Tufa (tufi in the local language) consists of marine deposits of the Early Pliocene characterised by sand and limestone often weakly bonded together. With their curious shapes, brilliant colour and dusty texture, large tufa cliffs fill the area near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Caves, evocatively referred to as ‘The Tufa Valley’ (La Valle dei Tufi) and lying between Mondolfo, San Costanzo and Stacciola. The valley can be toured without particular difficulty by bicycle, on horseback and on foot, either alone or with family and friends: these are but some of the options for exploring the Tufa Valley ecological-cultural route, which lies merely four kilometres inland from the sea in an easily accessible location. Experiencing the Tufa Valley means immersing oneself in the tranquillity of the fertile countryside of the Marches, amid sparse farmhouses—tangible signs of the bygone tenant farming civilisation—vineyards and olive groves. The lush vegetation, favoured by the mild weather of the west-facing valley protected against the cool sea breezes, offers splendid trails through forests and woodlands, including the one near Stacciola. From the large pine forest with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Caves, splendidly located adjacent to an ancient and renowned Marian sanctuary which gives its name to the area, the route crosses the zone known as Grottaccia, a lake teeming with fish and once a refuge for bandits. Just beyond it lies the tiny villa valle dei tufi – the tufa valley lage of Stacciola Villa, enfeoffed by Mauruzi da Tolentino in 1412, perched atop a hill around the whitewashed parish church in the centre. Several panoramic viewpoints open up along the route, including the one just after Mondolfo’s hill spanning the coastline between Marotta, Senigallia and, further south, Ancona. For centuries, the inhabitants of these areas drew water from two sources within the Tufa Valley, including the small spring in Stacciola and the so-called Fonte Grande (‘Large Spring’) in Mondolfo, equipped with washtubs, spouts and troughs. Journeying through the Tufa Valley allows for encountering some colourful plant and animal species, including the stunning bee-eater, a migrant bird with multicolour plumage. Along the route there are several equipped areas for enjoying picnics and refreshments. The tour can be easily started by simply reaching one of the park-andride areas, such as the one in Mondolfo at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Caves.
Did you know that … the game of ruzzola
Diffused mainly throughout central Italy, ruzzola is a popular game played ever since the 16th century. In Mondolfo it is mainly played in the Tufa Valley. The game consists in launching a wooden disc—often a seasoned cheese wheel—held by one end of a string wound around it. Whoever throws it farthest or reaches the finish line with the lowest number of throws, wins.