Right after the hotel breakfast, we checked out and made our 3.5 hours drive to our 43rd country – San Marino. San Marino is one of the smallest countries and also one of the world’s oldest republics. Its capital, also called San Marino, is built on top of a hill with roads zip-zagging up. The center of the capital is pedestrian-only but there are plenty of parking lots, well numbered, just outside the gate. I booked a night at Hotel La Grotta for $134 and parked at Parking Lot #7…actually Parking Lot #6 is the closest. Parking rate was €8 full day so it was very reasonable except that the machine takes coins only. I saved up a lot of coins after yesterday’s experience so I had enough to pay for it.
After we parked our car, we rolled our luggage up the steep walkway yikes! Thankfully, the hotel is pretty close to the gate. We arrived just before lunch so our room was not ready yet. We stored our luggage and then headed out to lunch. I planned to have lunch at Miramonti but it is permanently closed…urg I really have tough luck with restaurants during this trip! With the slow 2G data, it was hard loading Trip Advisor so I searched on Google Maps and found Restorante Bolognese right around the corner that server seafood and have decent reviews.
We got a window table in the restaurant and the waiter speaks good English. They also have a multi-language menu, it looked touristy but their food was actually good. We ordered steam mussels and seafood spaghetti. The mussels were very fresh and delicious, yummy!
Their local spaghetti is actually more like egg noodle and we loved that!
Finally, fresh seafood!!! I love their local spaghetti, the look and texture are like egg noodle! Our lunch was only €35.50 for 2 seafood spaghetti, steamed mussels, and a bottle of mineral water! Food is good and affordable in San Marino!
After lunch, we walked uphill to start our sightseeing – the first thing in my itinerary is to explore the famous towers: Rocca Guaita (The First Tower) and Castello Cesta (The Second Tower). It was a good 15 minutes zig-zagging up the main street passing many shops and restaurants. We were amazed at how many souvenir shops there are, I told Jason, we’ll do shopping after the sights so don’t slow down!
Being on top of a hill, the views are spectacular!
As we were following Google Maps, I saw a post office marking on the map but it doesn’t look like there’s a post office…usually post office have a “postal” sign hanging in front of the building. When we walked past by, I saw one of the doors opened and the wall inside has a big picture of a cute stamp of a girl flying. Jason was walking a few steps ahead so I said: “Jason, come back, is this a post office?” We walked in and sure enough, it is a post office! We were surprised that the post office still opens on Saturday afternoon and OMG they have a lot of collectible San Marino stamps!
The big San Marino stamp with the girl flying on the wall, that’s the picture I saw that made me stop and check it out. Their stamps are so beautiful so we wanted this and that and ended up spending over €30 on stamps 😀 It was well worth it though to add to Jason’s stamp collection, very memorable than those made in China souvenirs.
Our stamp mission accomplished! We continued our way to the towers and passed the Basilica of San Marino – Pieve:
Near the first tower, there’s a restaurant across with good views.
We purchased the “Blue Card” at Rocca Guaita (The First Tower) entrance which was €7.50 each, it included admission to the First and Second Towers plus some museums. The views from the Rocca Guaita were awesome.
You can also see the Second Tower, Castello Cesta from here.
San Marino and Italy below:
There are some sections of the wall you can walk around but very short only. Then, we went back down to check out the tower.
I felt tired after the long walk up here so I took a rest in the shade while Jason went up to the tower. He said glad that I didn’t go with him because it would be hard and dangerous for me to climb those stairs:
Jason took those pics while up at the Rocca Guaita; you can see the views surrounding the hill.
The view of the Second Tower:
Jason screamed my name a few times and I finally saw him. He took a pic of me waiting below the tower.
It looked challenging to get down….
After Rocca Guaita, it was a 7 minutes walk to the Second Tower but at least not much uphill as getting to the First Tower.
A look back at Rocca Guaita, beautiful isn’t’ it?
