Right On Le Marche

October 30 – November 5
Le March Region, Italy

Towards the end of October while we were in Rome, between two dovetailing disasters that contributed to one of our more hellacious weeks of travel in recent memory, Ryan made an important discovery.

Pastoral Hillsides of Le Marche

“Look here. This website says this little town claims to be THE HALLOWEEN CAPITAL OF ITALY”. The gravitas he layered over the last five words snapped me out of the temporary hypnosis that frequently came over me whenever I repacked our family’s clothes in preparation for transit.

“Where is it?” I asked, stuffing the last cigar-rolled sweatshirt into the kids‘ bag.

“Right here.” Ryan answered, pointing to the Google Maps he had pulled up on the Mac. “Right in the middle of nowhere”.

So we immediately began planning to drive the 350 kilometers to Corinaldo, a small, medieval town in the hinterlands of Italy‘s central Adriatic coast for one reason and one reason alone. Pictures of children parading around illuminated cobbled streets while dressed as streghe (witches) triggered deep pangs of nostalgia in me that always seemed to surface at this time of year, regardless of where we were. I am not ashamed to admit that I LOVE Halloween terribly so…the corresponding change in the weather, the bacchanalian pursuit of bags of candy, the free reign given over to fantasy… it was MY holiday, despite my urging Ryan that we consider our children. Sure, Ollie was more than keen to dress up in the gladiator costume we scored near the Coliseum Metro stop, but I was just as carefully counting down the days myself.

Ave Cesare!

We emailed back and forth with Nadia, a knowledgeable soul who helped us pull back the curtain on Italy’s lesser-touristed Le Marche region. We followed her advice and visited the Grotte di Frasassi (43°24′03″N 12°57′43″E), Europe’s largest and most accessible network of caves. Towering alabaster stalagmites stood apart from each other in the impossibly massive central chamber and others seemed to float ethereally over crystalline pools of sulfuric ground water.

Lake of Candles

The cave was unlike any we had ever seen in Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the United States. The formations took on the most delicate shapes, including cascades, organ pipes, curtains, and twelve-meter ‘strips of bacon’ inching across a wall. Their pale hues ranged from purest white and nearly translucent to blood red on account of the copious presence of carbon dioxide in the limestone. Everything appeared to glow from the inside out. Thanks to Kendley’s insistence on walking independently, we were soon separated from our Italian-speaking tour group and left to (deliciously) explore the cave on our own.

Back in Corinaldo, in the days leading up to Halloween, the town hosted a week’s worth of events, from a Miss Witch Beauty Pageant, to various plays featuring “Zucchino”, the festival’s pumpkin-headed mascot. Several times in her own pumpkin get-up, Kendley was referred to as the “Bella Zucca” (Pretty Pumpkin).

Our new friends behind the Loving Marche website, Nadia and her (Eric Bana-look-alike) husband Federico, met us early the evening prior to Halloween and eagerly pointed out several of the town’s oddities.  They explained the legend behind Corinaldo’s ancient well, where supposedly a weary farmer lost a large sack of ground corn when he paused for a rest in his journey up the long set of steps (La Piaggia) that led into the center of town.  The combination of water and ground corn produced a seemingly endless supply of polenta, upon which the entire town was able to subsist for several years.

At the Casa de Scuretto (House of the Drunk), we were told about Gaetano, whose tale the writers behind Arrested Development surely consulted prior to drafting Season 2.  Gaetano, the town cobbler and (more infamously) drunkard, was given money by his son to build a new home for himself near the center of town. While the son was away in America on business, Gaetano squandered the cash on booze, but was faced with a predicament when his son requested a photograph of the progress. Rather than come clean, Gaetano hurriedly constructed only the building’s façade, slapped an address number near the door and sent off a photo of himself proudly smiling from one of the windows that, to this day, opens onto empty space.

La Maschera

While most vendors lining the streets were hawking the same homemade jewelry, roasted chestnuts and silk-blend scarves we had seen in several other autumn festivals elsewhere in the country, one stall in particular caught our attention. Laura and Emanuele were mask-makers in the old Venetian tradition and had co-opted their workshop into designing truly terrifying and equally fascinating creations for the festival in Corinaldo. Rather than paper-maiche, they used leather to create several of the figures from The Commedia d’Ell Arte (the Bauta, Scaramouche, Pantalone, Pulcinella, Harlequin, etc.) in addition to other contemporary (and ancient) Halloween-themed ghouls. Most eerily beautiful were the animal masks that reminded me of the martyred Saint Bartholomew just as Michelangelo had depicted him in the Sistine Chapel: carrying his own flayed skin.

On Halloween night, we descended on the town early, and were met with a seasonal downpour. Despite the damp chill, Corinaldo still turned out its best for the holiday, and its atmospheric lighting, haunted décor and disco soundtrack more than managed to move us through the night.  The kids each took part in decorating t-shirts and singing along with a traveling musician, which thankfully kept them out of the rain for a bit.

The horror junkie in me was particularly smitten with both the Casa di Spiriti and the Tunelo de Pauro (House of Spirits and Tunnel of Fear). Occupying a former abattoir and an old aqueduct, both far transcended the garden-variety church-basement haunted house I had come to know, and both absolutely scared the living daylights out of our two kids. Perfect.

The hour grew late and both our Zucca and Gladiatore were giving the usual signs that it was time to turn in.  As we passed beneath through Corinaldo’s fortified walls a final time and then sped off to our rented room in neighboring Monterado, Ryan and I agreed.  Halloween and its traditions were born and raised in the United States, but in this medieval town in a far-away corner of Italy, “Dulcetto o’ Scherzetto” (Trick or Treat) sounded just right.



 To contact our friends Nadia and Federico at Loving Marche, visit her website. They can arrange tours, cooking classes, truffle hunts and just about any tourist activity in the Marche region.

To contact the mascheros, Laura can be reached at cavazzutilaura@gmail.com


  1. Nice post Sissy! I love the pictures and the descriptions. I would have loved to see a photo of you scaring the 2 little kiddos. HAHA.

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