Carnival Foods in Viškovo

Viškovo is a place situated north of Rijeka, effectively Rijeka’s suburb, but retains its special status as a town and proud itself for a long tradition of mask festivals. The area is known as Halubje, so the carnival is called Halubajski karnival, which has very longstanding tradition with Halubje bell ringers (Halubajski zvončari). Many tend to associate Rijeka carnival with Halubajski zvončari, who are indeed kings of carnival festivities.

Horrific animal mask on head, big bell on backs, seaman shirt, white trousers with red stripe, black shoes, white sheep skin, everything is part of Halubje bell ringer. The ringer must be a strong man, able to carry a heavy bell around his waist. Some 400 men are today proud part of this tradition, which begins for St Anthony the Great (Antonja, January 17th). The ringers walk through traditional routes in Viškovo and regularly visit all the other places in vicinity. Everything starts in front of the St. Mathew Church, where Pust is hanged.

Once, these strong men carried five to six small bells around their waists. Then, it fell to three, while today they ring with one big and one small bell. Some even carry just one, but it is five kilos heavy. Ringing is indeed a very tiresome and heavy job! That is why they should be fed well and with a traditional winter food from Viškovo.

We found it in celebrated Mladenka restaurant in the very heart of town.

Mladenka – The Gastronomy Home of Halubje Bell Ringers

Apart from Mladenka, Viškovo boasts other places with traditional cuisine. Among these are Restaurant Ronjgi, widely recognised for its wild meat specialties; Restaurant Nono Frane, with its exquisite barbecue and homemade pasta; Tavern Maretina, famous for its fish specialties; and homemade Viškovo meals in Tavern Kume in place Kosi, and Šmrika in Marčelji.

In all these places, you may find traditional winter foods of Viškovo. Fish lovers will enjoy the cod brodetto, one of the characteristic Adriatic comfort food in winter. Simple mix of cod, potatoes, garlic, tomato paste, parsley and olive oil is combined with polenta or bread for a very satisfying meal. Staple for winter days is certainly sauerkraut. Old way to make good sauerkraut is to drown it into the water, in order to lessen the sourness. Fatty bacon is mixed with garlic (mix is called zapešt) and is added to sauerkraut together with few bay leaves. Usually, smoked ham is made with the sauerkraut.

A bit south of Viškovo, already within the Rijeka town boundaries, is neighbourhood Pehlin, home of Pehinarski feštari and Pehinarska gospoda, two carnival groups with long historical background. Dark uniform, beret cap with peacock or pheasant feather, with yellow tie and sign of cock (symbol of Pehlin, which has its name because of it – peteh) – this is official dress of Pehinarski feštari.

The group came to be in 1953, with some 50 members today, and they begin their carnival walk on St. Anthony the Great from the Pehlin school, where Pust is being hanged. The Pust is traditionally called Mate, who changes his surname every year according to the happenings in country and the world. The reason for his name comes from local proverb: „Mate puste kvragu šal, se si žepi obašal“, which pointed to the wrong habit of spending scarce money for carnival escapades.

Their counterpart in Pehlin are Pehinarska gospoda (Pehlin bourgeois). In 1920ies some young men took their finest garb, bowler hats, walking stick, and walked around Pehlin with accordion and drum music. A bit later ladies also joined, wearing the urban dress from the beginning of 20th century.

The ladies also inherited cherished knowledge of their grandmas about the carnival foods. Most famous one in Pehlin is cauliflower with salted fish (broskva i slane ribi), an easy dish to make. A specific cauliflower from the northern Adriatic region is cooked in salted water. Also potatoes are cooked in another pot. Cooked cauliflower is then mixed with garlic fried on olive oil, with addition of pepper and salt. Salted fish should be then fried for a minute or two in olive oil and added to cauliflower. Cooked potatoe is a side dish and is eaten with white wine.

Another cherished gastronomy tradition is Pehinarski presnac and Presnac z Kuta. Main difference between these two cakes is in additional cocoa or chocolate, as well as apple, cinnamon, and clove in Pehinarski presnac. Basis for both is practically the same, consisting of dough (Presnac z Kuta adds rum inside), and filling is based on rice and raisins.

For more information visit the Tourist Board of Viškovo:

Viškovo 31, 51216 Viškovo
Tel. 051 257 591
Fax. 051 257 591
info@tz-viskovo.hr
www.tz-viskovo.hr

Mladenka – The Gastronomy Home of Halubje Bell Ringers

In northern part of Viškovo centre, on a crossroad marked by a wooden statue of Halubje bell ringer, for already fifty years stands the Restaurant Mladenka. It was opened by Bezjak family in 1968. and has a near-legendary status ever since. We have visited the place in time of famous carnival, which features in Viškovo the Halubje bell ringers (Halubajski zvončari).

