Hilltop Villages

Text Mila Crewe-Brown I recently had the good fortune of spending a week with family in the Italian countryside in the breathtaking province of Marche. Based out of an old country villa in the speck sized town of Monteleone di Fermo, I spent much of my time in a similarly miniature car discovering the towns that dot the hills of the surrounding areas. The landscape in this region is compared to that of its western neighbour, Umbria, yet it has to be said - it’s more authentic, more pastoral and further off the beaten track. With each winding expedition we’d find ourselves in another centuries-old village complete with twisting cobbled lanes and shuttered apartment facades.  The names alone beg to be pronounced at least a few times over: Castellucio, Monte Rinaldo, Montottone… Of those I visited I’d recommend the following villages: At the top of my list is Castellucio di Norcia just over the border in Umbria. The highest in the Apennine region, this lentil-growing village is awash with fields of red poppies in springtime and carpeted in snow in winter.  From there you can walk the surrounding Appenine Mountain trails. On our way there we stopped in a charming little town called Montegallo within the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. The base for a host of hiking and mountaineering trails, it’s reminiscent of the Swiss Alps with high peaks covered in dense forests of fir trees and valleys dotted with lakes. The town square in Servigliano, neighbouring Monteleone di Fermo, served as our source of daily espresso and gelato and was the perfect spot for observing the goings on of daily life. If you do ever find yourself in Servigliano, make your way to Ristorante Pane e Vino tucked away off the main square - the owner has a sense of style second to none. And, after a long and winding drive out to Lago di Fiastra in the Monti Sibillini National Park, we were rewarded with the stunning sight of the aquamarine Fiastra Lake, cosseted by tree lined cliff faces and a pebble beach.  It has to be said, the area also claims the best pasta I’ve ever sampled. Found at Il Gatto e la Volpe, it was a simple handmade taglioni accompanied by a creamy pork meatball sauce. Lastly, what would Italian hill town exploration be without a stop for thirsty travelers? We found Bar Rosita in Montottone the ideal place for a cold birra with its views over cultivated farmlands and its picture perfect streets.