The Cliffs of Duino Nature Reserve was established in 1996. It encompasses an area of 107 hectares along a narrow strip of land where it is possible to see the change from the Central European to the Mediterranean bio-geographic region. The high rate of biodiversity gives life to a landscape of rare beauty, characterised by white limestone cliffs dropping sheer into the sea.
The 'Rilke Path'
The "Rilke Path" (from the name of the famous poet, who sojourned here) winds its way along the coastline, skirting the military emplacements along the crest of the cliffs between the New Castle of Duino and the bay of Sistiana. From the path you can enjoy a vast panorama over the Gulf of Trieste, from the mouth of the Isonzo river to Punta Salvore (Savudrija) in Croatia.
The trail, named after the Romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke, was inaugurated in 1987. It extends for over 1,700 metres and provides access to the Nature Reserve from both Sistiana and Duino (where there are parking areas and other facilities). Anybody can walk this level path to admire the morphology of the rocks and the richness of the protected flora and fauna.
Starting the path from the side of Sistiana near the Tourist Office/Information point, you skirt a camping site on the right and an abandoned quarry near the sea on the left. At the end of the quarry, the path crosses a limestone pavement of outcropping furrowed calcareous rocks and scree deposits. There you can see low twisted Black Pines (Pinus nigra) that endure extreme weather conditions. Leaving the limestone pavement, you can reach the WW2 bunker that is now used as a panoramic viewpoint. Walking down a secondary path that opens up onto the cliffs, it is possible to admire the coast below from a little terrace.
The main path continues through sparse woodland and across another limestone pavement up to a small summit indicated by a sign as a scenic point. It is the highest point of the path: 90 metres above sea level. From there, the scenery opens up on to the Carso plateau and the range of hills whose highest peak is Mount Hermada (323 m). Leaving this second panoramic point, the path skirts the steep cliffs through solitary Black Pine formations, across more limestone pavements and rock outcrops with growing bushes. Upon entering a patch of artificially planted pinewood, you get to the crossroads from which you can join the main National Road (SS14).
The main path continues instead along the edge of the cliffs, and – through the woods and across the rocks – reaches yet another panoramic point located on the ruins of a second WW2 bunker. Then, it gets to the crossroads where it is possible to turn (to the right) to reach the main road or to continue towards the new part of the path. The path skirts some military excavations and continues through a thick vegetation of Pine and Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), as far as the town centre of Duino.
For people with reduced and impaired motor capacities, the path can be taken from the town of Duino; from here, it reaches a terrace on the edge of the cliffs.
What to See in the Nature Reserve
The Cliffs of Duino are the only place in the world where you can find Centaurea kartschiana – a plant that grows on the cliffs closest to the sea. You can also observe the surface Karst phenomena derived from the water erosion process on the limestone. The action of rain creates spectacular limestone pavements, furrows and small circular depressions, but it can also perforate the rock, thus enabling scree vegetation to grow. White limestone is the star of the reserve, and it forms single towers along the coast or rocky outcrops along the crests, both well-modeled by Karst phenomena.
Flora and Fauna
Like the whole Carso plateau, the Cliffs of Duino are made up of carbonate rocks that developed during the Cretaceous (120 million years ago) from the sedimentation of the shells of plankton animals on the bottom of a shallow sea, the Thetys. About 50 million years ago, in the Eocene, the push of the African plate against the Baltic one vertically brought the seabed to the surface, thus forming the sharp cliffs dropping sheer into the sea.
Although most of the reserve is covered by Black Pine formations (Pinus nigra) that divide the SS14 from the Rilke Path, the protected area clearly shows the change from woodland to Mediterranean scrub, mainly cmposed of Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). Towards the sea these formations gradually give way to shrubs (Terebinth, Pistacia terebinthus; Christ’s Thorn, Paliurus spina-christi – and especially Sumac, Cotinus coccygria, which tints the rocks red in the autumn months) and to rock vegetation. St. Lucy's Cherry (Prunus mahaleb) and the Knapweed Centaurea kartschiana – an endemic plant with pink-purple flowers – grow on the scree deposits and ravines.