The Rilke Trail and Duino Castle
This trip, which is especially recommendable during Carinthia's off season, has its starting point at Sistiana, a small Adriatic village in the vicinity of Trieste. From there, the Rilke Trail leads you along one long stretch of gorgeously untouched cliff coast to Duino Castle, which is less than 2.5 km away. Duino Castle, towering on a rock over the sea, is already visible from a great distance. Held for centuries by the family of Thurn and Taxis, the castle, its beautiful garden, a bunker from WWII and the 'Antica Rocca' or 'Old Castle' were opened to the public only in 2003. For the way back also take to Rilke-Trail.
The end-to-end accessibility of the Rilke-Trail recently became a subject of discussion. In 2013, the major part of the cliff coast and of the adjacent pine grove - both protected - changed ownership. Since then site fences block the trail and thus mark the beginning of the now private territory. Signs inform the visitor that trespassing is not allowed and will be prosecuted. As a matter of fact however, the site fences do not fully block the trail (who knows, maybe this is not even intended) and locals ignore it (followed by the foreigners), they just hike on around the site fence, which makes me think that this kind of pseudo-cordoning off of the trail might be caused by other motives, like open legal matters (e.g. liability) and/or financial disputes (e.g. maintenance of the trail).
The eponymous patron of this trail, which is praised so highly for its scenic beauty, is the German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). In 1911/1912 he spent several months in Duino Castle as a guest of the Thurn und Taxis family, where he began to work on the so-called 'Duino Elegies' which he didn't finish until a decade later and which are generally considered his artistic legacy. The less than 2.5 km long route connects the coastal towns Sistiana and Duino. It is ill-suited for prams and buggies, however even very young hikers will enjoy this diverse trail. There are rock formations to climb on and even the remains of bunker structures, built in WWI by Austrians to defend the coast from navy attacks and which were later, during WWII, extended by the Germans. The trail through the pine grove offers plenty of shade and every so often it opens to impressive views of the Gulf of Trieste, the Bay of Sistiana and Duino Castle.
Duino Castle dominates the Bay of Sistiana. The Romans had already chosen this place as a military post. In the 14th century, the Lords of Duino built a castle upon the Roman foundations, which was adapted little by little over the following centuries. The medieval nucleus of the castle with its tower got an addition in the late Renaissance consisting of a loggia and a stair case in the Palladian style, while the castle's interior with its delicate stuccos, wall paintings and the elegant furnishings date to the late Baroque. Hit by artillery fire during WWI, the badly damaged castle was rebuilt in 1920.
Guest books, displayed in the castle's entrance hall, give testimony of famous visitors to the castle, members of the high nobility as well as numerous famous writers and musicians. None of the 18 rooms that can be visited were designed as a public demonstration of the owners’ magnificence, on the contrary, they captivate through their intimate delicacy. After all, as a visitor you'll be fascinated over and over again by the superb views from the castle to the Adriatic, be it from windows, balconies or from patios.
The spacious grounds, too, designed in the Mediterranean style with its pergolas, terraces, statues and pools invite visitors to linger. There is a steep stair in the garden that leads to a bunker which was carved out of the limestone rock beneath the castle during WWII. It allowed the Germans to control the Bay of Sistiana, where they had set up a small submarine base. After the war the bunker was used as a fuel depot by the British allies. The cavern is cold and humid and apart from a very short document there is hardly anything to see. I can, however, heartily recommend the short detour to Duino'e 'Antica Rocca' or 'Old Castle', as the picturesque, scenic ruins of an older castle, dating from the 11th century, are called and which seem to rise up directly from the sea.
It's good to know:
www.castellodiduino.it (Italian and English)
Well sign posted access in Sistiana ("Sentiero di Rilke"). Parking lots close to the start of the trail as well as next to the close-by tourist office (Strada Provinciale 3).