It could be argued that the emergence of the Italian Region of Le Marche as one of the world’s most underrated tourist destinations began at the onset of the 16th Century.

That was when Le Marche’s most famous son, the famed painter and architect Raphael, was at the height of a career that placed as a third of the trinity of High Renaissance maestros that include Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Raphael was born in the picturesque medieval town of Urbino, now a World Heritage site in 1483 and celebrations there marking the 500th Anniversary of his death at age 37 are one of the reasons the region appeared on the Lonely Planet list of the top 10 regions of the world to visit in 2020.

Lonely Planet, one of the world’s leading publishers of travel guides, said this month that the region that long stood in the shadow of neighbouring Tuscany in the eyes of tourists “is finally ready to take centre stage.”

Le Marche, the publisher said, “can do higgledy-piggledy hilltop towns, gloriously gluttonous food festivals, resplendent Renaissance palaces, winding countryside and inviting beaches with equal panache, but with the added bonus that its attractions are much less well known” than those in Tuscany.

Le Marche was Second on the top 10 list, just behind the Central Asian Silk Road.

All told, the top 10 list includes three destinations each from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, along with one from Australia.

“We’re hoping this recognition will help cast light on the region of Le Marche that the region has deserved for a long time,” Sabrina Traini from My Marche Travel, a leading tour company serving the region, told the News Agency.

Traini said that in addition to celebrating the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, Le Marche has plenty to offer visitors, ranging from charming, historic villages and top-level food and wine to outdoor activities in the mountains and the seaside.

“It only takes an hour to get from the mountains to the beaches,” Traini said.

“The scenery is as beautiful as anything anywhere else in Italy and it’s all very easy to get to and because Le Marche is less well known than the big tourist centers like Tuscany or Rome or Venice, the crowds are small.”

Alessio Cavicchi, Professor specialising in the economics of food and economic resources in the Department of Education, Cultural Heritage and Tourism at Le Marche’s University of Macerata, agreed.

“This recognition from Lonely Planet is part of a trend recognising Le Marche as a cousin to Tuscany, just as beautiful, but with smaller crowds and less well known,” Cavicchi said.

Cavicchi said he sometimes asks his students why they chose to study in Le Marche and not in a better known Italian region.

“They tell me they came to Le Marche specifically because it’s less known because there’s so much to discover,” the professor said.

But Cavicchi said Le Marche needs to do some work before it can hope to take a seat beside Italy’s greatest tourist destinations, though he said the work is being done.

“The region still needs more tourist infrastructure, and more people should learn to speak international languages, especially English,” Cavicchi said.

“But in terms of beauty, cuisine, and cultural offerings, I don’t think Le Marche should be ashamed to compare itself to any other region.”