The itinerary, of about 20 kilometres, starts from Grottammare and leads to Torre di Palme, passing through Marano, the upper village of Cupra Marittima.
The villages all have the characteristic of being on scenic terraces overlooking the Adriatic coast, perched on promontories over the sea, thus revealing their origins as lookouts and defensive sites.
They are all protected by village walls and contain an authentic labyrinth of little alleyways that open up, quite unexpectedly, onto the most marvellous views of the Adriatic, which the musician Gabriel Faurè referred to as an expanse of lapis-lazuli.
As one stretches out on the Adriatic beaches or walks along the Piceno shores, it is hard to think that the history of these picturesque little villages was so drenched in blood and sacrifice.
Right from the eighth century, the Adriatic coast was plagued by the scourge of piracy: the villages on the coast were landing points for raids inland by the Saracens and pirates from the coast of Dalmatia.
Whereas in other places along the Adriatic coast there were watchtowers, here it was the villages themselves, high up above the sea, that kept the lookout.
Like sentinels, the villages would raise the alarm by ringing bells and lighting fires on the towers so that the local population could seek refuge from the danger of pirates.
Through the streets of the villages, the cry would go up: Mamma li turchi! “Mamma, the Turks!”, and the expression has remained.
Grottammare is a well-established tourist resort, with a lush vegetation of palms and oleanders, orange groves and pine woods: the fragrance of nature accompanies the ever-present signs of history.
Reference to its mild climate can be seen in the town crest, which contains two oranges.
The town consists of two urban areas – the old part on the hill, and the modern area down by the sea, with buildings in the Art Nouveau “Liberty” style of the early twentieth century.
Tourism first appeared in Grottammare in the seventeenth century and became established over the years until, in the nineteenth century, it became a renowned centre for curing respiratory and skin disorders.
Founded by the Piceni, Grottammare appears in documents dating back to the tenth and eleventh centuries, when the fortress, the ruins of which still dominate the town, was built to defend the port.
This was granted by King Manfredi to the city of Fermo in 1259, together with the castle.
The history of the town is similar to that of many others on the Piceno coast which were also involved in frequent wars with their neighbours and threatened by pirate raids.
Set in the town walls, the Torrione della Battaglia has been restored and is now a museum dedicated to the Grottese artist Pericle Fazzini – the “sculptor of wind”, as Giuseppe Ungharetti called him.
In 1868, the world-famous pianist Liszt spent a long time in Grottammare.
Enraptured by the beauty of the place, he wrote:The blue sea, the delightful verdant hills, the mildness of the climate and the perfume of flowers and oranges create a poetry equal only to the celestial harmony of sounds.
Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Hero of the Two Worlds, stayed here, as did the future King of Italy, Victor Emanuel II, who on 12 October 1860, right here in the villa of Marquis Laureati, received the Neapolitan delegation which granted him the former Kingdom of Naples and the Crown of Italy.
Built to a design by Bernini on the slopes of the village, the Villa Azzolino gave hospitality to Queen Christina of Sweden in 1665.
Nearby, there is the church of Sant’Agostino, with a fortified apse and a bell tower which was truncated, as was the punishment during the Counter-Reformation for those churches which had welcomed Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk who brought about the Protestant Reformation (1517) and who had been a guest in the nearby convent.
The ancient village also houses a splendid arcade with a view over the Marina, near the church of San Giovanni Battista, now the Museo Sistino, and the Collegiata di Santa Lucia (1590), which was built by the Pope’s sister over the house where they were born.
It contains an organ made by Fedeli in 1751.
When 1 July falls on a Sunday, the Sacra Giubilare, or “Holy Jubilee”, is celebrated in Grottammare, in memory of the time when the Pope’s ship sought refuge in the port (which no longer exists).
Pope Alexander III was on his way to Venice to organise the fight against Frederick Barbarossa, who was preparing to invade Italy, when his vessel was caught in a storm and forced ashore.
The Camaldolensian monks at the abbey of San Martino invited the Pope to stay on until 1 July in order to attend the festivities that the local population celebrated according to very ancient tradition.
Pope Alexander was so astonished and moved by the immense participation of the people that he took off his hat, a “camauro“, filled it with sand and announced that “As many indulgences will be granted to each pilgrim as there are grains of sand herein“.
Since then, pilgrims have flocked to the abbey of San Martino, just outside the village on the road to Offida, in order to obtain plenary indulgence.
