I was totally blown away by the place, and left speechless. A true winter idyll by the sea. From the photos, one would think it was the middle of summer. The Stjepan Hauser Trail in Rakalj — which I call the Hauser Trail for short — is ideal for those who do not want too much exertion, who like walking close to the edge of the sea, but in the wild. The trail is dedicated and named after the world-famous cellist, who lives right here in Rakalj.
The path at the foot of Rakalj partakes of a true Robinson Crusoe-style loneliness. There are no houses, roads, cars or ports. Just a rocky path, macchia shrub, holm oak, beautiful turquoise bays and views of the bay of Raša, the islands of Cres and Lošinj. An ideal day for walking or cycling on the Rakalj path of health and anti-stress is a winter day without wind. The kind of day when you need to recharge your batteries.
The way to the Luka bay
The path is easy to reach. Take a car from the center of the town to the Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas) lighthouse and the harbor there, with several houses. Turn along the houses and the restaurant and turn right, towards the south, along the coast line. The trail from there is not marked, but it is difficult to miss the path. From Sveti Nikola it takes you along the sea all the way to the Luka bay. This beautiful pebble cove will elicit sighs even as you begin the descent, while you are still at the top, where the old citadel, the Stari Rakalj, used to stand.
The ruin there is being explored and excavated little by little and is gradually starting to show its former face to the public. As recently as 15 years ago there was just a small area surrounded by stone dry wall to indicate to a layman that anything notable had existed there in the past.
Diligent archaeologists and conservationists have meanwhile commenced clearing the detritus and uncovering the remains of the former fort guarding the bay of Raša. Today, one can see parts of the defense ramparts, two meters thick and six meters high. Also visible is the outline of a former tower overlooking today’s Rakalj. An old cistern has been dug from under the vegetation and accumulated rocks, and restored. Historians claim that there was a settlement outside the ramparts, but only the foundations of the houses along the northwestern slopes of the hill are still preserved.
Castellare de Rachir
The Stari Rakalj or Rachele citadel was first mentioned in written sources in 1312, as Castellare de Rachir. The document is the deed of gift by which Henrik, Count of Gorizia, bequeaths Castellare de Rachir to his daughter Elizabeth and her fiancé Nikola von Pramberg. It is said that the current name, Stari Rakalj (Old Rakalj), dates from the 16th century, and derives from the Latin arcellae, meaning a small citadel or a cliff.
Recent archaeological research has found that the location was already inhabited in the Bronze Age, some 3500 years ago. Some archaeologists believe that the hill was fortified since the beginning of the development of this settlement on the eastern coast of Istria. They base it on the finds in the lower level of excavations of the former citadel, including pottery.
The citadel had a significant strategic position throughout its illustrious history — it was located on a hill above the entrance to the bay of Raša and could control the passage of ships into and out of the bay. Old Rakalj was surrounded by high ramparts, part of which is still visible. Such good defense construction enabled it to withstand any and all attacks. It thus managed to resist the 1330 attack by the forces of the Castropola family of Pula, which wanted to enlarge their estate. Forty years later it was taken over by the Habsburgs. After that, Rakalj was known by various Germanic names: Ragkl, Rekel, Rachir and Roegkl.
Pirate Zuan Maria de Soldatis of Muggia
Rakalj was inhabited until about 1510. At that time, the Old Rakalj citadel was completely destroyed in the Venetian-Habsburg war. It was destroyed by Venetian subjects from Mutvoran led by infamous pirate Zuan Maria de Soldatis of Muggia, whose forces stormed it from the sea. After they conquered it, the attackers looted everything, including the bell from the church of St. Agnes. (The church still stands.) Local people decided to erect a new settlement, in the area of present-day Rakalj. It was first mentioned in 1508 under the name Castel Nuovo detto Rachel.
In addition to a part of the ramparts, a tower and the cistern, also preserved is the church of St. Agnes (St. Agnjija in local parlance). From the church a view opens to the open sea and towards the south of Istria. When the visibility is good, one can see as far as the Marlera lighthouse on the southern tip of the peninsula. It is one of the most beautiful scenic view points in Istria and the place that many young couples choose for the marriage ceremony. The church itself is not opulent. It is a simple structure with an inset apse, a late Gothic entrance portal dating from 1495, and a bell gable. It was the Rakalj parish church until 1555.
But let’s get back to the trail at the foot of Old Rakalj and St. Agnes. Immediately after passing the port, you will reach the Luka bay we mentioned earlier. The small pebble cove is quite isolated. Only a few narrow forest paths lead all the way to Rakalj.
Along the coast to Kalavojna
That’s why it is ideal for people who like to go for a secluded swim by a boat. An additional attraction is a wreck of an old ship in the shallows just off the shore. After passing this secluded cove, a narrow path takes you further along the edge of the sea to the Kalavojna bay. In translation, Kalavojna means Good Wine. It is the favorite beach and boat harbor of the people of Rakalj and their guests. This is where the path ends. You can turn around and return in the opposite direction, or, if you are more ambitious, climb from Kalavojna to Rakalj and thence down again to Sveti Nikola. It’s about ten kilometers of hiking trail. Whatever you decide, you are unlikely to regret it, and sure to visit Rakalj again.