Exploring San Marino – the tiny country that has huge appeal

Tiny San Marino has huge appeal: Exploring the hidden corners of the fifth-smallest nation on the planet

  • San Marino is a beautiful 24 square-mile country entirely surrounded by Italy 
  • It is the oldest republic in the world – almost double the age of the United States
  • From trails along old railway tunnels to zesty local wines, it has lots to offer  

As we make our way gingerly up the steep and narrow path to reach a view of a tunnel carved into the mountain face like a yawn, my guide fills me in on some local history.

‘This used to be our railway,’ he tells me. ‘But the RAF blew it up by accident in the war and we never rebuilt it. Your Queen did apologise for it, though. And that means a lot to us.’

You don’t need a rail system to get around San Marino. At just 24 square miles, this is the fifth-smallest nation on the planet and a brisk walk is enough to see much of it, entirely surrounded by Italy.

Sun-kissed: Ancient homes on the beautiful hillside of San Marino 

It was founded in AD 301 by a Christian stonecutter named Marinus, seeking refuge from the Roman Army. San Marino has been left untouched by marauders — Garibaldi, Napoleon and Mussolini among them.

The capital is, despite its pretty, winding alleys and trio of stone watchtowers, overrun with tacky souvenir shops and day-trippers.

We have other plans. It takes barely ten minutes to escape the crowds and find yourself in a medieval backwater.

San Marino is the oldest republic in the world — almost double the age of the United States.

The Sanmarinese value balance and fairness so much that there are two leaders (called Captains Regent) at any one time. One of the current captains — Matteo Ciacci — is, at 28, the youngest head of state on the planet.

From hiking along the vertiginous paths lined with oak and laurel trees and, yes, old railway tunnels of the Sentiero della Rupe trail, to finding deserted villages such as Montegiardino, where cats sleep on balconies, sun-dappled outdoor cafes sell sublime coffee and a church with a solitary bell rings at the wrong time, the outdoors has lots to offer.

This is a nation that should be known for more than its famously awful national football team.

On my final morning, I head to San Marino’s solitary wine co-op. More than 100 Sanmarinese farmers produce grapes that end up in the 650,000 bottles of wine produced each year.

Balmy nights: San Marino’s town hall is located in the main square

Sitting at a long table next to the dimly lit cellar, I sip on zesty local sparkling wine and nibble on locally made salamis, cheeses and bread slathered in olive oil.

‘We may be small, but we are proud,’ says Roberto, the commercial manager of the co-op. ‘We don’t have enough to export, though.

‘If you want to taste what we have, then you have to come and find us.’

And I’m very pleased that I have.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Rimini from Stansted from £66 return. Doubles at the Radisson Blu Stansted from £112 (radissonblu.com, 01279 661012). Doubles at Titano Suites Hotel San Marino from £70 B&B (titanosuiteshotel.com). For more information, see visitsanmarino.com

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