Sunday, 24 October 2021

Witches, VR and Wine: Exploring the Wonders of Savičenta, Istria

When a certain place has you sidetracked several times on the way to a wine festival, you know you have something special on your hands. A recap of an afternoon spent exploring the charming Savičenta in central Istria

What do you do when the forecast calls for a sunny weekend in October? A road trip, of course. We headed to Istria for a day and decided to stop in Svetvinčenat, a town in the south central part of the region.

Named after Saint Vincent, the town is more often referred to as Savičenta by the local population, and is also called San Vicenti in Italian. I prefer the local name myself, and in the interest of making everyone's lives easier, will be using it in this article. 

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There’s a lot to see and do in this quaint little town - and we’ll get to that in a bit - but the main reason for our trip this time was the Young Wine Festival that took place on Saturday, October 23rd.

It’s a tradition for winemakers and wine lovers alike to gather in Svetvinčenat this time of year to present and taste the first wines of the season. While the custom has been around for over 40 years, the event has officially been taking place for 15 years and is known to assemble winemakers from all parts of the Istrian peninsula. 

This year’s festivities kicked off with a cycling race in the early afternoon, and the wine festival was to start at 5PM and last well into the evening. We arrived a few hours early, but not being especially apt at cycling, decided to skip the recreational part of the event and take in the local sights instead. We had no idea what wonders lay within the castle walls. 

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Even though its origins date much further back in history, Svetvinčenat is mostly known as a Renaissance gem. Its picturesque landscape is dominated by the gorgeous Morosini-Grimani castle and the parish Church of the Annunciation overlooking the large public square. 

The Morosini Grimani castle is the biggest edifice in Svetvinčenat and one of the best preserved castles in Istria. The estate changed hands several times throughout history and owes its name to two noble families that had the biggest impact on the town’s development in the early Modern Era. 

This stunning historical monument has been through a lot in its lifetime: it was pillaged, conquered, burned down repeatedly, and left on a brink of collapse after World War II. In the last two decades, however, it has undergone a thorough restoration that was completed last year and is nowadays abuzz with visitors. 

The main attraction beyond the solemn fortification walls? I’m sure everyone’s heard of and possibly even took part in a few escape room games. Well, Escape Castle Svetvinčenat takes that up a notch with a variation of the classic puzzle game that is played all over the castle instead of a single room. 

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We couldn’t possibly leave without giving this a try. The game starts with a tale of a knight who once won a tournament and left the main prize behind which is now yours to claim. That is, if you solve all the puzzles. They’re based on Istrian legends and scattered around the castle grounds; the game had us scurrying along the fortification walls, exploring a dungeon, three watchtowers and the armoury. We even had a close encounter with the infamous Istrian vampire Jure Grando. 

The challenge isn’t too hard to complete and will be enjoyed by all generations, but it’s not absurdly easy either and it will attempt to trick you once or twice. The historical setting is what makes it a one of a kind experience, and it’s also a fantastic way to explore various areas of the castle. The game can be played by up to 35 players at once, split into smaller groups - a nice idea for a teambuilding if you're in the region.

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A premium piece of real estate: the torture chamber offers a nice view of the dungeon below. 

This game alone gets an A+ for the castlefolk, but we weren’t done yet, as you’ll want to stick around and see more of the place. The five-floor palace nestled in one corner of the castle houses a conference hall, a tasting room and a lovely souvenir shop, among other things.

Our favourite? A superb multimedia exhibition, presenting an overview of the area's history in a refreshingly engaging way. If you’re expecting yet another litany of historical facts or dusty display cases, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  

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The moment we started looking around, we were hooked. There’s only a handful of exhibits and the display looks deceptively simple when you first walk in, only to find out that the content is incredibly interactive, immersive, easy to use, and most of all, fun. The last three exhibits are literally games

There’s a VR game that will have you tilting at the ring as a competitor in a traditional chivalrous tournament... While riding a model horse, sort of. (The horse has a name. I found the whole thing hilarious.) 

You get to become the lady of the castle for a few moments, sitting on a real throne while discussing daily affairs with your virtual advisor.  

There’s a pillar of shame, a virtual forgery to master, and a siege to stop. I won’t get into too many details nor share photos so as not to spoil the experience, but we found it to be an absolute joy. And we learned quite a few bits about history along the way. 

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A well thought-out detail at the end rounds up the entire visit: most exhibits are equipped with cameras and if you so decide, you can have a few photos taken as you participate in the activities. When you’re done with the tour, a recap with the pics is sent to your email address. It can be shared on social media or simply kept as a reminder of your visit. 

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The staff was also very helpful, communicative and kind even though we lost all track of time and had to be gently reminded it was past the closing time. 

There’s more to see in Savičenta, both within and beyond the castle walls. There’s the House of the Witch Mare, a visitor centre where the local cultural heritage is presented with the use of modern technologies such as VR, AR and 3D mapping. Or the medieval theme park Sanc. Michael in the nearby village of Rapanji, a great destination for a family trip. 

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The town is also known for three big annual events: the Dance and Non-Verbal Theatre Festival, the Medieval Festival, and the Cheese Festival. I've since found out that the last one involves this:

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Yes, I'm easily amused and yes, I’m definitely going to the cheese fest next year. 

This time around, with only one hour remaining to spare, we headed to the wine festival. 

This year’s event saw fifteen renowned Istrian winemakers showcase their first wines of this year’s harvest: Babos, Baćac, Tomaz, Vivoda, Matić, In Sylvis, Černeka, Radanović, Familija Matošević, Marčeta, San Martino, Franc Arman, Sirotić, Fuhtar, and Kalavojna.

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The event aims to promote and position Istrian wine as one of the region’s most recognisable products, writes Glas Istre. It promotes dialogue and cooperation between local winemakers, but also encourages a bit of healthy competition as a means of continuously raising the bar when it comes to quality and promotion of wine in Istria.

Entrance was only allowed with a valid Covid certificate or a negative antigen test result obtained in the last 48 hours. Testing was made available on site at a price of 30 kuna, with results ready in 20 minutes.

The event was well attended, and the venue started to fill up slowly but surely as soon as the doors opened at 5. We purchased our tasting glasses and off we went to sample the offer, stocking up on Istrian prosciutto and cheese along the way. It was a great ending to an overall amazing visit, and a nice example of how to effectively liven up the postseason.

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Total time count for our afternoon in Savičenta? Three and a half hours. We’ve seen, done and learned quite a lot in a short time span, and the town has so much more to give. The only thing we regret is not getting there earlier and making it a full day trip, but it’s nice to come across a destination you immediately want to return to. 

 

Friday, 19 February 2021

People also ask Google: What is Croatia Famous For?

February 19, 2021 – What is Croatia Famous For?

People outside of the country really want to know more about Croatia. They search for answers online.

Here, we'll try to answer the popular search terms “What is Croatia famous for?” and “What is Croatia known for?”

Most of the people looking for answers to these questions have never been to Croatia. They may have been prompted to ask because they're planning to visit Croatia, they want to come to Croatia, or because they heard about Croatia on the news or from a friend.

What Croatia is known for depends on your perspective. People who live in the country sometimes have a very different view of what Croatia is famous for than the rest of the world. And, after visiting Croatia, people very often leave with a very different opinion of what Croatia is known for than before they came. That's because Croatia is a wonderful country, full of surprises and secrets to discover. And, it's because internet searches don't reveal everything. Luckily, you have Total Croatia News to do that for you.

