Urbino - The ideal Renaissance court

Prices from £1,980


10 Sep 2018 - 15 Sep 2018
Duration: 5 nights
Ref: 18URBI
With: Dr Paula Nuttall


Prices from £1,980
Single Supplement: £140
Deposit: £200

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In its heyday during the Renaissance, the hill town of Urbino experienced a cultural flowering beyond compare. This was, above all, the achievement of Federico da Montefeltro (1422-82) who made his fortune as condottiere and consolidated his fame as duke of this small principality in the north of the Italian Marche. During his enlightened reign of forty years, Federico forged alliances with the kings of Naples, the dukes of Milan and the popes in Rome, and his political kudos was such that King Edward IV of England made him a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. He may have lost his right eye in a tournament, yet his circumspect rule earned him the epithet ‘Light of Italy’, as he patronised some of the most outstanding luminaries of his age, among them Piero della Francesca.

Federico’s Palazzo Ducale is widely regarded as the most beautiful of Italian Renaissance palaces. Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier commemorated the exemplary court in writing, while Donato Bramante and Raphael — both natives of the city — exported Urbinate artistic sophistication far and wide, as did Federico Barocci who rose to prominence in a great exhibition at London’s National Gallery a few years ago. The Montefeltro were succeeded by the Borgia, the Medici and the della Rovere, before 17th-century incorporation into the Papal States led to economic and cultural stagnation. As a result of the latter, Urbino’s largely unaltered beautiful townscape continues to reflect the splendour of the Italian Renaissance. From Urbino, we shall also visit other centres of Renaissance court culture, including Pesaro, hometown of his wife, Battista Sforza, and Rimini, the city of Federico’s rival Sigismondo Malatesta.


Dr Paula Nuttall is an authority on Italian and Netherlandish Renaissance art and is Director of the V&A’s Mediaeval & Renaissance Year Course. Her books From Flanders to Florence (Yale, 2004) and Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting (Cali. Univ. Press, 2014) are essential reading.

DAY 1:

Morning flight at c. 8.30am with BA from London Heathrow to Bologna. By coach to Cesena whose Biblioteca Malatestiana constitutes one of the great Renaissance libraries, created for Domenico Malatesta. This unique foundation — the first civic library in Europe — has preserved its appearance and codices since its opening in 1454. From there continue to Urbino, our base for this tour.

DAY 2:

A day on foot in Urbino, dedicated to the Palazzo Ducale, one of the great buildings of the Italian Quattrocento, the work of Luciano Laurana, collaborator of Leonbattista in Mantua, and the multi-talented Sienese painter, sculptor and architect Francesco di Giorgio. Our in-depth visit will give you special access to areas otherwise closed to the public. The palace also houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, a first-class collection of works by Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Titian and Barocci.

DAY 3:

Full-day excursion by coach to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, ruled successively by the Malatesta, the Sforza and the della Rovere. Focus of attention in the Civic Museum is Giovanni Bellini’s stunning Coronation of the Virgin altarpiece of the 1470s. In the 1530s Duke Francesco Maria Della Rovere and his wife Eleonora Gonzaga converted a 15th-century hunting lodge to become the palatial suburban Villa Imperiale, a project so ambitious it was never completed. Terraced gardens, loggias and a sunken courtyard are complemented by rooms lavishly frescoed with trompe-l’œil views of Arcadian landscapes.

DAY 4:

Two Roman roads, the Via Flaminia and the Via Emilia, ended at Rimini. The Roman colony’s significance manifests itself in monuments such as the Triumphal Arch of Augustus and Bridge of Tiberius. From the 13th century, it was ruled by the Malatesta until annexed by Venice in 1503 and, finally, the Papal States in 1528. Outstanding evidence of Malatesta glory is the Church of San Francesco, better known as the ‘Tempio Malatestiano’, designed by Leonbattista Alberti, a milestone in Renaissance architecture with interior decorations by Agostino di Duccio and Piero della Francesca. Return to Urbino via the impressive Rocca of San Leo — a Roman fortress redesigned for Federico da Montefeltro by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and according to the 16th-century historian Pietro Bembo Italy’s ‘most beautiful implement of war’.

DAY 5:

Morning visits on foot in Urbino: the Oratorio di San Giovanni is beautifully frescoed with narrative scenes in an International Gothic Style, while the cathedral, substantially rebuilt after an earthquake in the late 18th century, has three altarpieces by Frederico Barocci. Free afternoon for independent visits, either to Raphael’s house or to explore further the rich holdings of the Galleria Nazionale. In the early evening, visit to a private palace before dinner in a local restaurant.

DAY 6:

In the morning, visit San Bernardino, the mausoleum of the Montefeltro dukes, situated on the outskirts of Urbino. From there continue to Urbania, the favourite residence of Francesco Maria II della Rovere, the last ruler of Urbino before papal annexation in 1631. After lunch in a local agriturismo, transfer to Venice Marco Polo airport for an early evening flight back to London Heathrow, scheduled to land at c. 8.10pm.

Please note that at this stage the programme is still provisional. Although we aim at the greatest degree of accuracy from the outset, some details, especially the order of visits, may be subject to change.


Specific fitness requirements for this Study Tour:

This tour involves a lot of walking, mostly on pavements, but sometimes on uneven ground and up and down steps. Museum and church visits require prolonged periods of standing without the possibility of a rest. Coach journeys generally do not exceed one hour.

Please note that all our Study Tours involve a significant amount of standing and walking, often across uneven ground, over cobbled streets, or up and down steps and inclines. While we do not have an upper age limit for participants, we require you to have a level of fitness which does not spoil other participents' enjoyment of the holiday and you should be able to walk at a reasonable pace and / or stand for at least thirty minutes without aid or requiring a rest.

If you are in any doubt as to whether a particular tour is suitable for you, please ring us to check before placing your booking.


Twin/double share: £1980 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £140
Tour without flights cost: £1840
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Scheduled return flights (Economy class) with British Airways between London Heathrow and Bologna and Venice Marco Polo to London Heathrow
  • Transfers and excursions in Italy by private coach
  • Five nights B&B in the luxurious four-star Hotel San Domenico
  • Three dinners and two lunches
  • Guided visits to monuments and museums listed in the programme
  • Services of the lecturer and a tour manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes, and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters
  • Small group between 12 and 22 participants


  • Two dinners and five lunches
  • Transport between home and London Heathrow
  • Travel insurance. We strongly advise you to be covered by adequate travel insurance.

Hotel San Domenico****

A converted 14th century renaissance convent situated opposite the Ducal Palace in the centre of Urbino. The style is elegant and features a monumental courtyard where a number of sculptures by well-known contemporary artists are on display.


  • Air conditioning
  • Satellite TV
  • Minibar
  • WiFi
  • Telephone
  • Safe
  • En suite
  • Hairdryer


This hotel features several areas in which to unwind including the hotels bar, a tv room, wellness centre and reading room.