San Marino is an island nation, but not in the typical sense of the term.
It’s landlocked, located about about eight miles (13 km) inland from Italy’s Adriatic coast, but it’s surrounded entirely by Italy. One of only three sovereign nations in the world thus situated like this, the other two being Lesotho and Vatican City.
The entirety of San Marino sits atop various peaks in the Apennine mountain range, adding to its island-like qualities. Like scattered villages on an archipelago, rising sharply above Italy’s eastern plain.
It also holds distinction for being both the world’s oldest continually-existing republic as well as the least-visited country in Europe. Founded in the fourth century A.D., San Marino only sees around 60,000 foreign visitors per year.
Again, island-like in its history and isolation.
All of these things, plus our quest to visit every country in Europe during this trip, made San Marino a top priority for us. Although we were still exhausted from our whirlwind trip through the Balkans, we couldn’t rest until we had boarded yet another bus and wound our way up Mount Titano to gaze out over the surrounding countryside.
And it was well worth the effort.
The drive itself is both beautiful and hair raising, with the mountains of the micro nation rising up from the flatlands on the approach. Views of the majestic Guaida and Cesta Towers, perched atop San Marino’s highest peaks, by degrees reveal themselves between rocky outcrops along switchback turns in the road.
The streets are both narrow and congested, with tour buses vying for space with pedestrians, bicycles, and local cars with their side mirrors protectively tucked away.
Angela and I stepped off the bus at the San Marino Station and marveled that this must be one of the most scenic bus depots in the world. When the parking lot is ringed by a centuries-old rock wall and the vista looks out over tiled roofs and rolling green hills, you know you have arrived at a special place.
We wandered through the cobblestone streets, window shopped for nothing in particular, and found a restaurant that could entertain us with good food, great beers, and interesting conversations with locals.
The best part of the meal, however, was our server, John. A native of San Marino, he was happy to answer our questions about life in the tiny nation. We’d arrived just after the peak season, and both the tourist counts and the temperatures were dropping.
While the weather was mild and lovely during our visit, John said it would soon be getting cold and they could expect a bit of snow, although nothing like the blizzard of a few years prior. They’d received several feet of snow then, he explained, and it had covered some buildings all the way to the rooflines. But the stalwart Sammarinese didn’t let it stop them from going about their business.
We’d love to see that, we told John, and he promised to send us photos.
And like the people of San Marino made it to work in the blizzard, the photos of the blizzard made their way to us.
Thanks, John, for the photos and for a great day in San Marino.