San Leo: A Delightful Village on the Border Between Romagna and Marche

It was recently featured on Google’s list of Italy’s most beautiful “borghi” – historic villages – but we don’t need Google to tell us that: San Leo, an enchanting little village on the border between Romagna and Marche, makes for a wonderful day trip, either from Bologna or from the Riviera Romagnola.

The village takes its name from Christian devotee San Leone, who evangelized the area and became the first bishop of the newly-born Diocese of Montefeltro.

The heart of the medieval village, paved in stone, develops around the ancient parish church, or pieve, built between the 8th and 10th centuries, on the site of the cell where San Leone retreated into prayer. Like the Cathedral nearby, dedicated to San Leone, it has a Romanesque style; along with the bell tower, they form the Romanesque core of San Leo.

The civic buildings are in the town’s square, Piazza Dante Alighieri, and include Palazzo della Rovere, the former residence of the Counts of Montefeltro, dukes of Urbino, today the town hall; the 13th century Palazzo Nardini, where Saint Francis stayed in 1213, and Palazzo Medici, built by the Della Rovere family and later renovated by the Medici.

At nearly 600 feet high, the fortress of San Leo overlooks the valley of the river Marecchia and the gentle hilly landscape of Romagna, standing guard to the area and letting you know you’re approaching the village. After the Duchy of Urbino succumbed to the Papal States in the 17th century, the Rocca lost its military purpose and was transformed into a prison. Among his most famous inmates was the enigmatic alchemist and healer Count Cagliostro.

I recently spent a delightful day in San Leo; below is a photo gallery of my visit. 

Off the beaten track
San Leo