AN ITALIAN VESPA ROAD TRIP: Handpicked towns and villages in the Marche region
Leaving Rome and Venice to the sightseers, I head off the well-trodden tourist path to Italy’s Marche region. Specifically, the hilltop wine regions in the Province of Fermo – on a Vespa. I’d heard via the grapevine about the Marche Full Experience and their tailor-made Vespa tours and tagged along with a bunch of crazy girls on a bachelorette party.
We met at Vespa dealer, Luzi Racing, in Porto San Giorgio, a small seaside town facing the Adriatic Sea.
I had a quick mooch around Porto San Giorgio, which first appeared in nautical charts back to the early Middle Ages as a trade transit point between Fermo and Venice. Now it’s a gorgeous seaside resort with unspoiled blue-flag beaches, beach bars, seafront restaurants and a marina bursting with super yachts. And as you’d expect of Italy, the town is brimming with 13th century architecture.
Back with the Vespa tour group, our paperwork checked (to drive a 125 cc Vespa, a regular car driving license is sufficient), we saddled up, and headed into the fertile vine-clad hills around Fermo.
It’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a motorbike (the last one was a 1000cc Can-Am Spyder Roadster) so you may understand that I got off to a wobbly start, but within a few (terrifying) minutes managed to propel myself in a relatively straight line.
Riding through small agricultural hamlets felt like I was time warped in a renaissance painting.
There are numerous touristy scooter excursion companies, most have the visitor sitting pillion whilst the driver is the guide. However, the Marche Full Experience give you the chance to ride the scooter yourself.
Our first stop was Torre di Palme where, taking pride of place, is a medieval castle clinging to a rocky outcrop.
This preserved 6th century town must be one of the most romantic locations in all of Italy – narrow cobbled streets, terracotta facades, hanging archways, frescoes, blossoming bougainvillea, a small bell tower and the Gothic Church of Sant’Agostino. The views are broad and framed from a panoramic balcony looking out across the Adriatic. Under my own steam, I later returned to sample the gastronomic delights at Ristorante La Fonte di Mose, which arrived in waves of gastronomic delight. I see a Michelin Star coming here!
Leading the charge further up the hill, our guide, and proprietor of the Marche Full Experience , Alessia Brugnoni Tomassini, stopped off at Lapedona . This small village holds great religious significance to Catholicism as here, in 1100AD, the Congregation of the Clareni Friars arose – one of first eremitical communities of central Italy.
The parish church of Santa Maria houses a collection of preserved artworks, vestments, sacred objects, tabernacles, procession lamps and votive offerings, including a priceless piece by Vittore Crivelli entitled ‘Polyptych’ and signed, at the base of Madonna’s throne, by the artist in 1489. In the western world you’d expect such objects to receive 24-hour armed security. But here the church stands open.
In Altidona, archaeologists found traces of the ancient ‘Pelasgians’ – a Greek tribe of some 150,000 years ago. Then came the Piceni, and in 485BC the Romans showed up.
Altidona’s first castle sank into the sea, then in the 12th century, townsfolk built a new one on the hill, whose medieval walls have been painstakingly preserved.
Have a look at the ancient art inside the Belvedere, a medieval watchtower overlooking the Aso Valley and the beautiful villas, dotted between pine forests and millenary palm trees.
Unlike the other villages in the region, in Petriolo (, with sweeping views across the peaks of the Sibillini, and Gran Sasso d’Italia, to the Adriatic Sea, there is no typical main square with a town hall and government buildings. Within the castle walls medieval buildings line the narrow, paved streets. They’re crammed with craft workshops, quirky museums, ancient churches, coffee bars, eateries like Osteria Delle Cornacchie serving Italian home cooking (try their Vincisgrassi), and for dessert, Bar Gelateria Tre Archi serves the best ice-cream you’re likely to sample in Italy. But town’s crowning glory is their theatre. Think London’s Royal Opera House, but a fraction of the size, complete with a Sistine chapel-type ceiling.
I’m not much into slopping around museums or art galleries, but often I find an exception. In this instance it was Antica Stamperia Fabiani – a living museum of beautifully restored, fully functional, 19th century printing presses.
