Let’s reflect on these two lesser known regions in Italy and take a deeper look at Le Marche, Umbria, and, as spring sometimes surprises us: hiking in the rain. Why not? After all, it is that time of year!
A march, or mark, in the Middle Ages meant a border province of the Holy Roman Empire–usually an unsettled frontier held by one of the Emperor’s fighting barons and later became the name of this region, quietly known as a very cultured, curious and important corner of Italy. Unencumbered by art and culture, Le Marche was a border zone and occupied much of the central Adriatic coastline. The Marchegiani are fiercely proud of the fertile farmlands and the unspoiled, wild nature in this area. Its territories are tucked away between the Apennini mountains and the Renaissance art towns of Urbino and Ascoli Piceno and boast scores of beaches and countless lovely stone villages nestled amongst the valleys leading up to the snowy peaks of the Sibillini Mountains–one of the highest ranges of the Apennines.
Next door we find enchanting Umbria. The only region that is land-locked on all sides, Umbria has been referred to as the cuore verde: “green heart” of Italy. Seasoned travelers have noted that the region of Umbria, (often unfairly referred to as Tuscany’s less beautiful sister), is a wonderful place to be, rather than to necessarily do. One guest noted that Umbria “speaks in silences” – and such silence and stillness is its greatest gift to the world. Perhaps this is why it is known as a “mystical center”, and the birthplace of numerous saints, including St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Valentine, and our girl saints: Lucy, Claire, and Rita. Even Italians are charmed by the kind simplicity of the complacent Umbrians!
Both of these regions, inhabited with indigenous settlements since ancient times, are known for their vast National Parks, and are sprinkled with small towns offering wonderful hospitality, delicious cuisine, and great hiking.
Our Journey Through Italy tour begins in the medieval, walled, now university town of Urbino, a Unesco site, and birthplace of the brilliant Renaissance artist Raffaelo. During our hikes in the surrounding fertile, green farmland we’ll be stopping to visit creative families of carpenters and printmakers, and picnic with a family of beekeepers! Our journey continues south to the pretty little city of Ascoli Piceno with its marvelous, eclectic architecture, and onwards even further to the magical, blooming carpet of flowers (on our spring departure) on the Piano Grande, a high plateau located at 4,000 feet above sea level.
We continue our hiking further west in the stunning landscapes of the Valnerina that surround the town of Norcia. This area of Umbria is synonymous for centuries with the best, skilled butchers and the “art” of butchery (in fact in Italian norcino is another word for butcher). This entire area is a culinary dream–with its tartufo nero (black truffle), prosciutto di Norcia (dry-cured ham) and salame di cinghiale (spicy wild-boar sausage)–all of which we’ll be tasting before, during and after our memorable hikes.
Our final days will be spent exploring the Sibillini mountains, reveling in the most spectacular hikes the area has to offer; walking through woods and pastures where sheep, cows and horses graze. There are splendid cultural attractions with walks to some fascinating medieval churches, a beautiful Benedictine monastery, local grottos, or caves–all punctuated with our delicious and irreplaceable picnics–Umbrian style–showcasing local wines and distinct local flavors, special breads, farro, tiny, tender local lentils (lenticchie di Castelluccio), fluted pasta and of course, local sweets.
Historically, musicians have written and played songs about walking and singing in the rain. And so, what if we do get caught in a beautiful Spring downpour? Research tells us that walking in the rain has many benefits!
The air remains fresh during the rainy season
The air is scientifically proven to be cleaner and fresher: An MIT study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics showed that the air is truly cleaner during and after rainfall. The reason is that as raindrops fall through the atmosphere, they have the ability to attract hundreds of particles of pollutants like dander, soot, sulfates and bacteria before hitting the ground. Proof that invigorating breaths of rainy air actually are better.
The smell of rain refreshes the mind and has a calming effect
You’re not the only one who loves the scent of the air during rainfall. In fact, the distinct smell even has a name: petrichor, coined by two Australian scientists in the 1960s. The scent, according to Live Science, is a mixture of chemicals released by soil-dwelling bacteria, oils released from plants during dry spells and ozone that is created when lightning splits oxygen and nitrogen molecules that then turn into nitric oxide.
Rain is good for hair, skin and overall health
High levels of humidity in the air help keep your skin fresh, young and supple. And some researchers believe that when humidity levels are 43% and higher, nearly 3/4 of airborne virus particles are left powerless.
Eating outside is good for you too!
Eating outside in the open air and then walking in fields and woods is a touchstone for our health. Plants and trees exude monoterpenes, and our calf muscles activate anti-inflammatory substances. And if we are walking during or after a rainstorm, or alongside a stream, river or lake we also have the advantage of recharging the electronegative ions that balance our state of health. No wonder our picnics taste so good!
Walking in the rain burns more calories (since we typically pick up our pace)
Japanese researchers published a piece in the International Journal of Sports Medicine that proved when a person does physical activity in cold, rainy weather, he or she actually burns more calories and fat than doing the same activity in moderate weather.
So, the next time you’re faced with a rainy walk (in Italy or in your own neighborhood)–think twice, put on your jacket, and head out!
Our Marche and Umbria tour next Spring might be the perfect anecdote to a long, indoor period: viewing the memorable carpet of brilliant wildflowers on the Piano Grande, discovering two less-known areas of Italy, tasting wonderful regional dishes and getting a good dose of added healthy boosters by (maybe) walking in the rain….!