Being surrounded by Italy is never a curse, and San Marino couldn’t be in better company. This small state in the north of Italy is perfect for a day trip or a weekend escape, and also to get that precious achievement of visiting all European countries. The most natural way to reach San Marino is by road. With effect, the country is so small that there’s not even railways and much less an airport (although not a matter of mountains, like Andorra). The closest Italian city is Rimini, right near the coast of the Adriatic Sea, which is well serviced with bus and trains.
Monte Titano takes center stage in San Marino, viewable across the whole country. An imponent 749m high mountain which hosts both the citadel and the capital. There’s is a panoramic cable car that takes you to the top from the town below. But it doesn’t seem like a cost-effective solution, since you already have a direct connection to the summit even from outside the country. On the top, you can find an amazingly well-preserved walled old town (one of the best I’ve seen so far actually). There’s a lot of narrow streets and many ways to convene at the same place. That makes roaming this place a very pleasant experience and a bit of a labyrinth-style challenge.
The most important landmarks of the old town are the Palazzo Pubblico (San Marino’s town hall) and the Three Towers that once guarded this stronghold. Guaita, Cesta and Montale are their names. The first two are more elaborate, and thus more popular. I also enjoyed the many gardens that sprinkle the old town, with many different flora species for admirers to feast on. Have I mentioned that both the mountain and the town are UNESCO sites? Now I have!
I can’t talk about San Marino without telling about my own emotional rollercoaster in it. San Marino was indeed a day trip for me. Technically even less than 24 hours. Thus, I was overwhelmed with sadness to notice, as I was arriving Monte Titano, that it was starting to rain. That rain quickly turned into a storm, with the windy peak literally shaking by very close lightning. My passion for photography generally makes me face the elements anyway, but I’m talking about REAL RAIN here. There was no option for me but to wait, which I did for 3 or 4 hours.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I left the hotel and found safe refuge in San Marino’s Basilica. I’m not religious in any way, but if I was I would say that what happened next was His work. Some minutes later, the rain stops, some clouds dissipate and sunset comes full force. Up until that time, I wasn’t a hardcore sunset fanatic, but I guess that evening changed everything.
The sunset I witnessed was absolutely gorgeous, with the sun forcing its way through the clouds and the mountains. I also experienced some pretty sweet weather lighting effects and weird cloud formations, a result of the microclimate that had happened before. I watched this spectacle from the plaza in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. Not only that, but the evening in San Marino was also beautiful, with the autumn-colored trees contrasting with the streets’ cobblestones. At night, the picturesque old town was beautiful and peaceful, almost entirely empty with the few tourists bottled up in restaurants. I felt the town was mine and my camera’s.
I was told by the locals that the Russians had overtaken the country, both in terms of tourism as well as power / economy (ownership of businesses). While I don’t know if that’s quite like that, indeed there seems to be a relationship. I wished that, ideally, that would not be the case and San Marino wouldn’t need foreign power for sustenance. With no disrespect to the Russians, I cannot fathom any great similarity between them and the Italian lifestyle (which I love) and if that’s true, I am sorry for it.
Final tip: for those motorsports aficionados looking for the Ayrton Senna shrine (I was), there’s something you need to know. The San Marino Formula One circuit (which isn’t part of the championship anymore) is NOT technically located in San Marino. This baffled me. Yes, if I was more connoisseur of the sport I should know about this, but anyway here’s the twist. San Marino’s Grand Prix was actually in Imola, which is an Italian city nearby (actually closer to Bologna than San Marino). It is there you’ll find the place remembering the iconic Formula One driver which died tragically when racing on that track.