24 Hours In: Urbino

This ancient walled city is a living museum. But it has also got a cool edge, thanks to its flourishing university Throw open the shutters
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The Independent Travel

09.00: Wake up in an upper room at the Albergo Italia (00 39 0722 2701; albergo-italia-urbino.it). Start the day by throwing open the shutters of your room on the stunning views across this walled hilltop city's russet-brown tiled roofs, and into the green landscape beyond. Have your breakfast - the usual buffet offering - charmingly served in a small private garden. Doubles start at €115 (£82) with breakfast.

Wander down to Raphael's house

10.00: Saunter out into the dark stone arcade of the Corso Garibaldi. Above you is an urban cliff in the shape of the backs of the cathedral and Urbino's most grandiose sight, the Ducal Palace. Veer left into the Piazza della Repubblica, where a fountain shimmers in the sun. An inscription commemorates Garibaldi and Mazzini, who wrested 19th-century Urbino from the clammy grip of papal hands. Old men are watchfully sipping coffees while students at Urbino's flourishing university - which protects the city from being a glorified museum - tentatively embrace. Ahead of you is the Raphael House, where the artist grew up under the eye of his painter father. This side of Urbino has a whiff of commercial opportunism - a Raffaello bakery and a Raffaello newsagent.

Don't miss the Ducal Palace

11.00: On one side of the vast stony Piazza Duca Federico, stride up the steps to the cathedral - a pale neo-classical replacement for an earlier building, destroyed by an earthquake in 1789. On the far side of the piazza is the Ducal Palace. The shadows emphasise the space with an effect reminiscent of a De Chirico painting. The palace is one of Italy's finest, built in the 15th century for Urbino's greatest ruler, Duke Federico da Montefeltro. It has an elegant courtyard, a monumental staircase and lavish marquetry throughout. Besides two astonishing paintings by Piero della Francesca, there is Paolo Uccello's last known work, Miracle of the Profaned Host, a tale of a Christian woman who sells a consecrated host to a Jew. One of the palace doors opens into "the room of the King of England", the would-be James III, who took refuge here when his 1715 Jacobite uprising collapsed.

Small is good for a simple lunch

12.30: Urbino is a delicious mixture of calm and bustle. Cut through precipitous back streets and hunt out the tiny restaurant Le Tre Piante (00 30 0722 4863), 1 Via Voltaccia della Vecchia. Here you can sit among the locals on a terrace and sample some simple dishes that are made from the very freshest local ingredients.

Cool down for a little culture

14.00: Buy an ice cream and sit and wait for the Oratorio di San Giovanni Battista to reopen for the afternoon; or you could pick up a newspaper and try to unravel some of the world's most complicated politics. The Oratorio is a well-kept secret and home to an extraordinary collection of 15th-century devotional murals from floor to ceiling crammed with details - a boozy picnic, a crying child - Technicolor two-dimensional versions of the misericords in English churches.

Towers, tombs and city walls

16.00: Time for a walk down via Corso Battista and out beyond the city walls. Fifteen minutes' walk away on a low hill is the ducal mausoleum - an ochre tower set against a backdrop of trees. The Montefeltro tombs were once home to another della Francesca painting - Federico kneeling before Virgin and Child - since looted and taken to Milan.

If music be the food of love ...

18.30: On the return journey, Urbino rises up ahead of you in all its glory. Stop at the Theatre Bar (00 39 0722 2911) on the Corso Garibaldi and sip a local Verdicchio white wine, while a trio tinkles away.

Watch the world go by at supper

20.00: Set out for the Giarrosto restaurant (00 39 0722 4445) on the busy little piazza behind the church of San Francesco. In good weather you eat outside under awnings and can watch the evening promenade up the via Raffaello, amid the delicious aromas of grilled lamb or beef. Vegetarians are catered for, too.

Take your pick for the evening

21.00: You have several choices to while away the rest of the evening: take the air in the Public Gardens, take your ear-plugs into a student bar such as the Caffe del Sole on the via Mazzini, or find a soothing café on the Piazza della Repubblica.

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