Discovering San Marino

Our travels on the Big European Odyssey have taken us to all manner of intriguing places and countries over the past two years, but few quite like the fifth smallest country in the world. I’m talking about San Marino. That it is even a country at all is a story in itself. As to our stumbling across it on our meandering journey back through Europe, it was more of a trouvaille as the French might say.

The thing with ‘lucky finds’, as we’ve discovered on numerous occasions, is that they come with no expectations, and so are free to charm you and leave you wondering why you’d never thought of visiting before. The truth is, other than from vague memories as a boy hearing about their football team suffering all manner of one-sided loses, I had never heard much about San Marino, let alone considered visiting. That was until a cancelled ferry forced us to reconsider our route from Greece to Austria.

It would still involve a ferry, only now with the need to drive much of the length of Italy, rather than simply disembarking in Genoa and heading on to Austria through the Dolomites. It just so happens that not only is there a campsite on the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s European network situated in San Marino, but it was both open on New Years Eve and a logical stop for us at the end of a fairly long day of driving.

A little research left us all eager to stay a few days and explore what is said to be the world’s oldest republic, having been founded in 301AD when Saint Marinus and a group of Christians settled there to escape persecution. A quick look at the nation’s topography and it’s easy to see why they chose this particular spot. Jutting up from the surrounding plains is the distinctive Mount Titano, its three summits recognisable from miles away, the perfect setting for anyone needing to defend themselves from encroachments by neighbouring bishops and lords.

Add to that the impressive towers that sit atop each peak of the mountain, and the walled fortifications that surround the historic old town, Città di San Marino, and it makes for quite an imposing location. No wonder it has stayed protected through the ages, retaining its own unique culture and history that is celebrated today as tourists flock to learn about its storied past and explore its medieval streets and buildings.

Once off the bus that leaves from outside the campsite we finish our journey up to the old town by taking a short funicular ride that delivers us to the heart of the action. Within just a few steps we are into the labyrinth of beautiful old streets lined with elegant shops, surrounded by historic buildings and a horizon stretching far into the distance from our lofty vantage point. Harrison and Dorothy lead the way, having decided they want to visit the towers first.

More than just towers, Guaita, Cesta and Montale, are symbolic of San Marino, a representation of the country’s freedom and independence and, as such, they are both on the national flag and the coat of arms. It’s only possible to visit two of the towers, Montale is closed to the public, and so we started by heading up Guaita, doing so by climbing a series of ladders to reach the top and savour the views. In times gone by the town’s people took refuge in this tower during sieges.

As impressive as Guaita is there was no doubting that Cesta was of greater interest to us all. Not only is it an impressive structure that dates back to the eleventh century, but it is home to the Museum of Ancient Arms, which proved to be a fascinating visit. As you make your way through the various rooms of the tower, which given it was two degrees outside was thankfully heated, you are taken on a journey of the development of weapons that were used in San Marino from the Middle Ages onwards. This also helped answer Harrison’s earlier question as to why several shops in the town were selling replica weapons.

There are several other places of interest away from the towers, particularly Piazza della Libertá, where you will find the grandiose Palazzo Pubblico, which is where the nation’s parliament sits, as well as the striking Basilica di San Marino. Built on the foundations of a much older church this nineteenth century building is the largest church in the country and honours Saint Marinus and, given it hosts all official ceremonies, is definitely worth visiting.

Given San Marino’s size, or lack thereof, it came as a surprise to us that it’s home to so many museums, eighteen in total, ranging from the traditional, the State Museum and Museum of Stamps and Coins, to the less conventional, such as museums dedicated to torture and vampires. And so we finished our time exploring here with something a little different, a visit to the Museum of Curiosities, which has nothing to do with San Marino but houses all manner of mind-boggling oddities that fascinated all of us.

But for a cancelled ferry we would never have experienced the delights of San Marino, a country that should be on everyone’s touring list for future travels. If you are planning a visit be sure to book a stay at Centro Vacanze San Marino. Situated on the lower slopes of San Marino and offering views across to the Adriatic Sea this spacious site is open all year round and is a great base from which to explore not just San Marino but the surrounding hills of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. 

You can follow Marcus and Kim’s adventures in real time on social media, where they share regular travel inspiration and knowledge, including the full range of Caravan and Motorhome Club services they enjoy as Club members. It’s @MarcusLeachGlobal and @Our.Roaming.Odyssey on Instagram and @MarcusGLeach on X (formerly Twitter).