This Le Marche winery has been producing their own DOC verdicchio wine since 1938 and welcomes visitors to take an intimate look into their wine-making and tasting process.
If you thought Vatican City was the only independent nation inside of Italy’s borders, you’d be wrong. But up until a few weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea that this tiny country existed. Located inside of Italy’s Le Marche region, this mountain top castle town overlooks the Adriatic Sea. It’s made up of a small surrounding town, three castles at the top of the mountain and 360, panoramic views everywhere you look. During our quick Italian road trip, we visited San Marino using the nearby city of Urbino as our base and hit it up on our way back to Rome. Here’s some of the history, what to do and what to expect in San Marino.
San Marino is interestingly enough, the third smallest country in Europe, with a highly developed economy, no national debt and more vehicles than citizens. It was first recognized as independent from Italy in 1631 by the pope and has operated as a separate entity from Italy from that point on. All of this explains why the tiny country has such a different feel to it compared to the surrounding Italian region. The Sanmarinese people have been independent for a long time and they are proud of it. They’ve managed to keep an effective republic government and wealthy economy, mostly due to the many tourists that stop here on their way through Italy.
Things to do
Before getting to San Marino, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of what to do there. We really enjoyed our drive up the mountain and of our group, everyone kept remarking how the scenery and atmosphere of the town felt somewhat more similar to Germany or Austria. Some of the signs were in English and there wasn’t a small-town Italian feel to the big companies and factories we saw on our way.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we had to park our car and walk the rest of the way. We immediately started following a hiking trail up the hill to the top of the mountain. Luckily, we were all wearing sneakers so we didn’t have problems with the terrain, but it is a bit steep in some places and you should wear something that works for both nature and town activities. Along the path, we stopped so often to take pictures of the beautiful view that we got vertigo a couple of times because the cliff was very steep and not sectioned off with a fence or railing. If you’re bringing kids, be careful on the trail and make sure you have enough adults to keep an eye on them! Along the path there are three castles, each larger than the one before. You reach the final castle by crossing over a bridge and climbing to the very top, where the pictures and views are stunning. You can see the mountains of Le March in the distance with the Adriatic Sea directly behind the castle.
After you’ve taken your fill of pictures, the path leads you down into the small town that makes up “San Marino” and you start seeing the numerous tourist/souvenir shops that service the country’s many visitors. We skipped all of those and also opted to wait for our lunch, because all of the restaurants and caffes we saw weren’t very appealing. There doesn’t seem to be much of a local scene in the historic center so anything you buy or eat won’t be that great. There were plenty of weaponry shops and interesting products being sold, assumedly because it is a country separated from Italy and its laws.
After a quick walk through the town and people watching in a sunny piazza, we walked back to the car and drove off of the mountain!
What to expect
- A disney world-like feel
- Cliffside caffes with great views
- Swords, guns and other weapons
- Souvenir shops with candles, pottery, tea and other food products
- A cleaner feel than the usual italian city
- People who understand English and slightly higher cost of living
- All of the selfie sticks and cameras you could ever want
If you’re already in the region of Le Marche, I think a visit to San Marino is worth it solely for the pictures and views from its mountain-top castles. I wouldn’t make a trip out of this alone however, as the town itself didn’t offer much more than an afternoon’s worth of activities. We fit it in with Urbino the day before and then stops along the coast including Rimini on our drive back to Rome. Waiting for a piadina (Itlaian flatbread) for our lunch instead of eating in San Marino was a good call, as we were able to get a great lunch and pay a third of what we would’ve in the previous city.
What characteristics make you excited to visit a new city? And would you consider visit San Marino as a new country on your list?
When most foreigners think about the Italian countryside, they think about Tuscany, maybe Umbria if they know the country well. Before coming to live here I had no idea how much diversity Italy’s various regions represent. Vineyards in Umbria, beaches in Tuscany, mountains in Abruzzo. The center of Italy is culturally diverse and rich in history and food traditions.
One region that I didn’t have much experience with was Le Marche. I knew it was in the center of the country but didn’t realize how many unique landscapes it holds. After driving through the Apennine mountain range, you come to rolling hills and fields as far as you can see, until reaching the eastern coast and the Adriatic sea. We managed to make an overnight road trip out of it, with plenty of stops for food and photos along the way.
Today I’m sharing some pictures and information about one of my favorite cities in Italy, Urbino, before going on to share about Abruzzo (Tuscany) and San Marino (it’s own little country within Italy!)
What we saw: the city of Urbino
I had the good fortune of having a friend study abroad in Urbino, while I was studying in Rome. I went to visit her once, before we left for Oktoberfest and I still remember that short trip. While I was only there for a night, I was stunned when we walked up a hill and entered the walled city by how beautiful the views were. I haven’t seen anything like the amazing landscape of this region before. Because you’re at a high elevation, you can see for miles around and the land is generally clear of trees because it’s so heavily cultivated. It makes for great views and amazing, locally-grown food.
Urbino is a walled medieval city that has its own castle and ramparts surrounding it. You can’t take any cars into the city (unless you’re a resident) so we parked and walked inside after arriving late at our bnb. Because we went in around dinner time on a weekend, the city was very quiet at first. As we walked closer to the center, through twisting alleyways and under stone arches, we found the city center where many people were out in the piazza having drinks and enjoying Saturday night aperitivo. My sister and I were charmed by the smaller city size, cute shops and restaurants, while my Roman boyfriend was wondering how anyone could ever live in a city so small. Before eating, we walked around and visited some of the tourist shops on the main road (Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi) where I found an amazing blend of tea, bits of pottery, and a fabulously helpful shopkeeper who reminded me how nice Italians outside of Rome can be.
What we ate: Cresce, gelato, wine, meats, and cheese
The food in Urbino was absolutely amazing and consistent with the rest of Le Marche. Every meal we had on our trip was tasty and affordable. In Urbino, we asked our shopkeeper friend for reccomendations and she sent us to Il Girarrosto. This was a classic trattoria with great house wine, an open fire for roasting the porchetta and other meat, and a great selection of food. Because we ate a (very) big lunch in Arezzo, we went for a salumi platter, with sides of straccitella cheese, the local piadine and of course a liter of red wine. While of course the salame and prosciutto were amazing, we all really loved the crescie, a flakey, warm flatbread native to Urbino. We topped it all off with a quick gelato to go on our walk back down the hill.
Where we stayed: Ca' Vernaccia B&B
Our Airbnb, Ca' Vernaccia, was charming, with a fantastic view of the countryside. We were only a few minutes outside of the main city and by car it wasn’t difficult to get to. Off of the main road, we took a smaller dirt road down to the bnb where we rfound the guest rooms separated from the main house with the restaurant and breakfast area. While breakfast was included with our room, they also had the option to do a tasting meal at the b&b’s restaurant which is known for its truffle dishes and has a relatively low price for all four courses. The room was nothing special, but it did fit three comfortably and we had a separate bathroom and kitchen if we wanted to cook in the apartment. The only negative note were the two stink bugs we found in our room but with the proximity to the outdoors, some wildlife is only to be expected I guess.
Near the b&b is where we took my favorite photos form the trip because the lighting and backgrounds were so beautiful. I lost count of the times I asked Edoardo to stop the car so I could get “one last picture”.
If you made it this far, you must either really love Italy’s hidden gems, or be a member of my family. But all of this just goes to show how passionate I am about finding off the map places and enjoying all of Italy’s amazing regions.
So, have you ever been to the fabulous region of Le Marche? Or another area outside of Italy's main cities while traveling here?