Picture the castle of your fantasies and you’ll most likely see in your mind’s eye Germany’s memorable Neuschwanstein or perhaps France’s magnificent Château de Chenonceau. While those are among the most well-known and – without a doubt – some of the most beautiful castles on the planet, you might be surprised to know that there are a number of breathtaking castles in places you might not expect to find them, including in many of the countries of Central Europe such as Croatia.
If you’ve never thought of visiting Croatia, perhaps it’s because you remember the Croatia of the late 20th century when it was an area in turmoil. Indeed, after World War II the country became a Socialist federal unit, ruled by the Communist party. The region remained explosive for nearly 50 years but, finally, in 1995, after a war with Yugoslavia, Croatia gained its independence and recognition by the United Nations and the European Economic Community. Today, it continues to have a developing economy but has worked towards making itself more visitor-friendly. That’s good news for castle fanatics, since there are more than 5 dozen castles, manors, and fortresses spread throughout this 21,000 square-mile country. Visiting the Castles
Because of Croatia’s turbulent past and simply due to the age of many of the country’s castles, a number of the castles and fortresses there are in ruins. That said, however, there are at least a dozen that are well worth visiting. In addition, the government (as well as some private individuals) seems to have recently recognized the importance of maintaining these structures and many – like the beautiful Castle Veliki Tabor – have been recently restored.
You’ll find that the castles in Croatia are quite spread out, with many fine examples in the Zagorje region in the north, some near the capital city of Zagreb, and others in the south near Dalmatia and Dubrovnik. Take some time to research the options and map out your castle itinerary before you land at the airport and consider visiting some of the structures listed below:
- Trakoscan Castle – Located near Varazdin, just north of Zagreb, Trakoscan is a true fairytale-like castle, built in the late 13th century. Damaged several times but always restored, it is one of the most-visited attractions in Croatia and has everything you’d expect to see when viewing a castle, including an imposing drawbridge and plenty of turrets. Much of the inside – which functions as a museum – has been renovated and there’s some very lovely period furniture inside as well as a large number of portraits of the family that’s owned the castle for centuries, the Draškovićs. Definitely worth the trip.
- Stari Grad – Located not far from Trakoscan in Varzdin, Stari Grad Castle is certainly the centerpiece of the town, which is charming in itself. Built in Gothic Renaissance style, it is well-preserved and is easily accessible, not up on a hill. Docent-led tours, offered in different languages, are regularly available. Inside the museum, there’s a lovely collection of glass and porcelain and some notable paintings as well. Be sure to bring your camera as you’ll definitely want to snap some pictures of both the castle and its surroundings.
- Veliki Tabor – Located in the Zagorje region of northwest Croatia, this is a 12th century castle that has recently undergone a lot of interior renovations, reopening to the public in November 2011. The fortress-like exterior is in good condition and certainly looks imposing. The five-cornered tower is the oldest original section of Veliki Tabor and the other towers were built during the 15th and 16th centuries. The interior boasts galleries with round pillars and they’re used to display a number of different historic items including armor, paintings, pottery, vehicles, ethnographic items and more. Each June, an international short-film festival is held at the castle.
- Pazin Kastel – If you’re in the interior region of Istria, head to beautiful Pazin Kastel, which dates back all the way to the 9th century. However, lots of renovations were done since that time, so the structure remains in good condition despite its age. This castle sits on a hill overlooking the Pazin Chasm, which was immortalized in a story by Jules Verne. Inside, you’ll find the excellent Ethnographic Museum of Istria, without a doubt one of the best museums in all of Croatia. Visit on a Tuesday and you can enjoy the weekly Town Fair. Or if you’re a Verne fan, head to Istria during annual Jules Verne Days.
- Čakovec Castle – Situated in the town of the same name in northern Croatia, this is a notable 13th century castle, surrounded by Zrinski Park, an original part of the city fortification. It houses the Međimurje Museum and in the summer you can enjoy an outdoor concert in the castle’s atrium area.
A number of other castles that dot the landscape consist only of ruins now. Others are privately owned or not available for tour. But most of Croatia’s castles make for wonderful photo opportunities. If you stumble upon one, ask a local or someone on your hotel staff if they can shed some light on its history. It’s a great way to learn more about this fascinating country.