San Marino

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Every time I go to the Ulisse Fest – a wonderful travel event in Italy run by EDT, Lonely Planet’s Italian partner –I also slot in a visit to an interesting Italian destination. Last time, when the festival was at Rimini, I stopped off in Ravenna to see the superb mosaics which the town is famed for.

◄ Towers on the Republic’s Coat of Arms

This time it was San Marino, the sole surviving independent city-state on the Italian peninsula. In their heyday Genoa and Venice may have been far more powerful, but the Serene Republic of San Marino has outlasted them. It tops a hill 20km inland from Rimini on the coast and 750metres above sea level. Its population of 34,000 are very wealthy and vastly outnumbered by the two million annual tourist visitors.

▲ The view down to Rimini on the coast

I was looking the other way, enjoying the sunset and sipping a cold sundowner beer on the terrace of Hotel Rosa, on my first evening in San Marino, but I definitely felt somewhat amazed just to be there. I’d started the day in Djibouti, flying out with Turkish Airlines just after midnight. Breakfast was at Istanbul Airport and from Rome Fiumicino Airport I’d taken a train to Rome Tiburtina Station where I had time for a slice of pizza before boarding my train via Florence to Bologna. I had time for a gelati at the station there before I took another train to Rimini and then the final bus ride up to San Marino.

▲ First Tower, Rocca or Guaita

Next morning, after breakfast, I start the day by walking the city walls and checking the three remaining towers.

▲ Later I caught the very regular changing of the guards at the Public Palace on the Piazza della Libertà. It’s also a very small scale changing of the guard, San Marino isn’t big enough to need many guards.

◄ The Public Palace, which is definitely worth a look around inside, is fronted by the San Marino Statue of Liberty, which looks absolutely nothing like the one toting the torch near New York City.

San Marino may get lots of tourists, but it’s distinctly short of ‘style.’ In some ways it reminded me of Capri, on its island just offshore from Naples on the other side of Italy, Capri may have had its days in the spotlight back in the 1950s and 1960s, but it still retains a distinct sheen of glamour. San Marino certainly does not. You don’t see any of the fashionable shops which line the streets of Capri, there seems to be an amazing enthusiasm for gun and other weapons shops, plus a lot of more harmless stuff, fantasy fairies and the like. There’s also an amazing enthusiasm for torture museums, vampire museums and assorted other schlocky attractions.

◄ Reproductions of the Domagnano Treasure in the State Museum

There are a number of museums and other sites which are worth seeing, however. The ‘all the government sites day pass’ is a worthwhile investment. Don’t miss the Domagnano Treasure exhibit in the State Museum, sadly almost all of this amazing late 5th, early 6th century jewellery collection was scattered worldwide as soon as it was discovered. Just a single piece remains in San Marino although the recreation of the whole collection is superb.