Somewhere along our eight month journey we decided we wanted to see as many countries as possible without sacrificing time spent in each country. I started researching other countries we could visit and stumbled upon the very tiny country of San Marino. Since we were going to be in the area in Italy we decided to spend a few days there.
San Marino is one of the oldest Republics in the world, founded in AD 301. It is one of the five smallest countries in the world with a population of slightly more than 33,000 people and 24 square miles of space. What this country lacks in size it makes up for in beauty. The historic area of SanMarino sits atop a huge limestone mass. Rising from this huge mass stand the Three Towers, or three castles, majestically overlooking the surrounding countryside which lead to the Adriatic Sea. San Marino is completely surrounded by Italy which makes it easy to travel to. Most people hop into San Marino for a day but I decided I wanted to stay for two so we would have plenty of time to see the area and relax.
We took the train from Ravenna to Rimini and then caught a bus from Rimini to San Marino. This was pretty easy aside from the boarding of the bus, which is basically a stampede of people trying to occupy the same place at the same time to get seats. J and I anticipated this having spent time in Italy before so J strategized how best to get us on the best, and in seats without getting squashed or making anyone mad. It is quite the scene and not an easy feat. Once on the bus with all limbs in tact we rode in comfort through the beautiful countryside and up Monte Titano to the historical district of San Marino. One of the only mishaps in our travels happened once we arrived. I had not realized our hotel was outside the city and almost impossible to access from the downtown area of San Marino. Luckily my limited Italian and the help of a very kind woman at the bus stop landed us a cab about an hour after our arrival. I can honestly say that we were a bit stressed here and were relying on our “everything will work out” philosophy to hold back our grumpy or worry.
Of course everything did work out and we arrived in a tiny town of about 300 residents sitting at the base of Monte Titano, the large mass of historic San Marino. The one main street allows one way traffic from the beginning of town down the three blocks to the only coffee shop, a beautiful lookout and the bus stop. Along this road,nestled between old stone homes was our adorable hotel with the most amazing management. Everyone was shocked we arrived without a car, and I would have to say I would not recommend this. The managers were so accommodating, helping us get around whether with their cars or at the little bus stop in town.
Our first night in San Marino we in a very local restaurant, zero tourists, overlooking the valley of Italy. I am pretty sure they had to roll us out of there at the end of the night once we finished amazing pizza, wine, limoncello and desert. It was such a warm experience with a great family staff who made us laugh and treated us as family. I was quickly falling in love with this quaint little country.
The next day we sat at the little bus stop where a wonderful woman gave us free tickets to ride the bus. After waiting for a bit one of the owners came by and drove us up the hill and into the historic district. The ancient town is surrounded by walls built long ago to protect the country from their enemies. These walls have guaranteed the perfect preservation of the city, full of old stone buildings, cobblestone streets and the three towers which are almost perfectly preserved. We loved spending the day here, walking through the small town, touring the castles, and eating lunch with the amazing views only San Marino can offer.
Inside the castle walls are small outbuildings, armory, hundreds of years old murals, and beautiful little flower gardens. It was quite spectacular to stand at the top of the towers overlooking the other towers, the land below and the beautiful fall colors. I can only imagine how it was hundreds of years ago with the cold winds whipping through the towers as they watched the lands below for enemies trying to attack. There are a lot hills and fairly intimidating stairs to contend with when trekking from one castle to the other, so wear comfy shoes and take some water. It is worth all of it to experience the grandeur of the castles and the downtown of San Marino.
To get back to our hotel we had to get help from three different bus drivers, local business owners and some passing locals. Eventually though we hopped on the tiny bus to head back to our hotel. We shared the bus with one other rider and a driver who loved his music. It was a great experience to ride this way through the country of San Marino using our free tickets from the gracious woman we met that morning.
In the town we were staying there was only one coffeeshop/bar so we walked there to try to find something to eat rather than try to wrangle a ride back to the downtown for dinner. Here we shared one of my favorite drinks, watching the local men play cards and gossip, swapping tales with a woman staying in the area to get medical treatment for her husband, and watching a few of the local kids gather outside, to kick the soccer ball and chat like teenagers do. We felt so lucky to have discovered such an untouched and authentic town. The Italian generosity and culture abound here welcoming anyone into their country, feeding them well, and making sure they leave with amazing stories.