We were greeted by Mr Bezjak and his staff and taken to the table next to the big animal head, used by bell ringers in their traditional walks. The welcome was extended with homemade excellent herb brandy (travarica), an excellent aperitif by all Croatian standards. Restaurant’s interior is very pleasing, combining natural and local features of wood and stone. In a corner stands beautiful fireplace with real fire, adorned with specific wine jars – bukaleta. There is a whole local history written on the sides of porcelan jar, such as the traditional festivals, good wishes to the owners, and specifically of Halubje bell ringers.

Mladenka gave us a special treat – a fascinating introduction to the winter Carnival food! It is a mix of staple and comfort food in winter months, when heavy northeast bura wind make you feel bitter cold, although the temperatures never drop very low. This food is a traditional way to preserve strength, warmth, and health in these months.

One such dish is jota, probably most memorable winter dish for many older people in North Adriatic region, including Istria, littoral Slovenia and Italian province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Italians call it iota, iotta, or minestra di crauti, and has several varieties. For example, in Trieste you will not find meat, while Gorizia version adds barley inside. After Second World War, following easier approach to meat, jota is being replenished with meat and potatoes.

Such was jota we tried in Mladenka. Jota is a thick stew, based on beans, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Essential parts of jota are dried meat cooked in the stew itself, bits of bacon, and zapešt (mix of bacon, parsley, and garlic). Put inside carrots and onions, bay leaf and olive oil, and jota will give you excellent combination of aroma and taste.

Sauerkraut is also unavoidable side dish for other gastronomic pleasures in Mladenka. These are famous sausages and pork steaks done in old fashion. One such thing is zarebrnik, dried pork chops, fried on both sides on fat, and then cooked in white wine (traditionally it should be local belica, but most restaurants serve it cooked in Istrian malvasia). No carnival can pass without sausages, which are often smoked and give excellent tone to the meal. Beside sauerkraut, Mladenka serves also cooked potatoes with fried onions, tomato, and bacon paste, also with bits of sausage inside. Everything mixes well in almost a main dish itself!

Mladenka is favourite place for lunches (marenda), when the restaurant is packed full with guests enjoying excellent local dishes for minimal prices. Depending on day and season, one may find here cod stew, minestrone, bean stew with sausages, various meat stews with pasta and gnocchi (a special treat would be the horse stew), local fish delicacies, and grill.

Specialties of the house include zarebrnik and sausages in wine, which we tried, but there are lots of other gastronomy delights in Mladenka. One such meal is horse steak in wine with parmesan cheese, a great combination for anyone enjoying the horse meat. Pork and veal shank is another treat, while those caring for fruits of the sea should really consider trying octopus baked under the baking lid. You can’t get more traditional than that.

As Viškovo is surrounded by forests and mountains, no wonder Mladenka offers game dishes as well. The restaurant will offer you venison sausages, mushroom dishes, bear, venison, boar meat, made both as a stew and as a steak, with various pasta on side. Steaks and grill come along, as well as many pasta dishes and some fish offers. Mladenka is not fish restaurant, and should be regarded as prime destination for meat dishes.

Pancakes and cakes make sweet finish, but if you want to try traditional stuff, you should go for presnac. This famed cake of Northern Adriatic is made in numerous different ways, based on the specific heritage in a particular place. In Mladenka presnac is done by owner’s grandma, and partly resembles local presnac recipes (halubajski, z Kuta). We tried it, and it is sheer mouth-watering experience, as it contains raisins and dried fruit. Carnival cannot go without fritule, made often with a drop of rum or brandy.

Mladenka has a solid wine list, and we enjoyed particularly good Merlot made by homestead Maurović in Istria. Full of fruity-berry bouquet and with a beautiful ruby colour, Merlot is very easy to drink but sadly comes in very small quantities. That choice of home wine is great decision of Mladenka staff.

RESTAURANT MLADENKA
Vozišće 28, 51216 Viškovo
+385 51 256 461, +385911256461
info@mladenka.hr
http://www.mladenka.hr/

Sutla Valley – Rolling Hills and Heritage of Brdovec, Marija Gorica and Dubravica

The River Sutla flows as a border stream between Slovenia and Croatia, and is a tributary to the Sava River. The wetlands and hills on spot where Sutla and Sava join is first point of our two-day journey along the Sutla Valley. Three municipalities – Brdovec, Dubravica, and Marija Gorica, form a picturesque tourist destination very close to Zagreb, capital of Croatia.

