Urbino – a secret Italian hilltop town

Central Italy has three provinces: Tuscany and Umbria are well-known, Le Marche less so. Each has a hilltop town listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Tuscany has San Gimignano, Umbria has Assisi, and Le Marche has Urbino. Its remarkable legacy of independent Renaissance culture is the reason for inclusion on the list.

Urbino, Italy

Just like Marche is less famous than its neighbouring provinces, so Urbino is less famous than the other hilltop towns. From a selfish perspective, I would like for it to remain so.

San Gimignano and Assisi are indisputably beautiful. They’re also busy. Especially on lovely summer days. Last June, I spent a few days in Assisi – and couldn’t really see it, except very early in the morning. Every church, every tower, every piazza were simply too full. Not only of visitors, but also of large ad posters, banners, sandwich boards… the town seemed to disappear in all the visual noise. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I headed to Urbino. It turned out to be a surprise and welcome relief.

Urbino is high up a hill, lined with ancient stone buildings and tall towers. A very steep hill, in fact. It felt as is the pavement was staring right at my face. But I trudged on, ignoring my screaming calf-muscles.

Urbino, Italy

Along the hill, I saw only three other people – all students hanging outside the University of Urbino, smoking and chatting. On top were wonderful views of the rolling hills and mountains of Marche.

View from Urbino, Italy

View from Urbino, Italy

The piazza was surrounded by wonderful buildings, unsullied by loud poster ads. Shops were few, only one sold postcards and souvenirs. Sitting down in a pleasantly busy cafe, I eavesdropped on people around me. From every table, I heard Italian. I was surrounded by local visitors, residents and students!

Urbino, Italy

The Duomo is from 1021 (and is built over a 6th century church) :
Urbino, Italy

Urbino, Italy

A tiny bit of Urbino history

Urbino was once a modest, little Roman town called Urvinum Mataurense. Ca 1200, the town ended up in the hands of the House of Montefeltro. Urbino’s major claim to fame is the imposing 15th century Palazzo Ducale, the Arch Duke’s Palace. Thanks to Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino in the mid-1400s, the palace is home to Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.

Urbino, Italy
Palazzo Ducale

Walking back down – not the steep hill – but the longer, more roundabout way around – I noticed two people – students, it looked – sitting on a ledge, wiggling precariously 10 – 12 metres above the road underneath, using a bench as a foot rest.. A fall would likely mean death or at the very least, disability. All of a sudden, I was reminded I’m no longer a student, but a mother. Before, I would probably have walked over and joined them on the ledge. Now, I had to restrain myself from running over and telling them to get down from the ledge immediately and sit on the bench instead.

Back down, I discovered there was a lift. I was glad I hadn’t seen it earlier. Somehow, that calf-achingly painful climb gave me a feeling of being in a more inaccessible place. A secret place.

Urbino, Italy

Disclosure: I was in Le Marche as a guest of La Tavola Marche agriturismo and cooking school and took the opportunity to visit Urbino while I was in the neighbourhood. As ever, all opinions offered are my own.

Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox and DelciousBaby for more travel photos.

unesco logo

The Historic Centre of Urbino is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.


49 Responses to “Urbino – a secret Italian hilltop town”

  1. Leigh 16 January 2012 2244 #

    Looks like a real find. In the second photo you get a real sense of just how steep that road is. Walking that will keep you in shape.
    Leigh recently posted..10 Winter Day Trips Out of Calgary

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 January 2012 1313 #

      Absolutely, no need for gyms if you live on top of that hill.

  2. ItalianNotes 17 January 2012 0909 #

    Beautiful photos. It¨s almost like being back:)
    ItalianNotes recently posted..Insalata russa

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 January 2012 1322 #

      You really know Italy well.

      When I was in Marche, I was discussing with one of the other journalists how Italy has everything and there really is no need to go anywhere else. I still have heaps left to see, and pick up interesting ideas from your website all the time.

  3. ItalianNotes 17 January 2012 0911 #

    Hi Sophie – There seems to be something wrong with your SU submit function.

  4. Ana (Ana Travels) 17 January 2012 1551 #

    What a jewel of a town! I see why you’d rather it stayed “secret”. It’s so beautiful and unspoiled.
    Ana (Ana Travels) recently posted..Lisbon, warts and all

  5. Andrea 17 January 2012 1609 #

    Love the Duomo and Palazzo – what gorgeous buildings!
    Andrea recently posted..What the Heck Am I Doing With My Life?

