10/18/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 11 - Pesaro / Urbino
Jim and Diana write:
The weather continues to be lousy….the sky is grey, the wind is blowing, and there is intermittent rain in the morning. Today we are planning to drive up into the hills and revisit the beautiful hill town of Urbino. We had been there ten years ago and have wonderful memories of our one night visit.

As we leave Pesaro, the road goes through what seems to be an unending string of factories and commercial establishments; they don’t stop for at least 10 kilometers. This is a sign of the economic health of this area.

Once out of the Pesaro metropolitan area, the countryside becomes gently rolling and quite beautiful, even with the overcast skies. As we approach Urbino, the traffic starts to get heavy. We drive up the hill outside the town walls looking for a parking space…but we find nothing available. It turns out it is market day which puts a lot of pressure on the available spaces. We make our way back down the hill and find a semi-legal space near one of the gates.

We are re-reminded that Urbino is a hill town with some of the steepest grades that we have encountered in Italy. The street from the gate to the town square is quite challenging. But Urbino is also still one of the most picturesque towns in Italy.

The main attraction for us today is to revisit the Ducal Palace and Art Gallery, but before we get there we stop to buy some stamps and mail some postcards and do some window shopping. Urbino is also a big university town—students outnumber permanent residents—so between the students, the market and the tourists, the streets are quite full.

We take a quick look inside the Duomo but it was completely restored during the 18th century and doesn’t really interest us much. The Ducal Palace is another story….the entrance courtyard is a taste of the wonderful harmony of the building from an architectural point of view. And the paintings and art works are displayed very well….they have made a conscious decision to have only five or six works in each rooms for the most part, so it makes for much more comfortable viewing.

The highlights of the collection for us are the two Piero della Francesca masterpieces…The Flagellation and the Madonna di Senigallia, the Raphael portrait di Gentildonna, and the fantastic studiolo of the Duke of Montrefeltro….his private study constructed out of the most intricate inlaid wood (intarsia) and decorated with great skill and refinement. But we enjoy the museum very much…again.

When we leave, we have to decide about lunch. As we head down the hill, it starts to rain so we decide to go back the same restaurant that we had eaten at ten years (and remember fondly)—La Vecchia Urbino. The setting hasn’t changed since our last visit…a large open space with lots of windows and large pieces of wood furniture.

There is no one in the restaurant when we arrive, but they are setting up for some kind of group or party in the back—behind a screen. The young waiter seats us and we tell him that we had been there ten years previously; he smiles and says it has taken us a long time to return.

We have a lovely meal with a very nice local wine, a Sangiovese from a nearby vineyard—even though it violates our “rule” against wine with lunch while out sightseeing. I have the house specialty…tagliatelle with cheese and pancetta (the pasta is excellent) and, for her antipasto, Diana has a sampling of Italian olive oils—a degustazione—where the waiter pours some oil from eight different regions which you taste with bread. Our favorite is from Umbria. Diana wonders why more restaurants don’t offer this opportunity. I also had a plate of grilled sausages, which were terrific and Diana has the tortelli filled with meat in a nice ragu….also beautiful pasta.

We have a nice discussion with the owner, who had taken care of us on the rainy night in 1993 when we were first here. He and the waiter are rushing around to take care of a group of German tourists who are having lunch here also.

We make our way back to the car…it is still drizzling and it is cold and damp. The car is adorned with a parking ticket; we had exceeded the time limit for the parking space. We have had parking tickets over the years, but we have ignored them, with no consequences. We will see if their system for follow up on outstanding tickets has improved.

We decide to take a ride in the countryside; our destination is another of the gorges that are a feature of the Le Marche landscape—the Gola di Furlo. After a few false starts and deviations, we arrive at the gorge—a dramatic narrow gap between two sheer cliff faces on both sides of a narrow river. They have dammed up the river here creating a scenic narrow lake between the cliffs….with just enough space left over for a road.

We then decide to go to the town where the olive oil we had liked so much the day before is produced. We drive on another typical curvy road through beautiful countryside. We pull up to the main piazza is the tiny hill town of Sassocovaro, park and head off in search of the olive oil. The supermarket is closed but next door, the butcher shop is open and right there on the shelves is the very bottle that we are looking for. We ask about the differences between the various bottle shops and sizes and the butcher tells us that there is no difference in the oil in the three-quarter liter and the full liter bottles….the difference is in the elegance of the packaging. We buy three full liters and head back to Pesaro.

The ride back takes a lot longer than anticipated….between the weather and the Saturday afternoon traffic in the towns, we don’t get back to gloomy Pesaro until after 6 pm.

We are pretty tired from the day’s excursion so we rest until dinner. We decide to go back to the nearby restaurant where we had eaten last night….we are not up for a walk back into town or an extended meal. It works out very well again…I have a plate of spaghetti with shellfish and the fritto misto….both good…and Diana has an insalata caprese (mozzarella cheese, tomato and basil), kebab of shrimp and calamari, and a panna cotta. The staff is pleasant—one of the waiters wants to practice his English—and we enjoy our informal dinner.

A quick walk along the water and we are back in our luxurious room. Tomorrow we are off to Ferrara....