A Country Within A Country? 36hrs In San Marino, The 5th Smallest Country In The World.
The "World's Oldest Republic".
One of only 3 countries in the world the world to be complete surrounded by a single other country.
The 3rd smallest country in Europe, and 5th Smallest country in the world.
Welcome to San Marino.
The 3 Towers of San Marino. "The Girl" walking from one tower to the other.
I've never truly understood Micro Countries. Like, how do they survive? Why hasn't a larger nation claimed them (they don't exactly have an army), and how is it like living here anyway? I live in a small country, but you know, not that small.
So I was delighted to have the chance to stop by San Marino for 36hrs on way back to Singapore from North Africa. Here, I got to chat up some of the locals to learn more. And yes, they might be small, but they are extremely proud of their heritage and that they aren't' Italians.
About San Marino/Getting Here
San Marino is Europe's 3rd smallest country (after The Vatican & Monaco), and is often overlooked by tourists in favor of nearby Venice & Florence. Which is nice, because that meant we'd have less photobombers around.
The country of San Marino sits on Mt Titano, and because the country is built on a mountain, that pretty much guarantees postcard perfect views. Much of the culture is similar to Italy (which surrounds it), they eat pasta, speak Italian, you get my drift.
There are no airports and no train stations in San Marino. This means, the only way to get in, is by road. We flew in to Bologna, Italy (terrible airport by the way), caught the express bus (20 Euros, the train is just 10 Euros) to Rimini, Italy (the nearest town to San Marino), and from there, San Marino was an hour way by bus (4 Euros). From Florence by train, you'll need to get to Bologna first, but it's near enough.
What's There To Do?
In short, visit San Marino for the UNESCO rated Old Town, museums, The 3 towers (Key attraction) amazing views, tax free shopping, weird shopping items (like Guns and swords), and cheap yet tasty Italian food.
Shop, Visit Museums & Explore The Old Town
The sloped streets of San Marino old town
Stepping into this UNESCO worthy old town was like stepping into a castle set of "Lord of The Rings" or "The Game of Thrones", so much like those medieval fortresses in the movies.
Instead of blacksmiths and fruit sellers though, the shops that lined up the old town sold anything from magnets, to Rolex's, to Luxury bags, and even guns.
The old town is lined up with shops. I still don't understand why they sell weapons in the shops
Almost every street was a steep slope up. "The Girl" was pretty out of breath by the time we made it all the way to the top of the old town, where our accommodation for the day "Hotel Rosa" was.
The main square of San Marino, "Piazza Della Liberta"
The centerpiece of the "Old Town" is Piazza Della Liberta, the main square of the town. The views of the country side from here were great, but admittedly, good pictures aside, the town is good for just shopping, museums, and that's about it.
After the shops closed, the nightlife was non existent. Even the pub we sat down for beers at closed really early. We asked the waiter at the pub, "What does everyone do at night in San Marino?" His answer? "Well, we just stay home".
Check Out The Amazing View (& Sunset)
In San Marino, "The Girl" and I witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets we'd ever seen.
The views over the country side and the orange of the setting sun lighting up the brick walls and roofs of the old town was an amazing sight to behold.
Plonk yourself down in one of the mountainside restaurants. Next, order glass of wine coupled with a cigar, spread out on a patio overlooking the countryside. That would be how I'd recommend everyone to enjoy the sunset of San Marino.
Three Towers of San Marino (Key Attraction)
View of the 1st tower from the 2nd tower.
Our pictures don't do justice to the magnificence of the 3 Towers of San Marino.
It would not be the first time, but again I found myself wishing I brought along a camera other than my iPhone. It was extremely difficult to take good pictures because the battlements on the towers blocked a clear shot and the towers were too far apart from each other for the iPhone to be effective.
Walking from the 1st tower to the 2nd tower
The entrance fee to the Towers are cheap by European standards, 4.50 Euros for the towers, and you could top up a little more to get a package for around 10 Euros which includes entrance fees to some museums.
The 3 Towers of San Marino are well maintained. This attraction is generally "family friendly", but one of the towers, had steep narrow ladders which might pose some difficulty to the elderly folks or children.
Accommodation & Food
Image Credit: Hotel Rosa/Booking.com
We paid 69 Euros in total for a night at Hotel Rosa, all the way at the top of Mt Titano including breakfast for the both of us. The room was an absolute steal for the price, and this hotel is just 4mins walk from the 3 Towers of San Marino. Fantastic location!
Image Credit: Hotel Rosa/Booking.com
Accommodation can be gotten cheaper if your hotel is outside the old town. I wouldn't recommend that though, because that would mean you'd have to take a cable car (4.50 Euros) up and back down.
Arguably, there might be more stuff to do outside of the old town at night but it might mean that you wouldn't be able to chill and enjoy the sunset as much.
This restaurant was in Bologna. We didn't take pictures in the restaurants at San Marino
Ravioli, tagliatelle, rigatoni, spaghetti - basically pasta, & pizza. That's what you'll likely be having in San Marino. We dined at one of most famous pasta restaurants in the country (which isn't big), and it was good.
But honestly, I don't know if the way pasta is cooked in Singapore caters to our local taste buds, but I think I preferred Pasta Mania in Singapore to any pasta in either San Marino or Italy.
San Marino isn't, and will never be a major tourist hotspot (ironically, their main revenue comes from finance, services, and tourism), at least not likely among Singaporeans. In all honesty, I can see why the touristy cities of Venice or Florence would prove more appealing.
But San Marino offers a different experience from the rest. The shopping, it can't hope to match. Food? We'll, it's similar to the rest of Italy. And when it comes Instagram bragging rights, San Marino doesn't even come close.
It certainly isn't a "must go" destination, but now that we've visited, I'm glad we did.
So the next time you're in Florence or Venice for vacation (I'm sure you will), and you've already visited the nearby Cinque Terre for a day trip. Don't forget about Europe's 3rd smallest country just 3 hours away. You could spend yet another day shopping; or you could visit the "World's Oldest Republic", San Marino