Some hill towns; the Englishwoman survives in Cingoli, Gradara, Matelica, Mondavio, Urbania, Urbino.

Small town known as the balcony of the Marches, for its spectacular views. Touristy, but consequently clean and beautifully kept. I visited it at lunchtime in October – it was deadly quiet and there were no restaurants open within the walls. One caffè had sinister blue lighting and a giant pool table – it’s the one with the view and probably ok in summer. The other, in the main square, offered quite a good selection of sandwiches and was comfortable. Being one of only two customers didn’t do much for the atmosphere, though.

What to see
Apart from the views, stroll round town and drink in the atmosphere.
See above.


There is not a lot to this little town apart from its famous (among Italians) Rocca, where Paolo and Francesca, the lovers described in Dante’s Inferno, began their affair. It’s a popular Italian destination out of season and offers some delightful walks around the walls.

What to see
The Rocca, a lovely place, restored in the C20 by its (then) wealthy owner, but now maintained by the Comune, and inadequately signposted and interpreted.
Lots and lots of shops selling old-fashioned tourist goods (typically lace handkerchiefs) of good quality but expensive.
Lots of eateries; the one we tried served good piadina (like wraps with cold meats and cheese) and was surprisingly pleasant, considering the nature of the town.
NB It’s quite difficult to find a parking space; if you are up to it, park lower down the hill and walk up.


An important centre for wine making, still recovering from the 1997 earthquake. For example, the theatre is “in restauro”, (but see theatre below) and one church has had no electric light since the earthquake and is appealing for donations towards the cost of replacing it.

What to see
The sights (apart from the library) are well-covered in the guidebooks, and there are lots of useful maps and brochures in the TIC in the central piazza. The Matelica area was an important centre for the ancient Piceni, and special exhibitions of selected finds are often mounted, as well as what is usually on show in the archaeological museum. The TIC leaflet suggests a walk through town; I particularly liked the “stile liberty” (art nouveau) block in the main drag. As usual with these towns, look out for the attractively ornamented “palazzi” lining the streets of the historic centre: they often have beautifully carved doorways and window surrounds.
There is a fine fountain in the central piazza, boasting four sea-godlings known as: “Biutino, Maccagnanu, la Sirena and la Veloce ” by the local people.
There is a good selection of local wine in the supermarkets.
I ate at a beautifully decorated local “risotteria”, “La Notte degli Oscar” with a cinema theme. Don’t mistake it for the local cinema, it is a restaurant. But there I ate the nearest thing to a disgusting meal I’ve ever had in the Marches. The bland and tasteless risotto di verdura (vegetables) contained microscopically small pieces of what I assumed were veg, and the coffee was lukewarm, sour and bitter.
However, there is a nice caffe-pasticceria (pastrycook’s) on the main square.
What’s on (Italian)

A charming small town with a magnificent Rocca (fortress). Popular destination for trippers of all nationalities coming up from the coast.
Website (Italian only).
What to see
Children will probably enjoy the reconstruction of the torture chamber in the Rocca.
Where to eat
La Palomba – attractive terrace restaurant at the back. Much of the food, including the goose (oca) comes from the proprietors’ small holding.
Il Giardino – wonderful view. Good pizze in the evening, cooked by the padrona’s son.
Osteria della Rocca – Recently reopened by a man from Corinaldo. He is really trying hard and offers good food and pleasant décor at a reasonable price. Deserves your support.
Della Rovere – semi precious stones and jewellery at reasonable prices.
Looking at the website (Italian only) I was amazed by the treasures that quite small Marchigiane libraries can boast of. How different from Britain, where Cardiff City Council is contemplating selling off its library’s treasures. Mondavio has hundreds of antiquarian books, including two dating from the fifteenth century. At present, however, its antiquarian section is not open to the public. Try asking to see the display in the museum.
La Caccia del Cinghiale (The boar hunt, don’t ask me why; it’s a reenactment of a ducal wedding), builds up over several days to Ferragosto, August 15, the feast of the Virgin Mary. Elaborate entertainment, son et lumiere, archery contests, as well as all the usual, – it’s one of the best.

Urbania (formerly Casteldurante) (Italian only)
An important centre for the craft of majolica and a bustling market town with a rich history, splendidly situated in the curve of the River Metauro, flowing deep in a spectacular gorge. However, when we emerged after lunch, it was deadly quiet, especially in the centro storico (historic centre) . The tourist office is helpful and offers attractively presented, useful information.
What to see
You can see demonstrations of how majolica is made – ring the tourist office first; we heard some people being turned away because they hadn’t booked in advance.
The same goes for the mummies, well preserved dead bodies on display in a local church, at set times only.
Explore the centro storico and look out for the collection of lovers’ padlocks and chains around a lamp-post on the Ponte dei Cocci.
Just outside town, signposted on the SS73 bis to S. Angelo in Vado and Arezzo, is the Barco Ducale, the Dukes of Urbino’s hunting lodge. The inside may not be open to the public, but it’s an interesting building situated in what is now a public park.
Lots of shops selling majolica.
There is an attractive ceramic sign to a local “taverna” just off the main square. Like most tourists, we followed it and had a perfectly acceptable meal, though the proprietor is laid-back to say the least. Next time I’d visit the TIC first, ask for a list of local restaurants, and explore a bit more – assuming a time of arrival before 12 noon
Teatro Bramante opened in 1864 and designed not by him but by Ercole Salmi of Urbino. Like many theatres of the Marches, it was reopened recently (2001) after many years of darkness.
What’s on (in Italian). NB This website, Teatro Stabile delle Marche, is useful but only if you know Italian. For music, it’s best to use the commune’s website.
The town boasts a fine library, housed in the Ducal palace. It is based on what remains of Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere’s collection of printed books, after its removal to Rome by Pope Alexander VII in 1667, with significant donations by other local worthies, and frequently mounts exhibitions of selected items from it. I particularly liked the Duke’s buffoon’s diary, one of the few manuscript works in the collection. Like all good libraries, it includes more than books – two Mercator globes, a collection of prints and the voting record of the election of Pope Alexander VII
Festa della Befana (Epiphany) 2-6 January.

