SAN MARINO (Repubblica di San Marino)
It's one of those countries that I wouldn't have rushed too, other than it being an odd curiosity that is handily near Rimini and it's Airport. I decided to visit the worlds oldest republic as a long weekend in the Autumn of 2012. The weather was still t-shirt warm, but the main tourist season was in it's dying phase. The best of both worlds. My girlfriend of the time came along and we hired a scooter to pootle about the area. The first full day was spent whizzing out of Rimini on the SS72. A busy road with occasional trucks sending us wobbling, and a derelict factory to raise one's dander. A sort of military vehicle and plane museum also exists en route. There are no borders for San Marino, just like Andorra and Monaco. A sign welcomes you to the country, and then it's a road that rises vertically along big swooping hairpins. You reach the base of the cliff of Mount Titano that the three watchtowers sit on, and things level out.
Riding around the back of the hill, one finds some old fortified walls and the old town of San Marino. Being on a scooter, parking was a doddle. There's a motorbike bay just near the entrance. Once inside, you're confronted with stalls dishing out what to do in the tiny state. Then it's lots of steep roads that wind and overlap up the hill to the top (see pic below), all lined with various shops and food outlets. We opted for the torture museum, strange how women are drawn to the macabre. The museum was suitably mad and makes one wonder why human's do this stuff to each other. The woman on the till was from England, but had been a resident of San Marino for many years. Grabbing an ice cream, we wandered up to the top, walking past numerous shops selling what looked like machine guns, hand guns and scary looking knives/swords etc. We also went to the National museum (Museo di Stato), however it wasn't really my cup of tea, as it was mainly full of religious artefacts, and interesting addition to the torture museum full of entirely different Catholic artefacts. The top is dominated by restaurants, and the three watchtowers. All accessed with different colour tickets. We just visited the main central one. A number of actors floated about in medieval outfits, with period tents nearby. All very endearing. The meal at the top was very reasonable, washed down with a bottle of Duff beer (Simpsons style). The bill was astonishingly cheap, as was everything in the Tax free haven. The view from the top was awesome, and you can see all the way to Rimini and the sea.
So taken were we with the micro state, that we returned the following day, and randomly road around the small suburbs and empty countryside roads that surround the state. We ended up having lunch in a sunny cafe on the outskirts of the state. Lunching in the sun, and watching the locals enjoy a lazy Sunday. It may lack amazing museum, galleries, beaches and theme parks, but it is in many ways the perfect place to escape for a weekend.
Visa: No visa is required for stays up to 20 days.
Plug: European two round prongs, 220v
GMT: GMT +1
GDP Ranking (IMF): n/a (Similar to Italy and UK)
Communications: Country code is +378 (except Italy, where it's +0549)
Health: No Vaccinations or preventative measures are needed for visiting San Marino. All serious incidents will involve a trip to Rimini.
When to Visit: The Country sits in the Northern Hemisphere, with hot summers, and cool winters. June to August are the peak holidaymaker months for Rimini, and prices and temperatures will be highest. It's still very pleasant to visit in late September.
Personal Safety: San Marino has a very low crime rate, observe usual awareness in crowded tourist areas regarding possessions.
Getting Around: San Marino has a bus network and taxis. Hire cars, motorbikes, quad bikes and scooters can be hired from Rimini.
What to see/do: Walk about the old town on the hill, eat and drink at the top with amazing views. Two of the three watchtowers are open and worth the visit, again with great views of the region. The outlying towns of the small state show a different side of the country, and have relaxed restaurants, cafes and bars. Cultural attractions include the Torture Museum, Museo di Stato and the Museum of Curiosities.
Food & Drink: San Marino doesn't have any local cuisine, It's similar to its neighbour, Italy. Due to it's size, local alcohol is limited to a few wines (Sammarinese wine) and a craft brewery, Titanbräu, which currently offers four types.
Other notes: San Marino has no VAT, so prices are 20% cheaper than it's neighbour, italy.