Like an actor who insists on being photographed from his “better side,” Rab’s terrain has two halves that are quite different from each other. If seen from the mainland, Rab resembles a strip-mined mountainside devoid of vegetation and inhospitable to intelligent life. The southwestern side of the island, however, is a very different story. Tranquil beaches and coves, green spaces, and a beautifully kept medieval old town belie travelers’ first impressions. Rab has been a haven for tourists since the 19th century, but its history goes back even further.
Like Pag to the south, Rab was settled by Illyrians, who were succeeded by a series of conquerors: Romans, Byzantines, Croat-Hungarians, and finally the Venetians, who plundered the timber on Rab and other offshore Kvarner islands to build their ships. This wholesale environmental piracy left a vast swathe of ruined terrain. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that tourism began to cross Rab’s forlorn-looking east side to get to the island’s verdant southwest side, where hotels began to sprout for aristocrats intent on frolicking in the surf.
Today the island’s main tourist destinations are Rab Town, with its medieval center and series of Venetian campaniles (bell towers), and Lopar Peninsula at the island’s northern tip, with its sandy beach and shallow water. Rab is also becoming a popular overnight stop for luxury yachts, which become tourist attractions themselves when they tie up in Rab Town’s horseshoe-shaped harbor.