Travel to San Marino
Perched on the top of a 657m lump of rock, the 61-sq-km Repubblica di San Marino is Europe’s third-smallest state after the Vatican and Monaco. A favourite day-trip destination – in 2006, about 2.1 million visitors made the very steep climb to the historic centre – it’s largely given over to tourism. Hundreds of souvenir stalls line the not-unattractive streets selling everything from samurai swords to San Marino stamps and locally minted coins, and restaurants do a brisk trade feeding the visiting hordes. However, if you catch it at a quiet time (ie during the week, preferably in winter) the old town is pleasant enough and the views are spectacular.
Several legends describe the founding of San Marino, including one about a stonecutter who was given the land on top of Monte Titano by a rich Roman woman whose son he had cured. Throughout history, it’s pretty much been left to its own devices. Cesare Borgia took possession early in the 16th century, but his rule was short-lived as he died soon after. Then in 1739 one Cardinal Giulio Alberoni took over the republic, but the pope backed San Marino’s independence and the cardinal was sent packing. During WWII it remained neutral and played host to 100, 000 refugees until 1944, when the Allies marched into town.