What is Croatia known for?

1) Holidays


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Croatia is best known globally as a tourist destination. Catching sight of pictures of the country online is enough to make almost anyone want to come. If you've heard about it from a friend, seen the country used in a TV show like Game of Thrones or Succession, or watched a travel show, your mind will be made up. Following such prompts, it's common for Croatia to move to first place on your bucket list. If it's not already, it should be, There are lots of reasons why Croatia is best known for holidays (vacations).

a) Islands


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What is Croatia famous for? Islands © Mljet National Park

Within Croatia's tourist offer, its most famous aspect is its islands. Croatia has over a thousand islands - 1246 when you include islets. 48 Croatian islands are inhabited year-round, but many more come to life over the warmer months. Sailing in Croatia is one of the best ways to see the islands, and if you're looking for a place for sailing in the Mediterranean, Croatia is the best choice because of its wealth of islands. These days, existing images of Croatia's islands have been joined by a lot more aerial photography and, when people see these, they instantly fall in love.

b) Beaches


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What is Croatia famous for? Its holidays are famous for their beaches © Szabolcs Emich

Croatia has 5835 kilometres of coastline on the Adriatic Sea - 1,777.3 kilometres of coast on the mainland, and a further 4,058 kilometres of coast around its islands and islets. The Croatian coast is the most indented of the entire Mediterranean. This repeated advance and retreat into the Adriatic forms a landscape littered with exciting, spectacular peninsulas, quiet, hidden bays, and some of the best beaches in the world. There are so many beaches in Croatia, you can find a spot to suit everyone. On the island of Pag and in the Zadar region, you'll find beaches full of young people where the party never stops. Elsewhere, romantic and elegant seafood restaurants hug the shoreline. Beach bars can range from ultra-luxurious to basic and cheap. The beaches themselves can be popular and full of people, facilities, excitement and water sports, or they can be remote, idyllic, and near-deserted, accessible only by boat. Sand, pebble, and stone all line the perfectly crystal-clear seas which are the common feature shared by all.

c) Dubrovnik


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What is Croatia famous for? Dubrovnik © Ivan Ivanković

As a backdrop to Game Of Thrones and movies from franchises like Star Wars and James Bond, Dubrovnik is known all over the world. Everybody wants to see it in person, and that's why it's an essential stop-off for so many huge cruise ships in warmer months. But, Dubrovnik's fame did not begin with the invention of film and television. The city was an autonomous city-state for long periods of time in history, and Dubrovnik was known all over Europe – the famous walls which surround the city of Dubrovnik are a testament to a desire to maintain its independent standing for centuries while living in the shadow of expanding, ambitious empires.

d) Heritage


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What is Croatia famous for? Heritage. Pula amphitheatre is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world

The walled city of Dubrovnik is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Croatia's rich architectural and ancient heritage. Diocletian's Palace in Split is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and still the living, breathing centre of life in the city (that people still live within it and it is not preserved in aspic is one of its most charming features and no small reason for its excellent preservation).

Having existed on the line of European defence against the Ottoman empire, Croatia also has many incredible fortresses and castles. The fortresses of Sibenik are well worth seeing if you're visiting Sibenik-Knin County and its excellent coast. A small number of Croatia's best castles exist on the coast, Rijeka's Trsat and Nova Kraljevica Castle is nearby Bakar being two of them. Most of Croatia's best and prettiest castles are actually located in its continental regions which, compared to the coast, remain largely undiscovered by most international tourists.

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Many spectacular castles in the country's continental regions are, for these parts, what is Croatia famous for

Pula amphitheatre (sometimes referred to as Pula Arena) is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. A spectacular sight year-round, like Diocletian's Palace, it remains a living part of the city's life, famously hosting an international film festival, concerts by orchestras, opera stars, and famous rock and pop musicians. Over recent years, it has also played a part in the city's music festivals.

e) Music Festivals


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What is Croatia famous for? Music festivals © Khris Cowley

There is a very good reason why the city of Pula leapt massively up the list of most-researched online Croatian destinations over the last decade. It played host to two of the country's most famous international music festivals. Though the music at some of these can be quite niche, the global attention they have brought to the country is simply massive. Clever modern branding and marketing by the experienced international operators who host their festivals in Croatia mean that millions of young people all over the world have seen videos, photos and reviews of Croatia music festivals, each of them set within a spectacular backdrop of seaside Croatia.

f) Plitvice Lakes and natural heritage


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What is Croatia Famous For? Plitvice Lakes, national parks and natural heritage

Known for its chain of 16 terraced lakes and gushing waterfalls, Plitvice Lakes is the oldest, biggest and most famous National Park in Croatia. Everybody wants to see it. And many do. But that's not the be-all and end-all of Croatia's stunning natural beauty. Within the country's diverse topography, you'll find 7 further National Parks and 12 Nature Parks which can be mountain terrain, an archipelago of islands, or vibrant wetlands.

2) Football


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What is Croatia famous for? Football. Seen here, Luka Modric at the 2018 World Cup © Светлана Бекетова

The glittering international careers of Croatian footballers Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić, Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić, and others have in recent years advertised Croatia as a factory of top-flight footballing talent. They helped put Croatia football on the map with fans of European football. Football fans in Croatia have a very different perception of just how famous Croatian football is to everyone else in the world. If you talk to a Croatian fan about football, it's almost guaranteed that they will remind you of a time (perhaps before either of you were born) when their local or national team beat your local or national team in football. 99% of people will have no idea what they are talking about. The past occasions which prompt this parochial pride pale into insignificance against the Croatian National Football Team's achievement in reaching the World Cup Final of 2018. This monumental occasion brought the eyes of the world on Croatia, extending way beyond the vision of regular football fans. Subsequently, the internet exploded with people asking “Where is Croatia?”

Sports in general are what is Croatia known for

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Croatians are enthusiastic about sports and engage in a wide number of them. The difference in perception between how Croats view the fame this gets them and the reality within the rest of the world is simply huge. Rowing, basketball, wrestling, mixed martial arts, tennis, handball, boxing, waterpolo, ice hockey, skiing and volleyball are just some of the sports in which Croatia has enthusiastically supported individuals and local and national teams. Some of these are regarded as minority sports even in other countries that also pursue them. Croatians don't understand this part. If you say to a Croatian “What is handball? I never heard of that,” they will look at you like you are crazy or of below-average intelligence.

3) Zagreb


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What is Croatia famous for? Its capital city Zagreb is becoming increasingly better known

Over relatively recent years, the Croatian capital has skyrocketed in terms of fame and visitor numbers. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world now come to visit Zagreb each year. Its massive new success can be partly attributed to the rising popularity of international tourism in some areas of Asia (and Zagreb being used as a setting for some television programmes made in some Asian countries) and the massive success of Zagreb's Advent which, after consecutively attaining the title of Best European Christmas Market three times in a row, has become famous throughout the continent and further still. Zagreb's fame is not however restricted to tourism. Zagreb is known for its incredible Austro-Hungarian architecture, its Upper Town (Gornji Grad) and the buildings there, an array of museums and city centre parks and as home to world-famous education and scientific institutions, like to Ruder Boskovic Institute and the Faculty of Economics, University of Zagreb.

