Little Known, Little Countries of Europe

Category: Culture

San Marino

San MarinoConsidered the oldest republic in the world, San Marino is a 23 square mile enclave that abuts the Apennine mountains in Italy. A cherished tourist destination for Europeans, San Marino has a flourishing economy and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. A largely agrarian community of around 30,000 inhabitants, San Marino is a tiny Italian- and Emiliano-Romagnolo-speaking utopia, dedicating most of its precious acreage to olive and vine cultivation, bee-keeping, livestock and dairy farming. Look for the wines of San Marino: Brugneto and Tessano, red wines aged in cherrywood barrels, and Biancale and Roncale, still, white wines.

“A whole world in a small country”, Andorra is another landlocked country nestled between Spain and France. The official language is Catalan, a romance language that closely resembles both French and Spanish. Roughly 180 square miles, and with a population of around 84,000, Andorra has been an independent territory since 1278, when it broke away from the Crown of Aragon. The government is a testimony to this Andorra
country’s complex cultural heritage — both a parliamentary democracy and a co-principality, with co-princes Nicolas Sarkozy (French president) and Joan Enric Vives Sicilia (Bishop of Urgell, Catalonia). Touted as one of the safest countries in Europe, Andorra has the second highest life expectancy, perhaps in part thanks to its rich gastronomical culture. Some of the local culinary specialties include: Masegada cake, Andorran river trout, Brossat cheese, Curly lettuce with confit of duck gizzards and mushrooms, Mulberry jam, Mulled Cremat wine, Peasants’ stew or barrejada, Quince alioli and Wild boar stew.

LiechtensteinLocated on the East bank of the Rhine river between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is a mountainous country with snow-covered peaks that tower over 8,000 feet. This German-speaking state gained its independence from Germany in 1806. It is currently a monarchy under the rule of Prince Hans Adams II, who descends from one of the oldest Austrian noble families. Interestingly enough, the local currency is the Swiss Franc. With around 36,000 citizens, Liechtenstein has been a military-free state since 1868. It is a veritable winter paradise for mountain bikers and skiers, and boasts over 250 miles of hiking trails — not bad for a country of only 62 square miles.


Less than one square mile, the Principality of Monaco borders France and is near the Italian border on the Mediterranean Sea. Prince Albert II is head of state, ruling over a population of around 35,000. The population density of Monaco is thus the highest in Europe. Though French is the official language, Monégasque, a dialect of modern Ligurian derived from Medieval Italian, is still taught in the schools and many street signs are bilingual. Monaco is a favorite destination of the rich and famous and has offered its breathtaking panoramas as the setting for countless films. One of the most recent French films that highlights the beauty and culture of Monaco is “La Fille de Monaco”, starring Fabrice Lucchini.

Stato della Città del Vaticano

With a population just over 800, Vatican City is ecclesiastical state ruled by the Pope. Surrounded on all sides by Italy, the Vatican City has been independent from its host country since 1929. Total area is just under a fifth of a mile. The Swiss Guard is responsible for protecting the Pope (currently Benedict XVI), but the Vatican relies on Italy for military protection. There is no official language in this city-state, but Italian is the main language heard within the city walls, and German is the official language spoken by the Swiss Guard.

Image attributions: Mikael Miettenen (San Marino), lorentey (Andorra),  vauvau (Liechtenstein)