The road that climbs out of Rab to the north makes its way down the island’s broad central valley. After passing the sprawling settlement of Supetarska Draga, the main road reaches a T-junction at the neck of the Lopar peninsula. The left turn leads to the village of LOPAR, a handful of houses spread around a muddy bay. The right turn leads to San Marino, 1km south, s a largely modern village which nevertheless lays claim to being the birthplace of St Marin, a fourth-century stonemason who fled persecution by crossing the seas to Italy, founding the town that subsequently became the republic of San Marino. San Marino stretches around a vast expanse of sand known as Veli mel (mel being an archaic word for “beach”, although it’s also referred to hereabouts as Rajska plaža – “Paradise Beach” – or simply “Copacabana”), backed by cafés and restaurants and packed with families from June to September. The bay on which Veli mel is situated is unusually shallow, and you can paddle almost all the way to an islet about 1km offshore. There’s a sequence of smaller, progressively less crowded sandy beaches beyond the headlands to the north, beginning with Livačina Bay, followed by the predominantly naturist Kaštelina Bay slightly further up.
Immediately to the east of the Lopar peninsula is Goli otok (Bare Island), a hummock of arid rock that was used to imprison communists who remained loyal to the Soviet Union after Stalin’s break with Tito in 1948. Over a period of five years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a total of fifteen thousand alleged Stalinists were “re-educated” on Goli otok through forced labour in the island’s quarry. Few of the prisoners were guilty of seriously plotting against the regime; the majority were minor figures who had simply spoken out against Tito in private and been betrayed by a colleague or friend. Inmates were subjected to a harsh regime of beatings and torture; recalcitrant prisoners had their heads immersed in buckets of human excrement, while those who confessed their ideological errors were recruited to torture the others.
As ideological tensions lessened in the mid-1950s, Goli was used to incarcerate common criminals, and the prison regime was softened. Sent here as an army deserter, Romany singing legend Šaban Bajramović (1936–2008) played in goal for the prison football team and performed in the prison orchestra, going on to become a pan-Yugoslav musical superstar after his release. Goli otok’s role in the anti-Stalinist purges was not officially admitted until the 1980s, by which time Tito – on whose personal initiative the camp had been established – was already dead.