Our first visit of the day was Lužnica Castle, a tremendous experience we would recommend to everyone visiting this area.

Food for Body and Soul in Castle Lužnica

Afterwards we got acquainted with the past of this region in the local museum of Brdovec. Very interesting archaeology collection from places Šibice, Javorje, Drenje and Sveti Križ shows long history of life here. Findings from the Stone Age include axes, a helmet, graveyard items, etc. Romans were also present in the region, as it lies on the main corridor from Zagreb to Ljubljana, has tranquil hills with woodlands and vineyards. Even today, the area is packed with weekend retreats, as well as noblemen homes and curias.

In fact, there are three castles which take the visitors’ breath away. Apart from Lužnica, there is Januševac Castle in Prigorje Brdovečko, one of the most representative classicistic castle in Croatia, built in 1830 for baron Josip Vrkljan, and later owned by several other families. Another beautiful example of manor house is castle and park in Laduč, built in end of 19th century on place of an older estate. Last owners were barons of Vranyczany-Dobrinović, an important family for economy, politics, and culture of Croatia on turn of century. Today, it houses a social care institution for children.

Brdovec is one of the oldest parishes in Zagreb Archbishopric, founded in 1334. Famous Croatian personalities were born here, such as Zagreb canon priest Baltazar Adam Krčelić, first Croatian professional journalist, literate and politician Ivan Perkovac, painter Mihovil Krušlin, and especially Ante Kovačić, greatest writer of Croatian realism. He was writing about life of ordinary peasants and their psychology. Where these peasants were living is visible in the Brdovec ethnographic part of museum, in two replicas of traditional village houses. Next to it, one can also see religious scenes made in wood by local artists.

In such traditional houses, homemade foods consisted of staples found in the area. One such place worth of visit is the rural homestead Stara Preša, in place Šenkovec. The homestead includes restaurant, large wine cellar, and two accommodation facilities for five people all together. Here you can try best gastronomy offer of the traditional and family background, such as Zagorje soup, štrukli soup, turkey with mlinci, roasted duck, filled veal breasts, filled chicken, roasted pork, suckling pig and lamb on grill, wild game salami, homemade sausages and cheese, cheese and sour cream, apple pie. Especially in winter, Stara Preša will offer you variety of hearty local products, such as venison stew with homemade gnocchi, pork with potatoes and sauerkraut, blood sausages, garlic sausages, etc. Wine cellar is especially pleasing as it includes some of the best wines in Croatia. House wines include Green Silvaner, Sauvignon, Yellow Muscat, Frankovka, and Pinot Noir.

Adresa Ivana Turka 50, Šenkovec
Tel +385 1 3391 129
GSM +385 98 9978 333, +385 98 1980 694
Email: stara-presa@net.hr
Web:www.starapresa.com

Kovačić was born in a village close to Marija Gorica, a hilly municipality with beautiful panorama all around. The municipality is famous for its parish church of Holy Virgin Mary, but even more for its official emblem. It is an elephant, and many wonder what does an elephant in Croatia? It is in fact an elephant ancestor from the Ice Age, whose remains were found in Marija Gorica.

Marija Gorica is also place of an old and excellent gastronomy venue Ladanjski Raj. Situated close to the centre of Marija Gorica, on Lipa Hill, with a tremendous view on Sutla Valley and Slovenian hills, this place caters guests already 43 years, seven days a week. Many locals come here for cheap and plentiful meals based on everyday nutrition of continental Croatia.

Rajski put 3, Hrastina, Marija Gorica
Tel +385 1 3395 806
Fax +385 1 3395 846
Web www.ladanjskiraj.com

Third municipality, Dubravica, is moreover known for its forests and rare plants, including those from bogs and fens near the Sutla river. Also the emblem of Dubravica is one of such rare plants, endemic carnivorous plant. Most of these plants can be seen in special botanical garden in Dubravica. This municipality is also known for preserved old authentic village houses.

A special dialect of this region, beautiful castles, tranquil nature, Sutla-Sava valley and rolling hills with great vistas, old traditions and heritage together with some delicious homemade foods is indeed a very good reason to visit this area so close to Zagreb. Our visit would not have been the same without help and suggestions of Mr Stjepan Esih, director of Tourist Board of Sava-Sutla area, whom we thank in this way.

