Lush green rolling hills, soothing red fields of poppies, pretty yellow fields of rapeseed as far as your eye can see, and quaint little-known hilltop villages. Sounds like Tuscany, but it’s not. I’m about to enjoy an authentic Italian experience in Le Marche, a region in east central Italy, between Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Umbria.
My destination for the next three days is Palazzo Donati, an undiscovered treasure in the small, medieval village of Mercatello sul Metauro.
Located in the main piazza of the village, Palazzo Donati is the family home of Luisa Donati. Dating back to the 1600s, this fairy-tale-like palazzo exudes the authenticity and culture of the Renaissance despite its restoration with modern amenities.
The entrance to this stone building is on the piazza and opens into a long hall which leads to a huge walled yard decorated with flowers in summer bloom. When I turn around I discover a palace covered in ivy. Yes, a fairy-tale.
Palazzo Donati is a sprawling private home, with so many rooms that two separate staircases lead to different wings of the palazzo. I couldn’t help but think how this would be a child’s dream to play hide and seek. Eight to ten bedrooms in total provide privacy for a number of guests who visit in small groups for experiential creative holidays such as writing, yoga, photography, cooking, and wellness.
My room was huge, by any standards. It must have been a master bedroom, complete with an equally large bathroom with separate shower and tub.
I even found a secret door that led to another smaller room. The amazing view from my window was of the expansive private back yard, where a welcome dinner would be served.
Authentic artisan experiences prevail in Le Marche and making tagliatelle with the pasta queen herself was first on the agenda.
Lina made everything appear easy and she demonstrated the proper way to make pasta from scratch and completely by hand. No pasta machines here. I think it’s safe to say that Lina has done this a few thousand times. The entire process took thirty minutes and that included allowing some personal hands-on interactive experiences.
Afterward a stroll through the town where the local men definitely know the meaning of il dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing.
They were only too happy to pose for photos. Soon we meet Maurizio, a young local guide, who takes us on a casual walking tour, showing us the main sights of Mercatello.
Back at the palazzo, Luisa is waiting outside in the garden, with a beautifully prepared welcome dinner. The weather is perfect and the evening begins by Piero, Luisa’s partner, mixing a Spritz. An array of delicious and healthy food covers the table, and of course it is more than what one person could eat. I think I really am living in a fairy-tale.
The following morning, I have breakfast at the bar, like many Italians, where an espresso or cappuccino complements a cornetto pastry. Francino at Caffe` Rinaldi is only too happy to oblige. On a day trip to experience authentic artisans in Le Marche, Piero and Luisa transport our group to visit Emanuele Francioni at Antica Stamperia di Carpegna.
This young skilled artisan is the sixth generation following his family’s tradition of printing with handmade stencils and paint through a special technique, which he learned from his grandfather. I am nothing less than amazed.
Next stop is nearby Urbania where I meet two ceramics artisans, Gilberto Galavotti and Giuliano Smacchia.
They learned the technique of majolica through their studies and have produced beautiful original ceramics in their shop, Ceramica d’Arte L’Antica Casteldurante, for over twenty years.
Their keystone achievement is a huge hand-crafted reproduction of the original painting in the Vatican museum by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.
We return to Mercatello for lunch at the intimate Uto’s restaurant, part of the B&B, Locanda dei Sacchi, in the sixteenth-century Mincelli Palace. The owner, Umberto Sacchi waits on us personally and adds freshly-shaved black truffles to the homemade pasta dish. Umberto loves to hunt from truffles, especially the prized white truffle. On a separate excursion Umberto takes us truffle hunting with his dog, Lina. Another authentic experience in le Marche.
Back at Palazzo Donati wellness coach Jenny Sugar is preparing a cooking class in the rustic kitchen and it’s a true interactive experience. I learn how to use a spiral slicer to make zucchini pasta and an immersion blender to make a spread from cashews. A healthy and delicious dinner follows.
One of the highlights of my visit to Le Marche is an authentic italian experience with the charcoal burners of Borgo Pace in the Metauro valley. These men are the last of a generation to make charcoal by hand, the only community of coalmen left in Europe. I didn’t even know anyone did this.
Photographer Tonino Moscino features them in his latest book, La Favola dei Carbonai. And Tonino explains the process, translating for Paolo Muscinelli, one of the experts, as I watch this lost art unfold in front of my eyes. Incredible.
The afternoon would not be complete without another fabulous lunch outside at Osteria del Boscaiolo. Francesco, the owner opened the restaurant today especially for our group. Grazie Francesco.The food and wine never ends as one dish is replaced with another, all local regional dishes of Le Marche. Just a few of the dishes include, smoked goose, goletta, pasta di grano, pianino, and tortelli filled with spinach, ginger, and ricotta Everything is delicious.
The final treat on the last night of this luxurious stay at Palazzo Donati is an exceptional dinner prepared and served by a special group of men from Mercatello sul Metauro.
Known as Academia del Padlòt this group of Italian men entertained and serenaded us during an outdoor aperitivo and an inside dining event that lasts all evening!
An experience I’ll cherish forever.
Thank you Luisa Donati and Piero Asso for a memory that will last a lifetime.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Palazzo Donati and the words written here are my own honest opinions, as always.
If you’d like to experience authentic Italy in Le Marche, please contact Luisa at Palazzo Donati in Mercatello Sul Metauro at email@example.com.
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