Italy's Province Of Ascoli PicenoWhere Tradition and Beauty Flow from Every Peak and Valley.

By Prity Vanmali — Contributing Writer | Photos By Prity Vanmali

Whether you are seeking a sense of deep history and tradition, culinary delight, craftsmanship or secluded luxury, a journey into the Province of Ascoli Piceno, a hidden gem situated in the Marche region of East Central Italy, is sure to satisfy.

Steeped in history and dating back to the days preceding the Roman Empire, Ascoli Piceno is named after the indigenous founding people called the Picenes. According to legend, a woodpecker, or a “picus” in Latin, led these nomadic shepherds to the site. To this day, this historic town is reminiscent of the medieval settlement it once was. It still boasts original architecture such as Romanesque churches and defense towers throughout, as well as a city center flanked by Renaissance porticos and constructed of travertine stone quarried from the surrounding mountains.

Beyond the mountains to the incomparable Adriatic Sea sits Grottammare, about 40 kilometers south of Ascoli Piceno. As travels through the picturesque mountains leave the historic buildings of Ascoli Piceno behind, the timeless beauty and serenity of Grottammare’s shoreline welcome you. This friendly beach town offers bicycling, fishing, authentic gelato and seafood served with true Italian passion. To indulge in a memorable culinary adventure of freshly caught seafood flavored with herbs grown on-site and hand-selected by the chef, beachfront Chalet Don Diego is the place to go.

Italy's Province Of Ascoli PicenoIn true Italian fashion, a dinner at Chalet Don Diego easily gratifies an entire evening’s cravings with a full menu and exceptional ocean views. Italian menus traditionally have five sections, featuring fare that is meant to be savored over a few hours with family and friends. A full Italian meal typically consists of an appetizer, a first course, a main course, side dishes to enjoy with the main course, and dessert.

As in the United States, appetizers — or antipasti, meaning “before the meal” in the plural form — are served before the main meal. In Italy, this is usually offered in the form of regional specialties such as pickled or cured meats, locally grown olives, mushrooms, pepperoncini, anchovies, artichoke hearts, breaded items, cheeses, fresh seafood and vegetables in oil or vinegar. Antipasto signifies the official commencement of an Italian meal.

The first course, primo, is usually hot food that is heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Staples of primo are soup, risotto or a small serving of pasta.

Secundo, the second course, is the main course of the meal. It’s usually presented as a meat, poultry or fish. It also can be a vegetarian dish.

Italy's Province Of Ascoli PicenoSide dishes, contorni, are part of an Italian meal and are generally served with the main course. Traditional side dishes include choices of vegetables, potatoes and salad.

As it begins, an Italian meal ends similarly to an American meal, with dessert, dolce. Common dishes include tiramisu, panna cotta, cake, pie, fresh fruit and decadent gelato. After dolce, many diners stay for an after-dinner drink, caffe or digestivo.

With the plethora of native fruits and locally crafted cheeses, an Italian meal is best and typically complemented with wine, vino. And as grapevines sprawl over the magnificent landscapes of Italy, the choices of wines and winemakers are numerous and often interchangeable. However, Italian craftsmanship and passion are evident in the wines created in true artisanal fashion.

One such winemaker is Paolini Stanford Winery, tucked away in a beautifully esoteric hillside near Offida. The winery and its accompanying bed and breakfast, Nascondiglio Di Bacco — meaning the “hideout of Bacchus,” who is the Roman god of wine — are owned and operated by a native Italian and an American expatriot, a native of Kansas City, Missouri. They handcraft their organic wines in every sense, from seeding to harvesting, and they currently produce approximately 20,000 bottles per year. The bed and breakfast was built 500 years ago as a farmhouse, and recently has been remodeled to provide a relaxing escape with 360 degrees of breathtaking views.

Italy's Province Of Ascoli PicenoThe wines created here range from locally known to internationally recognized varietals. One of the regional varietals this winery produces is common throughout Italy — Pecorino. Pecorino is a native grape of Italy that was serendipitously rediscovered and subsequently replanted 30 years ago in central Italy, most markedly in the province of Ascoli Piceno. Although it shares a name with pecorino cheese, there is no direct link between the two. Local legend is that sheep in the Marche region of Italy would eat the pecorino grapes as they moved through the vineyards. It is thus believed that the grape’s name is derived from the Italian word pecora, which means sheep.

The pride in craftsmanship and respect for the region that is found at Paolini Stanford Winery is a direct reflection of Italian culture as a whole and of the charming small town it borders, Offida. Tombs of the Piceni and of the Romans have been discovered in Offida, making the origins of the town debated. Nonetheless, with its cobblestone streets, centuries-old architecture and multigenerational handicraft industry, Offida effortlessly retains a strong sense of history and tradition.

In Offida’s transition from being a wholly agricultural economy to one incorporating the creation and sale of handcrafted items, its “Merletto a Tombolo,” bobbin lace works, have become famous. For more than 500 years, the skills of the trade have been passed on from mothers to daughters, using the same tools today that were used in the 15th century. Offida has now become la citta del merletto a tombolo, the town of the bobbin lace, commemorated with a monument dedicated to the merlettaie, craftswomen.

Bobbin lace work can take the form of clothing, home décor and jewelry. It can also be admired at the Museum of the Bobbin Lace, Museo del Merletto a Tombolo, located inside a historic building, Palazzo De Castellotti.

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