It was raining cats and dogs when Simone and I visited Croatia, but in between the raindrops we could still see how gorgeous the environment was. We visited the Zagorje region, about half an hour drive from Zagreb and close to the border with Slovenia. Low mountains (not as high as the Alps but not not as small as the hills in Limburg. Is there a name for that?) green meadows, vineyards, winding roads through tiny villages. On more than one occassion during the trip I wondered why I had not visited this region before.
Zagorje is a region full of wine and wellness, castels and chapels. Simone will tell you all about the food in another posts, I give you five highlights of our trip.
A little bit of history
We visited Castle Veliki Tabor in Desinić. This castle was build in the second half of the 15th century on a rock by the family Celjski. It is the time in which the Ottoman kingdom is looking to conquer the region and where the threat of a civil war is never far away. By way of thanks for their help in the Ottoman war, the castle is donated to the Hungarian family Radkai beginning of the 16th century. They build several extra rooms around the original castle. We visited only the old part. The castle was used as an orphanage during the second world war and between 1950 and 1992 it was a smoking house for a butcher. You can probably imagine why so many of the original details of the castle have been gone. Why I still call it a highlight? Our guide of the castle trip was so good in telling the tales of what happened here, stories of the inhabitants of the castle, the buildings and the legends, that we completely lost track of time. She managed to transport us right back in the day of splendor. Even without the details. Having a guide is a good idea anyway as most of the texts around the castle are in Croatian. We We had to tear ourselves away from her fantastic tales and run to our next destination.
Nice to know: during the year there are various events held in the castle with film and music events and expositions. So make sure to check the castle website before you go.
Castle Veliki Tabor, Košnički Hum 1, 49216 Desinić
A little bit of me time
As I mentioned, in the region there are a lot of spa’s to be found and hot water sources and a large part of the tourism is about wellness. Now I personally love a spa visit so going to a wellness center was certainly no punishment. Almost every hotel has a wellness area with water from the hot water springs (In hotel Magdalena in Krapinske Toplice every room has it’s own jacuzzi! How decadent!) The most beautiful wellness centre for me was the Terme Tuhelj in Tuheljske Toplice. This huge complex consists of a luxury hotel, wellness center Spa Evitae, 1000 m2 of sauna’s, an inside and outside pool and three restaurants.
Through Jet Air you can book package deal from a week to 10 days, but you can also get into the resort as a day guest. Recommended: the mud massage. After this you will get all rosy and relaxed (and even after a shower you still smell of clay) Funny: the hotel has special chocolate and mud-wellness programs for kids every wednesday and saturday.
One of the restaurants of the hotel is Mihanovic (you will find his name more often. The man is the author or the Croatian anthem) This lovely place is located next to the hotel. Try the Royal Strukli as your dessert, invented when King Harald visited the restaurant. A little bit of royal in your mouth!
I’m in love. With a village. For Vuglec Breg alone I would come back here. Simone tells you more about that here.
Vuglec Breg, Škarićevo 151, Škarićevo – Krapina
They lived here too!
In Krapina Dr. Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger (try and pronounce that!) found bones in 1899 that turned out to be Neanderthals after six years of research. Close to the spot the bones where found you will find the Krapina Neanderthal Museum; a building inspired by the half open cave where the bones where found. At least that is my impression from the shape!
The tour in the museum begins with a few days in the live of the Krapina Neanderthals, 125.000 years ago. In the movie you see how they communicate (it sounds a bit like Simone and I sounds when we talk with half words and grunting sounds…), which tools they made and used, what medical knowledge they had (spit, a lot of spit on your wounds!) and how they took care of each other. After this you walk from the moment the earth was formed through to our current age and you learn that the first Neanderthal bones were found in 1856 in Germany, that musea have originated in the 18th century and that there were really large insects in the ice age (iiiiieeeee!) Look up, look down and all around you, you will see new things everwhere. It’s really done in a fun way, so make sure you take the time to look around. You can also go outside and visit the spot where the bones where discovered. It’s quite a hike upwards. We didn’t go there.
Museum of Krapina Neanderthal , Šetalište Vilibalda Sluge bb, 49 000 Krapina
This city by the river Sava is on my I-want-to-go-back-there-list. The thing that struck me most was the relaxed atmosphere. I tend to associate mediterranean people with hot temperament (and I can safely say so as I am half mediteranean) Maybe the difference is that Croatia is by the Adriatic Sea? Anyway, Zagreb is really beautiful!
