Pause for Pausa

How to make the most of Urbino’s four-hour lunch break

A shopkeeper closes up for afternoon pausa.
(photo by Leah De Graaf)

Gated storefronts, dark grocery stores, and deserted streets might not be the greeting you’d expect upon arrival in Urbino, the quintessential Renaissance city. But if the time is between 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., this is the likely scene.

The Italian pausa, similar to the Spanish siesta, is a break in the midday for storeowners and employees alike to close up shop and escape the busy day. While the rest of Italy grows closer to the international 9-to-5 work day, small cities and towns like Urbino still retain traditional practices. Giovanni Garbugli, owner and operator of the Sugar Caffé in Urbino, says most workers during pausa go home, enjoy a small lunch, take a little rest or even a nap, finish some much overdue housework, or pick up a book to read.

Ashley Bartner, co-owner and operator of La Tavola Marche Organic Farm, Inn, and Cooking School, learned about pausa the hard way. She and her husband, Jason Bartner, discovered that hosting Italians for lunch is more than a one to two hour meal: After several rounds of cards, a quick nap by the pool, coffee and final good-byes, the “lunch” lasted until well after 4 p.m. The couple’s stress levels rose when they realized they still had the evening’s dinner to plan. Now, she and Jason entertain only at dinner.

For a tourist in Urbino, the two-to-four hour lull can generate extreme frustration. The most necessary tasks of the day always seem fall within pausa. But don’t get discouraged, says Garbugli; instead, embrace the local custom and find your inner Italian. How to pass the time? He suggests taking in the unforgettable views on a walk around the city, planning activities for the next day, or sitting and enjoying the Piazza della Repubblica with a cappuccino shakerato (iced cappuccino) at Caffé Basili. Then watch as the streets of Urbino come alive once more.

This article is from Urbino Now magazine’s Go Native section, a collection of tips and info to help you feel like a local. Please view more magazine articles or order a complete printed copy of Urbino Now.