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.
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.
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.
The piazza was surrounded by fine 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!
The Duomo is from 1021 (and is built over a 6th century church) :
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.
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.
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.
The Historic Centre of Urbino is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.
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.
Absolutely, no need for gyms if you live on top of that hill.
Beautiful photos. It¨s almost like being back:)
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.
Hi Sophie – There seems to be something wrong with your SU submit function.
What a jewel of a town! I see why you’d rather it stayed “secret”. It’s so beautiful and unspoiled.
Love the Duomo and Palazzo – what gorgeous buildings!
Super cute! I especially love the first photo with the dog!
Thanks, JoAnna – I was lucky with that one 🙂
This place looks so great. I could spend a long time here I think. Thanks!
Urbino is beautiful, I love visiting charming Italian towns they have such interesting history and locals!
Thanks for telling us about this gem. Would love to visit Urbino while it’s still not well-known. I suppose I better hurry.
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.
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.
Amazing photos 🙂
Glad to catch up on Sophie’s Secrets, always, Great photos !
very very pretty!!!!
Lovely pictures, you captured the essence of the place. Never been to Urbino!
Your photos of this beautiful place are absolutely stunning, Sophie.
Nice to read that bit of background too.
What a scenic/quaint little town 🙂
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!
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.”
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!
Beautiful! I love hearing about “new” places that are off-the-beaten path like this.
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.
Such a lovely little town Sophie, great find! 🙂
Great sharing of photos!!! I love the picture of those green rolling hills. Beautiful!This is really amazing..
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.
Beautiful photos – but then, I think it’s difficult for Italy to look bad in any photo 🙂
Odd, isn’t it? Even concrete and graffiti seem to look good in Italy.
So many charming little Italian towns, so little time.
Isn’t that the truth…
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. 🙂
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.
Brügge is a good start then 🙂
What beautiful series, Sophie. Love the architecture and atmosphere of those landscapes!
beautiful place! urbino has always been on my list!
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?
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.
Beautiful scenery, and a great work out too!
Thanks so much for your kind comments, everyone 🙂
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!
Urbino is a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it if you’re passionate about Renaissance art and architecture.
What a view! It’s not going to be a secret any longer. 😉
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such great photos! love the view of the hills… so green, so serene 🙂
Italy is filled with wonderful little treasures like this off the beaten tourist path. Thanks for sharing.
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.
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.