4) Olive oil


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What is Croatia famous for? Olive oil

Croatian olive oil is the best in the world. Don't just take out word for it! Even the experts say so. In 2020, leading guide Flos Olei voted Istria in northwest Croatia as the world's best olive oil growing region for a sixth consecutive year. Olive oil production is an ancient endeavour in Croatia, and over hundreds of years, the trees have matured, and the growers learned everything there is to know. Olive oil is made throughout a much wider area of Croatia than just Istria, and local differences in climate, variety, and soil all impact the flavour of the oils produced. Croatian has no less than five different olive oils protected at a European level under the designation of their place of origin. These and many other Croatian olive oils are distinct and are among the best you're ever likely to try.

5) There was a war here


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What is Croatia famous for? A relatively recent war left its mark on the country © Modzzak

Under rights granted to the republics of the former Yugoslavia and with a strong mandate from the Croatian people, gained across two national referendums, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic country, with each republic containing a mixture of different ethnicities and indeed many families which themselves were the product of mixed ethnicities. Ethnic tensions and the rise of strong nationalist political voices in each of the former republics and within certain regions of these countries lead to a situation where war became inevitable. The worst of the fighting was suffered within Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and the part of southern Serbia which is now Kosovo. The Croatian War of Independence (known locally as the Homeland War) lasted from 1991 – 1995. The Yugoslav wars of which it was a major part is regarded as the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II. In many cases, this war pitted neighbouring houses or neighbouring villages against each other and sometimes members of the same family could be found on opposing sides. The war left huge damage on the country and its infrastructure, some of which is still visible. Worse still, it had a much greater physical and psychological impact on the population. Some people in Croatia today would rather not talk about the war and would prefer to instead talk about the country's present and future. For other people in Croatia, the war remains something of an obsession. If you are curious about the Croatian War of Independence, it is not advisable to bring it up in conversation when you visit the country unless you know the person you are speaking with extremely well. It is a sensitive subject for many and can unnecessarily provoke strong emotions and painful memories. There are many resources online where you can instead read all about the war, there are good documentary series about it on Youtube and there are several museums in Croatia where you can go and learn more, in Vukovar, Karlovac and in Zagreb.

6) Wine


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What is Croatia famous for? Its wine is some of the best you'll ever try © Plenković

Croatia is not really that famous for wine. Well, not as famous as it should be because Croatia makes some of the greatest wine on the planet. Croatian wine is only really famous to those who have tried it after visiting – you'll never forget it! A growing cabal of Croatian wine enthusiasts are trying their best internationally to spread the word about Croatian wine. However, there isn't really that much space in Croatia to make all the wine it needs to supply its homegrown demands and a greatly increased export market. Therefore, export prices of Croatian wine are quite high and even when it does reach foreign shores, these prices ensure its appreciation only by a select few. There's a popular saying locally that goes something like this “We have enough for ourselves and our guests”. Nevertheless, Croatian wine is frequently awarded at the most prestigious international competitions and expos. White wine, red wine, sparkling wine, cuvee (mixed) and rose wine are all made here and Croatia truly excels at making each. You can find different kinds of grape grown and wine produced in the different regions of Croatia. The best way to learn about Croatian wine is to ask someone who really knows about wine or simply come to Croatia to try it. Or, perhaps better still, don't do that and then there will be more for those of us who live here. Cheers!

7) Croatian produce


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is protected at a European level, one of 32 products currently protected in this way and therefore what is Croatia famous for © Tourist Board of Drniš

To date, 32 agricultural and food products from Croatia have attained protection at a European level. These range from different prosciuttos, olive oils and Dalmatian bacon, to pastries and pastas, honey, cheese, turkeys, lamb, cabbages, mandarins, salt, sausages, potatoes and something called Meso 'z tiblice (which took a friend from the region where it's made three days to fully research so he could explain it to me at the levels necessary to write an informed article about it – so, you can research that one online). While some prosciutto, bacon, sausages, olive oil and wine do make it out of Croatia, much of these are snaffled up by a discerning few of those-in-the-know. The rest, you will only really be able to try if you visit. And, there are many other items of Croatian produce which are known which you can also try while here

Truffles


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What is Croatia known for? Truffles © Donatella Paukovic

By weight, one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, truffles are a famous part of the cuisine within some regions of Croatia. They feature heavily in the menu of Istria, which is well known as a region in which both white and black truffles are found and then added to food, oils or other products. Truth be told, this isn't a black and white issue - there are a great number of different types of truffle and they can be found over many different regions in Croatia, including around Zagreb and in Zagreb County. But, you'll need to see a man about a dog if you want to find them yourself.

Vegeta


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What is Croatia known for? Vegeta

Having celebrated its 60th birthday in 2019, the cooking condiment Vegeta is exported and known in many other countries, particularly Croatia's close neighbours. It is popularly put into soups and stews to give them more flavour. Among its ingredients are small pieces of dehydrated vegetables like carrot, parsnip, onion, celery, plus spices, salt and herbs like parsley.

Chocolate


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What is Croatia known for? Chocolate is a big export© Alexander Stein

Though making chocolate is only around a century old in Croatia, Croatian chocolate has grown to become one of its leading manufactured food exports. Some of the most popular bars may be a little heavy on sugar and low on cocoa for more discerning tastes. But, lots of others really like it.

Beer


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What is Croatia famous for? Its beer is becoming more famous internationally © The Garden Brewery

The exploding growth of the Croatian craft ale scene over the last 10 years is something that is likely to have passed you by, unless you're a regular visitor to the country, a beer buff or both. Most of the producers are quite small and production not great enough to make a big splash on international markets. However, even within a craft-flooded current market, Croatian beer is becoming more widely known – in one poll, the Zagreb-based Garden Brewery was in 2020 voted Europe's Best Brewery for the second consecutive year

8) Innovation


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What is Croatia famous for? Pioneers, inventors and innovation. Nikola Tesla was born here

From the parachute, fingerprinting, the retractable pen and the tungsten filament electric light-bulb to the torpedo, modern seismology, the World Health Oganisation and the cravat (a necktie, and the precursor to the tie worn by many today), Croatia has gifted many innovations to the world. The list of pioneers - scientists, artists, researchers and inventors - who were born here throughout history is long. And, although innovation is not currently regarded as experiencing a golden period in Croatia, there are still some Croatian innovators whose impact is felt globally, such as electric hypercar maker Mate Rimac.

9) Being poor


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What is Croatia famous for? Being poor. Yikes!

The minimum wage in Croatia is among the lowest in Europe. Croatian language media is constantly filled with stories about corruption. There is a huge state apparatus in which key (if not most) positions are regarded to be politically or personally-motivated appointments. This leads to a lack of opportunity for Croatia's highly educated young people. Many emigrate for better pay and better opportunities. This leads to a brain drain and affects the country's demographics considerably (if it usually the best educated, the ablest and the youngest Croatian adults who emigrate). Many of those who stay are influenced by the stories of widespread corruption and lack of opportunity and are therefore lethargic in their work, leading to a lack of productivity. A considerable part of the Croatian economy is based on tourism which remains largely seasonal.

10) People want to live in Croatia


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What is Croatia famous for? People want to come and live here. No, really.

Yes, despite many younger Croatians leaving or dreaming of leaving and despite the low wages, many people who are not from Croatia dream about living here. Of course, it's an all too familiar scenario that you go on holiday somewhere and while sitting at a seafood restaurant in sight of a glorious sunset, having had a few too many glasses of the local wine, you fall in love with Miguel or however the waiter is called who served it and Miguel's homeland. But, with Croatia, this is actually no passing fancy, no idle holiday dream. People do decide to move here. And not just for the sunset and Miguel (nobody in Croatia is called Miguel - Ed).

