You ride in your chariot from the coastal town of Rimini, only 30 minutes up a long and winding road that leads to a fortress on top of a mountain, which you can see from miles away. It is dusk, and the sunlight is fading, but atop the mountain are 3 beacons. The three towers emit a friendly tungsten glow acknowledging that the day’s journey is almost at an end. Waiting for you is a decadent meal, a plush bed, and nights rest that fills your mind with tales of feuding families, castles, tormented lovers and even witches, that surround these lands.
The Republic of San Marino is a small country with a big personality, located entirely within the borders of Italy. With influences from Emilia Romagna and the Adriatic coast, RSM is rich in flavor, culture, and history. It has always done things differently than it’s neighboring country, which has allowed RSM to remain steadfast.
Today, it is still the least visited country in Europe. RSM has so much to offer in such a small radius, and with its close proximity to the Rimini Coast, it’s as easy a renting a car or taking the bus, even if just for a day to see the view from atop Mount Titano. If this introduction wasn’t enough to make you immediately start planning your next trip to San Marino (And of course Italy), Here are 12 more reasons to start fantasizing. Go ahead, Take a peek, you won’t regret it.
You’ll be Immediately Transported Back in Time
As we rode the bus into San Marino from Rimini, we spotted the towers atop Mt Titano, the iconic image of San Marino. We still had no idea that we’d actually be able to go inside them. The minute we stepped off the bus at the gate of the old city, we swapped incredulous glances as we both realized we’d been transported to another time. Medieval music quietly added to the atmosphere created by the amber light that shone against the towering stone walls on either side of the narrow street. We were so excited, we barely felt the weight of our 15kg packs as we climbed the hill to The Hotel La Grotta. Never before had we visited a place that seemed so frozen in time.
Get Trigger Happy with your Camera
San Marino is a photographer’s paradise. Don’t plan to go anywhere in a hurry, because you can’t walk more than 10 steps without stopping to take a photo. In addition to the “Tre Torre”, 3 iconic fortresses, there are panoramic views around every corner. Narrow stone paved alleys open into magical secret gardens with beautiful fountains and even more views to behold.
Even if you’re not a morning person, experiencing a San Marino sunrise is a must. Make your way to the stone bridge between the 1st and 2nd towers for views all the way to the sea over Rimini, and a rare opportunity to photograph this spot without many tourists.
Between 8-9AM the sun should be high enough in the sky for early morning golden hour shots. AM golden hour is best for San Marino because most tourists arrive by bus throughout the day meaning the city is least crowded in the morning.
Gastronomy that will make your Tastebuds ‘Gasm
Though not technically part of Italy, San Marino still lies within the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and therefore the food is characteristic of the region. Emilia Romagna cuisine is famous for amazing pastas, hearty bolognese ragu, delicious cheeses, and of course regional wine.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy a few traditional Italian family dinners with some of Gabby’s San Marinese relatives, and we were not disappointed! The food and service were incredible, and the views were stunning at the first restaurant we visited called Il Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori or “The Meeting of Workers.”. We were lucky enough to watch the sunset as we ate. The second restaurant we visited was called Ristorante Squadrani and was down, off of the top of the mountain, just outside of the San Marino Border towards Rimini. We loved both restaurants, but we were really glad to find a more local experience at the second one. The quality of the food was equal, and naturally the prices were much better off the mountain.
The 2 Food Trippers will have your mouth watering by the end of this article about eating around Emilia Romagna!!
1000x Better than the Renaissance Faire
One of the best times to visit San Marino is in July during their annual Medieval Days Festival. We were so stoked when we realized there would be a crossbow tournament and an archery competition while we were there. We were able to get a bird’s eye view from the top of the Cava Dei Balestrieri or Crossbowman’s Quarry. All week long there was live music in the street, and costumed parades of historical reenactors complete with drums and flag waving routines. The Sammarinese are brilliant in the art of flag waving! This is truly the best opportunity to immerse yourself in the medieval culture of San Marino.
