After a glorious week island-hopping from Procida to Ischia and finally to the Amalfi Coast, it was time to head north. We hopped on the train from Sorrento to Naples to pick up the rental car that would be our primary transportation for the remainder of our time in Italy.
First up on the Italian road trip, a destination I’d always wanted to visit – the microstate of San Marino. Also known as the “Most Serene Republic of San Marino,” the world’s fifth smallest nation is an enclaved microstate completely surrounded by Italy.
Founded in A.D. 301 by a Christian stonemason named Marinus, San Marino is the lone survivor of Italy’s ancient city-state network. This tiny, landlocked nation situated at the top of Mount Titano somehow managed to outlast more powerful kingdoms like Genoa and Venice.
Today, San Marino lays claims to the title of world’s oldest extant sovereign state and the oldest constitutional republic. Its historic center is enclosed by a protective wall and three distinct towers define its skyline. San Marino’s historic center was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. At just over 24 square miles, it has a population of approximately 33,000.
How to get to San Marino
San Marino has neither an airport nor a train station so driving is the easiest way to reach it. (Alternatively, you can take bus 72 from Rimini for about 10 euro round-trip.) Since San Marino is an associate member of the Schengen Area, there are no border controls so entering from Italy is a piece of cake.
Our route from Naples took us across the center of Italy to the eastern Adriatic coastline past Ancona and Pesaro and ultimately to our turn-off near Rimini. This part of Italy is quite flat so we were easily able to spot the dramatic profile of San Marino high atop Mount Titano from several miles away.
As we started our ascent up the mountain (crossing the border along the way) the roads began their corkscrew path to the summit. Within 15 minutes, we spotted the city walls of the historic city center.
Where to stay in San Marino
For our one night in San Marino, we chose the top-rated Hotel Rosa. Located just inside the city walls, the Hotel Rosa is situated right at the base of the first tower. The hotel has free parking and, luckily, we had arrived just a few minutes past 7pm since the roads within the city walls are closed to cars from 7pm to 10am each day. During those times, parking for the hotel is available just outside the city walls.
We found the hotel without too much difficulty and arrived to a warm greeting and a swift check-in to our room for the night. The hotel had incredible views from several terraces around the property and with soaring towers in every direction it almost seemed like we were staying inside a castle.
With sunset still an hour or two away, the plan was to head out to explore before dinner. The hotel provided us with some directions and a map of the city center and we were on our way.
What to See
Of San Marino’s three towers, the first two are the most popular with visitors. The First Tower (also known as Rocca or Guaita) was built in the 11th century, while the Second Tower (called Cesta or Fratta) dates back to the 13th century. The Second Tower is perhaps the most dramatic as it sits atop the highest peak of Mount Titano. It also houses the popular Museum of Ancient Weapons.
The Public Palace (Piazza della Liberta) is San Marino’s seat of government and can only be visited when the council is not in session. A changing of the guard ceremony takes place during the summer months. The State Museum in Piazza Titano is home to artefacts related to San Marino’s founder Saint and the Republic’s history. And the St. Francis Museum, built in 1361, houses a collection of paintings and frescoes.
For just 10.50 euro, visitors can purchase a “Combined Museum Pass” that allows entry to all of the above sights which can easily be seen in a single day. However, visiting times are 9am-5pm each day so we had to settle for viewing the towers from the outside until the next morning.
After walking around the towers and delighting in the charming cobbled streets of the historic center, we settled into a cliffside restaurant to watch the sunset and have some dinner. At more than 2,500 feet above sea level, San Marino has some pretty spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and the Adriatic coast. Not to mention sunset views that are out of this world.
We ordered a bottle of local San Marino wine (which was delicious) and a dinner of traditional Italian pasta (the Republic’s food differs little from that of the rest of Italy) before enjoying one of the best sunsets we’d seen on the entire trip. Between the imposing stone towers, the city walls and the views of the valley and sea below, the whole scene was like something out of a fairytale.
The next morning, we awoke early to fit in some sightseeing before hitting the road for Florence at noon. We arrived at the First Tower right at 9am and bought the Combined Museum Passes. The views from the towers were even more incredible than from the restaurant the night before and I was really starting to feel like a character in a Disney princess movie.
From there, we visited the Second Tower and both museums before getting back on the road for the 3-hour drive to Florence. We’ll be stopping there for two nights at the villa where we got married before taking the ferry over to Tuscany’s Elba Island for the weekend.
We absolutely adored the Republic of San Marino. It’s well worth the effort to reach this mountaintop gem and I can’t believe we haven’t done it sooner. A night or two is all you need to appreciate the beauty and history of Europe’s third smallest nation, so be sure not to miss it on your next Italian holiday.
Next, we head on to one of Tuscany’s best island escapes, Elba Island!