Le Marche is one of Italy’s most unspoilt and picturesque regions that has, thankfully, managed to stay under the mainstream tourist radar. Easily accessible by plane, train and car, this lesser known gem, is situated in the East of Italy and offers all the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of Tuscany, but without the crowds and inflated price-tags.
Here, you can discover an authentic way of life, where the seasons lead the daily rhythms of the people and local industry. With its endless coastlines of clean, quiet beaches, breathtaking mountain ranges and charming historic towns, Le Marche ticks all the boxes for those seeking an authentic Italian escape.
Here in the heart of classic Le Marche, resting elegantly between the Sibillini Mountains and the coastal town of Pedaso sits the ancient hilltop town of Montelparo. A picture postcard, medieval setting, its winding streets, well-worn stone-steps and shaded courtyards, interweave between historic piazzas and panoramic viewpoints.
Situated 588 metres above sea level and constructed from the distinctive cream stone, so typical of southern Le Marche, Montelparo enjoys far-reaching views of both the mountains and the sea and offers an enchanting backdrop for an authentic chic retreat.
Sitting at the foot of Montelparo with clear views to the sea, is award-winning Hotel Leone. A beautifully restored, three-floored, historic town-house, Hotel Leone offers that elusive combination of elegant accommodation, personal service and delicious, seasonal cuisine. The property’s original heritage dates back to 1501 where documents refer to it as Palazzo Pellei – the name of a then noble and powerful Italian family. Over the centuries, the fabric of the building has evolved, and an upper floor was added in the 20th century. At that point, the property was known as Taverna del Leone. After some years of trading, Taverna del Leone was abandoned suddenly by its owners in 1986. Intriguingly, when the business closed to its last customers it literally become frozen in time. Everything was left exactly where it was, from the furniture right down to the cutlery on the table-tops were all left undisturbed. Some items were wrapped in cling-film to preserve them from the passage of time. Charmingly, some of those original pieces have been restored by a local artisan and are now back home in-situ and in use again. Luckily, for its guests today, this ancient property was saved from ruin by British couple Madeline and Tim Jones who lovingly restored the building and passionately transformed this crumbling old palace into a luxurious boutique hotel.
Hotel Leone is now one of the region’s most popular boutique hotels, attracting guests from all over the globe. The transformation process and the restoration journey was a long and intensive one for owners Madeline and Time Jones.
“We spent nearly 5 years in our search for the perfect hotel project. We looked all over Italy and viewed 100’s of properties before we saw the palazzo in Montelparo. It had been left empty for 30 years – and was probably already another 30 years out of date even at the point of its closure. It needed complete renewal, total modernisation and sensitive renovation.
Every element of the structure needed careful attention.
For example, what is now the wine cellar was hidden behind a wall which had been blocked up. After Tim and I studied some old plans of the building we quickly realised it was a false wall and opened it up to see what was behind. After excavating hundreds of year’s worth of silt and mud, an intimate wine cellar was created. The cellar is, in fact, a blocked off tunnel which would have been an underground route beneath the town. Montelparo is a fortified town and as with many of these historic locations it has its own network of hidden passageways beneath the buildings allowing residents to move secretly from one side of the town to the other.”
What is now the elegant restaurant with original vaulted brick ceiling would have been home to the livestock of the owners who would have resided in the upper floors.
The interiors of the hotel were designed, and all materials selected by Madeline herself. Hotel Leone has its own unique appeal and is bathed in natural light which is a rarity in old Italian buildings. Where possible, architectural features have been saved and further complemented by original antiques and more modern design-led furnishings. Throughout the interiors you can find interesting pieces from the UK and Singapore where Tim and Madeline lived during their former corporate careers. Lighting was sourced from an artisan manufacture based near Montelparo and Tim’s passion for Art-Deco is beautifully depicted in the reception and bar areas where a sense of time-less glamour has been masterfully re-created.
“I fell in love with an old Odeon Cinema in the UK with its the angular lines and opulent finishes. We drew up our own designs for the bar which included an iconic geometric motif which also features throughout the hotel. For example, it can be found in the 3-dimensional travertine skirting around the spiral staircase which runs from top to bottom of the hotel. The spiral theme was extended into the ‘Empire’ bar where we created a multi-level curved ceiling installation.”
The lion’s share (excuse the pun) of the restoration work was physically carried out by Tim and Madeline. The acres of tiling, decorating and fitting were undertaken personally by them, the structure of the building along with the re-pointing of the old stone walls handled by local builders. Throughout this vast project Tim and Madeline used environmentally friendly techniques and materials where possible and Hotel Leone utilises solar power energy and has its own rainwater collection system for watering the plants on the terrace.
Experience genuine day-to-day life in Le Marche by visiting some of the region’s hidden towns and villages. The architecture is mostly unchanged since medieval times, as are, many of the region’s traditions and local customs. Here are a few suggestions:
- Ascoli Piceno, an ancient town known for its beautiful Piazza del Popolo, which is considered one of the most beautiful piazzas in
- Macerata, the seat of one of the Italy’s oldest universities, and popular for its great opera
- Sarnano, which is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in
- Le Marche is also known for shoemaking and produces around 90% of all Italian shoes. Look out for traditional shoe-maker for a tailormade
- Check out: Fermo, Matelica, Cingoli, San Ginesio, Camerino and
The Le Marche coastline covers 180 km and offers one of the highest number of Blue Flag beaches in Italy. Check out Riviera del Conero and its azure seas where some of its beaches are only accessible only by boat. Or Riviera del Palme, which covers the area from Pedaso through to Cupra Marittima, Grottamare and San Benedetto del Tronto.
Nature and Adventure
This region has something for everyone: mountains, hills, parks, lakes and beaches. Le Marche’s natural heritage is impressive, almost 90,000 hectares of land are covered by two national parks, four regional parks and six natural reserves. Hike over the Sibillini mountains or explore the region on horseback. Try out all manner of waters-ports from kayaking, windsurfing and canoeing to diving. Ski at the Sassotetto ski resort. For thrill- seekers, have a go at tandem paragliding, white water rafting or take a survival course in Norcia.
Hiking and Biking
The Sibillini Mountains are one of the most beautiful zones of the Apennines and include 10 mountains reaching over 2,000m in height. The National Park has numerous nature trails suitable for all levels of fitness. Hike along riverbanks, pass stunning waterfalls and caves and enjoy some of the best views Le Marche offers. There are many routes for cycling and mountain biking. The National Park also offers other activities such as horse riding, climbing, quad biking and skiing.
For more details visit www.hotelleonemarche.com