15 Jan URBINO | UNDISCOVERED ITALY
Most of us who have travelled to Italy will have visited Rome, Venice, Milan or Florence. However, have you ever wanted to go off the beaten path and discover a part of Italy that not even many Italians have been to? If so, you’ve come to the right place. There is no better time to visit Urbino and Pesaro than in 2024 and I’ll tell you why.
Urbino is a charming little town and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site found in a region known as Le Marche. The town, together with Pesaro, was in the running for Cultural Capital of Europe in 2023. Urbino, primely located between land and sea, is a town rich in culture, full of excellent gastronomy and blessed with wondrous landscapes. So much so, that even the then Prince Charles from the UK came to spend some time here and even exhibited his watercolours in Raffaello’s Birthplace.
How to get there
While there isn’t an airport or train station in Urbino itself, the city can easily be reached by car from a number of nearby airports. The closest airport to Urbino is Federico Fellini Airport in Rimini. However, flights to and from this airport are mainly within central Europe and operate seasonally.
The next closest airport to Urbino is Falconara Airport in Ancona, which is a seaside town in the same region, Le Marche. Bologna and Milan, although both slightly further, would perhaps be the most popular options for many travellers, since they are much better connected to the rest of Europe and the world. If you are coming from Bologna, you can either embark on a two-hour drive to Urbino, or hop on a train to Pesaro, before continuing your journey by car or public buses. The drive from Milan takes 3 hours.
Art and culture in Urbino
Urbino has proudly adorned itself with the title “The City of Raffaello”, honouring none other than the Renaissance painter, Raphael Sanzio. The Italian painter was born in Urbino and learnt his craft here. He went on to create some of the most influential and recognisable masterpieces of all time.
The town used to also be a place for cultivating guado, a plant whose natural pigment is extracted and used to dye fabrics blue. These days, it is hard to find this ancient practice being carried out as humans have created cheaper and faster methods of colouring. However, if you go to Guado Urbino, you can find an atelier that uses this six-thousand-year-old practice in their clothes making!
What to do and see
If you’re in Urbino, you cannot miss the Ducal Palace. This Renaissance building sits majestically in the city centre and houses the National Gallery of the Marche. The Palace, now a museum, is recognised as an architectural wonder and costs 11€ to enter. Inside, you can find an impressive collection of art works, including Portrait of a Lady (La Muta) by Raffaello, The Flagellation of Christ by Piero della Francesca and The Ideal City.
The importance of Raffaello is not lost when you’re in Urbino. Of course, you must not leave the town without visting the artist’s birthplace. Contrary to the humble abodes of many artists, Raffaello’s family occupied a grand living environment, where the artist first learnt how to draw and paint. In fact, one of his very first pieces of work, The Virgin and Child, can also be found in this house. The entry fee only costs 4€.
Viewing point and the Reproduction of Raffaello’s Tomb
If you want a panoramic view of the stunning landscapes of Urbino, hike all the way up to Parco della Resistenza, a spacious city park on the top of the hill, offering a fantastic view of the cityscape and the coastline. It is a great spot for a picnic on a sunny day. Before you reach the park, you’ll come across a church, the Chiesa dei Carmelitani Scalzi, where you can find a lifesize replica of Raffaello’s tomb (the original tomb is housed in the Pantheon in Rome).
What to eat and where to eat
Just as you would expect from the country itself, Urbino has many gastronomical goodness to offer. Make sure to try the local cheese, Casciotto d’Urbino, or a dish of passatelli, a type of pasta that is made with stale bread, parmigiano, eggs and lemon zest, typical from the region. It is therefore starchier than your usual pasta but nonetheless delicious. Passatelli is usually served in broth but you can get them with sauce and seafood too!
Other local produce includes truffle and crescia sfogliata, a type of flatbread that is flaky and can be enjoyed with all kinds of fillings. Terrazza del Duca is a lovely restaurant where you can enjoy these dishes with a panoramic view of Urbino’s landscape. You can also try some delicious pastries from their downstairs bakery.
While the next dish is not technically from Urbino but its neighbour, Pesaro, Tournedos Rossini is not to be missed. Named after the famous composer, Gioachino Rossini, this dish is pretty much a heart attack on a plate (but a delicious one nonetheless). You can find this in Osteria L’angolo Divino, a true hidden gem in Urbino. Located on the more tranquil side of town, the restaurant has a rustic yet elevated atmosphere. Focussing on using seasonal produce, making it the perfect spot for a wholesome meal or a romantic dinner.
TIP: For something sweet and unpredictable, head over to Yogurteria Fresche Bontà for some Tik Tok famous crêpes.
Take a trip to Pesaro
The coastal town of Pesaro is nominated as Italy’s Capital of Culture 2024. It’s a 40 minute drive from Urbino or you can get the bus (ADRIABUS_LV) for only 1,35€ that takes 50 minutes. While Urbino is the home of Raffaello, Pesaro is the home of Rossini, a famous Italian composer back in the 18th Century. Each August, the town hosts the Rossini Opera Festival in his honour. It promotes international musical performances, where the famous composer’s operas are performed.
Just like you would not leave Urbino without visiting Raffaello’s birthplace, Rossini’s birthplace is also a popular spot for visitors of Pesaro. In contrast with the Urbino-born artist’s luxurious residence, Rossini grew up in a much smaller place. Despite the size, the museum contains many photographs, his music, as well as the original piano used by the maestro himself. The opening times of the museum vary depending on the time of year. However, it is only open every Monday in the month of August.
Civic Museum of Palazzo Mosca
Don’t underestimate its simple facade, this museum houses a huge collection of ceramics and is the main civic museum of Pesaro. It used to belong to the wealthy family named Mosca, before it became a public property in the 19th Century. In there you’ll find five halls of collections, including some renowned artworks. Such as the Coronation of the Virgin in Heaven by Giovanni Bellini, as well as items related to Rossini.
One of the most unexpected things you’ll find in the civic museum is the Sonosfera®, created as part of a project to offer visitors a 360-degree immersive audio and visual experience. It is set up like an amphitheater, for perfect acoustics. You can also experience some of Raffaello’s masterpieces to a curated three-dimensional soundtrack. Liberty Square (Piazzale Della Libertà) This square is located right by the coast in the city centre, where you’ll find Sfera Grande di Pomodoro, a giant golden sculpture, on top of a fountain. You can enjoy a pleasant stroll on the promenade and watch the sunset from there.
Oliveriani Library and Museum
Whether you are a geology enthusiast or not, you will find Oliveriani Library and Museum a fascinating place. The public library is filled with Olivieri’s personal collection of books and documents. The museum houses the owner’s impressive archive of archaeological finds, with some from excavations dating back to the 16th century, as well as inscriptions from the 3rd century BC!
Will you be adding Urbino to your Italian adventure in 2024? If so, let us know in the comments below how you find it. We’d love to hear about your experience.
*Chantelle is one of our amazing travel editors, based in London. She travels the world for us, looking for the best spots, unique places and knows how to tell a story. You can follow her quirky finds at @chantelle_pang