Ilije Gregorića 13, Brdovec
turistickazajednica.dib@gmail.com
TEL.: 00385 3398-747
FAX.: 00 385 3398-747
www.turistickazajednica-dib.hr

Food for Body and Soul in Castle Lužnica

A massive Christmas tree stands decorated in front of an old castle. It is chilly but sunny, and the sun rays catch us through the naked branches of castle’s park. Lazy cat just finished stretching, wondering who the funny looking guys are. Here and there we hear cock crowing and we definitely saw at least one nun caring for the chickens. It is morning in Lužnica, peace on earth near town of Zaprešić in Zagreb county. It is our staring trip along the Sutla River, which makes the state border between Croatia and Slovenia. And it is good we began here, as Lužnica is indeed a very special place.

Lužnica is today owned by Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and withing the castle and newly built monastery nearby works Spiritual-education centre Castle of Mary, led by the nuns. Beautiful castle is built in second half of 18th century, on a place of previous fort. It was built by noble family Čikulin, then Moscon, and finally baron Pavao Rauch, Croatian ban (viceroy) from 1908 until 1910, whose father was also very much involved in building the castle. Lužnica became main seat of the baron and his family amblem is seen in many places in the castle itself. In 1925 the castle became property of the Daughters of Charity and remains such until this day.

The place is near magical, as it offers stay, relaxation, spiritual rebuilding, conference halls, and standard programs run by nuns. The castle includes 8 hectares of English yard with a lake, woodlands, walking paths, banks and wooden tables, ideal for finding peace, relaxation, and meditation. Nuns are always busy with preparing spiritual and educational programs for every age and interest. Especially romantic feeling is when castle shuts down all electricity and makes light only with candles.

We were greeted with a bright smile of sister Tea and introductory talk went immediately to the Suggestions of Saint Hildegard. This saint from German Benedictine order was a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, and lived from 1098 until 1179. She is also known as a Doctor of the Church because of her medicine writings. Based on the recipes of St. Hildegard, nuns recovered middle age cuisine, which tells what is good and healthy in both body and soul.

The recipes are taken from old books and mostly mix meat with vegetables and various natural spices such as cinnamon, mint, cumin, savoury, and clove. Sister Laura is true master of Hildegard’s cuisine and cares several times a year for the one-day event of Saint Hildegard. Advices for body and soul are then received by numerous guests. Among more pronounced dietary suggestion of St. Hildegard is use of spelt flour. Everything in the monastery is done with it, including coffee.

More elaborate meals include turkey or chicken, often with dill sauce. Sweets shouldn’t be too sweet, and you should very well take home two of the most famous souvenirs from Lužnica. One are anti-stress cookies, a complex mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, butter, sugar, and eggs; daily five cookies should be enough to feel well. With cookies you can also try Lužnica tea, sort of official souvenir, made from 15 various herbs.

Sixteen nuns care for vast castle, park, and monastery, pray and work for the benefit of all men. Always welcoming and always smiling, they bring happiness to every visitor. Many other products can be found in Lužnica, those caring for body and those for soul. Who would describe the beauty of long hallways, beautiful works of art, peace of the castle’s chapel, vistas from windows, blissfulness of spring, and comfort in winter?

For our part, we would strongly recommend everyone to visit Lužnica and take part on one of its programs. You can easily contact the castle and nuns here:

Duhovno-obrazovni centar Marijin dvor, Lužnica
Lužnički odvojak 3, HR-10290 Zaprešić
Telefon: +385(0)1-3350-944
Fax: +385(0)1-3311-487
E-mail: tajnistvo@luznica.hr

www.luznica.hr

Photos by: Andrea Seifert, www.mint-media.hr

Fairytale at Stara Vodenica

Family ethno hotel “Stara Vodenica” (Old Watermill) of family Galić is situated close to Klanjec and near the Sutla River. You cannot miss it on the road as the exterior resembles fairytale place with a distinctive Zagorje features. Family Galić transformed it based on years of tourism experience. Now it welcomes visitors from all around the world in a picturesque corner of Hrvatsko Zagorje, with River Sutla, Klanjec, Kumrovec, and Castle of Veliki Tabor in easy reach by car.

We came to Stara Vodenica after long day of visiting the area and trying local specialties. As a reward, bright smile of staff and welcoming drink with Mr Galić waited for us, along a substantial dinner. The restaurant of this place is decorated in rural Zagorje style, evoking memories of the old, and grandma’s fireplace. Every meal is done in stone oven and the offer is based on traditional Zagorje dishes such as baked beans with sausages, turkey and duck with mlinci, filled Zagorje loaf, baked štrukli, along homemade Zagorje peasant bread.

Hospitality in Zagorje is always present. Thus, we enjoyed talking to the owner while sipping a glass of homemade rakija, before venturing off to the adventure of Zagorje dinner. Situated next to the fireplace, we enjoyed beautiful mushroom soup. Forget all the tastes in city restaurants, this is soup made from hand-picked mushrooms in Sutla valley. Soft chunks of various mushrooms blend perfectly with the broth.

