Europe attracts more international tourists than any other region of the world, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The staggering 616 million people that visited the continent last year faced the tough choice of dozens of destinations, each offering stimulating history, diverse classes of creatives, and epic landscapes. France seduced the most travellers by far, but what about last place?
Hovering on a cliff encircled by Italy, the tiny landlocked country of San Marino holds the title of the least visited country in Europe, just a dot on the map of only 37.9 square kilometres. Here’s why travellers of all types should visit the under the radar microstate.
The historic old city of San Marino maintains it's medieval charm. - PHOTOGRAPH BY FLAVIO VALLENARI, GETTY IMAGES
FOR HISTORY BUFFS
Founded in the fourth century and one of the world’s oldest republics, San Marino survived from the time when city-states proliferated across Europe—a critical stage for developing democratic models across the globe. Ramble around the car-free capital also named San Marino, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a medievalized layout punctuated by three imposing fortresses standing testimony to a turbulent past.
FOR EPIC LANDSCAPES
The Mount Titano, part of the Apennine range, dominates San Marino's landscape surrounded by Italy with clear views all the way to the Adriatic Sea. Old stone benches pepper the slopes offering place to bask in the greenery stretching to the outlying villages. Ride the funicular from one such town, Borgo Maggiore, to the historic center for sweeping views of Italy in every direction.
All the rules of northern Italian food apply here too, with a strong tradition in cheesemaking. Sammarinese cuisine, heavy on pasta and meat dishes, balances the rich and fresh with locally-sourced ingredients. The area holds a particular fondness for the filled flatbread called piada, similar to a piadina from the encompassing Emilia-Romagna region. Don’t forget the wine: San Marino produced wine for almost two thousand years, ageing the bottles in the area caves for optimal temperatures.
FOR ARCHITECTURE FANS
Visitors weave through time in the living history museum of the historic capital, home to 14th and 16th-century convents, 18th-century Titano Theatre, and a neoclassical basilica built in the 19th century. The centrepiece Palazzo Pubblico echoes Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio on a much smaller scale.
FOR SAVVY SHOPPERS
The tax-free policy of San Marino makes shopping cheaper than nearby Italy. Mid-century modern ceramics captivate collectors, along with postage stamps created in the late 19th century for use only within the state's borders.
San Marino may not be a member of the European Union but enjoys open borders with Italy for tourists staying less than 10 days. The ideal location makes for easy day trips from cities like Florence or Bologna, both located less than three hours away.
Lead image: Only 23.6 square miles, the tiny microstate of San Marino sits on a cliff surrounded by sweeping views of Italy. - Photograph by Xinhua News Agency/Redux.