When thinking of an artistic Italian city to visit, especially in the central regions, many flock to Florence, Assisi, or Siena. However, at half the cost, and very rich in art and culture, is Urbino. It is situated in the Le Marche region. It’s a bit off the beaten path when planning a tour throughout Italy but it is a must-visit. It is full of palaces, Renaissance architecture, art, and narrow streets. In fact, during the 15th and 16th centuries, this town was a cultural capital of the Renaissance. Today it has a vast amount of history and sites to see and it’s much less crowded. Also, because it is not swarming with tourists, people are much nicer to the tourists that to stop by.
Speaking of off the beaten path, Urbino is not on the main train transit lines. It’s easiest to reach by car from the coast along the Adriatic Sea. From the town of Pesaro, there are busses year round. If you pay a bit extra, you can grab the 45 minute express bus, otherwise it may take longer to arrive there. Busses leave twice an hour. In the summer months, travel to Urbino can be accessed also from Rimini and other towns near by. It’s best to check with locals, the host of your Airbnb, or hotel staff if you want to get a glimpse of this fantastic town. It’s easily seen in one day so if you are visiting a town in which there are public transportation options to Urbino, carve out the time to see it!
There are so many choices when visiting Urbino of what to see. The main attraction is Palazzo Ducale. It was originally that of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, a ruler, patron of the arts, and military leader. He built the palace during the Renaissance to maintain court meetings and proceedings. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the National Gallery of Le Marche.
While the external facade may not be overwhelming, the internal courtyards and rooms are a magnificent display of the duke himself. Plastered everywhere is his name, in intricate ways all over the palace. A painting of the duke by Piero della Francesca is held at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence which you may see if you also visit Tuscany. The private study of Federico is a small space, inlaid in the wooden paneled wall of his apartment. It is somewhat of a secret compartment.
Outside the palace is a famous fresco of the Madonna which is covered by glass behind the San Domenico church. A hill outside the palace also features amazing views of the surrounding areas, and the Parco della Resistenza. While in Urbino, also check out the neo-classical style Duomo, underground Grotte, and the museum of Raphael. Raffaello Sanzio, the famous painter, was born in Urbino and is an icon for the city. His father was even the court painter for Duke Federico.
Foods of Urbino
The central regions of Italy are best know for certain foods depending on the place. Urbino has many fast-food options, by Italian standards, which are fresh sandwiches and small shops with quick meals. However, Italian “fast-food” does not imply oily, unhealthy, fried things you may be used to. Try a slice of pizza or a flat bread sandwich that looks somewhat like a tortilla, stuffed and folded in half, called a piadina. You must try at least one piadina while in town!