On our whirlwind tour of Italy, Urbino was our final stop. I work at a university, and we send a group of 20-30 students to Urbino, Italy every spring to study abroad. I wish I was in college again just to participate in this program!
Urbino is the most beautiful little walled fortress city in the Marche region of Italy. It sits in the foothills of the mountains, and is truly a gorgeous, fairytale like Italian town complete with the original cobblestones, a palace, and incredible food.
Unfortunately, the dreary weather in Torino was only the beginning of our woes. As our bus wound up the hills approaching Urbino, the snow began to fall and we began to see more and more accumulation on the ground. By the time we arrived at the bottom of the walled city, there were at least 4 inches of snow on the ground. And it never stopped. We were in Urbino for 6 days, and in that time in snowed 43 inches, with some freezing rain and sleet thrown in there for good measure. I am a planner, and this trip thwarted my every planning effort since this storm swept across Europe out of nowhere.
It took some serious creativity to survive the weather in Urbino, including wearing both my winter coat and my light bomber jacket at the same time just to go outside. I also had a hilarious conversation with the sweetest local store owner as I tried to communicate to him (half in English, half in Spanish, completely ineffectively) that I needed warmer socks. Somehow, he eventually understood my ridiculous babbling, and he found me some alpaca wool socks he had in the back of his store. Those socks actually saved my life, and my toes.
It was hard to spend too much time outside while we were in Urbino, since it was below freezing and snowing every day. We normally walked until we could not take the cold anymore, and then would turn around and head into the most wonderful café in the center of the Piazza del Republica, or the main square in the city. Caffè Basili did not let us down once. No matter what the weather was doing, they were open early in the morning and late at night, and we spent a good amount of time in there drinking cappuccinos and eating cookies. A little note about coffee: I heard multiple times that Italians don’t drink cappuccinos after 11:00 am because they are a breakfast drink, and that you will look like a tourist if you order a cappuccino in the afternoon or evening. Clearly I didn’t care, because cappuccinos are my favorite coffee drink and they are heavenly in Italy. But, eventually the sun came out for a total of 3 hours while we were in Urbino, which produced these beautiful pictures.
Urbino was the most authentic Italian experience I have had, complete with extreme language barriers. But thankfully the study abroad program coordinator is Italian, and he helped us navigate ordering in restaurants on a couple of occasions. Otherwise, we were on our own with only Google Translate to help. Many restaurants were not open due to the weather, so you may have more choices if you visit Urbino when a snowpacalypse isn’t happening, but we had some definite favorites. La Fornarina right off the Piazza del Republica was the coziest little restaurant with incredible pasta. We had the 4 cheese gnocchi and the pappardelle arrabiata, and both were absolutely amazing. We also ate at a lovely osteria called La Balestra, which has a darling patio that I’m sure would be beautiful in nice weather. Their pizza was some of the best we had the entire trip. The house wine option at all of the restaurants in Italy was one of my favorite things—they would bring you an entire liter of wine for less than a glass typically costs here in the US. And though I’m no wine connoisseur, I thought all of the wine we drank was fantastic.
One of my favorite moments of our time in Urbino happened over dinner one night. We had a fantastic dinner filled with new friends and wine and laughter, at Terrazza del Duca. This restaurant has a magnificent view of the walls of the city, and the food was even better. And as they brought out a gorgeous pasta dish, I pulled out my phone to take a picture (for the blog, of course) but was told, “in Italy we don’t take pictures of our food. We eat our food.” So, I put my phone down and ate the best pasta I have ever eaten, smothered in a pumpkin sauce. And I listened as the conversation changed from light “small talks,” as coined by our friend, Berto, into a meaningful, gracious conversation about work and culture and meaning. There is nothing more beautiful than experiencing a new culture fully, and making friends across the world who have lived a whole different life and see the world in a whole different way.
Urbino was lovely. I wish we could have fully experienced the city and the surrounding area as we had planned, but it was a great opportunity to be fully immersed in a city for a few days and learn more about a beautiful culture. I would absolutely love to return someday (in the summer).
I want to know, what Italian cities are on your Italy bucket list? Have you ever been anywhere off the beaten path, like Urbino?