Krapina is my hometown. Zagorje runs through veins. Kajkavian dialect is spoken out loud by my core. 

So please, allow me to show you a portion of heaven given to us people from Zagorje to enjoy, nourish, and remain proud. 


Krapina was first mentioned in 1193. It has always been a favorite site for castles and country houses of Croatian and Hungarian rulers. In the first half of the 15th century, it was an important center of the Counts of Celje, who additionally fortified the town and expanded the nearby castle. Later, it came into the possession of the Keglević family.

However, it has its own pre-historic site.

In 1899, on a hill nearby called Hušnjakovo, the archaeologist and paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger found over eight hundred fossil remains belonging to Neanderthals. The half-cave in Krapina was soon listed among the world’s science localities as a rich fossil finding site, where the largest and richest collection of the Neanderthal man had ever been found.

At the site where the Neanderthal remains were discovered there is now a state-of-the-art Neanderthal museum which also includes an extensive section on evolution, making it one of the most interesting evolutionary museums in Europe. It is surrounded by a park with many statues of Neanderthals and the game they hunted, a bear, a moose, and a beaver set in the actual locations. I am not much happy with this museum as it shows more about the evolution than the Krapina Neanderthals itself. Furthermore, this part of Crotia in the times of this discovery belonged to Habsburg Monarchy. So many of the original artefacts like bones and weapons have been stolen. You can found them in Naturhistorische Museum on your next trip to Vienna.

Krapina is home to the yearly Festival kajkavske popevke (The festival of kajkavian song) sung in the local Kajkavian language and in the traditional clothes of people from Zagorje. I am very honoured that I had a privilege as a kid to perform on this very stage in the traditional clothes of Krapina. I still keep the hand made dress, sewed on a spindle by my great-grandmother.

A contributor to the Kajkavian dialect was Ljudevit Gaj – born in Krapina in 19th century who started the national movement, called Iliarian movement fighting for the independence of the creation language from the germanisation and hungarisation. Somehow, his idea was to be united in a union with Southern Slaves which in the next two centuries costed us a lot of blood and political scandals. You can visit his birthhouse in the center of Krapina.

His monument is at the main square of Krapina – Ljudevit Gaj square. Just in front of the beautiful secession building behind. This square is a meeting spot of people of Krapina.

His Ilirian movement was strong and spread across Croatia. Hence, in Krapina we are nourishing the tradition of the costumes of the time, parading whenever is a festival due. We have Ilirci, the Orchestra and Majoretes of Krapina to do the honour. If you look closer, you can spot me in a blue uniform just a bit behind of a second photo. 🙂

To finish with our dear Gaj, I can not skip to show you The Elementary School of Krapina – my school. I was super proud to be able to spend 8 years in this beautiful secession building built by Habsburg Imperatrice Maria Theresia in 19th century.

Another Vienna – alike building, built by Habsburgs is The Magistrat of Krapina. The Seat of the Mayor of Krapina.Nobody likes him.

To go little bit back in time, precisely to Roman times, I have to tell you a Legend about 3 brothers: Ceh, Leh and Meh and sister Vilina. According to a legend, Krapina is a craddle of Slavic civilisation – a moment that Ljudevit Gaj depicted so precisely and used for his idea of unification of Southern Slaves.

The story tells there were three Slavic brothers and a sister living in forthress above Krapina, fighting against the Roman. Their sister Vilina fell in love with a roman military leader and betrayed brothers by telling her Roman boyfriend about the military plan to attack. Ceh, Leh and Meh lost the battle and spread across Europe founding their win countries: Ceh founded Czech Republic, Leh founded Russia and Meh founded Poland. Hence, the Slavic civilisationa s we now today has been once cetred in Krapina.

Vilina was killed by her brothers and built up in the walls of the fortification. You can still hear her cry if you pass by.

Funny enough, travelling across Slavic Europe, I found similar stories in equally small cities just like Krapina. There is a similar legend in Czech Republic, and Poland. In Kiev, I found a similar version but the sister was in personification of a swan.

At the time of the greatest Turkish conquests, when Croatia was called the “remnants of the Croatian kingdom”, then Ban Ivan Drašković invited the nobles to his town of Krapina, in order to hold the Parliament in peace, as far as possible from the Turkish danger. Five assemblies were held (in 1598, 1599, 1600, 1605 and 1607) where important decisions were made on the organization of defense against the threat from the Ottomans. One could say, the first ever parliamentary session of Croatia was held in Krapina.

In Krapina we have three important churches. The oldest one is the Church of Saint Catherine with the Franciscan monastery. The Franciscans were invited to the town of Krapina in 1639 by Ana Marija Erdödy, the wife of the Croatian ban Sigismund, from the family of the lord of the old town of Krapina, Keglević, who donated land for the construction of the monastery. The monks were active by educating rich children, and rewriting books – the co-called inkunabule (the books that were hand made before the the invention of the printing press. You can visit the museum and get into the lifetime of 17 century Krapina.

