San Marino: Castles on a Hill

The country of San Marino is completely surrounded by Italy. Like Monaco, you could walk from one side of the country to the other in an afternoon.

Why visit this 3rd smallest country in Europe? Well, look at that view! Three towers on a hill, overlooking the Apennine Mountains on one side and the Adriatic in the distance on the other.

Not a hard sell, that.


There’s no train connection into San Marino, which might be unique in the EU (other than the Holy See, I guess). Instead, you head to the resort town of Rimini.

In the summer, I bet Rimini is a happening place, with lots of restaurants, nightlife, and beachfront excitement. Now, on the outer edge of the shoulder season into winter, it’s sort of a creepy ghost town. Shuttered shops, graffiti, gloomy overcast skies, all conspire to exude a sort of zombie apocalypse vibe.

That’s not entirely fair. There were shops open, and there were some people, but if you’ve ever been to the Jersey Shore, or any other summer resort town in winter, you know the feeling this place gives off. Let me put it this way. I stayed in Rimini for 3 nights, and I was the only person in my 4-bed room. Never had that happen before. I don’t think there were more than half a dozen people in the whole hostel.

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

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The bus to San Marino leaves hourly, and costs 9 euros return. The ride up gives you views of the towers (if you sit on the left) or views of the plains (if you sit on the right).

The city of San Marino is like someone took Monaco, Venice, and Mont St Michel and put them in a blender set for frappe. Narrow stone streets, always at an angle, peppered with views of castle crenellations and ancient-looking towers.

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It’s a long climb anywhere in San Marino, ramps and stairs abound.

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It’s small, though, only taking 15-20 minutes from the bus stop to the entrance to the first tower.

Tower Guaita

The main tower (the one in the top image), is sort of a small castle. The core of it was built in the 11th century. At various times it was used as a prison.

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I think living in a castle would be kinda cool. Living in this castle would be amazing.

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You can climb up all the way to the top of the tower, offering some incredible views, a lovely breeze, and a brilliant quiet.

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Some where over the hills in the image below is Florence.

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The small courtyard felt oddly homey.

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You can see the second tower in the distance in the picture above and the one below. It’s a short walk, down, and then up, a bunch of steps.

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Tower Cesta

Both the first and second towers have small museums, documenting aspects of Sammarinese life. The view back towards the first tower, though, is worth the price of admission alone.

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The drop is as severe and high as it looks. There’s no forced perspective here; it’s a long way down. Since it wasn’t crowded, I was able to take a breather in the second castle, near one of the watchtowers that looked out towards the sea.

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The opening in you see in the mini tower on the right in the image above, was my spot to sit to take the image below:

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Inside that hut/tower thing where I was sitting you could look out in the other direction, and finally see the third tower.

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Getting to the third tower, however, involves a bit of a hike. First you have to climb down from the second tower:

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Then along a most serene path through the woods.

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Tower Montale

The third tower is the smallest, and honestly, least interesting. You can’t go in it, and the view isn’t any different from the first two towers. Worse, actually, since you can’t get high enough to see over the trees. I continued on, thinking I’d be able to make my way to some scenic vista, and found myself in what I thought was a deep remote path in the wilderness. Suddenly I realized that just beyond the trees to my right was actually a massive flat building. Then I spotted another. And a road. I was meters from civilization the whole time. Illusion ruined. Amused, I made my way back. While taking a different path through the second tower, I spotted these lovely stairs along the wall:

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There’s more to San Marino, but I didn’t have time to explore the other towns and villages. I exited the main town gate, and down the to the bus stop, with one last look…

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Up Next:

A night train to Vienna that almost didn’t happen.


Can I read the signs: Still Italian
Do I have a funny accent: Si

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The Bald Nomad

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