From the 16th to the 19th of June, “Italian Ways” took part in “#frasassitour: discover the Frasassi Caves and surrounding area”, a wonderful blog tour that made stops in incredible locations in Marche, including the Frasassi Caves, Conero Riviera, Loreto and Osimo.
The tour was promoted by Consorzio Frasassi and Regione Marche, in collaboration with Riviera del Conero and Social Media Team Marche of the Marche Cultura Foundation, as an opportunity to bring attention to some truly wonderful destinations.
This is the first in a series of four articles that we will publish as part of this great initiative. Let’s start from the Conero Riviera.
Any journey you may wish to go on in the Conero Riviera will develop at the foot of the mountain of the same name – a promontory of almost 600 meters that, in the words of Florentine poetess Margherita Guidacci, “gloriously offers itself to the embrace of the sky and sea, with the aromas of its wonderful Mediterranean vegetation and the songs sung by the birds that reside in its center and fly around it.”
Whichever way you may go, around this rocky and steep slice of the Adriatic coast in the province of Ancona, the incredible beauty of nature and art will surround you.
On the first day of the Frasassitour – which we hope to give you a taste of here – we visited different destinations scattered on a 10-kilometer strip of the Conero Regional Park, in an area dotted with saltwater lakes between the Portonovo Bay in the north and the maritime village of Numana in the south.
So let’s start from Portonovo’s gravelly bay, white with smooth round pebbles and green with the Mediterranean scrub and woods reaching out to the shoreline. The mount’s grandiose vertical cliffs watch over us from the south, providing an essential reference point in our trip.
This is the area where “mosciolo” is king: Conero’s wild mussel is a black and delicious shellfish that is not farmed but simply fished by expert divers, who sneak in between the rocks with special hooks, “hunting” for this very special mollusk.
Moscioli are gathered from rocky, underwater walls – the main one is the Trave, which is approximately one kilometer long – and become the central focus of a number of local specialties, such as impepata di moscioli (with black pepper), moscioli arrosto (roasted) or alla marinara. They are the main ingredient in delicious spaghetti recipes, and even have a yearly local festival dedicated to them. Last but not least, the Conero wild mussel was recently included in Slow Food’s presidia.
At this point we must change perspective and observe the coast from the sea. The weather is beautiful and the boat is waiting for us. We don’t need to go too far: the riviera is a show that immediately opens up in front of our eyes.
The view reveals small valleys, hills, and wonders of art and architecture set in the deep vegetation.
One of these wonders is, heading south at the foot of the hill, the candid Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Portonovo, built by the Benedictines in the 19th century on the most sheltered side of the bay, on a rocky spur overlooking the sea.
Another – looking a little further north along the coast, that is, to our right – is the incredible, massive, 18th-century Watchtower. Also known as Clementine Tower, it was commissioned by Pope Clement XI to monitor hostile pirate attacks.
Another yet, back south towards Sirolo, is the impressive pair of stacks (“faraglioni”) after which the beautiful Beach of the Two Sisters is named. White and glistening in the sun, dominated by the majestic cliffs of the Conero, this is one of the most wonderful beaches in Italy.
According to a local legend, one day two sisters came right to the edge of the cliff: one of them fell down, immediately followed by the other as she was trying to save her. God – as the traditional story goes – formed the two adjacent rocks so the tragic event would never be forgotten.
We return to the mainland to continue our journey along the Adriatic coast. Our next stop is about ten kilometers to the south: Sirolo, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”.
Before visiting the medieval village we can go on a wonderful hike to Wolf Pass, on a path surrounded by the Mediterranean scrub’s holm oaks and myrtle bushes, Spanish broom and strawberry trees. Speaking of strawberry trees: the word “Conero” is thought to derive from the ancient Greek “kómaros”, meaning “strawberry”.
The view from the Wolf Pass is simply breathtaking. The weather today is fantastic, so our eyes are treated to a clear view of the coast from Porto Recanati in the south to the Beach of the Two Sisters – in a new and extraordinary aerial perspective – in the north.
Back in Sirolo, we are mesmerized by the maze of its alleys, weaving the medieval layout of the town – which took on its current profile around the year 1000, when the magnificent castle was probably built, never to be conquered.
To add emotion to beauty, while wandering the streets of the village we realize Saint Francis walked around here some eight hundred years ago, and that his eyes viewed more or less the same landscape that is open in front of us. According to tradition, this is where Francis planted two trees and predicted the Holy House of Nazareth would be brought to Loreto.
It’s strange to think that under our feet another maze of grotto-cellars, cisterns and silos unravels, in an underground world that can be accessed through manholes that open inside the oldest houses in the village.
But the sun of this wonderful day entices and leads us effortlessly, without even noticing it, to the panoramic square of the village, wide open on the wonderful blue of the Adriatic Sea, the white coastline and eight beaches in Sirolo – including, once again, the Beach of the Two Sisters, icon of the Conero Riviera.
A couple of kilometers south of Sirolo, almost merged with the medieval village, we reach Numana, a municipality on the southern slopes of Mount Conero, our journey’s imposing, quiet and faithful companion.
We visit the historical center of Numana, where the central square is home not only to the 18th-century Town Hall, but also to the Sanctuary of the Crucifix. Rebuilt in the second half of the 20th century, it is named after the cedar wood crucifix kept inside, which according to tradition belonged to the emperor Charlemagne.
From Numana it is easy to reach the quiet Beach of the Friars, adjacent to the “Caletta” (“Cove”), Conero’s “home” for sea turtles. This is the heart of the “Numana, City of Turtles” project: from the “Caletta”, after a period spent on land for treatment, turtles gently return into the sea.
We take a moment to breathe in the wind that sweeps the Tower square, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, where a “major arch” stands tall, the only remain of a structure that once probably was part of the ancient medieval walls.
Then there is still one particular street that locals advise us to explore. It is a road made of stairs – between pretty flower pots and two uninterrupted lines of houses – leading from the higher part of Numana to the lower part, all the way to a small marina and beach. It’s called “Costarella” and used to be fishermen’s preferred way to quickly get to the sea.
And we’re back in front of the Adriatic Sea and of Mount Conero, as its slopes begin to darken. The sun begins to set, and we are perfectly happy with the journey so far.
Accommodation: Hotel Excelsior La Fonte, deep into the green Portonovo Bay, just a few steps from the sea. www.excelsiorlafonte.it
Restaurants: Ristorante La Torre, in Numana. A romantic dinner on a wonderful panoramic terrace, with view of the Conero www.latorrenumana.it
©Italian Ways, ©Chiara Collaro