In February 2019, mum came along with me to tick off another microstate of Europe, this time the 5th smallest country in the world, and landlocked by Italy, the beautiful San Marino. Like the other European microstates, of which I have now visited all of them, it has no airport, it also doesn’t have a train station, so other than driving there yourself, your best option is to get the bus from the nearest I`talian city, which is Rimini.
After catching the train down from Bologna, it was a short walk outside Rimini train station to the easily marked bus stop on the opposite side of the street. You can buy a ticket on board the Bonelli Bus or at the kiosk by the bus stop, taking about 40-45 minutes till the bus reaches its final stop, which is right in the centre of this tiny country.
The first thing that struck me as we alighted from the bus was the most incredible mountainous views. The capital, also known as San Marino or locally known as Città, sits atop the ridge of Monte Titano and is the highest part of the country, so the views from up high were breathtaking. It’s part of the Apennines mountain range, which spreads across the horizon to the West, whilst on the Eastern side the land slowly descends towards the Adriatic Sea. I think for the first half an hour or so, once we had checked into our hotel, we just stood mesmerised by the dramatic landscape.
The perfect spot we found to admire our surroundings was over in Freedom Square, or the Piazza della Liberta, from here there are spectacular views west across to the mountains and the valley down below. It was also here where we stopped for a beer and some snacks in Osteria La Taverna one of the restaurants lining the square, tourist friendly and not the cheapest, but it was worth it for the views and to soak up the atmosphere of this curious little country, no regrets.
The square is guarded by the white marble Statua Della Liberta, draped in a flag and wearing a crown featuring the 3 towers that stand proud on the surrounding 3 peaks of Monte Titano. It is such an important symbol of the history of the country, that she is featured on their 2 cent coin.
Behind the statue of liberty is the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall where all the official state ceremonies take place, as you would expect it’s smaller than your average for a ‘capital city’, but its still worth a visit. The exterior looks like a mini tower, with battlements, a clock face and the national flag, whilst inside you can explore various state rooms filled with coats of arms, busts of important figures, and a beautifully painted facade featuring Saint Marino, the Croatian stonemason who founded the country after making this mountain his home in 301AD.
It was then time to explore down the narrow streets, climb up the city walls, peer over at some breathtaking panoramic spots and window shop in the unnerving amount of weapon stores, featuring guns, bows & arrows and samurai swords, the country has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the whole of Europe we later found out.
The entire city centre and Mount Titano is a UNESCO world heritage site for many reasons, all apparent as you wander around this unique place, including all the fortifications, stone walls, gates and towers. We were constantly getting distracted and diverted off the main alleyways and streets as we paused to investigate what was up a wall, inside a tower and behind a gate, leading to lots of fascinating discoveries and ever changing vistas.
With our feet starting to get a bit weary, we had one last port of call before heading for a rest, the tourist information centre. We already had a local map from our hotel, but this was for something even more important, a passport stamp! It’s the only place where you can get one, there are no border checks, or passport offices as you enter and exit the country and although the stamp itself is just a tourist stamp and nothing more, the San Marino authorities consider it to be official, I think it cost about €5 and I couldn’t think of a better souvenir to take home.
That evening, there was only one thing we fancied eating, and that was pizza`! We found Ristorante Cacciatori and dived into the pizza menu as well as sampling a local red wine too.
The next morning, revived with a delicious espresso, it was another cloudless blue sky that awaited us, rewarding us with more endless mountain views.
Our main aim for the day was to walk to the 3 peaks of Mount Titano and visit all 3 of the towers that are located atop them. But first, we stumbled upon St Quirinus’s Church along with the Capuchin Fathers Convent (Convento dei Frati Cappuccini), and although it has been modified over the years, there has been a Roman Catholic church on this spot since 1549. It’s worth a visit, although it has a simple interior, the walnut altarpiece is beautiful, along with the statue of Madonna of Lourdes, casting an ethereal look as she is surrounded by candles and blue light.
As we slowly meandered our way to Tower number 3, (we were working backwards to Tower 1) , we came across a rather harrowing statue of a screaming boy. On further inspection we learned it was erected in memory of those who died in the Beslam school massacre in Russia back in 2004, I’m not sure if there is a specific connection to San Marino, but it definitely brought a little sober reflection to our morning walk.
Montale is the third of the towers and stands on the smallest of the 3 peaks. It’s a 14th century tall, thin tower with its door 7 metres up from the ground as it used to be a prison. It’s the only tower that isn’t opened to the public, so we didn’t hang around too much, except to admire the view and then we continued to make our way along the foot path to tower number 2.
Tower 2 or Cesta is located on the tallest of the 3 peaks, this 13th century tower was built on the site of an old Roman fort and also houses the Saint Marinus museum, this tower you can investigate both inside and out and is well worth it.
Tower 1, the Guaita fortress is the most well known and oldest of the 3, built in the 11th century, you can also visit this one inside too, look out for the coat of arms in stone, the bell tower and a display of artillery from the 2nd world war.
Once we made it back down to lower ground, we ventured into the Basilica di San Marino, the main church of the country, dedicated of course to its founder Saint Marinus. The neo-classic style building with adjoining bell tower, has an impressive entrance of wide steps and eight columns across the front, whilst inside another 16 columns frame the interior along with a statue of Mary Magdalene.
Needing refreshment, we got a Piadina to take out and sat in the beautiful Giardino dei Liburni close to the national gallery, easily recognised by its unique sphere shaped fountain. Once we were replenished we spent a nice half hour exploring some of the many pieces of Italian art inside the gallery both classic and modern.
For the rest of the afternoon, we headed out of the ‘big city’ and to the country’s 2nd largest town, Borgo Maggiore. We were curious to explore another part of San Marino, that maybe the tour buses don’t get too, but also because the quickest and easiest way to get there is to take a cable car down the mountain, which is always a fun idea!
The upper station is situated close to the Basilica San Marino and the service runs every 15 minutes, costs vary, but start at €2.00 for a single journey with a Tutto San Marino Card. We had the card and bought a return for €3.50. The views from the car as you would expect down the mountain were outstanding.
Once at the bottom, we wandered around the streets, to catch a glimpse of the every day happenings of the local Sammarinese, of which they make up 4/5ths of the population, with the remainder being mainly and unsurprisingly Italian. How amazing I thought to be part of such a small population of only 33,000 living aside a mountain, surrounded on all sides by Italy, but still retain your own culture and identity. We just had time for a peek inside the Church of Saints Antimo and Marinus close to the lower cable car station, before heading back up the mountain before sunset.
For our final night in the country, we had a lovely meal with incredible views at Ristorante Spingarda followed by a local beer and a final evening walk round the streets and through the city gates, soaking up the views for one last time.
The next morning, we caught an early bus back down the mountain to the Italian coastal city of Rimini for the next part of our adventure . .
Eats – Not surprisingly San Marino cuisine is very similiar to Italian. We ate some delicious pasta and pizza at Osteria La Taverna, Ristorante Cacciatori and Ristorante Spingarda.
Drinks – Despite its small size, San Marino does produce its own beer, wine and spirits, all of which are served in the local restaurants. We sampled the beers Spingarda beera bionda and birrificio abusiv as well as the red wine, Rosso dei Castelli Sammarinesi. Delicious coffee too was to be found everywhere, we had one close to the Giardino dei Liburni at the Galleria Caffe.
Top Tip – We got our free TuttoSanMarino Card from our hotel, giving us lots of discounts around the city, including the reduced cable car fare.
Always be polite – Buongiorno – Good Morning, (Mille) grazie – Thank You Very Much, Arrivederci – Good Bye