Next, we had Zagorje’s famous and signature dish duck with mlinci. Mlinci, a thin dried flatbread prepared by simply pouring it in boiled salted water, is by its simplicity a true opposition to the knowledge of slowly baking duck and making it a soft main dish. Nowhere in Croatia is duck more popular than in Zagorje and people here are masters in making it.

For dessert you will probably find grandma’s apple pie, pancakes with grandma’s jam, or baked štrukli, another famous Zagorje meal, often eaten not only as a dessert but also as an appetizer. With some homemade red wine, our dinner was a very pleasant finish of the day, with a found memory of duck with mlinci.

Stara vodenica was also our resting place for the night. None of the rooms is the same, and they are all made in Zagorje rustic style. The furniture inside is made from old oak woods, and every rooms is equipped with a TV, air condition, bathroom. Small details are what brings happiness to guests and make the stay here very enjoyable. Sleeping here is indeed almost like a fairytale.

But the real fairytale is to be found around the restaurant and hotel itself. It is a park with old fashioned rural wooden houses, a true historical mill, and animal farm with hens, chickens, dog, goats, etc. In warmer months the park is filled with people sitting on wooden benches and massive wooden tables, enjoying the pleasant green area not far from the Sutla River.

For those who stay here over summer, an outdoor swimming pool may come handy. Otherwise, there is wellness option, with massage and Jacuzzi. Or you may just visit the wine cellar next door and find many top quality wines from all around Croatia and Slovenia.

There are some major master plans to spread the experience and success of Stara Vodenica and make a fairytale village all the way to Sutla. This would greatly enhance the touristic offer of this destination and indeed make our own fairytales known in the wider world. A great experience, enjoyable night, and in every way a place to visit again.

Staying at Stara Vodenica was kindly provided by the Tourist Board of Klanjec.

Seoski turizam “Stara vodenica”
Gredice 32 Klanjec
tel/fax: +385 49 550 577
mob: +385 91 5422 747, +385 98 625 537
mail: vodenica@staravodenica.hr
www.staravodenica.hr

Photos by: Andrea Seifert, www.mint-media.hr and Stara Vodenica (outdoors)

Po plavem trnaci – Through blue orchards in Kumrovec

Along the Sutla river from Klanjec northwards we have visited three distinctive localities that are famous for its history, culture, and gastronomy. We went to Kumrovec, Zagorska sela, and Desinić. This is the region rich with castles and manors, vineyards and agritourisms, famous persons and cultural heritage.

Outside ex-Yugoslavia you might not have heard for Kumrovec, but you surely did for his greatest son. In this small village on the banks of Sutla river Marshall Josip Broz Tito, president-for-life in former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia was born. His character and historical mission are undisputable, although his heritage is still contested. As many other dictators and authoritarian rulers, his birthplace was a scene of personality cult and was transformed in a beautiful village-museum with a particular insight into the life of Zagorje peasants in turn of the century.

We were accompanied by Mr Milan Kladnički, director of Tourist Board of Kumrovec, Zagorska sela and Desinić “Po plavem trnaci” (Through blue orchards) who took us on a tour of the village museum “Old Village”. The museum is made with help of Ethnographic museum in Zagreb and the central object was the grand house where Tito was born. In front of it Antun Augustinčić made the famous statue of Tito.

The ethno place is the biggest traditionally arranged space in Croatia and consists of some forty refurbished houses where people can see how village folk lived in the beginning of 20th century. Standing exhibition shows everyday life and habits of peasants and their families but also shows various traditional crafts. Cultivated gardens, stalls, and animal housings are also visible. Guests can enjoy old school, Tito’s house and his family’s estate, smithy, wheelwright place, cultivation of hemp and flax, wedding celebration, cooking, gingerbread making, toys, pottery, barrels and baskets.

Nearby is the Well of Happiness, a project from 1988 in which a well was built and whose floor is made of stone mosaics made by children from all the regions of ex-Yugoslavia. From the village easily visible is the Razvor Manor, a splendid example of manor building in the baroque period. It was property of noble family Erdödy. On the main magisterial way there is also Kumrovec’s main chapel of Saint Roch. Hopefully, Kumrovec will soon have more accommodation facilities and put forward more accents on traditional and historical tourism.

