San Marino: a journey through time

Panorama de Saint-Marin

The bells have just rung seven times. It’s at this early hour that Generation Voyage invites you to discover a unique destination: San Marino. If this morning you were still in one of the prettiest corners of Emilia-Romagna, you are now in another place, almost another world. One thing’s for sure: you’re no longer in Italy. Welcome to what the locals call the Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino.

San Marino is one of the world’s smallest states. Third, after the Vatican and Monaco. In fact, San Marino shares one thing in common with Monaco: you’re in an enclave on the Italian peninsula, not far from Rimini and Bologna. San Marino is the oldest republic in the world. Although its constitution dates back « only » to October 8, 1600, it was actually founded on September 3, 301. So here you are, visiting a state that is almost 1,720 years old.

It’s obvious, then, that a rich historical heritage awaits you. Half-Renaissance, half-medieval, it sets the tone for your stay and the atmosphere that prevails.

Drapeaux et Palazzo Pubblico, Saint-Marin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Matteo Gabrieli

From the moment you first step onto San Marino’s shores, the peace and quiet and the architecture give you the feeling of having traveled back in time. It’s as if you’ve stepped centuries back in time. This feeling is reinforced as soon as you enter the Palazzo Pubblico. This Renaissance building bears witness to the country’s rich history, thanks to the various works of art decorating the palace’s rooms, including the splendid Council Chamber. No wonder, then, that this is where the government now sits.

On your way out, the narrow streets of San Marino await you. It’s an ideal way to discover the town’s ancient houses, but also to get to the next visit: the three Towers. These buildings are a veritable treasure trove. A few centuries ago, these same towers were used to protect the small state from the various assaults it was the target of. Attacks to which the republic never once yielded. It’s as if the peninsula had found some cousins of our die-hard Gauls.

Erected between the 11th and 14th centuries, the Tre Torre is the finest surviving medieval fortification. The location of these fortifications is also exceptional, as they are built into the side of a mountain. In fact, this mountain is unlike any other: welcome to Mount Titano.

Se balader dans les rues de Saint-Marin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Zhukov Oleg

« A few clouds veil the panorama. In fact, it’s they who, from the top of their atmosphere, give off this singular aura. That of being on top of the world, playing tightrope walker. Becoming invincible.

Rising to 739 metres, it too tells the story of San Marino’s history. It was here that a modest stonemason from Rimini decided to settle, fleeing persecution by the Christians. His name? Marin.

Up there, at the top of the mountain, you’re somewhere else. A few clouds veil the panorama. In fact, it’s they who, from the top of their atmosphere, give off that singular aura. That of being on the roof of the world, playing tightrope walker. Becoming invincible. Then comes the sun. The clouds disappear, the horizon looms. At that moment, you’re there: you’re in for a treat. Lower your head and contemplate the plain, before raising it again to face the Apennines. San Marino is also an extraordinary natural paradise, with lush green landscapes as far as the eye can see.

Even from below, there’s plenty to be amazed about. From up here, we tend to forget that a rock rises from the plain and that man has built a country on a mountainside. Take the cable car and you’ll understand why.

Saint-Marin

The morning comes to an end. All this emotion whets the appetite, doesn’t it? It’s time to take a break and recharge our batteries. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about San Marino and its heritage, through gastronomy. Finding a convincing trattoria is child’s play, as tourist attractions are few and far between in the area.

Take the opportunity to introduce your taste buds to San Marino’s traditional pasta: strozzapreti. While the chef cooks them for you, treat yourself to a pint of Titanbräu, the local beer. As soon as you’ve finished your drink, the smell of sauce wafts into your nostrils. The mixture of meat, tomato and basil is mouth-watering. The dish is served.

For dessert, your hosts will be proud to serve you a slice of Bustrengo, a typical local rice-based dessert. Bustrengo is also a flagship dish in Emilia-Romagna. The region has strongly influenced the Sammarinese terroir, so it’s no surprise to find common specialties.

But beware, this is no reason to tell the locals they’re Romagnoli, or even Italian. They might take you to the Torture Museum and use you as a guinea pig.

Saint Marin

« Handwork is much more than a specialty, it’s an art of living. »

Once you’ve regained your strength, a digestive walk is in order. There are two options: head back towards the historic center, or head for the Borgo Maggiore, another exceptional site. In either case, take the opportunity to explore the many artisan boutiques. There are plenty of them, brimming with artistic treasures. Everything is handcrafted in the most traditional of ways.

Here, we take the time to shape our work, to check every little detail. Whether it’s pottery, jewelry or summer tunics, nothing is left to chance. But the result is well worth the effort. As you can see, craftsmanship is much more than a specialty, it’s a way of life.

Craftsmanship is just one of the many examples of this philosophy. To see for yourself, just look at agriculture, probably the most striking example. Where other countries are beginning to return to basic principles, to respect the rhythm of nature, San Marino agriculture has never ceased to follow them. The main tool is the hand, nothing else. That’s why your strozzapreti, bustrengo and wine were so delicious at lunchtime.

Vignoble au pied du Mont Titan

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Dmitry Kalinovsky

Time flies, and it’s already time to conclude your escapade. But before you go, head for the Basilica del Santo, the state’s main religious building. Dedicated to the Holy Founder, the basilica is a final demonstration of the beauty of San Marino’s heritage. It’s the perfect way to end this journey into another time.

This concludes our visit to San Marino. In the heart of Italy, in the Emilia-Romagna region near the Marche, San Marino is well worth a visit. Yet too many travellers forget to include it in their travel diaries. And wrongly so. For while the country may be one of the smallest in the world, its beauty and history are immense.