It was getting on in the afternoon by the time we left Sassocorvaro but, using Google, Vanya had identified three camp sites within an hour’s drive. None were ACSI (In Italy, ACSI sites are thin on the ground away from the coast) and none had telephone numbers so it was a matter of just picking them off one by one until we got lucky. I say that because few camp sites remain open in Italy once summer is gone.
It took us almost an hour to reach our preferred site, Campeggio Pian Dei Prati (which overlooked the small village of Frontino and offered splendid views of Mount Carpegna) and Vanya wasn’t at all happy about the drive which was up, over and around a number of steep hills (well, steep by her standards anyway). In fact she chose to hide under a quilt in the back of the Van for much of the journey. Sod’s law the site was closed. In fact it looked as though it had not been open for some while.
I think the name of the second choice site was Campeggio Marecchia and/but I have totally forgotten the name of the third site. It matters not; they were both closed. Of course we spent at least another hour driving around the hills before discovering this and by then Vanya was a terrified wreck. She hates heights
The Satnav in the Van had us going around in circles. On at least two occasions we drove through places we had been not so long before. The worst instance was when we paused in a small mountain village to try and get our bearings (I think it was called Pennabilli over in the Emilia Romagna Region) and I pointed out a tiny cinema to Vanya. It seemed so incongruous there. A half hour later, after driving on what I thought was the road to Carpegna back in Le Marche, the Satnav brought us back to the cinema!! It was a bit like a Stephen King horror story. We were both unsettled at that point and decided decided to give up on a camp site. Vanya would have stayed anywhere so long as no more driving was involved. Me, I just wanted to get away from Pennabilli.
Eventually we found a small car park opposite a lonely pizzeria on the edge of the Sasso Simone e Simoncello Natural Park. The owners were very welcoming; it was warm and; they served an okay pizza with beer. I suspect the Prosecco was good too but Vanya was beyond caring.
We had a good night’s rest (read I had a good night’s rest) and were away early the next morning, heading for Venice, with me totally ignoring the Satnav and following my map until we were a good 50 miles away.
Having said all that, the countryside in the area is beautiful…
Sassocorvaro is a small sleepy town perched 1,030 feet up on a hill overlooking the Mercatale Valley through which the River Foglia flows.
It has little to interest tourists except perhaps for an unusual castle (the Rocca Ubaldinesca) and some fine views across the Mercatale Valley where the river has been dammed to create a sizeable artificial lake. Of equal interest to us however was the sizeable town square car park which nestled under the walls of the Rocca provided us with a perfect parking spot for the night. The car park had been singled out in the “Park4Night” website as being a good, quiet overnight stopping place and; with both a small pizzeria (to grab a bite and enjoy a beer in) and a small supermarket (from which to buy croissants in the morning) nearby, it promised a far better night’s rest than where we had been in the considerably larger, busier, noisier town of Urbino.
It suited us perfectly – and then Vanya read a local sign identifying that there would be a town market on the site the very next morning. The best laid plans of mice and men… ! No matter, there was time left for a brief wander around Sassocorvaro before looking for somewhere else to overnight at and, if worse came to worst, there were three camp sites within striking distance.
The views over the valley, especially those over the lake towards the town of Mercatale, were impressive but we couldn’t get to see much of the Rocca Ubaldinesca because it was closed. Shame. It is a relatively small Renaissance style castle and quite unique because of it’s turtle like layout (but that wasn’t obvious to us from underneath the walls). The castle’s one claim to fame is that it was used during WWII to house works of art from across Italy in order to prevent them being stolen by occupying German forces.
It was time to move on. After checking various sources for camp sites Vanya had identified three camp sites between 20 and 30 miles away to the north east. Two of the three read particularly well… and that was where things started going awry.
Urbino was picked out by Vanya as somewhere she thought I would like and; I do, except we didn’t stay as long as we perhaps could or should have done to do the place justice. I had picked out another small town, Sassocorvaro, which place also looked worth a visit (and is just down the road a bit) and; because Urbino couldn’t offer decent overnight parking, we elected to do both Urbino and Sassocorvaro and trust that the latter town would offer more in terms of a place to overnight at. Well, that was the plan and; it worked well to start with. We enjoyed a brief stop in both Urbino and Sassocorvaro but then it went all to pot. Sorry, I am running ahead of myself. Let me talk a little about the two places and then I will explain how most everything else went awry.
Urbino is a small brick and sandstone walled hilltop city of just over 15,000 people in the Marche Region. It was both a Roman and Medieval town but it really came to the fore during the 15th century when the Duke Federico da Montefeltro, a real patron of the arts, totally remodelled the place into one of the most important Renaissance sites in Italy. He called some of the world’s most renowned scholars and artists to his court and created a centre of learning that would ultimately lead to the city being recognised in 1998 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is still a centre of learning with the University of Urbino being ranked as one of the oldest (founded in 1506) and most prestigious in Italy and in so many respects it is a proper university town – witness the numerous university book shops, coffee bars and accommodation letting agencies. We arrived near lunchtime and the town’s steep narrow streets were thronged with students, released for the day and crowding the coffee shops and bars. There are more students than native residents and, if what we witnessed is anything to go by, they invoke a lively, buoyant atmosphere. Ordinarily I would have said there was a real buzz about the place but, sadly, Vanya and I have been exposed to too much “lockdown” and “social distancing” as a result of the current COVID pandemic and I think we both felt somewhat uncomfortable by the tumult and general mood of the place (although we were not deterred from joining them in coffee and cakes at one of the local coffee shops).
There was insufficient time for us to visit even one of the city’s many local art galleries or museums but just by walking the city we viewed countless examples of architectural magnificence and the views from the city across the remarkably green, rolling countryside match any I have seen in Tuscany.
The most outstanding building and the centrepiece of the town is the very well preserved Ducal Palace and, alongside that, the Cathedral. The Ducal Palace houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche; one of the best renaissance paintings collections in Europe with Raphael, Titian and Pierro della Francesca predominating. Incidentally, Raphael (or Raffaello Sanzio to give him his proper name) was born in Urbino and the house he was born in is now a museum.
And so it was that by mid afternoon we were heading off to Sassocorvaro…
Feeling very tired as we arrived at Porto Sant’Elpidio and, instead of staying the one night (i.e. the 24th) and moving on to Vasto the next day, we elected to stay for a second night notwithstanding that the weather is worsening in the Marche Region and that it is expected to be much nicer to the south.
This was not the most thought out decision of this trip (not least because we have already booked into a Hotel Resort down at Vieste for the 26th and 27th) but sometimes you just have to slow down and Vasto and the Riserva Naturale di Punta Aderci will wait for some other time. Of course my leaving the sunroof open that first night and; it raining heavily for most of the night and; well, the Van getting half flooded did also influence our decision a little. Oops!
There’s not a great deal at Porto Sant’Elpidio. It is a typical Italian Adriatic seaside resort but the campsite we chose was comfortable and right on the beach such that when the rain wasn’t thundering off the roof you could hear the waves hitting the beach from inside the Van. There are worse places to be stuck while a Van dries out and Vanya was happy.