SAN MARINO – THE NATION WITHIN A NATION

Città di San Marino, San Marino  |  December 17 to 18, 2017

I'd hazard a pretty good guess that you—like most people and especially like me—never heard of San Marino, the nearly 1,800-year-old micronation in the heart of Italy. The country within a country is located roughly 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of the coastal town, Rimini. According to most historians, around 300 AD the stonemason, Marinus, who was working in Rimini, established a monastic community on Monte Titano (what is now the City of San Marino). The Republic has thus claimed rights of being the oldest surviving sovereign state.

After seeing San Marino's ancient city hanging in the balance on Monte Titano in another travel blog, I knew I had to go. And I'm glad I did, because I was able to document the trip and share my experience seeing the still-relatively unknown, hidden gem inside Italy.  But I digress. After arriving at the Rimini Train Station (Stazione Rimini), I took the 30-minute bus ride to the top of the mountain—the southwestern edge of the City of San Marino—which presents the most unforgettable scenery I've ever seen on this planet.

After savoring the mise en scène and snapping, oh, just about a hundred photos, I began to stroll around trying to stay on the path to the city center where my hotel was. When I finally arrived and checked in, I was pleasantly surprised with how charming my hotel was. What I thought was just going to be an average place to stay for the night (given the cheap nightly rate) really was a delightful, family-run establishment in the heart of town. Regardless of the fact that I was only one of a few guests staying at Hotel La Grotta (this was definitely the off season), I was met with the most gracious hospitality and friendly welcoming. After settling in, I popped over to La Gatta, the restaurant next door, to have a quick drink and an appetizer.

With a little food and liquor in my belly, I was ready to explore the old city to see what it had to offer. My first stop was just down the road, Piazza della Libertà, a focal point of the city which presents additional views of the southwest landscape, a peek into the government buildings the Captain Regents (there are two heads of state here), and a portal into sleepy little side streets. Because it was Christmastime, many decorations and Christmas market booths were inescapable—although, unfortunately the Christmas market was not open at the time.

Because my time in San Marino was so limited, I knew I had to be diligent in getting to Guaita Tower (Torre Guaita), the fortress that overlooks the western part of San Marino and Rimini. From the fortress you can also see the renowned and picturesque guard tower on Terza Terre. However, I kept getting pulled away from my mission by attractive sights, unique architecture, and alluring (yes, I'm saying it again) side streets and alleyways. I did make a quick stop at the San Marino Basilica (Basilica di San Marino) to take a moment and enjoy the beautifully-kept, 19th-century neoclassical church. I went inside briefly and enjoyed the relics of San Marino, the patron saint of the Republic

Because it was wintertime, the sun disappeared into the hills quite early, so I pushed myself to get moving quicker in order to see the fortress and Terza Torre before dark. Of course, once again I got distracted by the beauty of each and every street. It was so hard to walk past it without looking. It felt like I was back in a different time—especially since there were hardly any tourists out besides me.

Upon arrival to the Guaita Tower complex, I was greeted by three seemingly overpaid and lackluster city employees who proceeded to find it bizarre that I was visiting at this time. 'Whatever, I'm here; I'm going to enjoy it', I thought. And I did. After paying my entrance fee, I climbed up the steps to the top of the Guaita Tower, and I was metaphorically—and quite literally—blown away. The view was another stunning moment where I needed a second to be sure the moment was real. Some of these views in Europe will do that to you—they're so remarkably beautiful and it's difficult to capture it in words and photographs.

Inside the tower are several tiny rooms that serve as a museum of sorts—providing history on the Republic and the pivotal role the tower played in keeping everyone safe. It is fascinating to know that because of their strategic location on top of Monte Titano, the Sammarinese have remained independent for nearly two millennia.

I moseyed around the tower and finally got to the viewing deck to see what I've been aching for for so long—Terze Torre and the amazing landscape behind, which almost looked like the backdrop of those photos you take when you're on a cruise ship. It was so stunning it almost looked fake. Terze Terre, which doubled as a guard tower and prison for some time, was erected in the 14th century and remains intact to this day.

I know that I have boasted time after time about the views of each city I visit, but this was different. Because of how small Monte Titano is, you can easily get to any part of the city and catch sight of a marvelous view—each unique and, dare I say it, magical. Until the sun went down I took in the view and had recurrent feelings of gratitude and peacefulness.

As the sun went down, I raced to see the remaining bit of the city. I, somewhat furiously and uncharacteristically, ran around the place so I didn't miss out on anything. I ended up having dinner at the local Sammarinese restaurant, Ritrovo Dei Lavoratori XXVIII Luglio. The food was amazing and I was very pleased, despite the fact that I was the only English-speaking person in the place. After dinner, I soaked up a for more timeless parts of the city before heading to the hotel to get a restful night's sleep. The next morning, I got up at the crack of dawn and made my way back to the bus station so I could prepare to head back to Mannheim by way of a few train rides and a quick flight. Because the greenery had frozen over during the night, the morning view was enchanting. I enjoyed a few minutes of the amazing landscape one last time, and knew I was one of the luckiest people on earth to travel to such a unique and wondrous place.

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