Day 1: mid-morning arrival at Ancona airport and a 75-minute private transfer to Urbino Resort.
After a rather early departure from Stansted, our guests tend to need a little rest before setting off so we leave it until mid-day before gathering for coffee on the terrace and driving to Porchetteria Patenta where rolls of butcher’s paper cover the tables and the owners show us how to tie a whole herb stuffed pig with willow twine before roasting it in a 500C wood fired oven. From Patenta we drive to one of the region’s top producers of wine, the Mancini estate, with breathtaking views over p the glittering Adriatic and rows of vines of local grapes such as the intoxicatingly Aleatico and also, very unusually, with Pinot Noir, a custom dating back to the Napoleonic rule of the area. It is a testament to the beauty of the Mancini estate that it was used by Rick Stein when he filmed his Italian TV program (clip). If the weather gods are on our side, we enjoy an al fresco food and wine tasting right above the turquoise sea, surrounded by lime green early season vines and the heady scent of coastal gorse. The vineyards are next to the idyllic hill-top village of Fiorenzuola di Focara. The cobbled streets, domed church towers and jaw dropping views should mean hoarders of tourists but as this is Le Marche, and not Tuscany, we are the only visitors. After a glass of chilled white in the evening sun, we set off for dinner at Osteria il Pergolato Da Maria, a rustic favourite frequented only by local people who come to enjoy a menu which has hardly changed in the 60 years that Maria has presided over the kitchen. From Maria’s, we return ready for the dreamlike tranquilly and comfort of Urbino Resort.
Day 2: Breakfast at Urbino Resort is served in the renovated former estate chapel. In typical Italian style, it includes an amazing array of delicious, homemade cakes and pastries as well as fresh fruit and homemade jams. In keeping with the slow motto, we don’t depart until 9.30 so there is time to have a lie-in or go for a walk or run and have a dip in the pool before “il pranzo”. Our first visit brings us right up to the higher regions of the Montefeltro hills, offering an almost alpine vista. The winding road takes us to the San Giovanni sheep farm where owner Antonello and his English wife Sarah make fresh Ricotta and Pecorino. Antonello’s family originates from Sardinia, where art of making sheep’s cheese originates. The farm keeps some 300 sheep who are milked daily to produce wonderfully delicate Ricotta, which we eat fresh with olive oil, salt and pepper. Local people make the journey up to the farm to buy cheese straight from Antonello and Sarah and what does not sell on the farm is taken down the mountain to local markets but no
further. From San Giovanni we descend to multi-award winning Il Conventino, whose 300 acres of olive groves and vines produce artisanal oils and wines. For those interested in understanding just how complex and precise a process it is to make top quality olive oil loved by chefs, the owner, an engineer by training, talks us through his tailor-made, high-tech presses. Saturdays are for communal team lunches at Il Conventino which means the full works from Bruschette and pasta to ice cream served with the estate’s top olive oil – and sea salt. A revelation! This is a slow tour, and lunch at Il Conventino can take anything from 90 minutes to 3 hours depending on the mood and the subjects discussed around the table. We don’t clock-watch, we simply sit back and pour another glass of top quality wine, including the spectacular Passum dessert wine, made not from late, but early, harvest grapes in order to control sugar and alcohol levels and resulting in a magnificent, deeply ruby “just sweet” wine. Dozing off is allowed as we head down to the lively city of Pesaro on the coast. The birth place of Rossini, this elegant town welcomes Opera lovers from all over the world to its annual Rossini festival in August. Known for his voracious appetite, Rossini had a favourite pizza which includes tomato sauce, hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise! It has to be tried to be believed – and one small slice is enough. The afternoon is yours to explore the cobbled streets, excellent shops and artisan ice creams. Dinner is on the beach, enjoying fresh prawns, calamari and local Piadine bread.
Day 3: after breakfast we set off to visit the smallest producer of the trip; organic winery and honey producer Giuseppe Paci. Giuseppe, his wife, 4 children including latest arrival baby Giulia, his parents, an uncle and a set of grandparents all share a large house which has belonged to the Paci family for centuries. They produce small quantities of organic wine made completely by hand and where lunch in the courtyard include homemade salamis, honey and Signora Luisa’s seasonal deep fried acacia and elder flowers served with the house rosé.
Our final dinner is at the lake side restaurant on the estate, which is reached via a gently lit road through the vines, accompanied by the beguiling flicker of early summer fire flies in their nocturnal search for food. Our own search for the genuine food of this wonderful region ends here, in the relaxed setting and safe hands of Chef Tomas Morazzini whose sour dough pizza, use of herbs and vegetables from the estate and indulgent pastries draw guests from all over the region.
Day 4: breakfast and departure to Ancona airport for our return flight at 10.20am, arriving back in the UK by noon.
Written by Tine Roche