Mr. Kladnički took us also to the inn “Kod Starog” (At Old Man), opposite the birth house of Marshall Tito who was usually called Old Man among the people. This is traditional inn existing already 120 years and is famous for štrukli. In our time there, we met also a grower of protected Zagorje turkey (zagorski puran), who told us more about their upbringing. agorje turkey came to these parts way back in the early 16th century, as a gift from an Italian bishop. The average weight of the male gobbler is 6 kg, while the females reach 4 kg. Most often you’ll see a female served on for holidays, not older than eight months. This is actually the only native breed of turkey in Croatia, and since 2000 it’s been on the World Watch List for domestic animal diversity. This all sounds nice, but it’s not so easy to lay your hands on an original Zagorje turkey, because there are still not so many of them on the market. “Zagorski puran” is now a protected brand, and behind it is an agricultural cooperative called Puran zagorskih brega, uniting a dozen or more farmers devoted to raising this special breed of turkey. As the geographical origin of the breed is protected at the national level, the standards are strict and it can only be raised in Krapina-Zagorje County and Varaždin County.

Desinić and Zagorska sela – Tales of Forbidden Love

The region of Zagorska sela is more hilly, with gentle slopes descending down to the Sutla River. This is area without big urban centres and small villages, characterised by numerous little chapels on hilltops, rolling green hills, and manors. Main sight of area is the Miljana Castle, one of  the most beautiful and picturesque castles in Zagorje. Built in late 16th century, it was hundreds of years property of Rattkay Family, and after the last Rattkay died it had several owners. Today, the castle is owned by family Kamenski, who restored it to its past glory with breathtaking interior and appealing courtyard and vast park around the castle.

Many churches and chapels adorn the landscape. The biggest is the church of Saint Catherine in Zagorska sela, built in 1691 and refurbished in mid 19th century. It is a vast baroque sacral building on place of even older church property. The patron, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, is celebrated every November 25th, in a popular folk festival.

Apart from it, fans of sacral architecture will enjoy visit to the Chapel of Saint John the Apostle in Ivanić Miljanski, a gothic church with valuable frescos and with a breathtaking view. In Bojačno is the Chapel of Saint Martin, situated on a hill above Sutla Valley from 17th century. And in Sutlanska Poljana is a beautiful Chapel of Saint Anne, built in late Baroque time. In vicinity is also agritourism Masnec, which we visited.

Bright Smile and Hospitality at Masnec Homestead

In the area is another nice rural tourism Šumak, next to the Sutla River and in vicinity of border crossing to Slovenia. Specialised for traditional Zagorje cuisine, this is also a very good place to sleep over.

Last place to visit on our tour through Sutla Valley is Desinić. It is an old place, mentioned already in 1334 as a parish of Saint George of Sutla. The place is thought to be settled in most beautiful area of Croatian Zagorje. Desinić poet Đuro Prejac says in one of his poem “My house stands in blue vine, you cannot see it from the green hills” (Vu plavem trnaci mi hiža stoji, od zelenih bregov je videti ni…).

Above Desinić stands one of the most recognisable sights of Zagorje and indeed whole Croatia – Castle of Veliki Tabor. Situated at the top of Mount Hum Košnički, at 333 meters above sea level, it has dominated the Zagorje area for over half a millennium, during which time the architecture has blended in with nature.  The impressive view from Veliki Tabor stretches over the entire Hrvatsko Zagorje area and part of Slovenia.

The oldest part of the fort centre is its central part, the pentagonal castle, whose stylistic characteristics belong to the Late Gothic period.  The castle is surrounded by four semi-circular Renaissance towers connected by curtain walls and the walls of the northern entrance part. The fort centre is surrounded by the outer defence wall (the distance from the easternmost to the westernmost points being about 225 metres) with a farm office, a Renaissance bastion, two semi-circular guardhouses (northern and southern), and the quadrangular entrance tower (present only on the archaeological level) through which the access road ran.

It is assumed that the palace was primarily a housing facility, but fortification elements are present, mostly for defence from cold steel, as opposed to the semi-circular Renaissance towers, used to defend the town from firearms, which is why their bases are slanted, expanded, and hard-packed with soil.  Embrasures are situated in the ground-level zone, above the cordon moulding.  The first floor walls, broader than those on the ground level, rest on triple stone consoles including a series of drains.  In the earlier phase, embrasures were situated on the façades of the semi-circular towers, which testifies to the towers’ fortification role.  In the 18th century, the semi-circular towers were remodelled into housing space, the embrasures were closed, and bigger window openings were created.

