Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste

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Whatever anyone will tell you, Rainer Maria Rilke is the greatest poet in the German language.  If you do not speak German well enough to read Rilke in the original (or if you think, with Mark Twain, that life is too short to learn it), try – for flavour – a painting of Rilke’s near-contemporary and fellow Viennese artist Gustav Klimt.

"Klimt painting - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

Rilke’s language is decorative and opulent, and his poems – just like Klimt’s paintings – represent the late flowering of a mature style rather than the uneasy stirrings of the avant-garde.

For his late works, however, Rilke abandoned figurative transparency for a far more complex style. This style is closely connected with the Adriatic town of Duino, located near Trieste in the extreme northeast of Italy. It was here where Rilke composed his Elegies that came to bear the name of Duino, making the name of this small coastal town famous all over the world.

"Sentiero Rilke - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

Go walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste

In 1987, Duino returned the favour by designating the Rilke Trail (the Sentiero Rilke) in the poet’s honour. The trail covers the coastal stretch between Sistiana and Duino Castle, the home of Rilke’s sponsor and friend, Princess Marie of Thurn and Taxis. The poet stayed in the castle from October 1911 to May 1912 and was inspired by the surrounding landscape to write his great late work.

"Duino Castle - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

In principle, one should always be sceptical about associations between hiking trails and famous names. Many such connections are more than a little spurious, and the famous person from whom the name of the path has been borrowed may turn out to have spent some time “in the area”, perhaps no more than a day in a near-by town (or roadside inn).

This, however, is not the case for the Sentiero Rilke. The poet himself always made clear that the Duino Elegies were not created on a desk but out in the open, in the face of the cold and rough Bora winds that blow down from the mountains in the North. Rilke insisted that his Elegies were products of mystical revelations that he had experienced when walking by the coast.

On one such walk, he later claimed, he actually heard a voice that dictated to him what was to become the first line of the first Elegy. (Generally translated as “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?”) Even if you take all that with a pinch of salt, it is not too difficult to imagine Rilke being bored in the Castle during a long and lonesome winter, taking long walks along the coast and, perhaps, resting on one of these benches, contemplating life, death and the mysteries of human consciousness.

"bench to rest when walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

Rilke had come to Duino Castle to work on something else, a “joint venture” with the artistically minded Princess Marie. But when his lady friend left for the autumn season in Vienna (opera, costume balls and all that), Rilke needed to find another project to occupy his time, finding himself alone in a huge castle with only a cook, a valet and a janitor to take care of him. Bear in mind that this was on the eve of WWI when people either travelled in style or not at all. Rilke was not rich himself, but had a large network of aristocratic friends – mainly female, mainly several years older than him – with broad-minded husbands who let him use their second or third castles.

Rilke drafted the first two of the ten Elegies here, also writing the beginnings and some central lines of a few others. He completed the cycle only ten years later in 1922.

Just like the Elegies (which average about 80 lines each), the Rilke Trail is short (at a little over 2 km) but packs a mighty punch, right from the start with majestic views over the bay of Sistiana.

"Views seen when walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

For most of the walk, you will have the Gulf of Trieste on your left …

"Gulf of Trieste seen when walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

… and white, stony cliffs on your right.

"stony cliffs - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

These cliffs, as the info panels along the way inform you, provide the habitat for many rare plants and birds. You may even spot some of those, but more likely less rare although no less pretty flowers.

"lovely flowers along the trail - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

The trail mostly follows the coastline …

"Rilke Trail - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

… but at times strays briefly into dense Mediterranean bushes.

Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste along the Sentiero is generally described as the best short hike in the area, the trail making sure that there is plenty to enjoy even if you have never heard of Rilke and are unlikely to ever read one of his poems.

"into the forest when walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

The trailhead is conveniently located near the entrance to the Camping Village Mare Pineta. You can go there by car (there is a large parking lot) or via public transport from Trieste.

Take bus no. 44 which leaves Piazza Oberdan every 40 minutes. You must be a little on your toes, however, not to miss your stop. After a journey time of roughly 40 minutes, you will spot the large Hotel Eden on your right. This should alert you to look out for another hotel on your right called the Hotel alla Dolina: as soon as you see it, push the request stop button and get off at the next stop.

Walk across the road and look for this junction.

"trailhead junction of Sentiero Rilke - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

At the other end of the trail, there is another bus stop from where line no. 44 will take you back to Trieste.

Next week, we shall stay in the Trieste area to walk in the footsteps of another, even more famous, English-language writer. Can you guess who that might be?

"bronze statue in Trieste - Walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste"

We enjoyed walking with Rainer Maria Rilke in Trieste on this easy hike and are pretty sure you would too!

Join us on our next walk with another famous writer. Why not read about our other easy hikes elsewhere in Italy, too? Make sure to subscribe to our updates via email or follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  Include us in your G+ circles too.

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