For those who visit Italy for the first time, it sometimes comes as a surprise at how quickly the landscape and topography of the country changes from the beautiful waters and beaches along the coast to the majestic Alpine mountains of the north and the Apennines of the peninsula itself. If one had to select a region that could bring all of the Italian landscapes together in their most concentrated form you would likely choose Le Marche. Within the region, the province that best expresses all of these attributes is Pesaro and Urbino. It offers a long coastline with some of the most gorgeous beaches in Italy. With miles of the coast, the gentle sloping hills give way to rugged mountain peaks featuring pristine nature reserves.
The Province of Pesaro and Urbino is located just south of the Emilia Romagna region and also borders one of the two independent states contained within Italy, San Marino. To the east is the Adriatic coast and to the west, the Marche countryside. A visit to the province reveals a multitude of ancient towns, villages and castles. Each place has a story to tell and through the ages have been the home to men and women whose creativity and inspiration, as well as cunning and treachery, have left their mark on history. For those who have a passion for Italian history, especially the Italian Renaissance, Florence is the first place that comes to mind; however, you will find that in Pesaro and Urbino that the smallest of villages retain strong links to the past and are fascinating living monuments.
In ancient times, the Flaminian Way provided a vital link between ancient Rome, Cisalpine Gaul and the whole of northern Europe. This meant prosperity for the cities lying along its route. Along the coast, the important road went through Pesaro and Fano. It then turned inland towards the narrow Furlo Gorge, an incredible mountain canyon between Monte Pietralata and Monte Paganuccio, before continuing on to the Imperial capital of Rome. Today, visitors following this ancient road will find important archaeological sites, walled hill towns and castles guarding the Metauro Valley. It is as though travelers have entered a time machine where the present day comes face to face with the legends of the past. There is the dramatic Fortress of San Leo, the site where the controversial occultist Count Cagliostro died in 1795 and where unspeakable acts were carried out within its infamous dungeon. Set atop an enormous granite peak, the view from its parapets takes in the surrounding valleys for miles in all directions. Today it has been brought back to its Renaissance splendor and its museum is among the most famous for examples of military art and fine collection of ancient and modern arms. A walk through the pretty village is a perfect example of the undiscovered gems that define the essence of the province.
In Gradara, the Malatesta Fortress and historic village became a real-life chess piece among some of Italy’s most important houses. Built around 1150 by the powerful De Griffo family, it was subsequently lost when the family opposed the Papacy. Over the centuries that followed, the Della Rovere, Borgias and Medicis all walked the halls of the castle during a tumultuous period of political chess, where the wealthy and powerful vied for control within the Papal territories. The castle and town are perched on top of a small hill that provides fantastic views across to the Adriatic Sea. Inside the castle, several of the rooms have been restored to their original condition and feature outstanding examples of artwork, decoration and period furniture.
Fano is a tourist destination for those in the know who wish to combine culture and history with the beauty and relaxation of the sea. Its two most popular beaches are Sassonia to the east and the sandy Lido to the west. A number of other wide beaches and small bays are to be found along the coast on both sides of the town making it a perfect place to soak up sun, sea, culture and cuisine.
The capital of the province is Pesaro and it is the largest by population. It is a gorgeous coastal town situated along the Adriatic. This city is known as the City of Bicycles due to its myriad of cycle paths, but the town was also home to two of Italy’s motorcycle manufacturers. As a tourist destination, Pesaro is blessed with a beautiful stretch of beach. Its Lido is one of the premier spots in the city and is a popular location for Italians to visit during Ferragosto.
The Piazza del Popolo is located in the center of the historic old town and is surrounded by some of the cities most revered architecture and is only a short walk from the Lido. Don’t miss the beautiful Baroque fountain in the center of the square which features a whimsical series of stone statues and water nymphs. The Cattedrale di San Terenzio can be found to the north of the piazza. Only fully completed in the 20th century, it is built combining the Neoclassical and Romanesque styles with a plain front façade. But looks can be deceiving; the interior features a series of opulent white-washed columns and some beautiful frescos on its arches and basilica.
Pesaro contains an abundance of historical buildings such as the Palazzo Ducale and intriguing museums such as the Morbidelli Motorcycle Museum. It contains an extraordinary collection from the early 1900s through its famous racers of the 1980s, as well as the exclusive Morbidelli V8 from the 1990s, formerly the Guinness Book of World Record holder as the world’s most expensive motorcycle. If that is not enough, the town also houses the Museo Benelli, which showcases the history of the Benelli motorcycle and displays a huge range of fantastic bikes in mint condition.
For those who are interested in more traditional tours, try the Civic Museum complex. Located in the Palazzo Mosca, it includes the Pinacoteca and the Ceramic Museum. The Pinacoteca includes a wide selection of artwork from a range of schools including Venetian, Etruscan and Emilian. The extensive ceramic collection contains beautiful works from the Middle Ages through the 16th century.
The second part of the province’s name refers to the town of Urbino. This walled city, south-west of Pesaro, is noted for its remarkable historical legacy of Renaissance culture. The town is nestled on a high sloping hillside with the northern Apennines as a backdrop and it retains much of its picturesque medieval appeal. The Piazza della Repubblica is a wonderful place to start as you explore this Renaissance jewel of a city. The major attraction of the town is the Palazzo Ducale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world. Additionally, the studiolo of the palazzo contains some of the finest examples of intarsia in the world. Thousands of tiny pieces of different kinds of wood were used to create the illusion of walls lined with cabinets with open lattice doors, revealing a dazzling array of the items including armor, musical instruments, scientific equipment and books. The work is breathtaking, but that should come as no surprise. When you visit the Province of Pesaro e Urbino, you should often expect that to be the case!