The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

San Marino? What? I thought this site was about Lazio? San Marino is a whole different country! Well, while San Marino is indeed a different country (technically a microstate, whatever that means), it's well worth visiting, even if it's a good 4-5hr drive from Rome. Even moreso if you go there as a break from sunning yourself on the beaches of nearby Rimini and Riccione (as we did).

So where is it? San Marino is on the north-eastern side of the Appennini, sandwiched between the rolling hills of Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and Umbria. With an estimated population of 33,000, and a size of just over 24 sq miles (61sq km) it's the smallest member, population-wise, of the council of Europe. A small country, sat within another one. Not that you'd notice. They speak Italian (with the local Romagnolo accent), there's no passport control, and, other than a simple road sign, there's nothing to tell you that you're not in Italy anymore. Oh, and the text-message from your phone company welcoming you to yet another country. Wherever you are in San Marino, there's the massive Monte Titano, 739m high, towering over you. This is what most visitors think of as San Marino. It's an UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2008) and houses the historic, picture-postcard capital, the 'city of San Marino'.

We drove right up Monte Titano to car park number 7, almost at top and near one of the towers. A short walk past the official San Marino tennis courts and we were in past the thick city walls into the city of San Marino proper. Then, it hit me. Despite the stunning views, the other country-ness of the blue and white flags everywhere, I felt a little disappointed. All the shops appeared to be selling one of three things: trinkets and crap, authentic leather goods at amazing prices (Mrs LazioExplorer was sorely tempted on numerous occasions), and extremely cheap (and sometimes frankly dodgy looking) strong liquors. It's true, many people come to San Marino for the tax-free prices, but there must be more to this country. After all, it's the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world (since the 3rd September 301).

We walked on. After the initial buzz of disappointment, my spirits improved, thanks to the thinning out of shops selling crap I wasn't interested in (oh, I forget to mention, they also have shops selling guns, both real and fake - just what you need next to a shop selling alcohol at ridiculously cheap prices), and the well-kept picturesque streets and stunning views. It's amazing to think that this place has remained pretty much independent since the Romans. They have a distinct government system, their own military (though national defence is outsourced to big brother Italy) and, despite using the Euro, are not a member of the European Union. Indeed, San Marino even has its own Euro coins, although, they are a pretty rare, and not to mention expensive!
Someone will buy these, and a little piece of me will die inside

So what is there to see in San Marino, other than the shops and the stunning views? Well, the City of San Marino is protected by three towers: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale (which isn't open to the public). You can't miss them, just keeping walking upwards and you'll get to one. A ticket for entrance to both Guaita and Cesta will set you back €4.50, while entry to just one of the towers is €3. Personally, I'm not sure they are worth it, as there isn't much to see, but what is worth it is to walk a little through the relatively car-free streets to find the Palazzo Pubblico, the public palace, the town hall of San Marino.
Palazzo Pubblico on the Piazza della liberta`

It's a fairytale building, in a fairytale square (the Piazza della liberta`) but it's also an important, working building. It's where all official ceremonies take place, and is the seat of the Republic's main institutional and administrative bodies: the Captains Regent, the Grand and General Council, the Council of XII, and the Congress of State. You can have a look around inside the palace, for a small fee, but remember to be respectful of the guards, in their snazzy green and red uniforms.

We didn't have time to make it across the whole of the city of San Marino, but we did take in a local beer, which was surprisingly tasty, and see the vertiginous cable car. There's plenty more to do and explore though, which surprised me.

The San Marinese are not scared of heights

San Marino is charming. At first, I didn't think I'd like it. I didn't expect it. It seemed to be all designer bags, perfume and branded goods. All at low low, tax-free prices. One for the ladies, perhaps, not for this intrepid explorer. Well, San Marino grows on you. The incredible views help. I think it's somewhere you should visit if you're in the area. It's charming, and somewhere I'm definitely going to visit again!

Getting there

San Marino is only 10km from the Adriatic coast (and Rimini airport). There's a regular bus service to Rimini, and the city of San Marino can be reached by cable car from Borgo maggiore, at the base of Monte Titano.

Photo credits: All photos copyright

Eating the heart of Rome with Eating Italy Food Tours

You are what you eat, and when in Rome...

All other cornetti are dead to me now

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of joining a tour around the working class neighborhood of Testaccio, courtesy of Eating Italy Rome food tours. We learned a lot, not just about the food but also about the history and culture of Testaccio, which is very much the beating heart of Rome. 

Led by Sarah, a bubbly well-traveled American, the tour takes about 4-4.5hrs and takes in loads of 'gastronomic' stops. Testaccio is one of the oldest districts of Rome. Positioned over the Tiber near the Porta San Paolo, this neighborhood has been the food market of Rome for over 2000 years, back to when the Roman Republic first built food warehouses for supplies coming in from the river. While a walking tour, the distance between food stops is small. We started off, as all Romans do, with breakfast at a local pasticceria. This wasn't any ordinary breakfast though. We were treated to handmade cornetti, which tasted better than any I've ever tasted (thanks to the addition of a real vanilla pod to each cornetto), and a tiramisu` taster in an edible chocolate cup. The tour was off to a great start!