These two photos attempt to capture a small piece of the dominant feature of the area: the peaks that make up Monti Sibillini National Park. The first image is the view from the house. The tallest of the peaks pictured is Monte Vettore at 2,476 metres. The second image is taken from the hilltop town of Smerillo, not far from the house, looking due west over the valley that includes Amandola in the foreground and the national park just beyond.
There are extensive hikes in the park, many take you up to the various summits. Just below the peak of Monte Vettore lies Lago di Pilato. Legend has it that Pontias Pilate was killed and thrown in this lake, giving it a blood red sheen. The red hue is actually produced by a rare species of alpine crustacean. It's a nice legend, but only that -- there's no blood.
This is Lago di Fiastra, the mountain stream-fed lake in the national park above the house. The lake is the perfect stop on a hot summer day. It's like swimming in a bottle of mineral water - the water is that clean! Floating in the middle of this giant lake, with a 360-panorama of soaring peaks, may be the most relaxing activity in all of Le Marche. Can't wait to go back!
Of course, Le Marche is blessed with the sea too. The Adriatic coast is under an hour away. The beaches vary dramatically -- stony beaches by Monte Conero, sandy stretches elsewhere, always looking out on the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. The photo above is of a quiet stretch of coast at Altidona. We like this beach for the great beachfront restaurants: heaping portions of fresh seafood, and cheap!
If bumping down mountain biking trails is your thing, or, if a more leisurely passagiata through quaint villages is more your speed, this is a good place to start. There are extensive trails throughout the hillside and into the mountains behind the house for all skill levels. Here's a more tame stretch, with Sarnano in the distance.
Amandola is not without its occasional traffic jam. Here, I get caught behind an endless queue of sheep, recklessly merging into my lane.
The view from within the national park. On a clear day, you can see the sea, well over 50 km away. The second picture is taken from the summit of Tre Vescovi (2,000 meters) looking north. This was a particularly incredible day in July, 2007; we could see all of Le Marche, and well into Abruzzo, Umbria and Tuscany.
In late summer/early autumn, a layer of cottony mist forms on the hills each morning before the sun burns it off. Any aspiring vinologist knows this is perfect for the cultivation of grapes. It makes for nice views too.
Amandola is truly a unique place, one of the few places on the planet where you can find the Tuber Magnatum Pico -- or white truffle. In the woods below Casa Chiocciola, tartufai gather with their dogs in the early Autumn to sniff around for these rare gems.
They go for a fortune at auction in Alba up north, and cost even more in some of the finer restaurants in London, Paris and New York. In Amandola, for a few weeks anyhow, they are pretty easy to find on the menu.
Did I mention there's skiing just 20 minutes drive from my front door? It's not the Alps, but there are 8 nice-sized runs. In the summer, this is a prime spot for hiking and trekking. Here's a photo from New Year's Day, 2005.
Hiking atop the Sibillini. This is the summit trail to Monte Sibilla (2300 metres, or a bit over 7,000 feet). Spectacular views ensue.
Or, maybe you just want to relax, read a good book, and crack a sinister smile, thinking about what the working stiffs are doing right about now. Cue: pleasant breeze. Turn page.
Rocco! Get out of the picture, Rocco! Sorry, the neighbour's dog. He likes to come over and party whenever there's company. He's very affectionate, and well loved by all. Now, Rocco. Vai a casa!
The house. Casa Chiocciola. "Chiocciola" is Italian for snail shail. It's also the reference for the "@" sign. The cottage is very spacious with two large bedrooms that enter out onto a balcony with stunning views. The salone downstairs runs the length of the house and the kitchen is very large, even by Italian standards. There are also two bathrooms, both with shower and a large fireplace.
Don't take my word for it. A panel of judges at a pizza party here a few years back anointed it Central Italy's best. How good is the pizza? The No. 1 pizza had a topping of raisins...Trust me. It was quite good!
Any Italian will tell you: a proper Italian house has to have a proper salone. Basta cosi.
Far better photographers than I have been inspired by the natural beauty of Le Marche. Check out their photos here on Flickr.
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