"A place apart" Top 5 Page for this destination Gubbio by toonsarah

Gubbio Travel Guide: 149 reviews and 664 photos

Palio della Balestra, at the Palazzo dei Consoli

Gubbio took a little while to weave its spell on me. For the first 24 hours or so, it was simply another, very pretty, Italian small town perched invitingly on a hillside. Then I attended the Palio ...

The Palio della Balestra, to give it its full name, is the festival of the crossbow fighters, and is a centuries-old tradition. It is full of colour and pageantry, but at its heart is a contest of skill and strength between the crossbow men of Gubbio and those of Sansepolcro. It lasts the best part of a day, and all the town seems to participate in one way or another. What I loved was the way in which the event is clearly embedded in the hearts and souls of the people. This is no tourist gimmick – indeed, very few visitors seemed to be here. This takes place each year because it has taken place each year; history is not just the past here, it is the present too, and will be the future.

Gradually over the next few days Gubbio crept further under my skin. The wonderful views from each of the many levels of its hillside location; the bells ringing the quarter hours; the cobbled streets and medieval houses seeming barely untouched by the centuries; the food, the people, the scents, sights and sounds of a place that seemed to be a little set apart from the world even while also being almost at the very heart of it.

Gubbio looks inward on itself, not outwards.

I heard too about the other traditions and beliefs, in particular the Festa dei Ceri and the saints venerated on that day (to one of which, each Gubbio native has a special devotion). I grew to recognise the meanings of the different flags that hung from each window, and to find my way among the narrow streets and up the steep stairs.

On my last evening I went alone up to the Piazza Grande with my camera and tried to capture Gubbio’s magic. The photos aren’t perfect, but they speak to me of a special place and will, I am sure, lure me back one day.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all about Gubbio is the fact that so few people know about it. Apart from the small group of VTers who gathered there for the Palio meeting I saw almost no other tourists, or at least no others from outside Italy. In some ways this is part of its charm, of course. But it deserves to be better known, and one VTer, Trekki, aka Ingrid, is doing her best to ensure that it becomes so. It is to her, and her wonderful VT page about the town, that I own my own discovery of this special place, and to her that I dedicate this more humble attempt at bringing it to people’s attention.

You will see many references to Ingrid in my tips, as we travelled and explored together. It is with her permission that my page borrows heavily from hers. There is no better source of information about Gubbio, in English at least, so at times I have been reliant on her thorough research to fill the gaps in my memory of what I saw and what she told me about what I was seeing. It is tedious for both reader and writer to hyperlink every time (although I have done to for some of the most comprehensive and fascinating of her tips), so follow the link above if you want to explore her page about Gubbio further – as I hope you will. There you will learn about her pasion for the town, and also the honour accorded her, to be a member of the Societá dei Balestrieri and play an active part in the Palio each year.

I loved Gubbio and the pagentry of the Palio so much that I returned the following year. There are therefore some new tips (seven in total) and updates to some of my restaurant tips. These have been integrated nto the sequence that starts below, so to read only these please use the "Most recent" filter in the Things to Do (four new tips), Warnings (one new tip), Transportation (one new tip) and Restaurant (one new tip and three updated) sections. Other updates relate only to changing the links and can be ignored!

As this is rather a large page, I suggest that those who wish to read all of it follow my suggested order through the links provided, starting with my journey to Gubbio.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Magical atmosphere, wonderful medieval architecture and a very special way of life
  • Cons:Not as easy as some Italian towns to get to - but on reflection, that could just be a pro!
  • In a nutshell:The past is very close here, but this is a living town, not a museum
  • Last visit to Gubbio: May 2012
  • Intro Updated Jun 15, 2013
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Reviews (52)

Comments (8)

  • isolatedpawn's Profile Photo
    Aug 27, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    nice article

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Aug 27, 2013 at 4:12 AM

    Have run out of time, so will return another day. Good so far!

    • balhannah's Profile Photo
      Aug 31, 2013 at 10:37 PM

      Lovely page Sarah! The Festival looks colorful and interesting!

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Sep 1, 2013 at 2:30 AM

      Thank you for visiting Gubbio with me Dee. Have you also seen Ingrid's excellent page about the town? You'll see why we both love it so much :-)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jun 30, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    Me again, coming back to read your new tips and updates since July 8, 2012. Gubbio certainly does sound like a fine town to (re-)visit.

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Apr 27, 2014 at 6:25 AM

      Thanks Don. Yes, it's the sort of place that gets under your skin :-)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Jun 17, 2013 at 12:12 AM

    :-)) Marvellous updates and a cute photo of Ale and the others and the crossbows :-)

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Jun 17, 2013 at 1:31 AM

      Thank you Ingrid - not just for the visit to my page but more importantly for introducing me to Gubbio :-)

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Aug 5, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    Brilliant photos, especially like the night shot of the piazza and all the small details! You certainly had a wonderful guide :-)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Jul 8, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    Hi Sarah, I purposely waited to start reading this page until my visiting young grandchildren were in bed and asleep – which was a good decision because then I could read your fine texts and look at the photos without being constantly interrupted. I’m glad your visit to Gubbio was such a success; not that I had any doubt about this, because you couldn’t have had a better guide than Ingrid.

  • ettiewyn's Profile Photo
    Jul 4, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Hi Sarah, it was so interesting to read about Gubbio from your - a first time visitor's - perspective! I really enjoyed your writing and the beautiful pictures. The colours are so wonderful. My favourite ones are some of the great views. I also enjoyed the rather practical tips, the small bowl you bought for Chris looks lovely, and that is the kind of souvenir I like (something handmade by locals).
    I am happy that the magic of Gubbio caught you, too! :-)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Jul 3, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    Oh dear Sarah, thank you so much for this splendid page :-)) It brings back very sweet memories and I can't wait to be back in August :-)))
    It was a pleasure to take you around and I really hope to see Chris with you next time :-))


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