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What to Buy in Croatia: Traditional Handmade Wooden Toys
Handmade in Croatia, in the north of Zagreb in Hrvatsko Zagorje you’ll find toy makers, producing the sweetest wooden toys. Carved by the men (and a few machines) in the village from locally grown willow beech and lime trees. Once carved, the local women paint them in bright, colourful designs.
Buying souvenirs to bring back from Croatia is so easy, there are so many to choose from, and these wooden toys make such a suitable gift for children – I know my 2-year-old loves his handmade wooden plane and train.
Wooden toys with a long history
Few things stay the same over time. However, the traditional wooden toys made by villagers in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region of northern Croatia, have remained almost unchanged for centuries. The reason for this is that the technique has been handed down through the generations. Some of the time-consuming woodworking techniques of the past have been made easy by the introduction of modern machinery, but that has not meant the loss of the art.
Last fall, we were staying in Marija Bistrica, in the Hrvatsko Zagorje area and I simply just had to see this time honored tradition for myself. Visiting the home of one of the local artisans ranks highly as one of my best experiences of being a travel blogger yet. Arranged by the kind staff of 4-star Hotel Bluesun Kaj we were taken to meet one of the very few people still practicing the toy making craft.
Watching the widening smile on the face of my 2-year-old develop as we got closer and closer to the table of pre-made toys was priceless.
After giving the Little Donkey some instructions on playing nice with the display, I sat down to chat to the local artisan about his family’s wooden toy making traditions, which was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009.
I was fascinated to learn that typically the materials are sourced from the beach, lime, maple, and soft willow trees that are indigenous to the area and that he often goes and cuts down the trees himself.
After the wood has been cut and dried, it is then cut and carved using a mix of traditional woodworking tools and modern machinery to eventually become the most delightful children’s toys.
We were invited from his display room into his workshop to learn more about the toy making process – which I took all of three seconds to agree to go to. I had been secretly hoping that we would be invited to the workshop to see the process in action. The only person not happy about the idea was the Little Donkey, the poor little guy wanted to stay and play with the display toys.
Where can you buy wooden toys in Croatia?
Many crafts stores and souvenir stores in and around Zagorje and Zagreb have incredible displays of these toys. You may also be lucky enough to find these colorful creations in stores along the Dalmatian Coast. So popular are these creations, they can be found in fairs, markets, and souvenir shops the world over. Although your absolute best place to buy souvenirs of the wooden kind is in the charming town of Marija Bistrica at the Sunday fair.
How are the wooden toys made?
The craftsman explained that once the toys have been shaped and glued into the cheerful planes, trains, doll furniture and a multitude of other toys, the women then apply paint. In years gone by, the paint was made using pigments and dyes from local vegetation, however now, a non-toxic kid-friendly paint is used.
The colors of each toy are amazing and really bring the toys to life. Jumping horses, tiny furniture, cars, whistles, and flapping birds are a few of the other great wooden toys manufactured by these precious townspeople. The villagers even make tiny wooden instruments for local children that are used as part of the music education.
The biggest wooden horse you have ever seen
After listening to the insights of how such wooden toys are made, and purchasing a few items for the Little Donkey, we asked if we would be interested to see his biggest wooden toy creation. Intrigued, I followed him to his storage area, and under a few layers of dust, was one of the largest wooden horses I have ever, and I bet I’ll ever see. He dusted off the horses main and rolled it out into the garden area. All I could think was what a waste – what a shame that such a creation was not on display in the main town.
My little Donkey was too apprehensive to sit on the carriage, but I am sure, so many other children would squeal with delight if this were on show.
So, now you know exactly what to buy in Croatia for the little ones in your family. These traditional folk instruments and children’s wooden toys bring great joy to both children and adults, so be sure to purchase one on your vacation to Croatia this year.
Which one of these wooden toys would you rush to buy first?