Romeo and Juliet ain’t got nothin’ on this History
San Marino is a must visit for history buffs. Book a walking tour, or visit the tower museums and soak up as many facts as you can. We were amazed by how well preserved the history was in San Marino. Even the drawings on the walls of the prison cells seemed not to have faded. The Sammarinese are so proud of their long history of freedom and self rule and they will be sure to remind you that they do not consider themselves to be Italians.
We particularly enjoyed our visit to the Emigration Museum, where we learned a great deal about the dispersed San Marinese community worldwide who are all still considered citizens, Gabby’s family included.
You Won’t Find Any Holy Grails Here
What better way to really get deeper into the medieval history than taking a trip into it’s dark past. A visit to the Torture Museum, while not recommended for those with weak stomachs… will surely do the trick. You’ll come face to face with some well known, (and more obscure) torture devices such as the chastity belt and the ____, respectively. You’ll learn a lot more than you bargained for about the period of Inquisition, and the questionable practices used to torture non-believers and heretics back in the day. Postpone your lunch, and check your morals at the door for this one.
Planning an extended trip through Europe? Check out our Guide to Greece
Not just Another UNESCO Site
The old city of San Marino was named an Unesco World Heritage site in 2008. San Marino is rich with culture, history, and tradition. We were stunned by Medieval architecture, weaponry, and cultural displays everywhere we went. From the top of Mount Titano you forget what modern civilization looks like. Suddenly your own house will feel small as you are dwarfed by the massive stone walls and fortresses. There’s a reason San Marino has lasted so long, and when you see it’s incredible structure you’ll know why.
We really loved the medieval weaponry collection, housed within the Second Tower, which coincidentally is the perfect spot for a romantic sunset you won’t soon forget.
Be sure to book the Combined Museum Pass which will give you access to First Tower, Second Tower, Public Palace, St. Francis Museum and State Museum.
Stun Yourself at Sunset
Catching the sunset from the top of the Second Tower is definitely something not to miss, but we would be lying if if we said that’s the only place to catch it. There are unbeatable views literally everywhere on the mountain. If you happen to find a really great one, let us know we’d love to check it out, or don’t share it, and cherish your special secret spot for yourself. I know we’ve mentioned this already, but the only thing better than the colorful sunset, is the peaceful sunrise.
This is Definitely Where I Parked my Car
The majority of the local people live in the surrounding areas of San Marino, that lay below Mount Titano. Those who commute to the top of the mountain on a daily basis use the Cable Car or Funicular that runs from Borgo Maggiore to the City Center. The trip costs only a few euros, lasts about 2 minutes each way, and offers unbeatable views of the entire republic, and the adriatic coast. It’s a great way to access the city if you’re visiting by car, and avoid the traffic atop the mountain
Adventure Seekers Wanted
San Marino is great for the adventure lover. There's an whole host of exciting outdoor adventure tours offered. Spend a day riding around the country side on electric bikes, in search of the area’s windmills. Or if you're up for it, track down the super secret climbing spot on the side of Mount Titano, look for the small trail between the 2nd and 3rd tower. There are no shortage of thrills in this tiny country!
Walk to the Beat of your own Minstrels
Alright, so you won’t be constantly followed by your own pack of minstrels, singing about your skyrocketed daily step count, but there is never a dull moment in San Marino. There is live music outside of the taverns and in the streets at every turn. Enjoy a live band while you sip on your Aperol or Spritz during Aperitivo, or check out the events schedule and head to the Palazzo Publico for an outdoor concert with an incredible view out over the surrounding foothills. Your night wouldn’t be complete without drinks out on the street where you might find a DJ spinning music to elevate your spirits higher than Mount Titano itself.
Cheers to a magical visit in Repubblica di San Marino.
A Fairytale Ending
End your night by falling into bed at the Hotel La Grotta. A wonderfully modern hotel in the middle of the Medieval City Center. This puts you in the perfect spot to get up early and catch the sunrise and the morning golden hour before returning to your ultra comfy bed for a nap and then rising again for a cappuccino and the hotel’s delicious continental breakfast!
Have you been to Republic of San Marino? What was your favorite spot?
Do you have any favorite places to visit in Italy?
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*Note: Our stay at Hotel La Grotta and our city tours were complimentary,
however our opinions are always our own.