Croatia may be known for being poor, but it also has one of the best lifestyles in Europe. That it's cafe terraces are usually full to capacity tells you something about the work to living ratio. Croatians are not just spectators of sport, many enjoy a healthy lifestyle. This informs everything from their pastimes to their diet. There are great facilities for exercise and sport, wonderful nature close by whichever part of the country you're in. You can escape into somewhere wonderful and unknown at a moment's notice. The country is well connected internally by brilliant roads and motorways, reliable intercity buses and an international train network. The tourism industry ensures that multiple airports across Croatia can connect you to almost anywhere you want to go, and major international airports in Belgrade and Budapest, just a couple of hours away, fly to some extremely exotic locations. There are a wealth of fascinating neighbour countries on your doorstep to explore on a day trip or weekend and superfast broadband is being rolled out over the entire country. This is perhaps one of the reasons Croatia has been heralded as one of the world's best options for Digital Nomads. In a few years, when we ask what is Croatia famous far, they could be one of the answers.

What is Croatia famous for, but only after you've visited

Some things you experience when you visit Croatia come as a complete surprise. Most would simply never be aware of them until they visit. They are usually top of the list of things you want to do when you come back to Croatia.

Gastronomy


fritaja_sparoge_1-maja-danica-pecanic_1600x900ntbbbbb.jpgGastronomy is only one of the things what is Croatia known for only after you've visited © Maja Danica Pecanic / Croatian National Tourist Board

Despite a few famous TV chefs having visited and filmed in Croatia over the years, Croatian gastronomy remains largely unknown to almost everyone who's never been to Croatia. That's a shame because you can find some fine food here. Croatia has increased its Michelin-starred and Michelin-recommended restaurants tenfold over recent years. But, perhaps the bigger story is the traditional cuisine which varies greatly within the countries different regions. From the gut-busting barbecue grills and the classic Mediterranean fare of Dalmatia to the pasta, asparagus and truffles of Istria to the sausages and paprika-rich stews of Slavonia and the best smoked and preserved meats of the region, there's an untold amount of secret Croatian gastronomy to discover.

Coffee


restaurant-3815076_1280.jpgWhat is Croatia known for? Well, to locals, it's famous for coffee - not just a drink, it's a ritual

Croatians are passionate about coffee and about going for coffee. It's a beloved ritual here. Going for coffee in Croatia is often about much more than having coffee. It's an integral part of socialising, catching up and sometimes being seen. It doesn't always involve coffee either. Sometimes, you'll be invited for coffee, only to end up ordering beer. It's not about the coffee. Although, the standard of coffee in Croatia, and the places where you drink it, is usually really good.

The misapprehension: What is Croatia known for (if you are a Croatian living in Croatia)

Handball, music

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Wednesday, 6 January 2021

PHOTOS: Ivanscica – Northern Croatia's First Nature Park?

January 6, 2021 – The spectacular backdrop to photographs taken at some of Zagorje's most famous landmarks, Ivanscica is the highest mountain in the country's north. Richly ringed by castles and fortresses that draw investigating hikers, could it become Northern Croatia's first-ever Nature Park?

Northern Croatia is renowned for many reasons. It has the highest concentration of castles and stately homes in the whole of Croatia, including many of the country's most spectacular. It has fantastic museums, some of which are even situated inside these castles. Rivers, water parks and ancient spa waters dot the landscape and the rustic, classic cuisine is often so great you know exactly why the capital city claims much of it as its own. In regular years, northern Croatia also has a full calendar of exciting events that take in all manner of music, folklore, arts & crafts, film festivals and much more besides.

Yet, anyone who has visited the land 'over the mountain' will tell you that one of its most remarkable attributes is its scenery. Historic settlements, comprised of architecture varying between the grandiose, the modern and the functional, amalgamated over hundreds of years, sat on gently rolling slopes. Away from the houses and other buildings, vineyards and farmland stretch along similarly undulating land, gifting a view that must have looked much the same 100 years ago. You can see this amazing topography when you fly into Zagreb from western Europe – it's the magical-looking land below you that looks like something JRR Tolkien might have imagined for The Lord Of The Rings.

zagorje-vinogradi--ivo-biocina_1.jpgZagorje © Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Despite its wondrous natural assets, northern Croatia (which is nowadays split into three, vast counties – Medimurje, Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin county), is the only region in Croatia that surprisingly does not have a dedicated nature park. That may be changed with the launching of an initiative to make Ivanscica the first nature park in Hrvatsko Zagorje.

Belecgrad.jpgBabin Zub on the south-west slopes of Ivanscica offers incredible views of Zagorje. Mount Medvednica can be seen in the distance © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Ivanscica is the highest mountain in northern Croatia. It is 30 kilometres long and nine kilometres wide, rising to 1060 metres at its highest point. Situated less than 30 kilometres south-west of the city of Varazdin, it runs along the border between Krapinska-Zagorje and Varazdin counties in a long stretch of mountainous ground that starts near the westerly-lying Strahinjčica (near Krapina_. These mountains hug the horizon within photographs taken at many of northern Croatia's most famous landmarks. They are also rich in geodiversity and biodiversity.

ivanscicahpd.jpg© Zoran Stanko / Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

The nature and geological make-up of Ivanscica has long been drawing visitors. A much-loved site for walking, hiking and climbing, its topography varies between bare rock and lower areas covered with trees like beech, oak and hornbeam. Ivanscica is particularly popular as a traditional excursion on May Day. The numbers of walkers and hikers around this time can reach into the thousands and the event extends over several days.

snowy12333.jpg© Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

At the peak of Ivanscica is a mountain lodge, Pasarić's house and two lookouts with incredible views, the lodge's original construction date of 1929 attesting to the mountain's long popularity as a place for recreation. It was named after Josip Pasarić (1860 - 1937), a teacher, journalist, sometime politician and a former president of the Croatian Mountaineering Association. Nearly a century old, it is far from being the oldest structure to have taken advantage of this raised ground and the views they provide.

kucaIvan.jpgPasarić's house © Croatian Mountaineering Association Ivancica

On the southern slopes of Ivanscica, two particularly impressive ruins invite exploration. Less than two kilometres south of Ivanscica's peak, Belecgrad Fortress, sits on a secluded and steep rocky peak that is 540m high. It can be reached by approaching from the west. Although now a ruin, this strategically important fortress was once a royal estate, over time belonging to a series of owners including Frederick of Celje Peter Gising and the families Celjski, Szekely, Frankopan, Keglević, Erdody and Rattkay.

hpd-belecgrad-dron.jpgBelecgrad Fortress, seen from above © Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad

Three or four kilometres to the east of Belecgrad Fortress, the medieval castle of Milengrad dates back around 775 years and served as a residence and defensive fortress for a good 400 years before succumbing to either the Ottomans or an earthquake (Ivanscica has been the site of several considerable earthquakes – the most recent being a 6.2 level quake in 1983).

MilengradEmaBabić.jpgMilengrad, one of many castles and fortifications that can be found on the slopes of Ivanscica © Ema Babić

These ruins are impressive enough, but they are only two of a series of defensive structures to ring the mountain, others including the castles and fortresses Pokojec, Oštrcgrad, Loborgrad, Židovina (a Jewish fortification), Gradišče, Ivanec, Bela, Gotalovec, Cukovec, Lepoglava and Grebengrad. Some of these (Grebengrad, Bela and Cukovec) were rebuilt on the site of forts that extend further back than the 12th century.

