One long weekend, two different states, two different Italian regions, the spell of millennial history, authentic cuisine and breathtaking views, a magical triangle of the off-the-beaten-path destinations to discover, to enjoy and to fall in love with. If you are looking for an unedited experience of a long weekend break in Italy, for example, that of the Ponte dell’Immacolata at the beginning of December (December 8th is the feast of the Immaculate Conception), the Urbino – San Marino – Gubbio trio has the power to satisfy the tastes of the most demanding travellers.
Day 1. Urbino
We chose Urbino as the ‘headquarters’ for this trip. We reached the city by car from Rome early in the morning to make sure we had enough time to explore Urbino in the capriciously short December daylight.
We left our car in the parking lot of our hotel just outside the historical centre of the city, took a bus to reach it after a very short ride and set off for a walk.
The city of Urbino in the Marche region stands on the Poggio hill inhabited since the prehistoric times. Once a fortified Roman town known as the Urvinuim Mataurense and occupying a strategic position, it grew in importance during the Gothic wars of the 6th century at the end of which the town was conquered by the Byzantium general Belisarius and later by the Lombards.
When at the end of the 8th century Charles the Great destroyed the Kingdom of the Lombards, he gave Urbino as a gift to the Catholic Church. Since that time Urbino became an important episcopal see.
When the Renaissance started it proved to be an immense change not only for the art on the global scale but also for the city of Urbino on the local one. One of the Dukes of Urbino and one of the most powerful and influential figures of the Reneissance Federico da Montefeltro had a dream to create the ideal Renaissance city, the dream he shared with many artists of the time. Thus, he indicated Urbino for the noble purpose laying in 1444 the first stone of the famous Ducal Palace of the city that became its true symbol.
Federico wanted Urbino to become the Renaissance ideal city – la Città Ideale – with its palace being the most elevated incarnation of the dream. Nowadays, the palace hosts the Marche National Gallery with its numerous masterpieces. One of the most iconic of them is the famous painting Città Ideale that is the utmost representation of what the city of Urbino meant to the Italian and international art.
But I’d suggest you to start your tour of the city from the Albornoz Fortress situated on the Mount San Sergio that enjoys an absolutely stunning view over Urbino and its magnificent Ducal Palace.
The fortress dates back to the second half of the 14th century and its construction is traditionally attributed to the Cardinal Albornoz whose name was given to the stronghold meant to protect Urbino. Nowadays the fortress hosts the Bella Gerit museum dedicated to the architectural artefacts discovered in the area and the art of war with the exhibition of the military devices and techniques relative to the period from the 14th till the 16th century.
The Bella Gerit museum is usually open on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 09:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. till 7:00 p.m. with the adult entrance fee of 2,00 euro. But if you wish to visit the museum, try to contact it in advance at the following e.mail address firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure the opening times haven’t undergone any change.
The external area of the Albornoz fortress was transformed into a public park dedicated to the Italian Resistance movement.
Urbino is a city full of life thanks to its University campus. It also offers much to see starting from the house where the famous Italian artists Raffaello Sanzio was born and finishing with the city’s Cathedral, Oratory of St. John the Baptist and numerous churches.
And, as always in Italy, you can’t but complete your acquaintance with Urbino by tasting some of the excellent local dishes:
– have a crescia for lunch. A crescia is a kind of piadina that is typically served with the local Salame di Montefeltro and the Pecorino di Fossa cheese;
– have a dish of passatelli pasta or a nice local Marchigiana beefsteak for a typical local dinner.
Urbino, the Ideal City of the Renaissance, the perfect form melted with the inspiration of the content, a dream that came true, has every right to its status of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Day 2. San Marino
The second day of our long weekend started in a hotel a few steps outside Urbino’s historical centre. We woke up very early in the morning to catch the first beams of the rising sun and set off for a trip to the Republic of San Marino.
I have already dedicated a separate story to that adventure that I hope you are going to enjoy.
Nevertheless, I would like to add one more thing on account of San Marino: it proved to be a perfect destination for a one day trip from Urbino and surprised us with a completely different scenario and experience that contributed a lot to making the weekend in question particularly memorable.
Day 3. Gubbio
We left Urbino on the third day of our trip dedicating it to the visit of Gubbio in the Umbria region, which was exactly on our way back to Rome.
Gubbio is one of the most beautiful and visited cities of Umbria. It’s urban canvas develops along the slope of the Ingino hill crowned by the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, the holy patron of the city, that can be reached from the city centre by means of an ‘extreme’ cableway made up of metallic cages that allow the entrance of only two people at a time each.
Gubbio was founded by the ancient people of Umbri and the history of its creation is narrated in the famous 7 bronze tables known as the Iguvine Tablets. These tables represent the most significant document of the per-Roman period referring to the ancient world with the details on the culture, history, religious and economic life in the area.
Gubbio in some way repeats the story of Urbino being first an important Roman town (the perfect testimony of the Roman rule is Gubbio’s ancient amphitheatre, one of the city’s most emblematic sites), later destroyed by the Goths and conquered first by the Byzantines and then by the Lombards.
In the 11th century Gubbio became independent and in the 14th century it came to make part of the Duchy of Urbino. It was exactly in the Middle Ages that Gubbio acquired its characteristic aspect making it one of the most beautiful Medieval cities not only in Umbria, but also in the whole world.
Gubbio is sometimes called the ‘grey city’ due to the colour of the stone used for its construction. The main square of the city, Piazza Grande, is situated in its centre close enough to every Gubbio’s neighbourhood and hosts two important palaces – Palazzo dei Consoli and Palazzo Pretorio. The former of the two was, by the way, the first italian palace to have running water and toilets. The square itself offers a delightful view over the breathtaking Umbrian landscape.
One of Gubbio’s most curious places, though, is that of the ‘fountain of the crazy’ that gives origin to another city’s nickname – ‘the city of the mad’. The tradition claims that a stranger who comes to Gubbio for the first time can run around the fountain three times to be later cleaned by its waters. The rite allows the stranger to become Gubbio’s honourable ‘crazy citizen’, a person with ironic mind and distinct sense of humour.
Among other historical buildings worth a visit, I should mention that of the Ducal Palace constructed by the Duke of Urbino Federico da Montefeltro in an atypical for Gubbio Renaissance style, and that of city’s Cathedral. Two other churches should necessarily be mentioned, too, both of them being tied to the stories from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The first church is called Chiesa di San Francesco and according to the tradition it was the place where the Saint found shelter after he escaped from his parental house in Assisi.
The other church is called Chiesa di San Francesco dei Muratori. The story tells that when Francis came to Gubbio the city was deserted: its population escaped from the city fearing a fierce and hungry wolf. Saint Francis is believed to have made a deal with the wolf: the people of Gubbio were to take care of the wolf while the latter promised not to attack the city’s residents. The stone from the grotto where the wolf used to live and that of the wolf’s tomb are still present in the church.
The beautiful Gubbio smells the Middle Ages and amazing truffles typical of the area. It warms its visitors up by the friendly atmosphere and its traditional bean soups. It is lit up by the light of its history and the lights of Christmas festivities that make the city ever more attractive and special.
Three places, three different worlds, three unforgettable days to spend in touch with the Medieval architecture, Renaissance art and Italian cuisine. A great idea for a long weekend for those based in Rome or any other location in Central Italy.
So, buon viaggio!
Photos credit: Machs Gut (c)