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Le Marche - Urbino, Gradara, Urbania - need some advice

Le Marche - Urbino, Gradara, Urbania - need some advice

Apr 29th, 2015, 05:57 PM
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Le Marche - Urbino, Gradara, Urbania - need some advice

I will be spending about 3-4 days based in Urbino in July (near the end of a five week trip - and just prior to the three nights in Urbino we will have stayed two nights in San Marino). It looks like both Gradara and Urbania are places we'd want to visit but I'm finding almost no information about them. Not even mentioned in most of the ten or so Italy guidebooks I have. I've found a little with google searches but was hoping someone here had been to the area and could answer a few questions.

1) They both look fabulous so how come they aren't in the guidebooks?

2) They are in opposite directions from Urbino but does it make sense to use one of the two full days to visit both of them? That would leave another full day for Urbino. Plus since we are coming from San Marino which is only a couple of hours, and when we leave we have a whole day to get to Rome, we would have parts of those days as well.

3) Any other places in the general vicinity that we should also include - we mostly just like to stroll around, take photos, soak up the ambiance.

4) Any drives in the area that are particularly scenic?

isabel is online now  
Apr 29th, 2015, 08:34 PM
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You might try looking for Jamikins/Bikerscott's trip reports. They've been spending some time in the area the last few years and have written several. I seem to recall them mentioning some of the places on your list.




kybourbon is online now  
Apr 30th, 2015, 08:46 AM
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I assume you'll have a car. I live about an hour's drive from Urbino and know the area well.

While you're in San Marino, I recommend that you visit San Leo, just a short distance inland. This is a much more authentic castle than that of Gradara, and in a more imposing position, on a cliff high above the surrounding plain. San Leo is famous for being the place where the Count of Cagliostro was imprisoned for years. He was a great scholar, and a priest, but also an alchemist and a bit of a charlatan. I think he was condemned for witchcraft, or maybe it was heresy.

Gradara is on the coast, so it would be easy to visit en route from San Marino to Urbino if you take the autostrada from San Marino. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Gradara. I found it rather fake. The castle was massively reconstructed in the 20th century, by someone who knew little about castle construction. Hardly anyone lives inside the walls, which are almost totally given over to tourism. However, it does draw a lot of visitors, including a lot of Italians who are drawn by the tragic love story that took place there, between Francesca, wife of Gianciotto Malatesta, and Gianciotto's brother Paolo, recounted in Dante's Divina Commedia. Anyway, I would say that a stopover of a few hours for lunch would be sufficient even if you're a Dante fan.

Urbania is best visited from Urbino. Again, it's a small town, which could be seen in a few hours. It's got a ducal palace, but nothing like the one in Urbino. It's also famous for ceramics, but I don't know if the tradition is still being carried on. It seems to me as the artisanal tradition of making ceramics has mostly moved south to the Fratterosa area. If you continue on the same road after leaving Urbania, there are lots of other pretty little towns, such as Mercatello sul Metauro, and Sant'Angelo in Vado. A drive in that direction is pretty scenic. The entire drive to Mercatello and back would take about two hours.

One of the drives near Urbino that I like best is to the Gola di Furlo. This is on the route of the ancient Via Flaminia, and there is still a tunnel carved in the rock over 2000 years ago. (There's an even more ancient, pre-Roman tunnel alongside it, but that's rarely open to visitors.)

The road used to pass though the ancient tunnel, but flood damage a few years ago washed out part of the road. The last time I was there, you had to park the car before the tunnel and continue on foot. I don't know if they intend to keep it like this; it might be better from the point of view of the conservation of the tunnel, and you really do enjoy the scenic river gorge much more on foot than in your car.

Because of the road interruption, I think it's best to approach the gorge from the direction of Acqualagna. Acqualagna is famous for its truffles, but, unfortunately, truffles are not in season in July. Between Acqualagna and Furlo, on your right there is a little park. I suggest you stop there. At one edge of the park is the beautiful little 9th century church of San Vittorio. It's always open, so you can just walk in and admire its Romanesque architecture. Do go down to the crypt as well. There is usually no one inside, not even a caretaker. On the other side of the park there is an ancient Roman flood control system that's somewhat interesting. Maybe the Romans could have prevented the devastating flood that happened a few years ago. You'll probably see lots of roads that were somewhat damaged in that flood and that haven't been repaired. Much of the area is very sparsely populated, and resources are scarce and needed elsewhere. This entire drive would be just a little over an hour.

Another very nice drive in the area of Urbino is through beautiful countryside to the towns of Mondavio and Corinaldo. You would pass through Fossombrone, Barchi and Orciano. You'll pass very near Fratterosa, where there are numerous ceramic workshops.

Mondavio has a very well preserved medieval fortification, in which there is a hokey wax representation of medieval life, and also, on the top floor, a small but interesting museum of medieval armaments.

Corinaldo is one of the prettiest towns in the area, with the best-preserved medieval walls, including the medieval gates, in all of Le Marche. I don't know which week you'll be there, but there is a medieval festival in Corinaldo on the third weekend in July.