BelecgradonthesouthsideofIvanscica.jpgBelecgrad on the south side of Ivanscica © Branko Barlović / Croatian Mountaineering Association

There are currently eight National Parks within Croatia - Krka, Plitvice Lakes, Mljet, Brijuni Islands, Kornati, Paklenica, Risnjak and Northern Velebit – each closely guarded to protect and preserve their nature and beauty for future generations. In addition, there are a series of eleven Nature Parks - Žumberak / Samoborsko gorje. Biokovo, Kopački rit, Lastovo archipelago, Lonjsko polje, Medvednica, Papuk, Telašćica, Učka, Velebit and Vrana lake, with Dinara well on its way to becoming number twelve. Their status differs from National Parks in that, although they are protected areas, their standing does not impede on recreation and other activities within them that do not damage their distinct assets. As a site rich for exploration, walking, hiking and climbing, the destination of Nature Park status would perfectly suit Ivanscica and it could well become Croatia's thirteenth Nature Park, the first within Northern Croatia.

Ivanscica Croatian Mountaineering Association Belecgrad.jpg

Thursday, 18 November 2021

PHOTOS: The 21 Most Incredible Croatia Castles To See Year-Round

November 18, 2021 – Serving as Christian Europe's defensive front line for centuries, incredible Croatia castles can be found throughout the country. Whether on a summertime day trip, set next to the spectacular backdrop of autumn's colours or postcard-pretty covered in winter's snow, here are 21 of the best to visit year-round

Croatia Castles Mailáth and Prandau in Donji Miholjac

DM-DvoraMailathcZdenko_Brkanić.jpg© Zdenko Brkanić

Mailáth Castle is located in Donji Miholjac in Osijek-Baranja County. The town famously lies just next to the Hungarian border in the traditional region of Slavonia. It's well worth making the trip to see this wonderful building, not least because it sits right next door to an earlier manor. After being gifted lands for fighting the Ottomans, in 1818 the Prandau family built its first castle/manor in Miholjac in the Baroque style. But, in 1901 its grandeur was supplanted by Mailáth castle.

croatia_slavonija_donji_miholjac_004NTB.jpgDonji Miholjac in Slavonija gives you two adjoined Croatia castles, Mailáth (right) and Castle Prandau (left)  © Croatian National Tourist Board

Built over four floors, its decorative chimneys, spacious terraces with neoclassical balustrades and wrought iron fences identify its debt to the Tudor style. The building has some 50 rooms across roughly 3500 square meters. Its interior was decorated with hunting trophies from Count Mailáth's travels in Asia and Africa, set above oak paneling which lines every room. In recent times, the building was used to house city authorities. But, considerable effort has been made to restore the building and open it up to visitors. Its grand hall now hosts events such as classical music performances, as do the immediate grounds in warmer months. These grounds extend out into a 16-hectare public park which was curated by the family and bequeathed to the town inhabitants. This is now one of the few Croatia castles to have a nationally certified horticultural monument attached. It has been classed as such since 1961.

Maruševec Castle in Varaždin County

2880px-Dvorac_Marusevec3MaGa.jpeg© MaGa

During its lifetime, the extraordinary Maruševec castle in Varaždin County has passed through a confusingly long series of different owners, many of whom have left a significant mark on the building. The original structure dates back to 1547. Since then, it was privately owned up until 1945 when it was seized from the Pongratz family by Yugoslavian communist authorities. It was the Pongratz family who established splendid gardens that surround the building.

slika-dvoracOpćina_Maruševec.jpg© Općine Maruševec

In the first years after independence, the building was used by a section of the Protestant church in Croatia. However, over recent decades, Croatia's government has begun the process of trying to return many such Croatia castles to their rightful owners. Maruševec Castle now lies back in the hands of the Pongratz family and the grounds are once again superb.

Prandau Normann in Valpovo

dvorac-air1greenroom.jpeg© Greenroom Festival Valpovo

The pictures don't do it justice. Prandau Normann in Valpovo is one of the Croatia castles that has to be visited to get a true sense of its size. If you do, you'll maybe also come away having learned of its significance and history. One of the oldest and largest castles in Slavonia, it sits within a small area of greenery upon which the surrounding settlement closely encroaches. Some trees at the edges of these thin grounds partially obstruct the view. Stretching out from the southern ends of this green island is a glorious public park of 25 hectares.

Dvorac_Prandau-Normann_dvorac_iz_zrakaRoko_Poljak.jpg© Roko Poljak

Formerly part of the hunting grounds of the castle inhabitants, these grounds were designed as a grandiose garden in the English style. Subsequently, it has been declared a national monument of natural and horticultural architecture. The sections of the castle itself form a three-walled complex with an inner courtyard. The original triangular-shaped fortress and the shorter, round tower date back to the beginning of the 15th century at which time it was surrounded by defensive moats. During the first half of the 18th century, the Prandau family rebuilt one side of the medieval structure with the Baroque palace which now lies at the front. Its tower is 37 metres high. Badly damaged in a fire on New Year's Eve in 1801, its stylings were somewhat altered when reconstructed. A true giant, it has over 60 rooms and, together with the inner courtyard, has an impressive ground space of 4031 m2. The Museum of the Valpovo Region was established here in 1956. Its continuous running was halted by both war and reconstruction work. But, it is now open again. Although the building is of significant national importance, it is to the immense credit of its forward-thinking governance that the building and grounds have in recent years been utilised for public events, including very contemporary youth culture happenings such as the Reunited Festival (here) and Greenroom Festival

Ozalj Castle

ozalj-stari-grad-za-web-ivo-biocina_0NTBFULLON.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Around 60 kilometres from Zagreb, in Karlovac County, Ozalj is one of the most picturesque Croatia castles. It has simply everything you would want from a visit to a castle – an impressive approach, towers, defensive walls, surrounding waters, incredible views, a museum and a fascinating amalgam of different buildings. Sat spectacularly on a cliff above the Kupa river and the surrounding settlement of Ozalj, this castle was once the entire town.

RedZugang_Schloss_Ozalj1BernBartsch.jpeg© Bern Bartsch

First mentioned as a free royal city as far back as 1244, the walled medieval stronghold gradually become a castle structure, with significant additions taking place up until the 18th century. It is a building of great national significance. Ozalj is the site of the Zrinski–Frankopan conspiracy which, although unsuccessful, is regarded an important marker in Croatia's struggle for autonomy. Between them, the Croatian families of Zrinski and Frankopan owned the castle from 1398 until 1671. Thereafter, both family lines were severed when the Zrinski–Frankopan conspirators were executed by the ruling Habsburgs. There were further ramifications. An additional 2000 nobles of the region were also arrested and the Protestant church was suppressed, Habsburg troops attacked commoners in both Croatia and Hungary and the position of Ban of Croatia, formerly held by Nikola Zrinski, would be left completely vacant for the next 60 years. The conspirators were executed on April 30 which, in remembrance, became the city day of Ozalj.

Trakošćan Castle in Varaždin County

TURISTIČKA_ZAJEDNICA_OPCINA_BEDNJA.jpg© Turistička zajednica Trakošćan - Općina Bednja

One of the most-recognisable Croatia castles, from its surroundings Trakošćan looks like something out of a fairytale. Its position - on a hill near Krapina, Varaždin County, not far from the Slovenia border - was obviously decided upon for defensive reasons. But, today, this positioning serves only to bolster the romantic vista. Trakošćan dates back to the 13th century, although local legend says that it stands on the site of an even earlier fortress. Nobody really knows who commissioned it nor who originally lived here.

