Thursday, November 27, 2008

Voyage to the Northern Marche-Urbino, San Leo, San Marino

27 Novembre
Yesterday, after a year and a half in the Marche, I finally got up to visit the "most famous" city of the Marche-Urbino. It is renowned for a really nice palace with the 1st indoor courtyard in all of Italy, from which most others are modelled.
It is a bit of a drive from us at 2.5 hours which includes a combination of 18 euros worth of autostrada and a beginning and end on the curvy roads for which we are famous. I have to admit Urbino, a bustling little university town. is well worth visiting. The main attractions are the castle of Duke Frederico, which now doubles as a museum of mostly religious art (nside, one also finds incredibly beautiful inlaid wood panels in many of the doors and the Duke's study), the Duomo with a "Last Supper" by Bartocci and finally for the local vistas. Urbino is where the famous artist, Raffaelo was born, he of the angelic cherub calendars ubiquitous in the malls this time of year, but you would be hard pressed to find his work in his hometown. 3 in total, I think, with 2 in the museum. For ideal fotos, a little hike up to the Fort of Albornoz gives a great view of the whole city with the palace towers (even better 200 meters down the road).
On to San Leo, which served as model for purgatory for Dante when he wrote his masterpiece. It is more famous for being the final prison for a famous charlatan, heretic named Conte di Cagliostro. He is described as an alchemist, swindler, womanizer, necromancer and quack.. how times change, now we call those guys politicians. We ate a really nice lunch there at La Rocca San Leo trying out their famous prosciutto of Carpegna, a nice lamb dish with thyme and a sangiovese reduction sauce and a cheese course with many of the local pecorino cheeses aged in various different ways such as wrapped in the skins from montepulciano grapes, wrapped in chestnut tree leaves and wrapped in herbs. Finally a little dessert and the shock of a bill! 96 euros. I was going on about how much I liked the place until then. Still worth a splurge if you head that way. I should mention that Raffaele lost a bet and had to pay. He didn't think I could make it to the restaurant before they closed and I arrived in my Formula 1 Doblo' with 9 minutes to spare. The museum and castle in Urbino cost 4 euros to enter and are well worth the small expense, but 8 euros for the fortress of San Leo is excessive unless you are dying to see Cagliostro's cell, lines of old muskets, a tiny torture chamber and not much else. You can drive up to the fort and get the great pix you want and views of the surrounding countryside without paying.
Finally, it was on to San Marino, the oldest republic in Europe and a separate country, sort of like the vatican where you can buy things without the VAT of Italy. This was a visit for Raffaele, as he has been itching to buy a new expresso maker and he saved 30 euros on his new Nespresso machine.
Since we were above Ancona, one last visit was necessary on the way home at our nearest IKEA store in Ancona. The journey finished after 12.5 hours back at Nascondiglio di Bacco.
The northern Marche received a bit of snow the night before our visit and the hills were even more beautiful with their white blanket. Bacco had a great time playing in the stuff. OK, I can scratch off the # 1 place on my list of places to visit here in Italy and now the southern part rises to the top-as soon as the BMW is legal!
The pictures are of: Raffaele with the owner of La Rocca, San Leo fort 2x, a fireplace inside the palace in Urbino and a view of the whole city from the fort.

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