Proprietor, Giancarlo Fabiani, introduced me to his machines and printed a few samples using original cherrywood characters. “This was the type of printing press the New York Times used back in the day when they produced 20,000 copies of their daily newspaper.” This fact gladdened his heart. “But what blows the minds of my workshop students is that this was the same system used by Gutenberg when he printed the first Bible – the earliest major book printed using mass-produced moveable metal type in Europe.”
A local spoke of Petriolo’s collection of ghosts. The most feared is the German nun from a local monastery. It is said that those who acquire properties that she once owned are tormented to madness by spirit. Another claim is that on the road between Petriolo and neighbouring Moresco, witches prevent safe passage from one town to the next. The council office records of year 1600 noted they’d burned the witches at the stake.
What immediately identifies Moresco is its 12th-century heptagonal tower, and innumerable archways that frame jaw-dropping landscape views. Moresco was first recorded in 1083 – evidence was found on parchment paper of that time. Since then, its castle has been home to colorful occupants from Lords and Counts to clergy and a military garrison.
Gianni Angelini, resident artist and Town Mayor, says their 16th-century church bell still chimes every day in alternate succession with the bell on the Clock tower, which was built to guard what was the entrance to the castle. Legend has it that the church of was built to commemorate the mother of St. Sofia, who was born in the castle. Check out the interesting fresco Carlo Crivrelli.
Moresco’s historic center has just 50 inhabitants, including a bakery who create fig pizzas around Christmastime each year, which draws people from across the country. In April 2022 a B&B is opening in the historic center – Palazzo Della Torre.
Whilst we stood around, admiring the view, a restored ‘denim’ Vespa rolled up and parked beside our shiny new red models. This Vespa was a serious celebration of denim on wheels and what Vespa’s looked like back in the day – old time rock ‘n roll.
In the saddle was Giovanni Cicchine, wearing a tuxedo, and bearing a huge bunch of red roses for Erica, the bride-to-be. He extracted a kiss from her then got chatting with the girls. He then decided to join the bachelorette party, fancying himself as an escort perhaps, overseeing proceedings.
He asked if I’d like to hop onto the back of his scooter so I can video the girls riding behind us. No need to ask me twice, I got on, sitting back to front, facing the girls as they followed us.
When we got to the bottom of the hill Giovanni’s scooter gave a cough then died. Everyone stopped. I hoped off and waited for Giovanni to revive his beast. We left Giovanni to sort it out and proceeded to the next village.
Monterubbiano, once home to the famed renaissance painter, Vincenzo Pagani, outshines all the other cobblestoned hilltop towns and villages. It’s the kind of place that will have you simultaneously catch your breath and have it taken away.
Surrounded by Castellane walls, there are three access gates which are well worth seeing. The 13th century Jewish Ghetto is something to behold. Back then the Jewish community manufactured textiles and tanned leather. Now they’ve practically disappeared but the remains of the ancient synagogue, the tiny houses, and the shops, once all connected to one other, are still there.
Bizarrely, at the archway entrance to Via dei Segreti, a transit ban sign for military wagons has remained. In consideration, it’s not all that surprising as Monterubbiano was here three centuries before Christ!
Spend some time in Parco di San Rocco – an immense green garden which once housed the church of San Rocco (destroyed by barbarian invaders). From here the panoramic views across the Sibillini mountains and Adriatic are breathtaking.
We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant named Il Coccaro, and where Giovanni was waiting for us, proudly standing beside his vintage Vespa.
The simplicity of rustic staples, it’s love at first bite.
There is only one true way to get to know a regions food. And that’s to go there. To eat the food amongst the people who cook it and eat it every day. That way its seasoned with a sense of the place, the landscape, the culture, and the traditions. With the simplicity of rustic staples, it’s guaranteed love at first bite. Which was exactly what we all experienced when presented with Chef’s speciality – Tagiatelle frittes. Soon the wine flowed, conversation flourished, which was interspersed with moments of hilarity at a joke shared.
Back on Giovanni’s Vespa, which fired up on ignition, I was propelled down the mountain in a series of blue explosions. The girls breezed along quietly behind us on their sparkling new Vespa’s.
