Last autumn, we visited the beautiful Adriatic coast of north-eastern Italy. One of the beautiful coastal towns we visited was Rimini. On the way to this resort, we saw three towers on top of a steep mountain ridge inland. High above a gaping abyss, the view must be extremely spectacular, we thought. On a sunny terrace in Rimini, we tried to find out what we had seen.
The three towers turned out to belong to San Marino, the oldest republic in the world. The eponymous capital of the country without state debt is located on the 700-metre-high Mount Titano. Both the mountain and the town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pictures on the internet showed a romantic, old town with indeed unbelievably beautiful views. We therefore decided to visit the small country the next day.
Our visit to San Marino, the oldest republic in the world
It is still early when we leave Ravenna with our car. It is quite cold but the sun is shining brightly. In no time, we are in the vicinity of Rimini. Our navigation system seems to direct us along a road away from the motorway. The first villages we drive through are not very special. However, the view of the rock face with the 3 towers is promising.
The closer we get to the capital, the more curious we become. We climb more and more and the view of the immediate surroundings gets better and better. Now and then, we stop on the verge for a photo stop. Rimini by the sea is far behind us, but shines in the morning sun. On the mountain slopes, we see many vineyards, interspersed with small villages and even castles.
Climbing the Titano
At the foot of Monte Titano, we see the substation of a cable car. From here, the ‘Funivia’ will take you to the city centre of San Marino in a few minutes. The view of the Adriatic Sea must be fantastic there, we think. We just continue the route with our car and end up on the west side of the Titano.
A rather winding course of many hairpin bends follows. A touring car drives in front of us. We are amazed at the ease with which the driver takes the right-angled turns. The main road gets narrower as we go along, but the bus in front of us drives on steadily and smoothly. After every hairpin bend, there seems to be a car park. Not a superfluous luxury, we think. You can’t drive through the narrow streets of the old town.
Although we are not afraid of a walk, we decide to drive on to the highest parking place. We have no idea how much we will be able to walk on top of the Titano. When we arrive at the car park, we see someone driving away. What a stroke of luck! Buying a ticket is a bit more difficult: our bank card is not recognised. But fortunately, we find some cash somewhere that we can exchange for coins. Our exploration of San Marino can begin!
Walk along the three towers of San Marino
We still like to visit a new country once in a while. This of course also applies to San Marino. But what we really want to see today, are the three towers. At the car park, we find signs to all three towers. We decide to start at the beginning, the Guaita.
The Guaita is the oldest of the three towers and the most famous. The tower and its fortress were built in the 11th century. For a short time, it was a prison. This was followed by some rebuilding. The fortress we get to see after the short walk dates from the 15th century. It’s amazing that people managed to build such a fortress at such an apparently impossible location!
At the entrance gate, we buy a ticket that allows us to visit the second tower as well. It’s quite crowded with tourists, but fortunately everybody sticks to the corona rules. Although the fort itself doesn’t have much to offer, the views are phenomenal! We imagine ourselves back in times of yore and take heaps of pictures at every viewpoint.
Cesta (De La Fratta)
From Guaita, it is only a short walk to Cesta, the second fortress. Along the route, between the stately trees, there are a few souvenir shops. But instead of the usual souvenirs, we see almost only plastic weapons, from crossbows to machine guns. A warlike people, the Sanmarinese! It is still quite a climb to the highest peak of the Titano. But thanks to the shade of the trees, the heat is fairly bearable.
Fort Cesta also offers fantastic views. We can see not only Guaita but also the third tower. The buildings stand out beautifully against the wide, rugged backdrop of the hilly surroundings. We could easily spend more time here, but we are too curious to visit the museum inside. This museum in honour of Saint Marinus, the founder of the country, was founded in 1956. You will find more than 1500 weapons from the period of the Middle Ages to the present.
The tower itself plays a very important role in Sammarinese history. It was built in the 13th century on the remains of an old Roman fort. Like the other two towers in San Marino, the Cesta is depicted on the national flag.
A well-maintained footpath leads to Montale, the most distant tower. It is a lovely walk among the trees and along the views. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones who think so. Regularly, we have to walk single file because of oncoming traffic to maintain the minimum distance. Here in Italy, that distance is one metre. We notice that we have got used to our 1.5 metres: a metre distance seems very short to us!
Montale is the smallest of the Titano’s three summits. The tower on the summit was built in the 14th century. When we arrive, we see other tourists, young and old, sitting in the sun. We had already read that the third tower cannot be entered. Nevertheless, we walk around it, hoping to find a hidden door. We do find that door, but it is at a height of 7 metres! In the Middle Ages, a single door at height was common for prisons.
The footpath leads further down and beckons but as we have become hungry in the meantime, we turn around and head for the walled town.
Walking through la Città (the town of San Marino)
On our way to a restaurant for lunch we almost get lost. There are so many nice and especially narrow alleys in this picturesque town! We stop at some monuments and walk inside the basilica. How peaceful it is here!
It is already quite late for a lunch when we walk past restaurant Spingarda. The restaurant advertises a beautiful panorama. We walk in and thanks to the late hour, we can get a coveted table at the window. In any case, the restaurant’s marketer has not exaggerated: the panorama is extraordinarily beautiful. And we enjoy the lunch itself very much. Absolutely recommended!
After some more strolling through the charming capital, we walk back to the car park. Still impressed by the incomparable views, we drive back to the valley. But instead of taking the same route via Rimini back to Ravenna, we take a mountain road. A good choice, it turns out. As soon as we cross the Marecchia River, we enter hilly, rugged terrain. Here, the way back takes us past picturesque, old villages that all seem to have castles. What a beautiful and interesting area this is!
Visit to San Marino: practicalities
How to get there
The easiest way to get to San Marino is by car. There are several access roads. The fastest route is via the provincial road SS72 from Rimini. But the beautiful surroundings lend themselves best to a slower mountain route. In the capital, the main road winds steadily upwards. Every few metres you will find a car park. The sooner you park your car (paid), the greater the chance of finding a space. More information about car parks in San Marino.
You can also get there by public transport. From Rimini there is a regular bus service to the world’s oldest republic.
Best time to visit San Marino
The best time to visit San Marino is from May to August. There is the least rainfall during those months. A disadvantage of the summer months is that it can be quite busy and hot! We were there in October and had mostly blue skies.
Accommodation in San Marino
There is plenty of accommodation in San Marino. We did not spend the night there ourselves but found the hotels idyllic. Especially if you want to do some hiking in the area, staying in the capital is a good idea.
However, there is another reason why staying in a hotel is worthwhile. It is mostly day trippers (like us) who visit San Marino. They arrive around 10 o’clock at the earliest and leave again at 5 o’clock. It must be magical to have a country “all to yourself”. The same goes for a destination like Mont Saint-Michel. During the day, the tourists are tripping over each other, so to speak, but at night you could fire a cannon and no one would hear it!