My aim was to visit San Marino, one of the smallest countries in the world, but since I was staying for the weekend at a nearby town, I also found the time to visit Bologna and the two fascinating medieval villages of San Leo and Dozza, both within easy driving distance from San Marino. The latter is particularly famous for its fortress and wall murals.
One full half-day is more than enough to see the main landmarks in San Marino. Despite the fact that its fairy tale castles should be enough to lure visitors on their own, the old town on Mount Titano, the country’s capital city and also called San Marino, is a beautiful labyrinth of narrow medieval streets, historic buildings, restaurants, cafes, shops and museums. Despite the fact that San Marino is NOT part of Italy and therefore NOT part of the European Union, there are no checkpoints and no officials at the ‘border’.
San Marino is aesthetically beautiful and is MUCH more than just a big castle on a mountain! I will simply describe it as the towers and THE views. Each time I caught a glimpse from the city walls, I was blown away by the fascinating views. It didn’t matter which side I looked from, it was pure bliss! If this is what heaven looks like, then I want to live there!
Let me give you and your feet (you’ll need them during your visit) a couple of tips. Go to San Marino early and keep your fingers crossed that you’ll find a parking space as close to the top as possible. Also, please note that many of the cobblestone streets are quite steep and wearing good walking shoes is definitely recommended.
After parking my rental car, I began to stroll around the narrow streets while admiring the medieval walled old town. I had two aims here: one was to climb to the top of at least one of the castles and the other was to eat an authentic Tagliatelle al Ragù but both of these were forgotten as I lost myself among the streets of the old town. I felt like I was in The Lord of the Rings or had gone back to the Middle Ages — minus the orcs and the plague!
After taking some photos of the Town House and fountain in the centre of the square, I decided to take a coffee break in one of the many cafes that line the square and watch the people go by. I then continued walking around the shops and kiosks and bought a few souvenirs.
Following this, it was time to visit the castles. However, I was frustrated by the relatively-long queue of people waiting right below the top turret in order to climb up to the top so I went to try my luck at the second castle! Lady luck was on my side here as there were far fewer people around and I reached the top turret in next to no time! Please note that you need to climb up a vertical iron ladder to reach the top turret via a narrow hole in the ceiling!
The view from the top is absolutely stunning and took my breath away, and a couple of months of my life too, as I am terrified of heights! If the weather is clear, you should definitely not miss the visit to the castles and the spectacular view is worth all the trouble and will leave you feeling proper smug with yourself when you show off your photos back home!
After visiting the two castles (the third one is not open to the public), I went in hunt of that perfect Tagliatelle al Ragù, one of Bologna’s signature dishes. Unfortunately, I did not get to taste it in Bologna itself but I knew I could also find it in San Marino. After sitting down at a nearby restaurant, I had to literally beg the waiter to come over. I also don’t know why the waiter thought I was Russian as I was speaking in reasonably good Italian so I had to summon him again to give me an English or Italian menu rather that the Russian one he had originally given me! Anyway, to cut a long story short, the pasta was saucer licking good – or was it just the fact that I was so hungry?!
After lunch, I bid farewell to San Marino and drove off to visit a couple of Italian medieval villages. In fact, if you’re visiting San Marino, don’t miss the incredible Emilia-Romagna region. It’s one of Italy’s hidden gems that most tourists never get to see and it’s just nearby!