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Fairytale Castles In Croatia
Traipsing around grand old castles is a great way to take a step back in time to the days of Kings, Queens, and power, to a time long ago when conquests were the order of the day. We spent some time wandering the long grand halls of castles in the area of northern Croatia and stayed for a week at Croatia’s most spiritual place, Marija Bistrica. The area known as Hrvatsko Zagorje is filled with not only castles, but also rolling hills, 50 shades of green, and not to mention a few excellent wineries.
There are a number of castles in Croatia, many of which can be found in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region. Here are four of my favorites.
Set atop a steep hill in Hrvatsko Zagorje, Trakošćan Castle is perhaps the most famous castle in Croatia, it overlooks a man-made lake and bountiful gardens. Trakošćan is located less than an hour’s drive from the capital Zagreb, the Pilgrimage town of Maria Bistrica and within minutes to the baroque city of Varaždin. Because it is so close to Zagreb, we always say you have to make a day trip here…!
Built in the 13th Century, the original owner is still unknown, but the castle is believed to have been constructed as an observation fortress. Trakošćan has been owned by many people in the last nine centuries. Now belonging to the Croatian Government, the castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Croatia. It’s currently a museum, with a permanent collection of painting, furniture, and other items on display.
As you walk through the museum, you are taken back in time. You’ll gaze into the eyes of 10 generations of owners, spanning three centuries, whose faces are now portrait paintings. This living museum has fully set dining tables, study areas and bedrooms complete with antique linens. Daydream as you meander along the circular staircase, which winds down and around the castle from the hunting room at the top, all the way to the basement kitchen.
The highlight for me was reaching the bottom of the spiral staircase, where we found the museum’s star attraction: the Knights’ room.’ This enormous room houses a collection of swords and firearms dating from the 15th century.
The exterior of Trakošćan Castle is modeled after the romantic castles in Germany, and its interior richly decorated, including many deer antlers. Though, after exploring the inside, be sure you take a step outside and marvel at the lake. Every part of Trakošćan is engaging and beautiful. Especially mesmerizing is the towers’ reflection in the water below. You can also take off through the forest on one of the well-designed trails and get a splendid view of the castle from across the pond.
Found in the town of Varaždin, this castle actually predates the town, being built in the 12th century, well before town construction began in the 16th century.
The majestic structure has undergone quite a series of renovations and transformations throughout time, with the square tower of the castle being the oldest part of the structure standing today. During the time the tower was built, a moat and several other towers were added as well. If you visit the castle, however, you will notice that the moat is absent as it was filled in long ago. The architectural and interior styles were heavily influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque periods, with even a smattering of Rococo influence found throughout.
When visiting, enjoy the stark white walls of the castle against the green scape and tiled roof – a magnificent sight! Take your time touring the castle and wandering around the grounds. There are several great locations to take stunning pictures of the structure. Alternatively, you can pick a spot from within the castle itself to take amazing pictures of the view below.
Photo Credit: Ramon
Renovated numerous times throughout its history, Čakovec underwent a final transformation after an earthquake that occurred in 1738. At that time, the castle was reconstructed in a decidedly Baroque fashion. From the old walls, you can definitely tell that this used to be a fortified structure that served military purposes beyond just housing the royal family.
Today, the castle is home to the Museum of Medimurje Čakovec, where you will find portraits of the old ruling family along with other interesting artifacts of archaeological and ethnic interest. There is also quite a splendid collection of cultural artifacts that provide a glimpse of the life they lived during that time.
This castle also features its own unique guards, the Zrinski Guards, who maintain a presence in order to honor the memory of the ancient ruling family.
Take your time to meander through the park that winds its way around the outside of the castle. You won’t fall into the moat, though. It has been gone for centuries. Be sure to take some pictures as well. There are many spots to find fantastic views of the scenery.
Not too far from Veliki Tabor is another beauty among castles of Hrvatsko Zagorje – Castle Miljana. It dates back to the 16th century and originally belonged to Ratkay family.
It was restored in the 20th century and is one of the best-preserved castles. It features a large collection of astrological paintings as well as a private art collection.
Veliki Tabor Castle
This castle is similar to Trakošćan in that it stands on top of a hill. However, this castle overlooks the beautiful green Hrvatsko Zagorje valley. The date of construction is uncertain, but it is generally accepted that Veliki Tabor Castle’s construction began sometime during the 12th century and has been renovated throughout its history. The castle was closed for several years as it underwent its most recent facelift.
When we arrived mid-week one rainy October day, I giggled at the castle. It looks kind of plumpy and short, unlike any castle I had ever seen. The castle has four towers in the shape of a horseshoe, and although it’s not the most grand of castles, it does currently sit on the Croatia UNESCO Tentative list.
The heartbreaking legend of Veliki Tabor tells the story of tragic love between Veronika, a peasant girl and the castle’s nobleman Fridrih Celjski, who murdered his first wife in order to marry Veronika. The pair ran off, but were stopped by Fridrih’s father’s soldiers. Fridrih was imprisoned, and Miss Veronika was drowned. It is said that she was entombed within the castle walls. How tragic.
On a brighter note, you can hear the daily chatter of medieval life during the peak season when there are various workshops and performances in the castle. Spend your vacation being entertained and educated on what life must have been like during that period, including activities for the kids. Plus you can attend the Tabor Film Festival, an international short film held each April-May.
Address: Košnički Hum 1, Desinić | Cost: 10-50 HRK
These four castles are some of Croatia’s best in terms of beauty, grandeur, and history. Make a day of it and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the castle grounds. Go slow and take in all that each castle has to offer.
Orsic Castle is a castle located in Gornja Stubica, belonging to the Baroque era. Until 1924 it was a feudal residence of the Orsic family when the last family member left. It was restored in the 1960ies and transformed into a Musem of Peasant’s Revolt – a tragic event which happened in 1573 when peasants revolted against a cruel treatment of serfs by Franjo Tahy.
The revolt ended after 12 days, with the leader Matija Gubec being publicly tortured and subsequently quartered. This event inspired many later artists and writers who paid a tribute to the courageous hero.
During World War II, a Croatian and Slovenian brigade was named after him. He is also depicted as the protagonist of Gubec-beg, the first Croatian rock opera.
I had never dreamt of being a Princess as a little girl, although after wandering these castles of Croatia, I feel like I need a suite at a fancy hotel and it has me rethinking my dreams. And, to add to my dreams there are loads more castles in Slovenia just across the boader.. hmmm…
Have you ever been to a castle in Croatia? What was the most memorable one you’ve visited?