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Roaming the streets of Ancona

#MarcheExpress tour. Discover the capital city of Le Marche region

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by Chiara Assi

There are cities that everyone immediately falls in love with, cities with charm and beauty, rich with stunning art and interesting history. Cities that are impossibly romantic like Paris and Venice, or incredibly fascinating like Istanbul and St. Petersburg. And then there are cities that aren’t so immediately easy on the eye: cities that hide their beauty behind anonymous-looking walls, or in secreted details, or in the warm smiles of their inhabitants. Ancona, capital city of the Marche region, belongs to this second group: often bypassed by tourists who hastily rush to the port to embark their ships to Croatia and Greece, this city remains unknown to most – which is an absolute shame.

Built on a hilly promontory, Ancona is very happily located, and is one of the few places I’ve ever been to where one can watch both sunrise and sunset without moving much – a real treat if you ask me: and while sunrise could easily be enjoyed from my very comfy bed at beautiful Seeport Hotel, sunset was more of a social affair. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to Ancona and to why this underrated destination should make it to your “to visit” list.
First of all, it’s incredibly interesting. It’s quirky, different, and unexpected – all qualities that make for an interesting visit.

Discover the Museo Tattile

Have you ever been to a museum where touching the exhibits is not only permitted, but actually encouraged? Neither had I. But the Museo Tattile Statale Omero is not your average museum: born out of the idea that the blind should experience art and enjoy it as much as everyone else does, this collection is truly unique. After a brief explanation, my guide blindfolded me and helped me through the rooms, one artwork at the time. He made me touch a sculpture, asking me question after question (what does it feel like? A person? An animal? Boy or girl?), he vocally guided me, from the head of what I recognized to be a human male, to his feet and arms. When he asked me if I had any ideas about what famous sculpture I was touching, I was more than thrilled to say that yes, wasn’t it the Discobolus of Myron? It was. Turns out I have a highly developed sense of touch – for someone who isn’t blind, that is.

I happily touched my way through many more sculptures, and while the experience was incredibly fun, it was also very thought-inducing. In our fast paced world, taking the time to let a stranger guide you by the arm from one statue to the other is definitely something we are not used to. And after taking off my blindfold, I was twice as grateful to have my eyesight back, especially because the Museo Tattile is located in a wonderful spot, the Mole Vanvitelliana. Designed by famed architect Vanvitelli, this fort has been, throughout the centuries, a prison, a quarantine station, a factory, and now is home to the museum, and to some great views of the sea. We walked along the edge of its walls, much like sentinels used to do in the past, and the view was glorious.

Sightseeing tour in Ancona

And that was just the beginning. Ancona has much more to offer, especially if you are looking for things that are different and extraordinary. Take the street art, for example: the whole area of the commercial port is an open-air museum where local and international artists have produced some of the most incredible graffiti I had seen in a long time. Hidden in the port warehouses you will find old men repairing fish nets right next to murals denoting pressing social problems: an interesting mix, if you ask me.

If you are more into “traditional” art, Ancona also has a beautiful pinacoteca, located right in the city center, and recently renovated: a stunning mix of antique architecture and modern accents, it hosts several interesting exhibits: if you are a Tiziano fan, make sure you visit before November, as until then there are two of his masterpieces showcased together in the same room – an impressive display that will definitely make you stare in awe.

But that’s not all: how about seeing what’s underneath Ancona? And I mean it literally. The amazing guys of Ancona Sotteranea organize tours of the underground water cisterns that you will not easily forget. After donning a miner’s helmet and some waterproof rain boots, I was helped down a manhole and gained access to something I had never seen before: there was a whole new world under there, an underground city parallel to the one above us, made of arches and stalactites and columns. We walked, swooshing though ankle high water, from room to room, until we reached the spring where the water comes from.

It was the most original way I had spend an afternoon in a long time and, since it was deadly hot outside, it was also a welcome change of climate: the temperature underground overs around 60F year round.

Tasting Le Marche

And then, of course, there’s the food. The region is home to some incredibly delectable food, made with ingredients you won’t find anywhere else – and I’m not joking. Seafood is, as one might imagine, the main protagonist here: everything is fresh, a true “catch of the day”. The moscioli selvatici di Portonovo, just outside Ancona, may look like mussels, but they are a whole different story: they grow in the wild, they are plump, and they taste of salt and clean sea. I had them at the beach in Portonovo, at Ristorante da Marcello, and no matter how you eat them –they are delicious steamed, pan fried, with pasta… you name it – they are outstanding: there is no such thing as too many moscioli.

Paccasassi, too, is an ingredient you don’t find elsewhere: this wild herb grown on Mount Conero and goes exceptionally well with fish: I had an incredible panino with smoked tuna, fresh cheese and paccasassi at Anguì, downtown Ancona, and instantly fell in love with them. And then there are other excellences: Il Clandestino Susci Bar may look like a fishing shack from afar, but this restaurant is something that has to be experienced. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner right on a secluded beach in Portonovo, the “shack” belongs to Moreno Cedroni, a chef whose other restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, and although not starred itself is amazing in several different ways. The view is absolutely to die for, and the food is just as great: so good, in fact, that I tried, and loved, two species of fish I usually don’t like, anchovies and mackerel.

That’s how great Chef Cedroni is. And the atmosphere is perfect as well: it’s easy to relax and feel at home when all you can hear is crickets and the waves breaking in the beach.

Sunset at Clandestino, Portonovo

Sunset at Clandestino, Portonovo

The truth is, I went to Ancona with no expectations. After three days, I left with my skin smelling of sea salt, a full stomach and an even fuller heart: Ancona and I connected, because, while it’s easy to fall in love with beautiful cities, I’ve always had a thing for underdogs. And Ancona, with its bright sun, cheery people and hidden beauty, is definitely an underdog you should definitely go visit soon.

By Chiara Assi

Italia Slow Tour Ambassador @ #MarcheExpress

Marche Express is a project by Regione Marche in collaboration with Confcommercio Marche