  6. JoAnna 17 January 2012 1709 #

    Super cute! I especially love the first photo with the dog!
    JoAnna recently posted..How to Take Travel Home

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 January 2012 1323 #

      Thanks, JoAnna – I was lucky with that one :)

  7. Justin 17 January 2012 1730 #

    This place looks so great. I could spend a long time here I think. Thanks!
    Justin recently posted..Having The World At Your Fingertips

  8. Glampacker 18 January 2012 0005 #

    Urbino is beautiful, I love visiting charming Italian towns they have such interesting history and locals!
    Glampacker recently posted..What to do on the Isle of Wight in Winter

  9. Cathy Sweeney 18 January 2012 0704 #

    Thanks for telling us about this gem. Would love to visit Urbino while it’s still not well-known. I suppose I better hurry.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Marzipan Monday

  10. Hotel Reviews 18 January 2012 0829 #

    Great article. Italy is a place that I have visited and it sure takes your breathe away when you see the luscious green forests and historic buildings.
    Hotel Reviews recently posted..Rock Legends Influenced Top 5 Rock n’ Roll Hotels

  11. Turkey's For Life 18 January 2012 1959 #

    Great photos. Those rolling hills you describe are perfect hiking country I think. We really must make it to Italy to explore – it;s been on our list for too long. I’d never heard of this area but it looks beautiful.
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Turkish Recipes: Hamsi Season Celebration

  12. Muza-chan 19 January 2012 0931 #

    Amazing photos :)
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Eri Itoh – If You Are My Love

  13. RyukyuMike 19 January 2012 1107 #

    Glad to catch up on Sophie’s Secrets, always, Great photos !

  14. Denise 19 January 2012 1146 #

    very very pretty!!!!
    Denise recently posted..Picture Perfect: Glimpses of the Maltese Coastline

  15. Angela 19 January 2012 1256 #

    Lovely pictures, you captured the essence of the place. Never been to Urbino!
    Angela recently posted..A trip, a photo – Rising Abu Dhabi architecture

  16. InsideJourneys 19 January 2012 1704 #

    Your photos of this beautiful place are absolutely stunning, Sophie.
    Nice to read that bit of background too.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Orchids

  17. Nomadic Samuel 19 January 2012 1743 #

    What a scenic/quaint little town :)
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Cats of Bangkok, Thailand | Photo Essay

  18. Average Traveller 19 January 2012 1807 #

    It’s amazing how beautiful all of these little hill towns can be. I hope I can check out Urbino if I get back to Italy. Thanks!
    Average Traveller recently posted..One of the Best: Woodland Park Zoo Seattle

  19. Dick Jordan 19 January 2012 1927 #

    In March of 1999 I spent the day in Assisi which was a very sleepy place at least during my visit. Nice shots of Urbino which I’ll have to put on my “Italy Bucket List.”
    Dick Jordan recently posted..Banging Out a Story

  20. Discovering small out of the way towns is one of my favorite things to do! Urbino seems to be a great find and beautiful spot. I love the picture of those green rolling hills. Beautiful!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Early One Morning in Innsbruck

  21. Laurel 19 January 2012 2240 #

    Beautiful! I love hearing about “new” places that are off-the-beaten path like this.
    Laurel recently posted..Our Take on Canadian-German Wedding Traditions

  22. Michael Figueiredo 19 January 2012 2358 #

    Urbino looks beautiful! I was in Le Marche last year but went to Rimini/Riccione/San Marino. I love going to places that are off the (American) beaten path.
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Greetings from Española Way, Miami Beach

  23. Jarmo 20 January 2012 0136 #

    Such a lovely little town Sophie, great find! :)
    Jarmo recently posted..Island Hopping at El Nido

  24. jessica 20 January 2012 0813 #

    Great sharing of photos!!! I love the picture of those green rolling hills. Beautiful!This is really amazing..

  25. Mary @ The World Is A Book 20 January 2012 0824 #

    What a wonderful find! Your pictures are amazing. I love the quaintness of these secluded towns. It looks so peaceful and not overrun by tourists.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Visiting Old Mission Santa Barbara

  26. Anne Patrone 20 January 2012 1826 #

    Beautiful photos – but then, I think it’s difficult for Italy to look bad in any photo :)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 January 2012 1326 #

      Odd, isn’t it? Even concrete and graffiti seem to look good in Italy.