This is the jewel in the crown of Marche hill towns. It’s a well-known tourist destination and as such not typical, because there are some masterpieces here. However, like many hill-towns, after a relatively brief flowering it knew years of obscurity and Florence and Rome are now home to many of its treasures. If you are not an art historian, you will not be excited by many of the pictures on show in the art gallery. Don’t worry, this is normal. Anywhere else in the Marche, it would be the town as a whole that counts.
The city rose to prominence in the 15th century under Federigo Montefeltro, (ruled 1444-82) a successful mercenary commander who was a patron of learning and the arts. However, his son, Guidobaldo (1482–1508), also a patron of learning and the arts but no warrior, had no male heirs. The title passed to the Della Rovere family, who moved their court from Urbino to Pesaro and under them Urbino quietly mouldered away. The Della Rovere art collection from Urbino passed to the Medici in 1631, and in 1657 Pope Alexander VII helped himself to the ducal library.
Urbino is also home to a university, which fills the town with students and keeps it lively.
What to see

Urbino Courtyard of the Ducal Palace

Urbino Courtyard of the Ducal Palace

Have a look at my blog posts:

Urbino – not the Ducal Palace

The sad side of Urbino

More about Giovanni Santi, the artist Raphael’s father

If it’s not too boiling hot, it is worth the climb up to the Parco Albornoz, where you get a fine view and there is a little refreshment stall.

Where to eat and drink
It’s hard to find a decent restaurant in popular tourist destinations like Urbino. They operate on the principle “There’ll always be another punter”. That said, it’s also hard to find a disgusting meal in Italy (see Matelica). Il Leone is good and offers local produce. There are quite a few caffes in piazzas where you can sit and watch the world wag past.

Piazza della Repubblica showing the church of S Francesco and part of the Collegio Raffaello Urbino

Piazza della Repubblica showing the church of S Francesco and part of the Collegio Raffaello

Outside the summer season, the caffè under the arcades in Piazza della Repubblica does quite nice cakes, though the icy wind blowing in every time the door opens is a bit off-putting.
Not as many shops selling tourist tat (see Gradara), as you’d expect. There are one or two shops selling unusual mugs, candles etc, though 20 Euros for a mug is a bit steep. There are also one or two groceries/delis selling local produce
Festa del Duca. Includes street theatre, music and dance, concerts (free), and pageants. On a large scale and to a high standard.
Teatro Sanzio
Designed by the Senigallese architect Vincenzo Ghinelli; building started in 1845 and it was finally opened in 1853.
What’s on: . This is a useful site for culture & tourism in Urbino generally; it also has an English translation of sorts.
I searched the web for the biblioteca comunale (public library) but couldn’t find it. There isn’t one (see above); the Urbinati only have the university library.
If you have come by car, the best place to park is in the big car park under the walls. Warning to the not-so-strong: it is quite a steep pull up to the Palazzo Ducale, and the lift from the car park doesn’t always work.

About An Englishwoman in Italy

I have a holiday home in Corinaldo in the province of Ancona in the Marche region of Italy. I have been going there since 1993 and would like to share my love and experience of the area. I speak Italian. Ho una casa di villeggiatura a Corinaldo nella provincia di Ancona, Regione Marche. Frequento Corinaldo da 1993 e desidero condividere i miei affetto e esperienza della zona con gli altri. Gli italiani sono sinceramente invitati a correggere gli sbagli.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Borghi dell'entroterra, Churches, Cingoli, Festa, Food and drink, Giovanni Santi, Hill towns, History of Art, Libraries, Matelica, Mondavio, Museum, Museums, Survival, Theatre, Urbania, Urbino, Vacation, Where to eat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some hill towns; the Englishwoman survives in Cingoli, Gradara, Matelica, Mondavio, Urbania, Urbino.

  1. Lynda says:

    Most of the comments on this blog seem quite negative. Why do you bother?

    Liked by 1 person

    • An Englishwoman in Italy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lynda. I see myself as a “critical friend” of Italy and Le Marche. I think if the region wants to attract desperately-needed tourists, then they do need to give careful thought to their current offer. Would be glad to hear other readers’ views – am I too negative? May I quote you on Facebook and Twitter and ask for comments?


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