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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Small but Mighty--San Marino--The Fifth Smallest Country in the World

Guaita Tower

Where and what is San Marino?

This small micronation caught my wanderlust eyes as one of the top 10 smallest countries in the world and so we were off!


We started our trip to this small, but terrific country, from our base in Milan, Italy. The train ride from Milan to Rimini highlighted the diverse faces of the Italian countryside with villas interspersed with skinny cypress trees, silver-green olive trees, and green vineyards. We arrived in Rimini via train from Milan, jumped off, asked where we bought bus tickets, crossed the street, bought bus tickets at the tabacheria (round trip is the default) and made it to the San Marino shuttle bus as it was leaving. (It had actually left, but it pulled over to pick us up.) Perfect timing! (We would enjoy spending some time in Rimini. In addition to a popular beach, we noticed an aviation museum and many Roman ruins on our quick bus ride through town)


On one turn on the winding road, my husband caught the first glimpse of San Mariano’s mountain and its fortresses that tower high above the slightly hilly landscape surrounding it.


Views of the Welcoming Band from above

The bus arrived in San Marino City and we started the walk to our hotel. (Thankfully, there is an elevator up from the bus park, so we didn’t have to climb the 120 stairs with our backpacks.). Our hotel, the Grand Hotel, did have a shuttle, but the uphill walk was a good intro to this mountainous city. (The City of San Marino in San Marino is the historical center of the country. There are other towns in the country, most of which are located far below the towering mountainside.) We entered the old town accompanied by the music of a band playing—not just for us but for everyone.


Example of Wonderful Streets in San Marino City

We dropped off our luggage and ate a wonderful salad lunch across the street from our hotel at Guaita Restaurant while enjoying views of the valley below. Our first stop after this relaxing break was to the tourist office to get our passports stamped—with an actual postage stamp as well as the normal country stamp. (The cost is 5 euros.) We also used the San Marino Tourist card that our hotel had given us to purchase a multi-museum ticket. The card provides a discount on many entrances.

Stamp and Stamp from San Marino

Our self-guided tour took us next to the Palazzo Pubblica (government building) to see the Statue of Liberty of San Marino. This magnificent building sits in the Piazza Della Liberta which has wonderful views over the world below. The Palazzo Pubblica contains a surprise—a bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln who was made an honorary citizen of San Marino in 1861 when Lincoln wrote the Marinese leader and thanked San Marino for supporting the Union.


Abraham Lincoln's Bust in San Marino?!?!?

 And now a pause for some background on the country of San Marino…San Marino claims the title of the oldest constitutional republic in the world and the third smallest country in Europe behind Vatican City and Monaco. (With its 24 sq. miles, San Marino ranks #5 on the worldwide list of smallest countries.) The country was founded by St. Marinus who escaped religious persecution by settling on the top of Mt. Titano in the early 4th century CE. During the 19th century, Giuseppe Garibaldi was given refuge from political opponents. To show his gratitude he guaranteed San Marino’s continued independence. (This fact seems ironic to me since Garibaldi was being persecuted because he wanted to unify all of Italy.)


Palazzo Pubblica and San Marino's Statue of Liberty

Next up was a visit to the strikingly picturesque towers of San Marino. Originally the three towers were identical, but two of the three have been expanded to provide greater safety for the country. All three were built on the cliff to ensure protection from attacks.


Guaita Tower

Guaita, the largest of the three, provides beautiful views of the towns below and the Adriatic Sea some 30 miles away. The tower castle houses a small chapel, some weapons, and recently-discovered pictures drawn by prisoners when the castle served as a jail. We followed the Passo delle Streghe, a scenic walkway, to the second tower, Cesta.  Between the first two towers is a small park that provides a great photo op of Guaita Tower.

Cesta Tower

In Cesta we discovered the Ancient Weapons Museum featuring crossbows for which San Marino is famous. (Just a note: Along with jewelry and leather shopping, San Marino is a paradise for weapons collectors.) The museum and the Cesta Tower have recently reopened after renovation. We enjoyed wandering around the tower, finding hidden niches, and climbing to the ramparts to feel the power that ancient leaders must have felt as they surveyed their country. The third tower, Montale, is not open to the public.


Examples of weapons from the Cesta Tower

We had time for a brief stop at the State Museum before it closed, and we were “forced” to stop for a glass of wine while viewing the upcoming sunset.

Montale Tower

The City of San Marino is such a cozy atmosphere for excellent wandering down, and up, small winding streets to nowhere and everywhere. We stopped at the wall overlooking the valley far below to watch the gorgeous sunset—even the police pulled over to take pictures of the sunset. This wall is just across from the Cava e Loggia deli Balestrieri where the famous crossbow demonstrations take place. (We were disappointed that we missed these demonstrations and the changing of the guards.)


Cava e Loggia deli Balestrieri

After sunset, we found a wonderful place for dinner then walked around the beautiful, safe city for a great way to end our day. Unfortunately, we had to head out early the next morning, so—via bus to Rimini then train—we returned to our base in Milan to meet our next adventure.

A link to our Milan, Italy, visit will be here soon!

I'd love for you to follow our adventures by leaving your email address here.

Wandering the Safe Streets of San Marino City


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