Franceso's Flagellation of Christ and works by masters Raphael and Uccello. Down at the tip of the region you find the home to travertine marble, the many –hued stone beloved the world over, in Ascoli Piceno.

The best airport for Le Marche is Ancona, where if you liked, you could catch on onward ferry to Greece or Croatia. Founded, like Syracuse in Sicily, by the ancient Greeks, it was a thriving port under the Romans. Just south, is the Conero peninsula, much more rugged and rocky than the gentle sandy beaches of the Riviera. For beach resorts, Pesaro is the local's favourite, famed for its seafood. Other gastronomic specialities of this region are the use of the ancient grain faro, which we call spelt and the fantastic taglioni al pecorino di fossa (Pasta with aged ewe's milk). If you travel in the winter months you may be lucky enough to come across the rare and exquisite tartufo bianco (white truffle).

Being sparsely populated, your best bet for accommodation is in agriturismo farmhouses, the equivalent of our B&Bs where you will receive a warm welcome and a charming and authentic introduction to this less-travelled, traditional and truly rewarding treasure trove.

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