TrakoscanCroatiaTZ.jpg© Croatian National Tourist Board

In 1556 the castle came under state control. But, just 18 years later, it was gifted to the Drašković family. In the second half of the 18th century, the castle was abandoned. The Drašković family resumed interest in the building in the middle of the 19th century. They renovated the house and constructed the gardens. Today, the surrounding gardens are a significant highlight of any visit to Trakošćan. The family lived here until 1944. But, the Drašković's were forced to emigrate to Austria and the state assumed ownership. It is now owned by the Republic of Croatia and has been renovated considerably. Inside there is a permanent museum.

Trsat Castle in Rijeka

Domagoj_BlaževićTrsatKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

The city of Rijeka rises sharply from sea level into the nearby foothills. This abrupt ascent is the cause of Rijeka's above-average rainfall. But, there are some positives. Residential tower blocks have been built in these foothills and the cityscape vista is superb from their balconies. But, the best view of the city of Rijeka is from Trsat.

TRSAT_gradina-trsat01-pogled-domagoj-blazevic-19.07-724x500.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Rječina valley separates Trsat castle from the competing high-rise blocks. Looking down at the city from the castle, the river itself is immediately below you. It scores a path through an industrial landscape, then the old city. Eventually, it spills out into Kvarner Bay. Sitting 150 metres above the city, it's thought that Trsat castle lies on top of an earlier Illyrian or Roman fortress. Today, the castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rijeka. Inside there's a cafe bar. Throughout the year, the inner courtyard hosts cultural events like theatre and music concerts. Needless to say, the castle is a wonderful backdrop to these public events, as it is during Christmas when it becomes a highlight of Rijeka and Kvarner's Advent celebrations.

Stara Sušica Castle

DomagojBlaeviStaraKvarner.jpeg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

One of the most bewildering Croatia castles, the fantastical architecture of Stara Sušica is explained by a series of restorations and additions that have taken place over many generations. It's far from being the biggest of Croatia castles, but it's certainly one of the most intriguing.

Stara_Susica_0004Domagoj_BlaževićKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

By prior arrangement, you can actually stay in this castle. It has previously hosted groups such as those who engage in fantasy role-playing games. The mysterious-looking building must be the perfect backdrop to such wild imagination! This architectural gem of a castle is located 60 kilometres to the east of the city of Rijeka. It sits in the shadows of tall coniferous trees, just outside of the town of Stara Sušica, near Ravna Gora.

Veliki Tabor Castle in Zagorje

veliki-tabor-optimizirano-za-web-ivo-biocina_1600x900_0Croatia.jpeg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

The sizeable Veliki Tabor is another of the Croatia castles that sits atop a hill for defensive purposes. It dominates a beautiful rural landscape of agricultural land, gently rising hills and vineyards near Desinić in Zagorje, less than an hour's drive from Zagreb.

veliki-tabor-web-ivo-biocina-1CROATIArfghbnjm.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Dating from the middle of 15th century, most of the castle was built by the Ráttkay family from Hungary, in whose ownership it remained until 1793. The castle is said to be haunted. Legend says a local woman was murdered upon false accusations of witchcraft and entombed within the actual castle walls. Although, the ulterior motive for the killing is said to have been the castle's owner didn't want his son to marry the woman. Her voice is said to still inhabit the building. Today owned by the state, Veliki Tabor now holds a permanent museum and is a popular tourist attraction. Events significant to local culture take place here, like food festivals. The castle also hosts some nationally recognised happenings, such as the famous Veliki Tabor short film festival.

Lužnica Castle near Zaprešić, Zagreb County

Luznica2ZCTY.png© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Set back from the main road and obscured by ancient trees, the immediate approach to Lužnica is incredibly impressive. The castle is surrounded by neatly trimmed lawns and you can reach it from several different directions. The pathways leading to the building are bordered by low-lying hedges. At the end of these paths sits the baroque castle. It shares its name with the nearby settlement of Lužnica, just a few kilometres to the west of Zaprešić in Zagreb County.

LuznicZaagrebCounty.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Lužnica castle was built in 1791 as a residence for a noble family. But, since 1925 the building has been owned by the Convent of St. Vincent de Paul. After acquiring the building, nuns used the castle as a residential and care home for elderly members of the sisterhood. From 1935 the building was used for the care of poor children, and then, afterwards, for educational classes organised by the nuns. In 2005, a purpose-built modern property was constructed nearby and this assumed the residential care of retired nuns. This facilitated much better public access to the castle. The nuns still hold spiritual and educational programs inside the castle and it also hosts secular conferences and seminars.

Krašić

KrasicZgC.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

So well suited to its contemporary purpose as a church does Krašić look that it's difficult to imagine that it was ever anything other. But, this complex of buildings originally dates back much further than the hundred or so years it has served as a place of worship.

krasic08RegionalDevelopment_agencyZagrebCounty.jpg© Regional Development Agency Zagreb County

It was first built in the Gothic style of the late 14th century and later reconstructed in the Baroque style. It only assumed its current religious role after reconstructions that took place between 1911 and 1913. Nowadays, villagers know it as the Parish church of the Holy Trinity. It serves the population of Krašić, near Jastrebarsko, about 50 km southwest of Zagreb. Enthusiastic hunters of Croatia castles who are visiting Zagreb and Zagreb County will also not want to miss the nearby Pribić. It is located just three kilometes east of Krašić. There you'll find an incredible triumvirate of spectacular neighbouring buildings - two castles and one Greek Catholic church.

Pejačević Castle in Našice

Dvorac_Pejačević._NašiceSamir_Budimčić.jpg© Samir Budimčić

Though they are most commonly associated with Slavonia, the Pejačević family extends back to at least the 14th century, during which time some of them settled in north-west Bulgaria. Alongside Bosnians and Germans attracted to that region by mining, these immigrants brought Catholicism to the area around Chiprovtsi. Subsequently, there was a famous uprising there against the Ottomans. The Pejačević family are thought to have been among the instigators of the failed rebellion. They fled to lands recently liberated from the Ottomans and eventually acquired significant titles and estates in Slavonia. For centuries they were very influential in the region's political, social, economic and cultural life.

Zavičajni_muzej_Našice_Našice_local_history_museum.jpg© Našice local history museum (Zavičajni muzej Našice)

Pejačević Castle in Našice today is the home of Našice local history museum / Zavičajni muzej Našice (here). The castle is actually one of two castles the family built in this town. They have two more castles elsewhere in traditional Slavonia - in Virovitica and Retfala, Osijek. If you want to read more about the Pejačević family and their castles in Našice, then look here.

Stari Grad Varaždin

VarazdinZup.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Varaždinske Županije

The city of Varaždin once served as the capital of Croatia and, as its focal point, Stari Grad fortress is therefore of significant national importance. In acknowledgment, an image of the fortress used to appear on the back of the old 5 kuna bank notes. Although, presumably due to some printer's error, the image appeared in reverse to how it sits in real life.

varazdin-ivo-biocina-NTZ.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

The building is mentioned as far back as the 12th century. But, it was reconstructed as a Renaissance fortification in the 16th century. At the end of that century, it came into the hands of the Hungarian-Croatian family Erdödy. Today, Stari Grad holds a permanent museum. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in a city that's not short of great reasons to visit.