The castle was property of Counts Celjski, and afterwards of Rattkay Family. According to legend, these parts were once ruled by powerful Count Herman II of Celje. His young son Fridrik, who often went horseback riding across his father’s estate, set his eyes on a frail golden-haired maiden by the name of Veronika. They fell in love, which did not please old Herman. Despite his opposition, Fridrik and Veronika eloped to the town of Fridrihštajn near Kočevje, Slovenia, where they were married in secret. Old Count Herman soon learned of the marriage and dispatched an army to fetch the lovers. Fridrik managed to send Veronika away, and she fled through Gorski Kotar and Mount Kalnik to the village of Sveta Margita. Fridrik was caught by his father’s soldiers and imprisoned in the Celje Tower, a narrow building 23 meters tall, where he spent over four years. The tower has since been called Fridrikova Kula [Fridrik’s Tower]. Veronika was eventually imprisoned by Herman’s soldiers in Veliki Tabor. Herman accused unfortunate Veronika of being a witch who had cast a spell on his son. A trial was organized, which lasted two days. On the evening of the second day, the judges said: “Count, there is no blame to be laid on this girl, much less crime. The only thing is that she is very much in love with your son Fridrik. However, your eminence, love has never been a sin, much less a crime. Love is one of the most beautiful human virtues! This, your eminence, completes our work.” Despite the verdict, as soon as the judges set off on their way, Count Herman issued an order to his castellan that Veronika be killed. A large vat filled with water was put up in the courtyard of Veliki Tabor, in which Veronika was drowned. Her body was built into the wall connecting the pentagonal tower to the castle entrance. Veronika’s wails can still be heard, especially in long winter nights, along with the howling of the wind…

The Sinful Hill, where the lovers met in secretly, still exists and is excellent place for gastronomy, as we have found out.

Great pleasures at Sinful Hill – Grešna Gorica

Next to Grešna gorica, there is also Rural Tourism Trsek, where you can enjoy typical rural settlement, vineyard with old wooden houses (klet) and traditional recipes of Zagorje cuisine. In nearby Gaber is Hajduk winery, that cultivates Graševina, Riesling, Sauvignon, Yellow Muscut, and Grohoćan.

Apart from Veliki Tabor there is another castle Horvatska, in the valley of Horvatska and Sopotnica streams. The family Rattkay built it. Although it needs reconstruction, Horvatska is spending example of 16th century building in this part of Croatia. Yellow tower of the parish Church of Saint George in Desinić is interesting to visit from both inside and outside, particularly because of the historical church items of monumental worth.

Klanjec – Historical Town in Sutla Valley

Largest city in Sutla valley is Klanjec, picturesque cultural and historical centre of the western part of Croatian Zagorje, situated beneath ruins of medieval Cesargrad castle. First mentioned in 1463 in a document of King Matthias Corvinus, Klanjec remained a very cosy town with extraordinary cultural and architectural heritage.

Many craftsmen, merchants, and famous persons lived in Klanjec and citizens are very proud of this heritage. The authors of first Croatian dictionary Ivan Broz and Franjo Iveković were born here, as well as the great painter Oton Iveković and famous sculptor Antun Augustinčić. Antun Mihanović, the author of Croatian national anthem lived his last days in Klanjec.

One thing everyone will immidiatelly notice in Klanjec is the parish church of Announcement of Virgin Mary and Franciscan Monastery joined to it. We were lucky to have almost a personal tour through this sacral treasure. The church itself is one of the best preserved baroque sacral monuments in Croatia, with adorned altars and beautiful nave and paintings of Italian and Austrian masters. We were taken through sacristy to the inner corridors of the Franciscan monastery where sadly only two friars now live. Within the walls of monastery is also a unique library with several centuries old books.

But what really strike the visitors are two sarcophagi from the tomb of the noble Erdödy family. One is sarcophagus of Croatian ban Sigismund Erdödy who died in 1639. The elaborate sarcophagus is also a testament to the long connection between Klanjec and Erdödy family. Everything began in 1630 when Sigismund and his cousin Nikola gave the land to the Bosnian friars, obligating them to build a monastery and a church. The family decided that the church will become their mausoleum.

Another sarcophagus is the one of Emerik Erdödy, count of Varažidn and Sigismund’s nephew who died some 50 years after his uncle. There are big stylistic differences between two sarcophagi, and Emerik’s is especially adorned with deer horns and skulls, resembling the famous mausoleum of Habsburg family in Vienna. No wonder, as they were done by Viennese masters Lauffer and Stumpf who made sarcophagi for Ferdinand III. Habsburg and his two wives. Sigismund’s resting place is ornamented with golden lions, angels, palms, and berries, giving it a substantial baroque decor.

World famous Antun Augustinčić was born in Klanjec in 1909 and the town opened a gallery in his honour in 1976, where permanent exhibition is thematically divided into intimate plastics, portraits, and public monuments for which Augustinčić is known worldwide. A new gallery is now open, featuring a more modern approach to art.