Castello Cesta has a weapon museum:
At the Castello Cesta, this is where the postcard and stamp photos of San Marino are taken!
Also from Castello Cesta, you can see the Third Tower, Montale, that’s not open to the public.
Love the views from the Second Tower!
After visited the two towers, we walked back and took more photos since not many tourists at this location as before:
Then, we walked back into the center to the grocery store to stock up on drinks before making our way back to the hotel to rest! There are a lot of jewelry shops because San Marino is tax-free so it’s cheaper to buy in San Marino than Italy 😉
Our room was ready and I was tired after walking uphills under the hot sun so we decided to take a power nap. Not sure how long we napped but I woke up by the sounds of drums. At first, I didn’t pay much attention, I thought it was just some street performers but the sounds keep getting louder and louder that Jason also woken up by it. We got up and went out to check it out, it was a huge parade!!!
The hotel reception didn’t mention anything about it when we checked in so we had no clue what was the occasion for but it sure looked like a big event where people dressed in ancient costumes!
We followed the parade to Basilica of San Marino – Pieve where they gathered.
They made some speech here which we had no clue what they are talking about.
Their medieval costumes are so vibrant.
It was amazing to see all those colorful costumes, it seemed like there are few different tribes by the different flags they were carrying.
It was interesting to see but at the same time I felt bad that they have to stand in this open square baking by the hot summer sun, their costumes also looked very hot to wear with thick layers!
After the long speech, each group taking a turn to leave the square.
Their dresses are so pretty!
We thought the parade was over so we continued exploring the capital – to Monumento a Bartolomeo Borghesi. It is a nice garden area with great views and right next to it is the cable car station.
There’s also an open theatre – Cava dei Balestrieri (The Crossbowmen’s Quarry) and the sign said “53th National Crossbow Tournament”. We didn’t correlate that to the parade until we saw the parade heading our way LOL!
There they are!
Making their way down to the open theater.
The sun angle made half of the theater in shade which made it hard for photos.
There were cameramen filming the event, it looked like an opening ceremony by exchanging the stunning porcelain plates they were carrying.
We didn’t stay for the whole event because there was no place with shade to sit and it was burning hot! We continued exploring San Marino…
We did some shopping as well where I bought a pair of earrings made with Swarovski crystals by an Italian jewelry brand. Once we are done shopping, we went to dinner at II Ristorante Beccafico. We ordered the seafood pasta for two and it was huge and super yummy! The ingredients were fresh and big portion. I loved the taste where they added black peppers to add just the right amount of spiciness without covering the seafood taste!
Then, we had the grilled Mediterranean shrimps, it was so good!
Our absolutely delicious dinner was €46.50…..once again, food in San Marino is good and affordable!
After dinner, we still have some time before sunset….sunset late at 8:55 PM. We walked back to Monumento a Bartolomeo Borghesi for the view of sunsetting behind those rolling hills.
For the blue hour, I think the most spectacular place would be the view from the Second Tower, Castello Cesta so we had our long walk to get there. Passed Basilica of San Marino – Pieve again for the third time and there was no one there.
The sun just set and the sky started to turn to the blue hour as we were making our way from the First Tower to the Second Tower.
The lights were also turned on so we waited for the sky to turn completely blue and took so many photos!
We headed back to the center and took more night photos of the beautiful San Marino. All the day-trippers were gone by then so it was a great atmosphere without many crowds to make photo-taking easy.
The street lamps and hanging lights made the stony buildings lit up added a romantic ambiance to the surrounding.
Palazzo Pubblico at the blue hour:
We were really surprised by San Marino – it is small but plenty to see, amazing views, lots of shops, and delicious food at reasonably priced. When I was planning the trip, I thought it would be nice to check off another country from our list but ended up San Marino is one of our favorite parts of the trip! I highly recommend a night stay at San Marino, it is totally safe to walk around with the DSLR camera to take night photos!