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Holiday Guides for Europe - San Marino

San Marino Holiday

San Marino combines its unique history with dramatic scenery and the best of Italian culture into one of the smallest independent states on earth.

The independent state of San Marino is reputedly the world's oldest existing republic, and the second smallest – sitting landlocked by the mountainous terrain of the Apennine mountain range in central Italy. Constituting only 24 square miles, the state contains only two towns – the capital San Marino and the smaller Serravalle, with other villages nestling on the slopes of Mount Titano, which dominates the rugged landscape.

Representing a relic left over from the period where much of Italy was made up of small independent city states, San Marino is something of an anomaly both politically and historically, forging close ties with Italy over the centuries through trade agreements, whilst remaining completely independent of its surrounding neighbour since its founding by a Christian stonecutter called Marino in the early fourth century. In the 17th century, the state's independence was accepted by the pope; while in1992 it was officially recognised by the United Nations.

There are plenty of sights, both in the capital city and the surrounding area, that remind visitors of the quirky history of the republic. The most obvious are the three stone-walled fortresses that stand on the slopes of Mount Titano, which were often required to repel invaders in medieval times. These are well worth a visit, if only for the spectacular views across the landscape to the Adriatic Sea, although there is plenty in the way of historical exhibits to keep the more academically minded interested.

Perhaps one of the things San Marino is now most famous for in the UK is the San Marino Grand Prix – bizarrely, however, the race itself does not take place within the state, due the slight problem of the absence of a racetrack. This means that the hoards of Formula 1 fans descend instead on the near-by Imola race circuit, 30 miles south east of Bologna, meaning that many never visit the race's official hosts.

However, this in no way means that San Marino avoids the tourist hoards at the height of the season. Around the summer months, thousand's of visitors flock into the state every day, even if to simply wander around the old town or buy some stamps. Like Italy's other famous miniature state the Vatican, San Marino's stamps and coins are in high demand by collectors, making a visit an essential part of any budding Philatelist.

September is also a bad time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds, due to the festival that takes place every year to mark the official founding date of the Republic, and historical re-enactments of past battles bring the history of the old streets to life.

For visitors who want to discover the hidden beauty of this part of old Italy, perhaps the best time to come is in the middle of winter, when snow carpets the streets, rooftops and surrounding hillsides, creating a special atmosphere that you won't have to share with the throngs of other tourists.