Heading back to basecamp, tootling along in a stately lack of haste, we made one final stop at Vini Centanni a vineyard canteen in Montefiore, where we had a wine tasting. Again, the vino flowed, the conversation was light, and friendships reaffirmed. This is a winey where you’ll be spoilt for choice. Each wine is as good as the next and will leave you to ponder which one to take home. Save yourself the stress, get one of each.
With repeated attempts at invasion by the Turks, evil witches, and demented ghosts, I was half expecting a fire-breathing dragon to swoop down from the clouded mountain tops.
These mountain villages are rare places. I walked the cobbled passageways agog at such a concentration of perfection. I never once saw a street I wouldn’t want to live on, a pub I wouldn’t like to get to know, a view I wouldn’t wish to call my own. It was hard to accept that it was real – and that people came home to these houses every night, shopped in these tiny shops, walked their dogs on these streets, and went through life thinking that this is the way of the world.
Funny thing is a Vespa, in how it unites people.
This bespoke half-day Vespa tour did more than take us to lesser-known areas, and fabulous locations. It built relationships with locals, who showed us never-ending generosity of spirit, and demonstrated the nations culture and love of the simpler things in life. Being relatively local I know I’ll repeatedly return, with visiting friends.
The Marche Full Experience is in partnership with Luzi Racing who provide the Vespa’s.
www.marchefullexperience.it WhatsApp +39 3245454279
Prices start at €30($43.50)/pp
Lessons learned whilst riding a scooter
What to wear/take along: Sunglasses don’t only shield your eyes from the sun but provide protection if flying insects buzz under your visor. Lip-gloss is like having flypaper on your face. Keep a small towel in your Vespa (and wet wipes) – it’ll help to mop up rain/sweat/clean dirt. Get a good pair of gloves with reinforced palms and knuckle protectors. Always carry your rental papers and license with you. You and your passenger must always wear a helmet – and Covid protect yourself with a paper bonnet to wear under the helmet. Even in the summer, always wear a jacket when riding a scooter and if possible, cover your legs.
Parking: The best place to park is in scooter a designated parking space. You’ll be fined if you park in blue bays – these are paying car spots. Ditto delivery van bays. Bays marked by white lines are the best alternative to designated scooter parking spots.
Riding: Overtake on the left when driving your scooter and give plenty of warning when changing lanes or stopping. If you’re riding at a moderate speed and have a car that wants to overtake you, move slightly right of center so it can pass. You risk a fine if you drive in a bus or taxi lane. Don’t drive the wrong way up streets despite what you see other scooter riders do. Scooters can ride in historical centers and access many areas that cars can’t – just make sure you’re driving a model which complies with the emissions stipulated by law.
Safety tips for the Vespa: Cobblestones are treacherous in the wet. Go slow after a shower and brake as slowly as possible, ideally by releasing the throttle or very gently squeezing the brake levers. Riding with your wheel in-line with the tram tracks is looking for an accident. If you need to cross rails, cut across them diagonally. Don’t ride in high heels.
In nearby San Pietro Vecchio is L’Oro di Loriana , a third-generation olive oil press. Here the Abbruzzetti family have been caretakers of the land for more than a hundred years, it’s in their DNA.
Standing in their olive grove, you can smell the salt of the nearby Adriatic, the sweet aromas of the olive trees and savor it in an olive oil tasting, with their own bread.
Locals bring their olive harvests to the traditional Abbruzzetti oil press installations for processing.
Co-owner, Loriana Abbruzzetti, her brother Silvio, and his wife Maria Pia have created a range of luxury olive oil-based skincare products, which is available on site and online. Loriana commissions the inmates of a regional women’s prison to make the lacy adornments for the bottles, jars and boxes.
In 2003 Loriana created an olive oil association for women – Associazione Pandolea . She considers female sensitivity and passion to be highly attuned to the environment, and that woman have a progressive view about sustainable agriculture. The association shares knowledge, work, and experiences to promote the olive oil culture in Italy and around the world. They organize activities for students from cooking schools, agriculture, and Food & Beverage management.
First published at Travel Industry Today