There’s something I like about small countries. After already visiting Vatican City, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Malta, my San Marino trip wrapped up my tour of the 5 smallest countries in Europe.
For those with a car, the trip here is easier. For me, I took a train to Rimini, a somewhat sleazy beach resort town (I’ve heard), then a bus to San Marino. Some fun facts about San Marino: 1) The oldest republic in the world, dated at 301 AD; 2) Even with a fascist government and being embedded within Italy, they managed to stay neutral during WWII; 3) Their football team scored the fastest goal ever in World Cup competition, after only 8.3 seconds against England in 1993…they went on to lose 7-1.
Stepping out of the bus I was struck with the amazing views. The main area of San Marino is set on a hilltop overlooking the rest of the country below, which gives it a sort of ‘fairy-tale’ feel to it.
Being on a hilltop means most of the walking to the main sites is, of course, uphill, so I’m glad it wasn’t too hot of a day. The main things to see here are the three towers: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale…which are depicted on the flag of San Marino. Guaita and Cesta both had amazing panoramic views. A side note, the views here were amazing, but not for the faint of heart, or anyone prone to sudden bouts of extreme depression….the drop-off is quite far and there’s nothing to stop you from just stepping off the edge.
Guaita served previously as a prison, and Cesta has housed within it the museum of ancient arms. Overall, these two towers were the highlights, as Montale was pretty from the outside, but inaccessible to tourists (also quite a long walk, not sure it was worth it for one picture).
On my walk back from the towers I came across the ‘museum of curiosities’ (like those freak museums) and the ‘vampire museum’. Both looked like tourist traps to me, as I’m not sure San Marino has a big history of either of these things, and it seemed like people opened them up just to capitalize on all the tourist traffic…of which there was a lot. I was struck by how popular this was with tourists; although it’s beautiful, I think it may be for the novelty of going to such a small and unique country.
I did stop into the torture museum, just because I remember going to the one in Carcassonne and thinking it was cool. They had some nice exhibits of all the old torture practices, and some nice wax statues depicting the depravity of those times. My favorite exhibit was the Iron Maiden….damn that looks like it would hurt!
Being a small area, it was very easy to get around San Marino despite all the uphill walking. They had a garden downtown that had some really cool statues in it, but they also had some odd things, like a couple gun stores I passed by while strolling.Not sure if that’s in the culture around here, but it definitely seemed like something that belonged more in Idaho, not Europe.
I spent around 5 hours here, which is perfect for seeing everything San Marino has to offer. It’s really worth a day trip for those exploring Northern Italy.
Having finished my tour, I can finally rank the ‘small countries’ in Europe:
1) Malta – The only country on the list where you can spend more than an overnight trip and have plenty to do. The weather doesn’t hurt, but aside from the beaches, there is amazing history here, both recent and ancient.
2) Liechtenstein – The least touristy of the countries on this list…it almost seemed like you were stepping into a small town in a different world. For those into it, the winter sports here are supposed to be killer.
3) Vatican City – This is almost a ‘country’ by novelty, not sure how that happened. Anyone who has any interest in religious history would love spending a day here…and of course the Sistine Chapel is a must.
4) San Marino – Views, views, and more views. I totally loved the panoramic views from the towers. It was unexpectedly very touristy, but well worth the day trip.
5) Monaco – Unless you like yachts and casinos with extreme dress codes, this can be skipped. The ‘richest place on earth’, and they definitely act like it. Conversely, Liechtenstein is #2 on the ‘richest country’ list, and the people there have a humility that those from Monte Carlo wouldn’t understand.