Rab Island: Kingdom of Emerald Bays and Sandy Beaches
Even though surpassed in surface by its island neighbours, what it lacks in size, Rab makes up for by its numerous emerald bays, plenty of cultural heritage and geological diversity, as well as fascinating island stories that will captivate you forever
The view of tall and nearly desolate northern side of Rab island, laid bare by the brute force of the bora wind coming from Senj, can in no way prepare you for what awaits in the heart of ‘Arba’, which translates as the ‘Green’ island. Rab’s original name (Arba in Illyrian) comes from the gorgeous holm oak covering a large portion of the island, especially the Kalifront peninsula.
Even though surpassed in surface by its island neighbours Krk and Cres, what it lacks in size, Rab island makes up for by its numerous emerald bays, plenty of cultural heritage and geological combination of limestone and marl (with over 300 sources of fresh water) and fascinating island stories that will captivate you forever.
A little under 1,000 inhabitants live in 8 villages from Lopar in the north, Kampor, Supetarska Draga, Mundanije, Palit, Banjol, Barbat and the major town – Rab – in the south, spanning 90 m2 in a true Mediterranean climate, set between the rocky northern side and wooded southern side.
If you choose to cruise the waters around Rab, you can enjoy gorgeous sandy beaches in the north, while the well-indented southern coast is reminiscent of fingers spread out wide and features a thousand shades of blue, with thick holm oak trees towering over it, will treat you to an unforgettable sailing adventure.
As the locals say, where you moor and the direction of your sail should never be decided on a whim and rashly. Instead, the weather forecast should be scrutinised closely beforehand because not only does the bora wind reach record speed here (180 km/h recorded at the port), but, unlike the other parts of the Adriatic, it unleashes its gusts suddenly and violently here, blowing for periods up to ten days even in June.
While the port itself is relatively safe, the town fathers have decided to build a new breakwater where the historic pier once stood. If you sail to one of the points on top of the Rab plateau or better yet, if you climb from Mundanije to the Bansko hill or Kamenjak (408 m), not only will you enjoy one of most striking vantage points overlooking the Kvarner Gulf and Velebit, but you will understand why sailing ships would often come here and why the beautiful town is surrounded by mighty walls.
Even though this island with a great geographic location was originally inhabited by Illyrians and Liburnians, it was Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus who first built walls around it and gave Rab the title of Municipium, after which it became known as Felix Arba (happy/wooded), which suits it perfectly.
Indeed, if you explore the bays from the landward side by walking along the many trails on the island, the amount of holm oak and pine trees is impressive and so major that it is actually the best preserved oak forest in the Mediterranean – called Dundo. Don’t be surprised if you encounter deer or mouflons here. However, what you want to explore in detail are the waters around Rab and its neighbouring islands, one bay at a time.
Two dozen bays along the Kalifront peninsula are loved by yachtsmen, both local and foreign, many of whom dry-dock their yachts on one of the many available places on the island. Mladen Šćerbe, or Mišo, as his friends call him, is an artist in every sense of the term, a sailor and possibly the finest example of the effect that Rab has on a person because he decided to move from Split, where he was born, and settle permanently in Rab island.
When you combine Mišo and Josip Perčinić, your typical Rab inhabitant and passionate big gamer, at the helm of the Pičuljan 980 boat made by local shipbuilder Romano Pičuljan, you get an exquisite combination of guides for anything worth, interesting and beautiful there is to see in Rab.
On the lively Medieval trade route from Venice to Constantinople, Rab island was known as a safe anchorage and centre for trading in the most luxurious goods at the time, while the mighty Rab nobility even ruled the nearby Lun in the Island of Pag up until 1992!
A stroll inside the walls, the Town Loggia and the Rector’s Palace, as well as the Tudorini and Nimira-Dominis palaces and the well-preserved historic centre towered over by the Rab Cathedral bell tower tells you a lot about the status that Rab had in the past. Even nowadays, Rab has the largest operational docks in the Adriatic and watching the June yacht traffic from the shade created by Rab city walls, providing a powerful and harmonious division between the town and the sea, Rab is in for a lively summer of sailing.
If you visit in summer during the Rabska Fjera festival, featuring archers in historical uniforms, music and Rab cake at every corner and thousands of guests coming together to take a photo or two of this spectacular event, you will understand the island’s perspective much better.
There are statistical data to back this – Rab is one of the few islands in the Adriatic not struggling with emigration. As soon as you leave the port, with the city walls to the side, you wish to moor in the St. Euphemia’s Bay at the far side of which is the eponymous Franciscan monastery. And you wouldn’t regret it, as this is one of the most popular anchorages and a base for you to plan your travel itinerary for a spin around the island.
One such celebrity spin included the shortest-reigning monarch in UK history – Edward VIII, who chartered the ‘Nahlin’ yacht (operational to this day) and wanted to skinny-dip with his lover Wallis Simpson in the Kandarola Bay, inadvertently paving the way for the nudist trend in the Adriatic.
Decades before, back in 1889, the town fathers had proclaimed the town a tourist destination and health centre, while elite guests even nowadays appreciate the unique scenery of the true pearl of the Kvarner Gulf. The bays are mostly free from unauthorised construction; some have restaurants, such as Gožinka or Suha Punta, but most offer a peaceful and quiet place to moor, especially for boats up to 20 m and a shallow draught that are easy to sail to the end of the bay, while the central part of the bay is c. 10 m deep. These bays have been anchorage places for a long time, as evidenced by the ancient hand-carved columns in the Kristofor Bay, located right next to the deep and popular Ćifnata Bay.
The equally beautiful Sitovica and Valsika Bays are next and our 12-knot speed allowed us to glide from bay to bay, until we reached the last one before the cape. The last, St. Mary Bay, forks into two and has plenty room for anyone wanting to be and spend the night at anchor because, as incredible as it may sound, Rab does not have an official anchorage, so guests mainly come on day trips. Once you go past the peninsula, you will see an unusual little archipelago comprising three islets: Maman, Sridnjak and Šailovac, guarding the entrance to Supetarska Draga, home to the ACI Marina.
A similar amount of miles under the keel is needed from Rab to Kalifront as from Kalifront to Lopar, hiding a completely different identity that Rab has to offer – Lopar’s sandy paradise. The south-facing paradise beach once made it to the Top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world list, but it is clear from aerial photos that all other beaches in Lopar also deserve gold.
Composed of the beautiful sand that surrounds and connects them, as well as adds decorations with the help of waves, the bays and beaches Ciganka, Luria with the Školjić islet on the horizon, Podšilo and the famous Sahara beach, are the reasons why Rab has earned many fans and long-time guests. Rab, Sveti Grgur and Goli Otok islands form a triangle that the older islanders refer to as the ‘vrtlić’, where fishermen have always been able to get a good catch of fish from the deep.
Any self-respecting restaurant will offer you live fish and crabs, but we will leave the restaurant selection up to your personal preferences. However, it would be remiss of us not to mention our host Milan Tariba from Gonar, with decade-long experience both in catching and preparing fish, whose speciality – lobster pasta made from alive lobster – could put even Michelin star restaurants to shame.
We mustn’t forget the pasta all’Amatriciana, a simple but insanely delicious dish made by our guides, hosts and skippers Mišo and Josip, who showed us what it really means to live on the Happy Island.
Text Filip Bubalo
Photos Mladen Šćerbe, Filip Bubalo, Boris kačan & Darko Šupuk