To myself, the most important church is the Church of Saint Nikola. It is a 19th century classical church which was built on the remains of the 14th century church. You can still see the evidence of the old church and grave stones around. I did all my Christian sacraments in this church.

The most beautiful church is placed on the hill Trski Vrh above Krapina: Church of Holy Mother of God of Jerusalem. It is a baroque church from 17th century, A small wooden statuette of the Mother of God, 12 cm high, was brought by Fr. Joakim Balagović (or his brother Stjepan Balagović) to Trški Vrh as a “souvenir” from a pilgrimage from Jerusalem in 1669. As a result, the locals built the church. My grandfather was telling me many times that the locals would give away the cows and bullocks to be used for a construction.

Church is has amazing paintings of the Bible scenes. Perhaps the most interesting fresco is the painting in the vault of the sanctuary itself, painted with the legend of the statue of Mother of God of Jerusalem. You can see Balagovic receiving the statuette.

Around the church is a cintorium with many intercessions to the Virgin Mary funded by the poor locals and pilgrims. Let’s remember that the church was built just before the time of the second climatic minimum (period of cooling of the Earth) of the Little Ice Age – extremely cold and long snowy winters, and warm summers become a rarity. Along with the plague epidemic, Europe was also hit by the catastrophic eruption of the Laki volcano (1783). It is estimated that from the huge cloud of dust and poisonous gases (hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen sulphide), which covered the whole of Europe, about three million people died and a quarter of the total livestock disappeared.

In case you are hungry from all the pilgrimage, let me show you some local traditional food: Turkey with Mlinci. This festive dish consists of a whole roasted turkey, paired with an authentic side dish known as mlinci (similar to pasta). Specific breeding and growing conditions have led to the creation of an autochthonous Zagorje Turkey breed that is praised for its exceptional quality of meat. Mlinci, on the other hand, are best described as a cross between pasta and crispy, unleavened flatbread.

Through Krapina goes river Krapincica. It has a spring just nearby and flows into river Sava just before the entrance to Zagreb. With its 25 km it is one of the shortest rivers in Croatia.


If you really want to see how the traditional life of people of Zagorje used to live (as peasants) you should visit Ethno-village of Kumrovec.

Kumrovec is notably the birthplace of marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), the president of Yugoslavia. The birth house of Tito (built in 1860 as the first brickwork house in the village) features the Memorial Museum of Marshal Tito, opened in 1953. The bronze statue is a work of Antun Augustincic – croatian sculptor and a good communist friend of Tito. Fun fact, Augustincic made 6 same sculptures for the six sociliast republics of Yugoslavia. So far I visited two. The photo with the other one can be found under post about Belgrade.

The museum is also important for the local folklore. It is an open – space museum that comprises the Ethnological Museum with 18 village houses, displaying permanent exhibitions of artifacts related to the life and work of Zagorje peasants in the 19th/20th century.

Around the houses you can see domestic animals typical of the time, including croatian bantam a chicken bread that we locally call by names Jurek and Katica. Jurek is a rooster and Katica is a hen.

The Zagorje soup was popular in the old days and was a classic ‘peasants’ dish made of an old hen. The meal is a  medicine as it invigorates and is a meal for the family. Today, it has become a popular ‘gourmet’ soup and is served in many restaurants.

Donja Stubica

One of my favourite places in Zagorje due to its history and legend.

But first let us start with the Monument to Our Beautiful Country in the valley of the river Sutla. The valley is called Zelenjak. The monument was erected in 1935 in honor of the centenary of the Croatian national anthem written by the Croatian writer Antun Mihanović born in Zagorje nearby Klanjec and Kumrovec. He was a friend of Ljudevit Gaj and active member of Ilirian movement.

The town was founded in 1209 by Andrew II of Hungary, during the period of Croatia in the union with Hungary. It was a hard time for the peasants, living at feud’s proprietary, working in hard conditions, harvesting mostly wheet and working in wineyards.

The nobels of Zagorje in the same time lives rich and vividly. They are all related to each other, they live in there castles and fortresses – yes, Zagorje is full of castles. Yet another richness. The nobility visits each other and exchanges the books of Voltaire, Moliere, Isaac Newton…

If you visit the Castle Orsic – you will stumble upon the Museum of the Croatian and Slovenian peasant revolt of 1573.

 In the late 16th century, the threat of Ottoman incursions strained the economy of the southern flanks of the Holy Roman Empire, and feudal lords continually increased their demands on the peasantry. In Croatian Zagorje, this was compounded by cruel treatment of peasants by Baron Ferenc Tahy and his disputes with neighbouring barons over land, dating back to 1564, which escalated into armed conflicts.

Matija Gubec led the poorly armed peasant army during its last stand at the Battle of Stubičko Polje on 9 February 1573 facing an army of the nobility led by bishop governor Juraj Drašković. Before the battle he made a speech trying to convince the men that only victory could bring them freedom, while the defeat would bring more misery. He gathered the people for the battle just under this linden tree. Just a few days later, they will be all hang on that very same tree and Gubec will be taken to Zagreb to be judged.