If you have time, and are interested in ancient Rome, you might want to take a different route back to Urbino, passing through Pergola. There's a museum there that has a very rare Roman gilded bronze statue group, which was dug up from a nearby field. It's a great mystery as to why these statues were buried, and there are many theories about whom they represent. The entire drive would take about 2 1/2 hours if you include Pergola, about half an hour less otherwise.

Finally, a very nice drive would be to the 9th century hermitage of Fonte Avellana on the slopes of Mount Catria. It's in a very scenic spot and the monastery itself is beautiful and lovingly preserved. There are tours of the monastery, where you can see the large room where the monks worked to copy manuscripts. The furniture is no longer there, but it's interesting to see how the room was designed for maximum light, avoiding shadows that might fall on the writing desks. The manuscripts themselves, unfortunately, were all taken to the Vatican sometime in the 20th century. After the Sunday mass, the monks serve a big home-style lunch in their refrectory. It's nothing fancy, and the service is a bit slow, but it's good home-style food. Near Fonte Avellana, the town of Frontone has an austere but imposing castle (privately owned and with very limited visiting hours) in the upper town. There is a great panorama from the walls of the upper town, and there is a good restaurant, Taverna della Rocca, where the meat is grilled in a huge open fireplace. (I've never been there in the summer, so I don't know if they use the open fireplace when it's 30° C outside.) This drive would take you through Cagli, which is worth a stop, and it could also be combined with the Gola di Furlo. The entire drive would be a little over two hours.

Of course, you won't have time for all of these drives, but it gives you something to choose from.

This part of Italy is, in my perhaps somewhat biased opinion, one of the most beautiful regions in the country. There are very few tourists here, and they're mostly Italian. Because there are so few tourists, the hours of shops and tourist offices in small towns are still governed by the long lunch break. If you arrive in a town at about 12:30, you'll find the shops closing all around you, not to reopen until around 4 PM. Restaurants, of course, will be open. There aren't as many per square mile as you'd find in Tuscany, but nearly every town has at least one restaurant.
bvlenci is offline  
Apr 30th, 2015, 09:24 AM
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dwdvagamundo is offline  
Apr 30th, 2015, 01:58 PM
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Thanks for the replies - ky - I did read those trip reports when she first posted them, but thanks for bringing them up

bvlenci - thanks so much - great, great info. Just what I was looking for. I'll copy all of it for my file.
isabel is online now  
Apr 30th, 2015, 03:23 PM
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You're welcome. It's a rather cursory description. If you decide to follow any of the suggested itineraries, I'll try to fill it in with more details.
bvlenci is offline  
May 1st, 2015, 08:06 AM
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Many of those towns you mention certainly look like the kind of place we love to explore.

I really think I want to take one day to go to Corinaldo and Mondavio ( and maybe Montefabbri). Does that sound like a reasonable day trip?

If we choose to do two day trips the other would be Urbania and Mercatello sul Metauro.

I like your idea about stopping in Gradara on the way from San Marino but do you think it's safe to leave luggage in the car? We normally try to go from hotel to hotel so as not to have to leave luggage in the car (we do travel light and everything fits in the trunk of the Fiat 500 we usually rent). But perhaps this area of Italy it's ok to do that. Is the parking situation in Gradara such that it's unlikely the car would get broken into? We are also thinking of stopping in Brisighella on our way to San Marino (will be coming from Bassano del Grappa that day) but were worried about the luggage thing. What do you think. Oh, and yes we are planning a day trip to San Leo from San Marino.

Thanks again for all your help.
isabel is online now  
May 1st, 2015, 12:21 PM
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We spent one night in San Marino and several nights in Urbino several years ago, and loved it. I especially loved Urbino (I went particularly to see the Duke of Montefeltro's studiolo). We visited most of the places that bvlenci recommended, except the last couple. And I agree of course with all of her recommendations, including her comments re Gradara. We stopped in Gradara, with luggage in back, en route from Urbino to our next destination to the south, Macerata, and had no problems. We spent maybe 1-2 hours in Gradara, then had a fantastic lunch at a little place in Senigallia, Osteria del Teatro. There's an old fortress there, Focca Roveresca, that we enjoyed visiting.

We visited San Leo on the way from San Marino to Urbino.

I believe that my best resource, other than everything on the internet, was the Le Marche book by Cadogan. It is a British publisher, and tend to have books for places that UK travellers go to.

Funny story about San Marino. I do extensive trip research, including pictures of hotels, etc. Yet I somehow failed to realize how high up San Marino is - and I have a fear of heights. I'm usually the driver, and DH is the navigator, but I reached a point where I couldn't handle the prospect of the upward climb any longer, pulled over and made DH drive (I sat in the back of the car, not looking, and recovering from my panic attack). Once there, I was fine and the place was great in the evening and morning with no hordes of tourists.
Lexma90 is offline  
May 1st, 2015, 01:16 PM
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I wouldn't worry about car breakins in this area; they're extremely rare. However, it's always wise, anywhere in the world, to keep your bags out of sight. I don't remember what the parking was like at Gradara.

Montefabbri is in a different direction from Mondavio and Corinaldo. I think you could probably stop there after your visit to Gradara.

San Marino in the daytime tends to be a swarm of tourists, but if you take a walk on the path that connects the three towers, you can leave them behind and get some nice views.
bvlenci is offline  
Jun 14th, 2016, 09:15 AM
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