Urbino and Montefeltro

This is an excerpt from the book “Central Italy Marche and Abruzzo

Urbino Palazzo Ducale - Photo gengish skan
Urbino Palazzo Ducale – Photo gengish skan

The city of Urbino (35 km from Pesaro) was the Duke’s capital and is certainly the main attraction for any visitor to the Province of Pesaro and Urbino.

It is a city full of interest and surprise – the magnificent Ducal Palace (which houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche), the numerous art treasures to be found in its beautiful churches and monasteries, Raphael’s birthplace and the many houses built by wealthy families which stand around the city’s streets and alleys.

Around the city is that same panorama of hills and valleys that we see in the paintings of the great Renaissance masters who came to know and love Urbino during the time of the Montefeltro and Della Rovere dukes.

Our journey takes us towards the north-west of the Province, into the lands once ruled over by the Montefeltro family and on to the Upper Valley of the Marecchia as far as Monte Perticara (883 m). The area stands at the very northern edge of the Marche, close to the border with Romagna and Tuscany, and is dominated by the Apennine peak of Monte Carpegna (1415 m).

View from Urbino - Photo Anguskirk
View from Urbino – Photo Anguskirk

Taking the road which heads northwards from Urbino to Ca’ Gallo, we arrive at the Foglia Valley and head on up to Sassocorvaro (331 m), which stands on the edge of the artificial Mercatale Lake. The mighty castle on the hill above it was built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini for the nobleman Ottaviano Ubaldini as a residence for his family.

From Sassocorvaro, we continue up the Foglia Valley to Lunano (297 m), which lies beneath its ancient ruined castle, and on to Piandimeleto (320 m). This town is still overlooked by the impressive fortified palace of the Counts Oliva, with its Ghibelline crenellations, embrasures and corbels.

A little further on stands the town of Belforte all’Isauro (343 m).Returning to Piandimeleto, we follow the road along the Mutino torrent as far as Frontino (530 m), the advance garrison of the Montefeltro territory on the border with Massa Trabaria, and dominated by the picturesque rocky tabletops of Sasso Simone (1204 m) and Simoncello (1221 m).Reaching the junction at Caturchio, we climb up to the town of Carpegna (784 m), which stands at the foot of the mountain of the same name.

It is built around the austere 17th Century Palazzo dei Principi, which is still the residence of descendants of the ancient Carpegna family, to whom Emperor Otto I gave this territory back in 962. Three distinct families descended from the Carpegnas, of which one was the Montecopiolo family, ancestors of the Counts of Montefeltro. Leaving Carpegna, we drive around the eastern slopes of Monte Carpegna to Pennabilli (570 m).

The town is spread between two distinctive spurs of rock, La Roccione and La Rupe,. The ruins of the Malatesta castle at Billi are a reminder that the third branch of the Carpegna family, the Pietrarubbias (who were ancestors of the Malatesta dynasty) were lords of this area before moving to Verucchio.From Pennabilli we now drive down to the Marecchia Valley.

Continuing in a north-easterly direction we arrive at the modern town of Novafeltria (293 m) and then turn up to S. Agata Feltria. This is the furthest outpost of the ancient Duchy of Urbino on the border with Romagna and stands beneath the bare rock on which the imposing castle of Rocca Fregoso has been built.Returning back along the same road to Novafeltria we climb up the other side of the Marecchia Valley to the junction for Maiolo (590 m).

The ancient castle, sitting on the crags of a cone shaped hill, can be seen from a distance away. It was destroyed by a disastrous landslide during the night of 29th and 30th May 1700.Continuing on through this Montefeltro territory, passing the junction at Madonna Pugliano, we reach S. Leo (589-639 m).

It stands on the top of an enormous sheer cliff rising out of the surrounding valley, topped by its ancient impregnable fortress, with the houses and splendid medieval churches on the slope behind it.

Sant'Agata Feltria Rocca Fregoso. Photo Luca Argalia
Sant’Agata Feltria Rocca Fregoso. Photo Luca Argalia

Returning to Madonna Pugliano we continue on in the direction of Villagrande, a well known ski resort in the district of Montecopiolo (another town which once had a mighty castle). It is hard to avoid being captivated by the beauty of this historic area, from which the Montefeltro territory first grew. This road was, and still is, the only route linking the valleys of the Marecchia and the Conca.Reaching the Conca Valley, we take the main road which follows the course of the river until Monte Cerignone (536 m) comes into view.

The town’s terraced streets cling picturesquely to a spur of rock which rises up to the ancient castle.We now head southwards through the hills which separate the valleys of the Conca and the Foglia until we arrive at the town of Macerata Feltria (321 m). It stands close to the Roman town of Pitinum Pisaurense (where the ancient church of San Cassiano now stands), on a hill above the Apsa torrent, with its fortified borgo, tower and Palazzo del Podesta’ (now a museum).

This fortified town was yet another of the many fortresses captured by Federico da Montefeltro from Sigismondo Malatesta in 1463, the year which saw the total defeat of the Lord of Rimini and the triumph of the future Duke of Urbino. Continuing onwards, we return once more to Mercatale di Sassocorvaro, completing this long tour of the lands of Montefeltro.

Where to stay in Urbino

Hotels, B&Bs, country houses and villas: search and make reservations here.