During a recent trip to Bologna, Italy, visiting some friends, we decided to take a roadtrip to the nearby micro-nation of San Marino. San Marino is a tiny landlocked nation entirely surrounded by Italy. It lies near the adriatic coast, about 1,5 hours of driving from Bologna – so it is a easy day trip.
San Marino is interesting for many reasons, not least for being the oldest continous nation state in the world, having been around since year 301. This means that his tiny nation is packed with history and old fascinating buildings. Another good reason to visit, is simply because like any micro-nation, it is rather fascinating seeing how so small a country can function and have it’s own institutions. Finally the location of San Marino makes for a great reason to visit.
You see, San Marino is mostly located on a bunch of hills in a mostly flat area, so from the capital city (also just called San Marino) you get a great view of the surrounding area, and the adriatic in the distance. But if you’re even more lucky, you might get a even better view – a view of the clouds from above. That is exactly what we got.
When we left Bologna, it was very foggy, and we were actually pretty unsure about wheter it would be worth making this trip, as we didn’t expect to be able to see anything due to the fog. We went anyways. The fog stuck around during the entire drive and didn’t lift one bit. But then we entered the territory of San Marino and started climbing up into the hills, and suddenly out of nowhere we broke through the fog and into the crystal clear skies above the fog. It was also right at the time of sunset, so the views were beyond insane, seeing the sea of clouds below us, the mountains in the distance and the sky painted orange-red by the setting sun. It was a very spectacular sight, and one we hadn’t expected at all.
We quickly pulled over the car at a oversight, to marvel at the view, and take pictures. Suddenly we were all extremely happy that we had decided to go, and the whole mood changed for the better. And it would only get better from here.
We drove into the capital city and parked on one of the few narrow parking spaces around town. From there we walked on, climbing further up into the main fortress/castles of the old town. Bearing in mind that the country is very old, it has a marvelous old town full of old fairytale-esque castles, city walls and narrow labyrinthine cobble-stone streets. It felt very much like walking around a Disney movie. To make it even more magical, the whole town was dressed up for christmas. Tons of lights adorned the streets, a long with a plethora of christmas decorations and several small christmas markets on the small squares around the city. They even had a small ice-rink!
We walked around the whole city, heading upwards towards the lookout-towers on the top of the hills for the best views. The views were indeed splendid, even if there was still a thick layer of fog covering the entire lower plains. But with the lights from all the cities lighting up the fog from below did make a fantastic view.
Our trip to San Marino was quite late in the day, with us arriving at around 17:00, but despite this, most stores were still open, and the streets were sprawling with happy christmas-goers. It was a very lively experience. Some of the stores are a bit weird however. There’s several stores selling full arsenal of bb-guns and paintball guns, in all models from small guns to fully automatic rifles. Some of these stores also sold everything in knives and bows and other weapons. It seemed rather out of place for this small notoriously neutral country, but it did provide for a lot of jokes about how San Marino is ready for any invasion.
It took us less than 2 hours to traverse the entire old town – it is cozy and very quaint with great views, but there isn’t a whole lot to do. Still recommended for a trip however – ESPECIALLY if you love old castles and cobbled stoned streets.
While San Marino is indeed a republic, and not a kingdom, the whole castle-setting does feel very much like walking around a classic tale of knights and kings. Thus the “Kingdom in the clouds” title.