Discovering the Marvelous Marche

Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian whom you may recognize as The Lady of the Refrigerator from Alton Brown’s Food Network series Good Eats!  She is the co-author of the award winning food and nutrition book The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! O’Neil was on CNN for nearly 20 years as anchor and senior correspondent for CNN’s On The Menu, a weekly program on food, nutrition and cuisine. She continues her culinary travels in the pursuit of the world’s best foods as a contributor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with her popular weekly column “Healthy Eating Out.” Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese. With truffle oil, even better.  Visit her blog to learn more about her work and say hello to her on Twitter @carolynoneil.


While throngs of visitors flock to Tuscany and Venice, the region known as Le Marche or simply Marche on the east coast of Italy is just waking up to tourists. If you refer to the country’s geographic comparison to the shape of a boot, Marche (pronounced ‘mahr-keh’) is positioned just above the heel, so it would be the calf of the boot. From the lavender lined cliff views of the Adriatic to the hilly Renaissance towns filled with priceless art and gilded historic theaters, there’s much to discover and very little competition to see the sights.

“It’s way out of the way. There are no tourists down there,” says Atlanta native Doug Strickland of Integrity Wines who travels to Marche to source sustainable wines. “It’s a beautiful region with great chefs. There are cool chapels and well restored ancient buildings.” During my visit to the Marche I was delighted with the freedom to explore places on my own. Unlike Florence and Rome where you have to wait in long lines to gaze upon the statue of David or crush into the Coliseum, it was so quiet I could have reached out and touched the works of Raphael at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where the great artist was born. A rustic farm house lunch of fava beans, pastas and rabbit at the Locanda Ca’ Andreana near Urbino was enjoyed in the company of the family dog sleeping by the door.

Glad You’re Here

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What I found the most compelling was the welcoming attitude of the people who were honestly happy to see tourists and share their enthusiasm for this lesser-known region of Italy. My focus was culinary, of course, and from the cheese producers to the wineries, and from seafood lunches by the beach to elegant candle lit dinners with a little opera thrown in for entertainment, I’m thrilled to report that the Marche region of Italy is a great destination for food lovers looking for festive settings. Hey, they invented lasagna here. Oh, and the accordion.

Italian Lessons

With the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in mind I interviewed several svelte Italian women who live in the Marche and while pasta may be on the menu they were all adamant about how and when they eat to help them stay slim.

Daniela Pirani- dining in sequined top, skinny pants and heels -“I love sweets and cakes. But I really try to limit. I never eat pasta for the evening meal. Only once a week for cakes and sweets.”

Marta Paraventi- touring in pink t-shirt, black jeans and loafers — “I eat pasta or risotto for lunch maybe once a week, but only about 100 grams of pasta.” (about ¾ cup)

Heather Griffin – a translator originally from Pinehurst, North Carolina who lost weight when she moved to Marche — “I walk a lot more now; can’t park in front of your house. There’s a different way of eating here. Italian women don’t like to eat pasta in the evening. They have a salad in the evening maybe with boiled eggs, tuna canned in water, olives, fennel and mozzarella. They don’t eat bread at night. And pasta portions are rich but small. I’m hooked on smoked bacon, tomato sauce and cream.”

An Italian culinary custom which seems contrary to calorie control is the relaxed pre-dinner tradition of Aperitivo with a drink and little snacks such as olives, potato chips, nuts or bites of bruschetta. But that’s usually accompanied by the practice of la passeggiata – an early evening stroll- which aids digestion and adds physical activity. Griffin says, “It’s my favorite time of day.”

Marche has rolled out a new tourism campaign. But are residents ready for more tourists to discover the beauty of their land and lifestyle? The region’s President Gian Mario Spacca responds, “Yes, slowly but surely.”

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