Older than Rome, the charming town of Ascoli Piceno, in the central Italian region of Le Marche, was founded by an Italic population known as the Piceni. It later became part of the Roman Empire, acquiring great importance because of its strategic position on the Via Salaria, which connected the salt production areas at the mouth of the Tiber river with those on the Adriatic Coast.
After a period of decline in the Middle Ages, when it was ravaged by Barbaric populations, Ascoli Piceno became a free municipality, but continued to be involved in local battles for control of the area, passing under the rule of both the Papal States and powerful families such as the Malatesta and the Sforza. It was finally annexed to the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Ascoli Piceno lies in an ideal position, near the Adriatic coast, surrounded by mountains, with two national parks, Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and Parco Nazionale dei Monti della Laga, bordering town.
What to see in Ascoli Piceno
Before venturing off to explore the beautiful surroundings and local delicacies, make sure you visit some of Ascoli Piceno’s top sights, beginning with the lovely Piazza del Popolo, deemed one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas. On the west side of the square is the 13th century Palazzo dei Capitani (Captains’ Palace), which was the seat of local power. It was built in travertine stone, like much of the city’s historic center.
On the piazza is the Church of San Francesco, built in the 13th century in honor of Saint Francis visiting Ascoli Piceno. Inside, in the left nave, is a 15th-century wooden cross that survived a 1535 fire at the Palazzo dei Capitani. Annexed to the church is the Loggia dei Mercanti , built in the 16th century by the powerful guild of wool merchants for their artisan shops.
Topped by two towers, Ascoli Piceno’s Duomo was built in the 16th century over a medieval building and dedicated to St. Emidio, patron saint of the city. Next to it is the Baptistry, which has remained unchanged since it was built in the 11th century.
Le Marche’s second largest art gallery, Pinacoteca, can be found inside Ascoli Piceno’s 17th-century Palazzo Comunale, which houses 400 works of art, including paintings by Titian and Rembrandt, and an impressive embroidered 13th-century papal cape worn by Ascoli-born Pope Nicholas IV. Ceramic lovers shouldn’t miss the Museo dell’Arte Ceramica, with displays on the most important Italian pottery towns, such as Deruta and Faenza.
What to do around Ascoli Piceno
When you’re done exploring Ascoli Piceno’s beautiful historic sights, it’s time to venture beyond town to discover its surroundings through some fun activities.
To get an aerial view of the area, why not go on a thrilling hot air balloon ride? This will give you the chance to admire the beautiful landscape of Le Marche at dawn, as your pilot relates interesting tales about the region’s terrain and its history. At the end of the flight, enjoy a typical breakfast accompanied by champagne (note: balloon season in Italy is from late spring to early fall).
In the beautiful countryside outside Ascoli Piceno, in the heart of the Sibillini mountains, is your chance to experience the true flavor of rural life in Le Marche: go on a truffle hunt led by local experts and their trained truffle dogs. Surrounded by mountains and natural parks, the area is blessed with truffles almost all year round: January to March and May to September is the season for black truffles, while white truffles can be found September to December. Your truffle hunting experience will be topped off with a delicious lunch created around the tartufi that you found.
Wine buffs shouldn’t miss a wine tasting tour in the southern Marche, the heart of the Rosso Piceno wine production. This celebrated, dry red wine is joined by the region’s other main grape varieties, Passerina and Pecorino, a local white wine not be confused with the ewe’s milk cheese of the same name. On the tour, you’ll learn about the history of wine-making in the area, tour the cellars of a local winery, and enjoy a guided wine tasting, followed by a stop at a local osteria for a delicious lunch of tasty local recipes. Before returning to Ascoli Piceno, you’ll have some free time to visit the medieval village of Ripatransone.
Where to stay in Ascoli Piceno
Located in the heart of Ascoli Piceno, a short distance from Piazza del Popolo, the Residenza 100 Torri is an exclusive boutique hotel, created with great care from the stables and workshops of a 13th-century mansion. Or head a few miles out of town to Borgo Storico Seghetti Panichi, a historic compound lying on a hill along the valley of the River Tronto. Built in different periods, it comprises a Relais Villa, an ancient medieval fortress, the Residenza San Pancrazio and other buildings sheltered by the ancient perimeter walls of the castle.
If you’re looking for tranquility and nature, go for Casa Colle Quadrato, a restored ancient house positioned on the edge of the Sibillini National Park, nestled deep amid ancient oak and walnut trees at the end of a country road, in a storybook hamlet called Marnacchia. Or treat yourself to a luxurious stay at the Boutique Hotel Magnolia, where the seven unique suites inspired by the seven organic wines produced by Domodimonti Winery, have breathtaking views of the picturesque, unspoiled valleys of the southern Marche.
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