A version of this article first appeared in the October 2012 issue of the award-winning subscription travel newsletter Dream of Italy
By Walter Sanders
After we left Villa Pipistrelli, our small group journeyed to Le Marche, a region in east-central Italy nestled between Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria.
Our destination was the bustling village of Mercatello sul Metauro, located at the foot of the Tuscan-Umbrian Apennine mountains, only a couple of hours by car east of Siena.
The morning mists lifted to reveal soaring hills and sweeping views of verdant valleys. Downhill we passed towns that marked the progress of 15th Century artist Piero della Francesca who had literally painted his way to Urbino, the famed “Ideal City” of the Renaissance.
Mercatello sul Metauro is inviting. The gray paver-bricked main square is bisected by white paver stones that form lines converging from the far corners of the square straight to the center. “Follow the white stone roads,” to adapt the effect into Wizard of Oz parlance.
The square bustles. Much of the buzz is fueled by frothing cappuccino and steaming espresso provided by Franchino from his nearby bar, Caffe Rinaldi. Franchino knows everyone.
He is also a good friend of nine talented local fellows who compose the gastronomic society called the Accademia del Padlot. They are an amazing bunch who pop up during major holidays and special events in Mercatello to cook for the town.
They prepared a feast for our press group one night. They worked hard, really hard, cooking local dishes in large quantities over an open hearth. Then they partied hard, really hard, enjoying the food, wine, laughter, and song that defined this memorable evening.
Our home in Mercatello was the Palazzo Donati, owned by the Donati family, a handsome building located on the town square. The formidable palace dates to the 1700s. Climbing a broad stone stairway to the first floor brings you to an impressive, domed reception area. The property has two kitchens: the first a rustic salute to cooking on an open hearth (where the Padlot prepared their meal); the second kitchen is commercial.
The property has eight bedrooms and can sleep 17 during the warm months. Three unheated bedrooms are closed during the offseason and lodging capacity is reduced to 11. The stern stone façade of the Palazzo belies the intimate garden area behind the Palazzo. What an ideal venue to read, write, and relax.
We also had the opportunity to meet the talented, the undisputed champion, and the galactic queen of pasta-making: Lina!!! She has vanquished all local challengers, and then moved on to wider arenas, flattening British chef Jamie Oliver. She is a pasta-making marvel with a smile as wide as her rolling pin.
Mercatello is in the heart of Italy’s tartufo (truffle) region where magnificent black—and highly desired tartufi bianchi (white truffles)—are gathered from October 1 through the year’s end hunting season. Area restaurants work wonders with truffles and mushrooms.
I felt very comfortable in Mercatello sul Metauro. Don’t tell my wife, Sharon, but I peeked at the listings on the window of a real estate office. Hmmm: two-bedroom apartment with modern kitchen and bath, near the square, €40,000. I took a deep breath, thought twice, and went to Franchino’s for an espresso.
Where to stay
Mercatello Sul Metauro (PU)
(39) 0577 342189
Prices, which include lodging and breakfast, vary from 3,572€ to 4,285€ weekly depending on group size (11 to 17) and season.
Where to Eat
Mulino della Ricavata
Via Porta Celle 5
(39) 0722 310326
Open for dinner every evening.
Anna Faggi rules the kitchen in this extraordinary restaurant housed in a restored mill building. The menu changes daily as to the availability of fresh ingredients. The meal we enjoyed was terrific. I would trust Anna with my culinary life!
Ristorante da Uto’s
(39) 0722 814018
A minute walk from the Palazzo Donati, this local favorite offers great regional fare in a casual environment.
Where to have coffee
Via Bencivenni 19
(39) 0722 816019
What to See
Urbino, the “Ideal City” of the Renaissance is less than an hour by car. The city’s attractions were featured in the November, 2011 Dream of Italy.
Play Golf at “Golf Club Alpe Luna”
Via Taramone 2
(39) 339 2701581
A group of community leaders banded together to build a 4-hole golf course and practice area for local golfers. I was thrilled to see girls and boys learning the game at the driving range.
Driving range entrance is 10€ and a round of golf is 15€. You can arrange to rent clubs and a pull cart.
Where to Buy Ceramics
Ceramica d’Arte Antica Casteldurante
Piazza Cavour 4
Telephone (39) 0722 317573
The charming Nicoletta Amicizia speaks English and is available for hire to organize activities for you in Mercatello.
Telephone: (39) 339 5498925