Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Alessandro Sternini, linguist, writer, hiker, guitarist, and Ancona local here to tell us about his town.
First, tell us about you.
Hi, my name is Alessandro. I am Italian, 37-years-old, and a native (born and raised) of Ancona. Later in life, I lived abroad in Spain, Northern Ireland, and then Estonia.
I studied foreign languages (English and French) and I love writing, drawing, hiking in nature, and playing the guitar.
If someone is visiting Ancona for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Walk from the port up to the old town, starting from Teatro delle Muse, walking along the Via della Loggia, where you can see the façade of the Loggia dei Mercanti and the beautiful Church of Santa Maria. From there, look for a narrow street called Vicolo della Serpe, which is a bit hidden off of Via Saffi, but, once you find it, takes you to the Church of San Francesco.
From there, the best choice is to go left along Via Pizzecolli to visit the local historical museum (The Archeological National Museum…the most important museum in the region) and then reach the highest part of the old town, Colle Guasco (Guasco hill), where you can visit the Ancona Cathedral. Unfortunately, the Cathedral is only open until 12:30 p.m. and then opens again quite late, at about 4 p.m., so avoid lunchtime there.
After enjoying a panoramic view of the port, you can visit the old Roman amphitheater ruins (unfortunately very ruined) and decide: walk through Cardeto Park (a beautiful park with a spectacular view of the Adriatic Sea, particularly stunning in spring or autumn), whose entrance is near the old amphitheater (in Via Birarelli), or find a way down the hill, through the old town to Piazza del Papa.
If you choose the Cardeto Park route, make sure to see the old lighthouse, the Jewish cemetery, and Cardeto hill on the other side.
If you are ready for some nightlife, choose the Piazza del Papa route (which has nice nightlife, but isn’t terribly crowded, even in summer).
Other places of interest: Passetto Beach (easy to reach from the Monumento ai Caduti at the end of Viale della Vittoria and famous for its fishermen’s caves), south of the city center, and Mole Vanvitelliana (a massive pentagonal-shaped building by the port, not far from the train station, where lots of events take place in the summer, including concerts, cinema, exhibitions, etc.).
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
I recommend finding a place in the city center or the old town. I don’t know hotels very well in town, but you can find a nice B&B in the old town on Corso Garibaldi (just one minute far from Teatro delle Muse on foot).
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
I highly recommend coming to Marche in the summer. In August, there is Rosso Conero Wine Festival in Camerano, a village that has some beautiful and ancient labyrinthine caves where old sects (especially during the Napoleonic times) used to hide and gather in secret to plot against the church and state.
From Ancona, south and not far from Camerano, there is the beautiful natural reserve called Parco del Conero. The top of the Conero hill, which has views of the sea, offers some places to eat and is particularly nice in late spring.
I also recommend Portonovo, with its 18th-century tower and 11th-century Romanic church and a walk on the nearby free beach of Mezzavalle.
Due Sorelle Beach and its nearby villages of Sirolo and Numana are also beautiful places to visit.
If you love the outdoors, check out the Frasassi Caves, west of Ancona. In my opinion, these are some of the best natural caves you can visit in Italy. Not far from there, if you love to hike, you can visit the Sibillini Mountains and their natural park (which is about 1.5 hours from Ancona by car).
If you love sandy beaches and easy walks along the shore and especially if you like fifties rock ‘n’ roll music and style, check out Senigallia in August for its famous Summer Jamboree, one of the best 50s-dedicated events in Europe with big bands and festival-goers from every part of Italy.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Typical food from Ancona is seafood, especially mussels (moscioli) served in any way, even as a pasta sauce.
Another popular dish is brodetto, a fish soup from a poor tradition but nowadays very appreciated. The most traditional dish in Ancona is stocafisso all’Anconetana, which is Norwegian stockfish cooked in a pan with potatoes and tomatoes. Fish is always good around here, particularly fried.
If you do not love fish, try gnocchi con sugo di papera (potato dumplings in duck-sauce) or vincisgrassi (a particular kind of lasagna).
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
Gnao Gatti (at Via della Beccheria 3) in the old town is a good bar for every season. Ulderico (at Via Terenzio Mamiani 9) is a very good restaurant for fried fish (and don’t worry about getting dressed up; it’s a very working class atmosphere). Il Giardino (at Via Fabio Filzi 2) is a good restaurant for everything. And La Rocca di Offagna (at Via della Arengo 71 in the village of Offagna) is very good for pizza.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Not really. Ancona is not really used to having tourists around, which is both bad and good. The bad news is that the city is not very prepared (like other Italian cities) to host and attract visitors and the monuments might be a bit more hidden or dirty. The good news is that you will always have a genuine and authentic experience here.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
It’s not very easy to meet new friends in Ancona. The best option would be using Couchsurfing.org or being introduced to the locals by a mutual friend.
Why should people make sure to visit Ancona?
Because it is one of the less stereotypical cities in central Italy and is still undiscovered and authentic. It has good food, a beautiful and sweet countryside (similar to Tuscany), small villages with cheap food, a lot of nature (Parco del Conero and the Sibillini Mountains, to start), and mild weather (compared to the hot south and humid north of the country).
Authentic Ancona is where you can find fishermen’s caves by the sea, where you can experience the real local life in the summer by having a swim, canoeing, eating pasta with mussels with the locals, and staying in a cave by the sea at night (of course, first you have to know someone from there who can host you in a cave).
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
I would take pictures in Parco del Cardeto and in the old town, especially near Cattedrale di San Ciriaco. For great shots by the sea, head to the caves, especially at dawn, when you can see the sun rising from the sea and projecting amazing light on the different-colored gates of the caves.
Anything else you want us to know?
Maybe Marche region, and especially Ancona, can look like a little bit poorer in touristic facilities compared to Romagna, Umbria, and Tuscany (our biggest competitors), but the point is: in Marche we are still authentic and there’s so much to discover. Truly, our region is rich in art, nature, wine, and food. We would love for you to come and see.