Cupra Marittima is a tourist resort and a commercial centre with a full range of facilities: it appears to the visitor as a single complex of different styles, each illustrating a part of the extraordinary history of the village.
Here we find traces of prehistory, of the Roman age (when Cupra was an important religious and civic centre), and of mediaeval and later times.
The remains of each age are not mingled together, but perfectly clear to see in their historic context.
The name of the locality comes from the goddess Cupra, one of the deities of Piceno, who was incorporated into Roman religion.
With the arrival of Christianity, throughout the Adriatic area there was a shift towards the cult of the bishop Saint Bassus of Nice, to whom a lovely church (San Basso) is dedicated.
Traces of Roman civilisation can still be seen in the remains of the walls, in the ruins of the Forum with two arches and in the capitoline podium, which are located in Contrada La Civita, not far from the modern town.
There is also a mausoleum, some cisterns and the nymphaeum of a seaside villa.
Marano is an enchanting village high above the coast, with a splendid view over the sea and towards Val Menocchia behind.
The village has a mediaeval part and is built on two hills above the marina, with the castles of Marano, Sant’Andrea and Boccabianca, where the population of the ancient centre of Cupra used to seek refuge from invasions by the Byzantines, Longobards, Franks and Moors.
It was the Moors who, in the eighth century, razed the town to the ground – the castle was built on the ruins.
In Marano, what is known as the “Palazzo del Vassello” was home to the Pope’s legate Francesco Sforza, the future lord of Milan, and his wife Bianca Visconti, and it became the venue for memorable festivities and dances.
The people of Cupra have fond relationships with Marano, as the poet Oreste Ciucci recalls most beautifully: “For all the people a return to the castle of Marano is a slow journey back to the origins of our existence, like that of a lost swallow, and we drink avidly of the purest waters of life, simply and humbly, with the memories of a blissful childhood that will never return“.
Torre di Palme is a mediaeval village dating back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, high up on a peak above the sea.
It is one of the most beautiful historic villages in the Marche, a perfect, perfectly preserved gem, with remarkably consistent style in its buildings.
It was an outpost of the ancient city of Palma, which was founded in the sixth century BC by the Piceni, and was referred to by the Greek geographer Strabo as a strategic naval berth, close by the Cugnòlo channel.
In his Naturalis Historia, Pliny the Elder remarks on the wine from the Ager Palmensis – the present-day Torre di Palme and Marina Palmense – which was known throughout the Empire for its excellent quality.
This territory, which is now famous for its fruit and vegetables, was thus famous for its winemaking, and indeed took its name from the “Palma” variety of grape.
The presence of the port convinced the Romans to build the colony of Fermo in order to control the movement of goods.
The entire Ager Palmensis area remained under the control of Fermo throughout the early Middle Ages.
Augustinian hermits settled around the lookoutturris, as did those inhabitants who survived the destruction wrought upon the ancient Palma by repeated pirate attacks.
This was the earliest settlement of Turris Palmae, the “tower of the city of Palma”.
Close by the town, in the Bosco del Cugnolo, the Grotta degli Amanti – the “lovers’ cave” – was the site of a dramatic, but also poetic event during the First World War, involving a young man called Antonio and his fiancèe Laurina.
Back home on short leave, when the time came to return to the front, Antonio decided to desert and elope with his beloved.
The two of them sought refuge in the little cave in the woods and lived their adventure of love, eating bread and sardines brought to them by local fishermen.
After a week, the two lovers were filled with remorse and, feeling that they were being hunted down by the Carabinieri, rather than leave each other, they chose to die together.
Held together by Laurina’s shawl, they threw themselves into the depths of Fosso di San Filippo.
The girl died instantly, but Antonio broke his backbone and briefly survived.
A few days later, he joined her in death.
Going along the main street, one comes to the church of San Giovanni, dating back to the year 1000, with an ashlar façade and a Gothic interior, the Palazzo dei Priori, and the parish church of Sant’Agostino.
This is in the Romanesque style with Gothic portals, and contains a polyptych by Vittore Crivelli, brother of the more famous Carlo.
At the end of the street, the Romanesque Santa Maria a Mare and the Oratorio di San Rocco (12th cent.) give onto Piazza Belvedere, an enchanting scenic terrace overlooking the sea and the urban centres on the coast.