San Marino - The Tiny Gem Hidden In Central Italy

I am guessing not many of you have heard of the Republic of San Marino. I have spent five years living in countries across the continent looking for the best places to retire in Europe, and I had never heard of San Marino. I was lucky to have a friend who introduced me to San Marino; otherwise, I would have never thought of visiting this tiny country. Now, it is one of my favorite places in Italy.

San Marino- The Tiny Gem Hidden In Central Italy

This little country located in Central Italy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That sentence may seem confusing, but it is true. San Marino is an independent sovereign country, entirely surrounded by Italy.

While located in the center of Italy, San Marino still feels and looks distinctively different. You don't want to call people living here Italians unless you want a death-glare. Sammarinese, as they prefer to be called, are proud of their independence from Italy, and rightfully so. San Marino's surroundings obviously influence the country, but its medieval architecture, tight-knit community, and slow pace make it feel entirely different. 

I challenge you not to overlook this diminutive republic on your next Italian adventure. But, if you're not convinced that you should add it to your itinerary, here are a list of the Top 4 reasons to visit San Marino this year.

1- You are visiting history

San Marino, founded in 301 AD, is the oldest sovereign state and the world's oldest constitutional (written in 1600 AD) republic. The country's independence survived Napoleon's empire and remained neutral for both World Wars (Although a British newspaper amusingly reported it, incorrectly, as declaring war against the UK in WW2).

Step inside the Palazzo Pubblico (the country's central government building) to see a letter sent from San Marino's most famous honorary citizen, US President Abraham Lincoln. Sent only several months after Lincoln's inauguration, amidst the tumultuous beginnings of the American Civil War, the US President sent a Thank You letter to this tiny country of 7000 people.  

2- The impressive Medieval architecture

The city has several historic buildings, fortresses, and churches that date back to the Middle Ages. When I see the city's walls and the iconic three fortress towers, I feel the need to be wearing a suit of armour and brandishing a sword.

San Marino- The Tiny Gem Hidden In Central Italy

I love walking the labyrinth behind San Marino's walls. Being surrounded by high walls and stone fortresses radiate a sense of history. It's the same sense of fantasy and history I get when visiting the Old Town of Split, just across the Adriatic, where I lived in Croatia. Especially since I visited outside the busy European tourist season, I could lose myself in the twisty alleys, turn a blind corner, and be completely alone, surrounded by buildings built in the 11th century. San Marino transports me to another time with numerous stone stairs and narrow cobblestone streets to wander.

The three towers (Guaita, Fratta, Montale) located on three different peaks stand watch over the city. Still impressive after all these centuries (the oldest, Guaita, was built in the 1200s). The towers represent the independence and liberty of the country. Sammarinese proudly display the iconic castles on both the San Marino flag and Coat of Arms.

3- Views

San Marino has Instagram-perfect views. The city sits on top of Monte Titano, granting sweeping views of the valleys and forests surrounding the city. At under 740 meters high, the mountain doesn't sound particularly imposing, but it is the highest point in an area. From the top of each tower, you get a spectacular panorama uninhibited in every direction. Everywhere you look, there is another fantastic view. You really feel like you are in a different time and place than other parts of Italy and Mediterranean Europe.

4- Museums

San Marino has some oddball museums- I give San Marino the unofficial statistic of having more quirky museums per capita than anywhere in the world. In a country of 38,000 people, I was able to visit (English translations):

  1. Museum of Medieval Criminology and Torture

  2. Museum of Ancient Arms

  3. Museum of Curiosities

  4. Creatures of the Night Museum (Vampires and werewolves)

  5. Wax Museum

There were more traditional museums available in the city. But if given a choice between another exhibit of Contemporary Interpretation at the National Gallery of Modern Art or a working model of a Medieval execution saw, my macabre curiosity gets the better of me. 

San Marino is a beautiful mountainous country with a picture-perfect Old Town in a stunning setting. It is a shame more people don't travel here. I guess there are so many fantastic places in Italy that it is easier to visit known favorites than risk exploring new little-known locations. Think about the first time you visited Italy; chances are you stopped in Venice, Rome, or Florence. 

San Marino will appeal more to people who have already been to Italy and are looking for something new or someone looking to skip past the large tourist meccas. San Marino, with a population of just over 38,000 (the fifth smallest country in the world, behind notable metropolis, Vatican), is the anthesis of large. 

Don't miss the chance to view panoramic views, explore the history, or just browse the quirky museums in this tiny country. If you are looking for a break away from the standard Italian tourist fare, this diminutive country has plenty to offer. 

San Marino- The Tiny Gem Hidden In Central Italy

This article was written by Marco Sison.

Marco Sison, a Retirement Coach for Nomadic FIRE, is a trusted source for living abroad and personal finance. He has been featured in USA Today, US News and World Reports, MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Huffington Post, and many others. He writes about personal finance and early retirement overseas for Nomadic FIRE. He has traveled the last six years to over 40 countries to show the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US.

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