Bosiljevo Castle

Dvorac_Bosiljevo_-_panoramioKrittinskiy.jpg© Krittinskiy

Something of a bratić (cousin) to Ozalj Castle, Bosiljevo is in Karlovac County and was also owned by the Frankopan family. It is a sprawling set of structures, impressively situated on a hillside within forest land. The nature of the building and its remote location perhaps contribute to the fact that it is abandoned and unrestored. However, it is still one of the Croatia castles worth visiting year-round, not least because the surrounding trees grant a spectacular backdrop that changes throughout the year's seasons.

bosiljevoopcinacas.jpg© Općina Bosiljevo

Although access is limited, you can get up close to the fascinating buildings, the intricately decorated defensive walls and its towers. The earliest sections date back to at least 1344. Following its seizure by the Austrians in 1671, Bosiljevo passed through the hands of a series of private owners. They included Irish-born Laval Nugent von Westmeath, who started his career as a loyal soldier to Austria but finished his life in Bosiljevo as something closer to a Croatian patriot. The property was seized by Communist authorities after the Second World War. Its decline began when it was thereafter ill-purposed as a retirement home, restaurant and cheap motel. It was finally abandoned in the 1980s.

Čakovec Castle

stari_gradcakovectz.jpg© Čakovec City Tourist Board

Situated within a sizeable park, in the town centre of Čakovec, Međimurje, Čakovec Castle is a beast of a structure. Like some of the previous Croatia castles, it is actually several buildings. Access to the park is great from all sides. These grounds are a green space much-enjoyed by Čakovec residents and visitors. So too are the spectacular buildings which lie at their centre. The original 13th-century fortress was built by Count Dmitri Čak, hence the town's name. Its walls form the basis of the complex's front section, behind which the 16th Century Zrinski Castle sits detached.

MuseumMedimurjeCak.jpg© Museum of Međimurje, Čakovec

The Zrinski castle houses Croatia's biggest museum, the Međimurje County Museum. The courtyard hosts cultural happenings like music concerts, theatre and food events. Although this independent structure is known as the Zrinski Castle, the Zrinski family were not responsible for the building's construction. However, this is one of the most significant Croatia castles because it was their family seat during a time in which several family members served as Ban of Croatia.

Feštetić Castle, Pribislavec

dvorac_festetic_01visit_medimurje.jpg© Visit Međimurje

One of the most singular-looking of all Croatia castles, not least because of its unforgettable neogothic tower, Feštetić Castle in Međimurje actually pre-dates the Feštetić family who lends it their name. The original building dates back to at least the beginning of the 18th Century.

Feštetićvisitnorthcroatia.jpgGosh! The occasional darkened skies above Međimurje seem to suit the neogothic Feštetić Castle almost as much as do the clear blue! © Visit North Croatia

Throughout its life, the structure that lay here was ravaged by war, fire and natural disasters and therefore rebuilt several times. We can attribute its striking neogothic stylings to the Feštetić family, whose work on the castle began in 1870. The building has been in continuous use ever since, serving at times as a retirement home and a school. It is therefore in great condition and sits on grounds that are also enjoyable when you visit.

Nova Kraljevica Castle

Domagoj_BlaževićKraljevicaKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Located atop the start of a peninsula at the entrance to the Bay of Bakar, less than 20 kilometres east of Rijeka, Petar Zrinski started to build Nova Kraljevica in 1651. The castle has large towers at the corners of each of its four walls.

dvorac-nova-kraljevica07-atrij-domagoj-blazevic-11.07-1200x800.jpgThe ornate inner courtyard of Kraljevica Castle © Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

They surround an inner courtyard decorated with archways on two floors. Petar's wife, Katarina Frankopan, is said to have paid close attention to its interior design. The couple spent much time here. It is one of the few Croatia castles to sit directly on the Croatian mainland's shore. The castle's main salon was decorated with gilded leather wallpaper, had marble fireplaces, floors paved with a marble mosaic and doors made of black and white marble. This spectacular and well-preserved castle also once held one of Croatia's very first museums. It is not only great to visit on foot, but also a spectacular sight when approached from the Adriatic by boat.

Miljana Castle, near Kumrovec

DisscoSC_0248-visitZagorje.jpg© Visit Zagorje

Though not currently open to spontaneous visits like many of the Croatia castles on this list, you can go to the Baroque castle of Miljana near Kumrovec, Zagorje. You just have to arrange to do so in advance. That's because this picturesque building is undergoing a gradual restoration.

Miljana_Castle_near_KumroveKrapina_Zagorje_County_Tourism_Board.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Miljana is impossibly pretty, as are its grounds. Three wings surround a central courtyard. A striking black plaster covers the walls, periodically interspersed with white plaster ornamentation. Its construction began in the late 16th century under the Rattkay family. Although, it was expanded and adapted several times before its last substantial remodeling in the 18th century. Its first floor has eight salons, seven of which hold frescos on the walls. These are the basis of much of the current restoration work. It promises to be an unmissable treat once the painstaking work is complete.

Kutjevo Castle

dvorac-kutjevoTZK.jpeg© Tourism Board of Kutjevo

Built on the site of a much earlier monastery, Kutjevo castle still has the ancient wine cellar that belonged to its predecessor. This cellar dates back to the year 1232. The rest of the original monastery buildings were destroyed by the Ottomans. After they left, the land was gifted to Zagreb canon Ivan Josip Babić in 1689. He invited Jesuits to make a home for themselves here. They cleared the land and built the castle between 1704 and 1735.

Kutjevo-ParkCROATIA.jpg© Croatian National Tourist Board

One side of the castle is a church. The other three wings are less overtly religious in appearance. They surround an inner courtyard and, beyond them stretches a large park area. The park has a circular motif in its centre. Around it, pathways wind through the grounds passing the large trees which live here. Perhaps the most striking feature of the building is its polygonal tower on which sits a bulb-shaped roof. The building is privately owned and its interior is not open to spontaneous visits from the public.

Eltz Castle, Vukovar

Vukovar_Dvorac_Eltz_SKStjepkoKrehula.jpeg© Stjepko Krehula

One of the most famous, spectacular and oldest castles in Germany is called Eltz Castle. This one, located in the easterly Croatian city of Vukovar, is clearly something other. However, the two are connected by the same Eltz family, the descendants of which still inhabit the German castle, just as their ancestors did in the 12th Century. The family owned huge tracts of land around this section of the Danube. By far, this was their most significant territory outside Germany. Eltz Castle in Vukovar was their main residence until 1945 when the family was expelled by the Yugoslav communist regime.

GradskiMuzejVuko.jpg© Gradski muzej Vukovar

The front facade is a sea of ornate baroque windows, painstakingly (but speedily) reconstructed following the building's near-complete destruction by bombing during the 1990s. Since 1968, the castle has housed the Vukovar City Museum (here), one of the most significant in Pannonia. It charts the history of all the peoples who have inhabited this area of the Danube and contains valuable exhibits returned to it from Zagreb, Novi Sad and Belgrade.

Lukavec Castle, Turopolje

LukavecTZZC1.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Lukavec is built on the site of a wooden fort that was first mentioned in 1256. Could some of the wooden bridge that gives access to this castle be made of remnants of its ancestor? Maybe not, but it's nice to imagine the lineage being so palpable. This replacement structure dates from 1752 and is marked by outer walls covered in gold-coloured plaster. This colour contrasts beautifully against white borders, the red-tiled roof and the darkened top of the main tower.

The_Old_Town_of_Lukavec_6Zeljko.filipin.jpeg© Zeljko Filipin

In the building's courtyard sits an old cannon. This remnant reminds of a military past that is otherwise unapparent in the unblemished building. Lukavec is an integral part of the local community's cultural and social life and hosts many events.