  27. Sonja 20 January 2012 1928 #

    So many charming little Italian towns, so little time.
    Sonja recently posted..Photo Friday: Swiss Sweets

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 January 2012 1739 #

      Isn’t that the truth…

  28. Lisa 20 January 2012 1938 #

    The views definitely look they are worth the steep climb! Just one more place to add to the long list of spots that I want to visit in Europe. :)
    Lisa recently posted..That Statue is Alive!!

  29. Anwar 20 January 2012 2232 #

    Wow that is Gorgeous! I had not even heard of Urbino…. I have a desire to see all the UNESCO sites as well so i will have to put it on my list.
    Anwar recently posted..Friday Photo: The Fog in Brugge

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 January 2012 2033 #

      Brügge is a good start then :)

  30. Andrew Graeme Gould 21 January 2012 0358 #

    What beautiful series, Sophie. Love the architecture and atmosphere of those landscapes!
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..Coquimbo, Chile: Fishing for machas

  31. Jen Laceda 21 January 2012 1401 #

    beautiful place! urbino has always been on my list!
    Jen Laceda recently posted..Pan Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup for the Nursing Mom and A Little Chat About Breastfeeding

  32. Vera Marie Badertscher 21 January 2012 2034 #

    How we loved Le Marche–the whole region is pretty much free of foreign tourists, and the hilltop towns are magical. Thanks so much for bringing us Urbino, which we also loved, although we climbed up the wrong hill on the way out and were totally confused about where our car was (parked just outside the wall). I never knew there was a lift, either. As a matter of fact, you saw a lot of things we didn’t. It is a place that would reward a few days stay instead of just a day trip, isn’t it?
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..France: Love, Life, and Words

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 January 2012 2030 #

      I think so, Vera Marie. I’d like to spend a night in Urbino, inside the city wall, preferably in a flat somewhere along the steep hill.

  33. Graham GlobalGrasshopper 22 January 2012 1505 #

    Beautiful scenery, and a great work out too!
    Graham GlobalGrasshopper recently posted..Travel tips: visiting expensive cities on a budget

  34. Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 January 2012 2031 #

    Thanks so much for your kind comments, everyone :)

  35. Jenna 23 January 2012 0626 #

    I spent quite a bit of time in Italy some years ago but did not make it to this beautiful town. As an Italian Renaissance fanatic, I must get there and visit the museum!
    Jenna recently posted..Getting to Know Traveling Families: Caz and Craig Makepeace

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 January 2012 1444 #

      Urbino is a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it if you’re passionate about Renaissance art and architecture.

  36. Christy @ Technosyncratic 24 January 2012 1539 #

    What a view! It’s not going to be a secret any longer. 😉
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Budapest in Photos

  37. Gladys | WanderingTandem.com 24 January 2012 1610 #

    such great photos! love the view of the hills… so green, so serene :)
    Gladys | WanderingTandem.com recently posted..MonDate with Mokong

  38. The GypsyNesters 29 January 2012 1801 #

    Italy is filled with wonderful little treasures like this off the beaten tourist path. Thanks for sharing.
    The GypsyNesters recently posted..Tapas in Spain, the Ultimate Appy Crawl

  39. Charu 29 January 2012 1846 #

    Who knew about this gem? What a lovely post and photos. Thanks for sharing! Next time I visit Italy I’ll have to put Le Marche on my list.
    Charu recently posted..Blogger Spotlight Series: An Interview with Runaway Juno

  40. Vera Marie Badertscher 6 January 2013 1927 #

    I realize this is a year-old post, but somehow I missed it last year. We absolutely loved all of Le Marche. No tourist buses, no t-shirt shops anywhere in site. A walled ancient village on top of every hill. I recently met a woman who did a semester at the University at Urbino. Wouldn’t THAT be heaven! And, oh, my, the stories about that Duke of Urbino–not to mention his 14-yr-old 2nd wife, the art lover. Thanks for lovely memories.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Hot Days: Hot Jazz


  1. Urbino: A secret Italian hilltop town - Sophie's World Travel Inspiration | From La Tavola Marche | Scoop.it - 24 January 2012

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