Zelenjak – poetic introduction to Zagorje cuisine

Klanjec is also a centre of gastronomy surroundings. Although the town itself has no particular restaurant, vicinity boasts with fine restaurants, agritourisms, vineyards. In Klanjec itself a particularly pleasant place is wine cellar, wine and honey tasting room Klanječka Pelnica. It is located in a medieval manor which the family Erdödy built in the mid 18th century as their barn. Organised groups of up to 60 people can contact the Tourist Board of Klanjec to enjoy the testing of premium wines from Klanjec’s vineyards and local culinary specialties.

Broz Winery

Sever – Wines under the Cesargrad Hill

Among the wine makers we have visited Sever and Broz wineries, but there are also others worth trying. Family farm Jambrešić is known for eco-production of aromatic and therapeutic blackberry wine Kupilek, obtained by natural fermentation of ripe blackberries on sunny plantations of eco-farm, and they also offer jam and blackberry syrup. Family cellar Petrišić boasts with award-winning wines Graševina, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Yellow Plavac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankovka, and Traminer. Family farm Posavec cultivates Chardonnay, Riesling, Graševina, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvee Posavec, while Grape and Wine Production Lovrek is famous for its mixed white wine Lovrek, Silvaner, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir-Rose, an Graševina. All of these wineries will welcome you in their tasting room.

Fairytale at Stara Vodenica

Our visit to Klanjec couldn’t be possible without efforts and help of Tourist Board of Town Klanjec and its staff.

TZ Klanjec
Trg Antuna Mihanovića 2, Klanjec
+38549551002
turizam@klanjec.hr
www.klanjec.hr

Photos by: Andrea Seifert, www.mint-media.hr and TZ Klanjec

Zelenjak – poetic introduction to Zagorje cuisine

When poet Antun Mihanović was writing a poem in 1835 that will later become the Croatian national anthem, he surely didn’t even think that in a protected nature forest of Zelenjak, where is a monument dedicated to him and his poem, will be also one of the top quality restaurants in whole Zagorje. Family Ventek runs the restaurant Zelenjak and is proud of dedication to beautifully made, eye pleasing, and traditionally authentic Zagorje foods.

Immediately next to the Sutla river, for already seventy years, this place enchants its visitors. They can now stay and rest in the family hotel, a pleasant destination for business ventures, family dinners, and various feasts. Grandpa Ivan and grandma Josipa opened in 1936 a small inn here and very soon the spot became favourite among merchants and citizens of nearby Klanjec. Zelenjak is also protected natural area where you can go for bird-spotting, walk alongside Sulta river all the way to Klanjec, or hike up to the Cesargrad and Chapel of Our Lady of Snow.

Gastronomy here is based on protection of real Zagorje taste, but it is also an inspiration to create something new and different, but again very local and traditional. Fresh and quality ingredients from Zagorje make it even better. The Ventek’s are very busy but also very tentative to their guests and we weren’t an exception.

First meal of the day – Zagorje soup. It is now so known outside the region that five star hotels all over Croatia offer it on their menus. Zagorje soup is clear-creamy mushroom soup and consists of dried ribs, potatoes, carrots, greens, but what really gives a difference are the locally grown boletus.

Full of taste, it gives great energy and fills with warmth. The same goes for aperitif we had, homemade plum brandy with bits of dried plums inside the glass, and clear fruity taste of bitter-sweet cherry brandy.

Main course consisted of pork loin wrapped in bacon, very nice delight for everyone caring for pork. Crispy bacon gives full flavour to tender pork loin, and blends well with cooked vegetables. Additionally, we were surprised with turkey roll filled with savoy, giving the accent on famous Zagorje turkey. Last but not least, mlinci (thin dried flatbread prepared by simply pouring it in boiled salted water) baked with boletus and bacon were real treat! As usual, the simplest dish turns out to be best surprise on the plate. Full of good old taste, it is also praise to the cook’s knowledge and blending of ingredients.

Don’t look far for sweet ending. Baked štrukli (pastry filled with cheese) with raisins is a sweet variety of this old and most recognisable Zagorje dish. Although it looks hearty, it is easy and not too sweet dessert, given the rich and smooth cottage cheese and bitter-sweet raisins in it. All the time we enjoyed Klanjec graševina, a mild wine without much acid, that was splendid with all the dishes we had.

Overall, Zelenjak is unavoidable fine dining place for everyone who likes to get a great introduction to the Zagorje cuisine.

Restaurant Zelenjak is listed in 100 best restaurants by www.gastronaut.hr

Villa Zelenjak – Ventek
Risvica 1, Kumrovec
tel: 00385 049 550 747
www.zelenjak.com
zelenjak@zelenjak.com