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our little secret
By Craig Johnson
(return to The Marches)

Of I read one more article about Italy that describes a place as the "Best Kept Secret in Italy", I believe I might just drive a nail through my head to relieve the suffering. The Region of Marche is my adopted home in Italy and I believe it worthy of much more respect than such a mundane phrase would render. Le Marche's charms are famous and yet, largely undiscovered by mainstream tourism.

Marche borders Umbria, but is far less mountainous with gentle rolling hills and an abundance of lush farmland, which extends all the way to the Adriatic Sea. You won't find many tourist traps and you certainly won't hear much English being spoken. What you will find however, is a place where tourists are not inclined to be seen in large numbers. Don't take this to mean that you will have trouble finding hundreds of small shops from which to purchase anything your heart desires.

"You won't find many tourist traps and you certainly won't hear much English being spoken."
If you make it to Marche, then you must surely visit the city of Urbino. There is old Urbino and then there is new Urbino�stick with the old. You will recognize it easily by the high, stone wall which completely surrounds the city. Of course, there is a castle, and a very famous one indeed. The Ducal Palace was home to Federico, Duke of Montefeltro in the fifteenth century. While in Urbino you will undoubtedly notice numerous prints of a painting in which only the left side of the Duke's face is visible. You will immediately observe one of the most remarkable noses you have ever seen. Surely there's none quite like it anywhere in the world. Yet, that nose is not the result of genetics. During a battle, he took a swipe from a broad sword across his face, breaking his nose and blinding his right eye. The duke only wanted his "good" side to be depicted in paintings, hence the left-side portrait. Tour his castle; it's open to the public and in remarkably good condition.

The castle also houses a number of beautiful paintings by Federico's personal artist who had a son by the name of Rafaelo, known in the west as Rafael. When you leave the palace, it is but a short distance to the actual house where Rafael was born and learned to paint from his father.

There is a large university in Urbino, and it is naturally called the University of Urbino. The student population is about 15,000 and many of them speak English, but don't ask a student to visit the Ducal Palace with you. A long standing superstition at the university forbids students who have not yet graduated from entering the palace, under penalty of sabotaging the completion of their education. After graduation, palace visits are no problem.

see also...
Our Little Secret
Le Marche on Two Wheels
What do you know about The Marches?
The Marchegiana Kitchen
The Marches
Visit other Italian regions
If the front facade of the palace looks a little familiar, it's because Walt Disney visited Urbino in the 1950s, and upon seeing the Ducal Palace, got the inspiration for the basic architecture of his Magic Kingdom.

So, go ahead and enjoy Le Marche. Just keep it our little secret.

About the author
A Maryland resident, Craig Johnson is employed by Benelli USA, which is based in Urbino. After making a few business trips and starting to learn Italian, his love for the Marches grew with each day he spent in the region. "To truly appreciate Marche or any region of Italy, it is vitally important to be more than a mere spectator. The Italian people are the essence of Italy; the rest of it is only real estate," he says.


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