The Zagorje and Medimurje counties just north of Zagreb are known for their rolling hills dotted with pastel coloured houses, romantic castles, excellent wines and hearty meals, all sitting in unspoilt nature that’s perfect for a hike. If you think that Croatia starts and ends with Dalmatia, this itinerary will change your mind.
Further to that, you won’t find the inflated tourist prices of Dalmatia, or Istria and Kvarner for that matter. Rather, north of Zagreb it’s all about charming counties where your dollars or kunas will stretch much further and a give you a picturesque holiday you won’t forgot.
We start our adventure in the Croatian capital; Zagreb. Spend a couple of days here and try our Lower and Upper Town walking tours and – In the belly of Zagreb for some of the best places to eat and drink in the city.
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While I’ve chosen to start this itinerary with Samobor, it can also be done backwards starting east with Marija Bistrica. In essence you’re making a loop around the region, so whichever direction you choose is fine.
I would give this tour about seven days, depending on how much time you want to spend at Zumberak and Samoborsko Gorje Nature Park. You can easily spend a week just here, hiking or cycling the over 300 kilometres of trails.
Apart from the castles I’ve mentioned here, there are about 15 others that lie in various states of ruin. Pick up a map at the Zagreb Tourist Office on Ban Jelacic Square and explore these at your leisure. In saying that, I recommend a car for this itinerary, it will make life much easier. Public transport to some of these remoter places is far and few between.
From Zagreb we head west in the direction of Samobor. Even though this quaint city is only 25 kilometres from the capital, I recommend spending a couple of nights here because it’s the perfect place from which to explore the surrounds.
Known as a foodie heaven with Zagrebians flocking here on weekends, you must start with sampling as many of Samobor’s delicacies as you can fit in. Do not leave the city without trying the famous custard slice! To work off the calories, it’s 10 minute walk to the extraordinary ruin of Samobor Castle.
For those in need of something more active, the city is the perfect starting point to visit the alluring Zumberak and Samoborsko Gorje Nature Park. Zumberak caters for all fitness levels, from casual walks that take you from village to village or serious hikers who will find trails lasting for days. The park is very well catered for with numerous cabins for accommodation.
The southern area of Samoborsko Gorje takes in the beautiful landscape of Plesivica, an area known for its wines. You’ll notice the acres of vineyards sprawling over the rolling hills and wine cellars dotted all over Plesivica. Most of the cellars are around the town of Jastrebarsko and recommendations for a tasting include Sember Winery, Spanic and Tomac wineries.
At Jastrebarsko, take a couple of hours to stop at Erdody Castle in the centre of the town park. Ahile you can’t go inside, the castle’s exterior and park are worth exploring.
From here we take the journey north to Veliki Tabor Castle. An easy way to get here is to cut through Croatia’s neighbor Slovenia.
However, to avoid passport controls and the odd road toll (in euros) follow the border north.
From Veliki Tabor follow the signs that lead to Pregrada and then continue south to the hamlet of Vinagora for the most spectacular views of the region.
From one gem to another, it’s east to the fairytale dream of Trakoscan Castle. Continuing south-east spend the night in the city of Varazdin. Known as ‘Little Vienna,’ take the day (or maybe two) to try our Varazdin walking tour featuring all the wonderful sights this little Baroque city, and former capital of Croatia, offers.
From Varazdin it’s south in the direction of Zagreb but take a detour to visit the other wine region of the area in Sveti Ivan Zelina. Again all the cellars are well marked and recommendations include Winery Kos and Eko Vina Cegec, the first organic winery in Croatia.
After liquid fortification make a stop at Marija Bistrica – Croatia’s spiritual home and then back to Zagreb.