Our stay in Bologna was a good excuse to explore the rest of Emilia-Romagna – a road trip around the lesser-known area of Italy (it’s hard to compete with such famous neighbours like Toscany or Cinque Terre). We also had one more reason to do it: after our successful road trip to Liechtenstein and a short visit to Monaco, we now had a chance to check out another tiny country – San Marino.
Here’s the two days itinerary we followed on our road trip in June this year. The first day is packed with many cities, the second is more of a drive through the countryside and visiting castles. All driving times in this article are according to our favourite “avoid tolls” setting which usually adds between 10 – 30 minutes.
Road Trip Day 1: Art City, San Marino and the Adriatic Coast
Drive to Dozza
We rented a car at Bologna airport – even including the taxi to and from the airport, it was much cheaper than renting one in the city. The drive to Dozza was supposed to take us up to 45 minutes but for no reason, there was a lot of traffic on Saturday morning and we ended up arriving almost 30 minutes later than planned.
Leave your car at the free parking next to the historical centre and head in through the big gate.
Dozza is a medieval village that doubles as an open-air street art museum. Every two years artists paint the city as part of the Biennale of Contemporary Art of the Muro Dipinto.
The dominating point of the village is the fortress which now houses a museum and Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna – a great wine cellar offering local wines.
In case you started your trip earlier than we did and have time to spare, you may want to visit San Leo before coming to San Marino.
Drive to San Marino (about 2h from Dozza) and leave your car at the free parking near the funicular. Follow the sign for the funicular (funivia) and head up to San Marino’s historic centre. The short ride, which costs €4.50 for a round trip, is a bit thrilling and the views are fantastic. Check the official website for working hours and closures info.
Tourist information centre was my first stop. That’s where you can get your passport stamped for €5. After I became a proud tourist visa stamp owner, we went for a stroll without a plan or a list of must-see places.
To our amusement, it was a Nippon Matsuri – Japanese Festival weekend. What were the chances that your favourite country has its own festival in San Marino of all places? Our lunch plans were sorted. Conveniently, there was also a local craft brewery (Birrificio Abusivo) stall so I got a chance to try their IPA without having to search for it.
We walked around the historical centre for about 30 minutes and had really mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s great to visit one of the smallest countries in the world, especially when it’s quite pretty and has a spectacular location. On the other hand, the main streets are lined with shops that bring to mind duty-free zones at airports, selling perfumes, toys and other knick-knacks. All that seems way too generic and touristy. And don’t even get me started on the ones selling weapons.
We didn’t have much time left and to be honest, we wanted to skip anything that could be busy with tourists so we didn’t go to Rimini. Other than the beaches, Il Borgo and Ponte di Tiberio sound like nice places to see.
Drive to Cesenatico
When we arrived on a hot Saturday afternoon, there were plenty of free parking spaces along Viale Cecchini near Porto Canale Leonardesco so we left our car there and went for a walk along the canal.
It was tranquil and charming but the heat was too much and we had to abandon the plan of reaching the coast about half-way through. Cesenatico seemed like a place that would be a good overnight stop. If you can stretch this road trip for another day, I’d recommend stopping here.
We had to skip another important city – Ravenna. That’s where several churches with mosaics that are on the Unesco’s World Heritage list are located.
Drive to Comacchio
Before heading to our hotel, we had a quick stop in Comacchio. We couldn’t miss the so-called “little Venice” with its historic buildings and quiet narrow paths along canals. And while we’d love to sit down for a drink, enjoy the silence and do nothing for the rest of the day, we still had quite a long drive ahead of us.
We made a detour out of Emilia-Romagna just for this B&B. When I found Bonello on booking website, I had a really good feeling about it. And I wasn’t mistaken – what a gem!
All we wanted was to relax in a quiet place somewhere in the countryside, have a bathtub or a pool and on-site restaurant. Bonello had all that waiting for us plus exceptional service and wonderful wines.
Their restaurant is worth a trip on its own. We are still reminiscing about their pink pasta and pinzini.
Road Trip Day 2: Countryside & Castles
The B&B was so good, we decided to axe most of our day 2 plans. We let ourselves sleep in (which in our case meant 8:30am instead of 7am), have a slow breakfast and head straight to the castle we wanted to see the most – Castello di Bardi.
Bardi was 3 hours away. The ride was easy and uneventful until we reached the last 40 minutes where there are more hills and winding roads. Each turn unveiled more and more beautiful sights with the castle towering over the valley.
Visit to the castle costs €7 and along with the ticket, you’ll receive a pamphlet with a history of the castle and a route with short descriptions to follow. It took us about 1h30 to see all there was to see.
If you’re looking for a place to have lunch in Bardi, we can recommend Ristorante Le Due Spade.
On the way home (well, to Bologna airport to return the car to be exact) we stopped one more time. This was mainly for me to fly my drone around castle ruins in Canossa. The ride up there from Bardi was a lot of fun, especially for those who enjoy winding roads with dramatic drops on either side.
There were many more places worth visiting on that side of Emilia-Romagna. You can easily make another day or two out of them.