The place Zagreb was first mentioned in 1094 when the Hungarian king Ladislaus the Saint founded a bishop on the hill Kaptol (where you can now find the famous St. Stefanus cathedral) Under Austrian-Hungarian reign the city was known under her German name Agram and was called Zágráb in Hungarian. More than 90% of the more tha 1 million inhabitants is Croatian, the largest minority are Servian. Originally Zagreb was located only on the leftside of the Save, mid 20th century the southern part Novi Zagreb was developed.
Novi Zagreb is mostly a residential area, with blocks of flat that were build in the Socialistic period (from 1945 to 1990). In 2000 a large renovationproject started which is still making the area a large building pit. You will find here a large shopping mall Arena Centar and the Museum of Modern Art. In the future there will be a new home for the zoo build here too.
At the moment the old city part is much more interesting, with small winding streets, impressive buildings, attractive restaurants and bars, pretty shops and a nice market. Enough to keep you entertained for a while! The city is often divided in lower town and upper town (the oldest part) Lower town was designed in the 19th century after which the new rich people settled down in this part of town. They liked to display their wealth and that’s why you see many big, impressive, beautiful buildings here. The prettiest one is the Kralja Tomislava that exits to the train station: monumental buildings in neo-classical style next to a beautiful park. You will also find lots of musea here (the Archeological museum, museum of old masters and one for modern art.)
To the right of the train station you will find the botanical gardens, in the spring and summer definitely worth a visit. A little further down the road is a famous landmark: the pompous yellow building of the National Teatre of Zagreb.
Between upper- and lowertown is the Ban Jelacic square, originating from the 17th century. Around the square you will find a few historical buildings in various building styles. This square is the heart of Zagreb: much visited by tourists as well as locals. All tram lines stop here, the touristic information point is also situated here, there are events on a regular basis and in the side streets of the square you will find a lot of restaurants, cafes and shops. On the square is also a statue of sir Ban Jelacica, Austrian gouverneur from the 19th century who supported the Croatian independance and ended the serfdom.
With your back to lower Zagreb to the left of the square you will find stairs that will lead you to the Dolac farmers market. Everyday of the week farmers from the neighbourhood will spread their produce below red parasols. From the market you can see the Saint Stefanus cathedral rising above the buildings. This cathedral is the second landmark in Zagreb. The houses on the square around the cathedral are for a large part from the middle ages. In the middle of the square there is large pillar with a golden angel: monument for the holy Mary. Mary is flanked by four angels that symbolize hope, faith, innocence and modesty. The benches in the area of the monument are (when it is not raining) a good spot to rest a bit and do some people watching.
The Saint Stefanus cathedral on Kaptop is the largest holy building in the gothic style south of the Alps. In the 11th century king Ladislaus decided that the church on the Kaptol hill was to be a cathedral. The work on the cathedral started after his death in 1095 and was completed in 1217. In 1242 the building was destroyed by the Mongols and a few years later rebuild again by bishop Timotje. In the 18th century the cathedral was destroyed again, this time by a massive earth quake. After that the building was rebuild in neo-gothic style. During our visit the cathedral was once again back in scaffolds. The outside of the building is gorgeous. The inside is quite sober due to all the destructions. Around the cathedral you can still find the old defence walls and the bishop palace.
Through Tkalciceva – a cosy street with lots of little eateries – you arrive at the Stone Gate. This gate is one of the few remainders of the old city wall and city gates. The gate is a place of pilgrimmage where people come to burn a candle for Maria: her portrait that hangs inside the gate stayed unharmed during a city fire. A small miracle. The candles that are being burned and the praying people are a pretty sight to see.
In the beautiful baroc Kulmer palace there is a nice museum: the museum of broken Relationships. This is a place where donated stuff from all over the world is displayed. All tell a story of broken relationships. Love letters, a cork from a champagne bottle of a wedding that never happened; funny, romantic and sad memories of lost loves.
Good to know: the museum is opened every day from 9 am to 9 pm.
En route to the lower town you pass The Grič Tunnel. This tunnel connects the streets Mesnička and Radićeva. Build in the second World War, the tunnel functioned as a hiding place. Three of the four exits of the 350 meter long tunnel have been rebuild. the tunnel is used for expositions, fashion shows, concerts and other creative ideas. At the moment you can make a trip down the history of Zagreb.
Good to know: opening hours are from 9 am to 9 pm and entry is for free.
With 20 theatres, many events such as the bbq-festival and the Animafest (worldfestival for Anime movies), dozens of musea, nice shops and boutiques, beautiful parks and countless restaurants, bars and cafes at only 1,5 hour flight from Amsterdam, Zagreb is worth a visit. I will definitely go back. And make sure you add a vacation in the beautiful Zagorje region too. I want to sleep in the former shed of Vuglec Breg!
Disclaimer: Our trip through Zagorje and Zagreb was by invitation of the Croatian Tourist Board and the Zagorje region