Kerestinec Castle

kerestinec2-10svetaned.jpg© Grad Sveta Nedelja

The Renaissance-Baroque building in Kerestinec, Sveta Nedelja, is one of the Croatia castles that has seen much better days. Its construction was commissioned in 1565 by Petar Erdödy, then Ban of Croatia. So, originally it would have been built to high standards and specifications. The castle was remodelled several times over the centuries and is today notable for circular towers that sit at two corners of its four wings.

dvorac_helikoptersvetanedelja.jpg© Grad Sveta Nedelja

In recent memory, the castle's central courtyard has hosted events such as a dance music festival. This may be far from its original purpose, but such events continue to breathe life into a spectacular building that perhaps otherwise would be completely abandoned.

All of the photos of castles in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner) were taken by Domagoj Blažević for the Route Of The Frankopans website (here), which allows visitors to trace a path through all of the former Frankopan properties in the county and is recommended reading for castle hunters

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Incredible 18th-Century Castle Oroslavje Donji nr Zagreb On Sale

October 8, 2020 – A bonafide 18th-century Baroque castle is up for sale. Although in a state of neglect, Oroslavje Donji is an architectural gem with huge grounds and lies less than 30 minutes from Zagreb. Its price tag? A cool 1 million Euros.

Zagorje refers to a place behind the mountains. Dalmatinska zagora is the hinterland behind the Dinaric Alps. Hrvatsko Zagorje, often referred to simply as Zagorje is the region behind Medvednica mountain. Dominating the skyline of Zagreb, Medvednica lies just north of the Croatian capital and is much loved for recreation, enjoying nature and feasting on traditional foods. In winter, the far side of the mountain offers skiing and when your skis reach the bottom of the slopes, you're at the entrance to Zagorje. Although, Zagorje has another entrance.

antun-cerovecki-medvednica-pogled-na-zg_0.jpgThe Medvednica mountain overlooks Zagreb. On the other side lies Zagorje © Antun Cerovečki / Croatian National Tourist Board

Oroslavje: The Gate of Croatian Zagorje (Vrata Hrvatskog zagorja)

The pretty town of Oroslavje is sometimes called The Gate of Croatian Zagorje (Vrata Hrvatskog zagorja). Though it lies less than 30 minutes drive from Zagreb, Oroslavje feels far from the bustle and pace of the metropolis. It's the kind of idyllic bolthole that Londoners dream of having half an hour from the English capital, a place where premium properties would be snapped up in an instant by the rich and famous. Such places and properties are rarely attainable in such close proximity to London. But, they are in Zagreb.

163639009_10159042440604841_8122501769328929391_n.jpgOroslavje © Grad Oroslavje

A bonafide 18th-century castle in Oroslavje has gone up for sale. Oroslavje Donji is a Baroque castle of 1,270 m2 with four wings, an inner courtyard and a park-sized garden that extends an incredible 26,235 m2. Although in a serious state of disrepair, it is an incredibly grand and historic building. The price tag is a cool 1 million Euros.

Opportunities to buy such dwellings do not come around so often. And, in a charming feature on the sale by zagreb.info, co-owners of the building are said to be hesitant about letting it go. Stunning pictures and details make that more than understandable.

HOL_4165 (1).jpgOroslavje Donji © Njuskalo

The first-floor vault of Oroslavje Donji's main hall holds beautiful wall paintings created in the late 18th century. Elsewhere, 19th-century wall paintings can be found, thankfully above the height of the spray paint graffiti left by some unauthorised visitors - the castle has been left abandoned for many years.

5152781843438140_5586364091109402_donje oroslavje.jpg© Turistička zajednica grada Oroslavja

However, most of the building's major architectural details remain intact, as do ornate, original floor tilings. Outside, at the entrance to the park, there is a magnificent baroque portal. Two Baroque statues also lie within the garden which, in line with trends of the time, was furnished in the late 19th century with exotic trees from all over the world. Today, many species of birds make their home within the branches, undisturbed by human presence.

Dvorac-Oroslavje-donje.jpg© Turistička zajednica grada Oroslavja

Well connected to Zagreb, Slovenia and Hungary, Oroslavje and other nearby towns were once favoured places to live by the upper echelons of Austro-Hungarian society. Oroslavje used to have two castles, but Gornje Oroslavje was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1949. Oroslavje Donji was home to the Vojkffy family (Vojković in Croatian).

In a former life: The Vojkffy / Vojković family in Oroslavje Donji

34090675_10156081226069279_5740500395587796992_n.jpgThe inside of Oroslavje Donje when still inhabited © Faculty of Architecture University of Zagreb

The family earned titles and lands for their service to the Austro-Hungarian empire in their struggle against the invading Ottomans. Ivan Vojkffy I (1520–1595) was the captain of the town of Karlovac, and his son Ivan Vojkffy II (1595–1661) captain of the town of Križevci. In the 17th century, the family moved to Hrvatsko Zagorje.

Sigismund Vojkffy was the royal chamberlain and commander of the guards at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. For service in the Seven Years' War (1756–63), Maria Theresa awarded both Sigismund and his brother Christopher the title of count in 1763.

Janko_grof_Vojković.jpgJanko Vojković, son of Sigismund. He lived at Oroslavje Donje © Silverije

These were high decorations in the court of the empire. The family subsequently went on to build not only Oroslavje Donje (1770–90) but also the parish church of St. Jelena in Zabok (1782–1805) and several palaces in Zagreb's Upper Town, the most famous of which is the Baroque Vojković-Oršić-Rauch Palace in Matoševa Street. Sigismund Vojkffy died only two years after Oroslavje Donje was completed, but his descendants, including his son Janko, continued to live there.

dvorac-donje-oros.jpg© Turistička zajednica grada Oroslavja

In its golden age, Oroslavje Donje held an approach that was 230 meters in length. In front of the south façade was a decorative garden, to the south-west the park was connected to the forest, and to the left of the approach was a spacious meadow. The last male descendants of the Vojkffy family, Sigismund's grandsons, emigrated from Croatia in the late 19th century. Thereafter, Oroslavje Donje changed hands a number of times before being confiscated by the state in the era of Yugoslavia and subsequently fell into disrepair.

34092181_10156081218634279_606078404395008000_n.jpgHow the interior of Oroslavje Donje looked in its heyday © Faculty of Architecture University of Zagreb

Though few properties like this appear on the market, there are surely a limited number of people who could afford the price tag. Even fewer who would have the funds and determination to restore Oroslavje Donje to its original state of grandeur. But, who knows? A buyer might appear. After all, who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful Baroque castle just 30 minutes from Zagreb?

If you want to read more about some of Croatia's best castles, then look here.

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Friday, 17 March 2017

Conde Nast Traveler: Trakoscan Makes List of Most Beautiful European Castles

Hardly a stranger to lists, Croatia's beautiful Trakoscan castle finds itself showcased on a list compiled by one of the most well respected publications in the travel game...

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Centennial Orphans on Sale

Calling them orphans may be brutal, but Croatian castles, manors and forts are just that. Of a thousand such buildings, some in private and some in state ownership, most are in catastrophic state. The state doesn’t have a clue what to do with them. So the question of revitalising castles, some which can be bought for 27 thousand euro, is being tossed from one department to another. In the meantime the effect of time keeps mounting and these centennial buildings await a master plan

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