Gubec was publicly tortured and forced to wear a red-hot iron crown, cruelly dragged along the streets of the city, pinched with red-hot iron pincers, and was subsequently quartered. However, his revolt and torture of Gubec acquired legendary status in Croatia and Slovenia.

It has inspired many writers and artists, including the writers Miroslav Krleža and August Šenoa. Leading Croatian film director Vatroslav Mimica produced the film about uprising, entitled Anno Domini 1573, in 1975, as well as television series in four parts. Gubec-beg, the first Croatian rock opera (1975) by Karlo Metikos, was also inspired by the events.

Gubec’ legacy is very strong among people from Zagorje and across.

If you look carefully, next to his statue you can see one small statuette. It is Petrica Kerempuh. A protagonist of The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh (: Balade Petrice Kerempuha) a philosophically poetic work by the Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža, composed in the form of thirty poems in the 20th century. Petrica is a comedy character that travels across and through an innocent rhyme of the kajkavian dialect observes and sends a political – sociological message of the time. a balladic commentator of the folk and entire Croatian drama throughout the centuries, a guide through the painful and dark periods of Croatian history. But at the same time, he is a comedian, cynic and satirist, discoverer and illustrator of a characteristic popular consciousness of the time.

When you get hungry, nearby is Lojzekova hiza (Louis’ house). A traditional zagorje house with traditional cuisine such as struklji. These are cream pastry dish and can be filled with cherries, apples, cheese, nettle… Do not forget to order a bottle of home made wine (grasevina) and sparkling water, we mix it to make gemist.

Pregrada ﹠Kostel

Pregrada is a town mostly famous for its church. We like to call it the Cathedral of Zagorje. It really is not a cathedral but as it has two towers we like to babble it. 🙂

What is traditionally more interesting about this place is an event called Kostelska pištola-Keglevićeva straža Kostel or in English: The pistole of Kostel – the Guards of Keglevich.

Kostel was the center of one of the most influential Croatian noble families – the Keglević family – for almost a whole century, and was a symbol of their power and reputation. Compared to other cities that often changed masters, this was a long period. At the end of the first quarter of the 16th century, the city core and its defense system were thoroughly rebuilt. After that, the city was fully adapted to modern defense requirements.

Since 1523, on every Eastern the Guards of Keglevich shoot from their guns to scare away the Ottomans in order to have peaceful Eastern. As the gunshots are loud, it creates the storm that happened as the Christ dies after the after the torture on Golgotha. Who has strong ears, let him/ her enjoy!

The event marked 500 years this year so the celebration was extremely loud. As it is happening just below the Kostelgrad and in front of the Church of Saint Mirko (or Emerick in English) – we paid the due.

Marija Bistrica

A super important sanctuary for the people of Zagorje. Marija Bistrica has an old Marian shrine of the Black Madonna which is a place of pilgrimage and visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. In 1998, Pope John Paul II visited Marija Bistrica and beatified Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac in front of a crowd of 500,000 Croatians.

The first written mention of the settlement Bistrica dates back to 1209 AD, as the possession of Croatian-Hungarian king Andrew II. Documents first mention the church of Saints Peter and Paul.

In 1545 a local priest hid the wonder working statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus, which previously stood in a wooden chapel on the Vinski Vrh (Hill) nearby, within the church to save it from the Turks and took the secret of its hiding place to his grave. The statue was discovered in 1588, when according to the records bright light shone from the place where it was buried. In 1650 the statue had to be once again hidden to be rediscovered in 1684.

In 1710 the Croatian parliament vowed to fund a new altar in the church.

Several times a year there is a big pilgrimage day happening in Marija Bistrica. Especially in August when it it the Saint Anna Day. I remember the beautiful clothes the family would put on, sometimes pilgriming by car, sometimes by foot. I pilgrimed twice from Krapina – some 50 km due. We would sing holy songs and in the morning participate the mass ceremony. The big day would include lots of boots with holy figures and statues and traditional wooden toys from Zagorje.

This would include the Licitars. Licitars’ hearts are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough that are part of Croatia and Slovenia’s cultural heritage. They are a traditional symbol of the Croatian capital Zagreb as well as the city is heavily affected by the kajkavian culture and dialect. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and Valentine’s Day.

I believe I have mentioned the nearby vinery at Vinski vrh. I do not recommend to visit the place. Unnecessary expensive, not much related to local cuisine and the service is just awkward. As you can tell, I didn’t had the best experience with them. Except the wine. That I can always recommend 🙂

If I could recommend the place for a good wine tasting and to spend the weekend in Zagorje it would be Vuglec breg. Itis unique, posh but still cheap, with local cuisine and local winery. You will have a dinner with a view on the vineyard while further away you can admire the hills of Zagorje. On a good day you see Zagreb on a horizon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.