This article covers Urbino, Assisi, and a couple of other destinations in the Italian regions of Marche and Urbino, as well as a few notes on San Marino.
Urbino ♥♥ is a pleasant town and a UNESCO World Heritage site. IMHO, it lacks the wow factor: there are a couple of nice piazzas, it is a living university town, and there are plenty of good-looking medieval buildings, but not anything that stands out. Nonetheless, it is very much worth a visit.
Duomo ♥ is fairly traditional and not very lavishly decorated on the inside, although quite impressive on the outside. The adjoining Ducal Palace does not look exceptional from the exterior. If you decide to go inside, you can see a couple of dozen nice rooms, with practically no furniture and very few decorations. They house Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, which is not too rich and heavily leans towards the paintings of the sacred kind. The highlights of the palace are the wooden alcove and a well-preserved personal study/chapel of a duke. Visit it on a rainy day.
The church facing the palace, San Domenico, houses a crafts market. There are a couple of other churches in the town center that are worth a quick look.
Botanical Garden ♥ is small and quaint, seemingly wild and unkempt in a traditional way, but actually organized, with many plants marked and a few extended notes provided on exhibited species.
Parco della Resistenza ♥ inside Fortezza dell’Albornoz walls provides the best views over the town and surrounding countryside.
The monument to Rafael, who was born in Urbino, sits in a pleasant little park with a playground on the top of the hill at the edge of the town center. One of the possible attractions in town is the birth house of Rafael, on the eponymous street leading from the monument to the central piazza.
One place worthy of a recommendation is Osteria L’Angolo Divino (on Via Sant’Andrea), with both outside seating and well-appointed interior dining rooms, serving excellent modern Italian fare.
Assisi ♥♥♥ is one of the most impressive little towns seen on our travels. It is not so little, actually, – plenty of walking is involved to get around all of the attractions. There are literally hundreds of picture spots, beautiful medieval streets and houses decorated by flowers, fountains on major piazzas, as well as many interesting shops and galleries. Somehow the town does not feel overly commercialized in the way that, say, San Gimignano is. In addition, there is a variety of small museums to which entry is seemingly always free.
The grand churches comprise the main attractions in town (and the basis for its World Heritage inscription). Among them, Basilica di San Francesco ♥♥♥ is a must-see, unique, and lavishly painted, with two separate levels plus the tomb chapel further below. The lower basilica does not have ceilings as high as is usual in cathedrals, so may feel incongruously claustrophobic, but it is decorated all over the walls and ceiling with fantastic frescoes and patterns. The upper basilica is more traditional in size and ceiling height and is also extensively decorated, although some of the frescoes require restoration.
You should not miss the view over the surrounding countryside from the gallery running away from the upper basilica. Surprisingly, while the city sits on the side of the mountain, the valley below is flat for a number of miles.
Other churches would be highlights in any other town, but they cannot help but pale in comparison to San Francesco. Nonetheless, they are worth a look, more or less traditional in design and ornamentation. We visited Basilica di Santa Chiara ♥, Chiesa di Santa Maria sopra Minerva ♥, Cattedrale di San Rufino ♥, and a couple of smaller ones.
The Castle of Rocca Maggiore and Pinacoteca Comunale are other attractions that could be of interest in town.
Places to Eat
One place worthy of a recommendation is La Lanterna (on Via San Rufino in the vicinity of Piazza del Comune), with a serene setting on the outside veranda during quieter times and an overall really good menu.
Orvieto ♥♥ is a magnificent town that overlooks vineyard-dotted plains. There are several interesting churches and little museums, as well as an Etruscan necropolis and a fairly unique attraction in the form of the vast well, Pozzo di San Patrizio. Our stop in town was unfortunately all too brief to include much sightseeing. Aside from a brief stroll around the medieval town center and a few moments of contemplation from high lookouts, we only looked into the Duomo ♥♥♥, one of the greatest Romanesque-Gothic cathedrals in all of Italy. In our opinion, just that alone justified our spur-of-the-moment decision to turn off at Orvieto for a quick look.
On another occasion, we went to Fano specifically to take a dip in the Adriatic Sea. Driving through town left a reasonable positive impression. The beach ♥ is wide and long, with paid lounge-chair sections along its entire length. The floor is pebbled and changes to sand a couple of steps into the water.
An independent country surrounded by Italy (between Emilia-Romagna and Marche) and the oldest continuous republic in the world, San Marino ♥ does not rise above the status of a mild historic curiosity on any list of interesting destinations (although it is a World Heritage site). It has a few attractions to offer, but many tourists visit it primarily for shopping; a bit of over-commercialization is definitely at play here.
The medieval center of San Marino Città is cute but feels slightly artificial for reasons hard to pinpoint. It would be prettier if balconies and windows had more flowers in them.
A combo ticket can get you into all of the main paid attractions in town, both museums and castles. The “First Tower”, Guaita ♥♥, is seemingly the most interesting of those. It is compact, offers great panoramic views over the countryside all the way to the Adriatic Sea, and supplies some good information on the history of the castle and the republic. Several presentations by actors dressed in traditional clothes enliven the visit.
Basilica di San Marino is dedicated to the country’s founding saint, which may suggest that it would be grandiose, but it is somewhat underwhelming. Piazza della Libertà ♥, with San Marino’s own version of the Statue of Liberty and Palazzo Pubblico, is another sight to find your way to.