Croatia's Most Stunning Castles
Castles dot Croatia's landscape like so much fairytale flotsam, rising majestically to overlook valleys and towns. Though a number of these former fortresses have fallen into disrepair, many have been restored and offer visitors a chance to glimpse noble life from centuries past. Some of the castles offer straightforward tours of their interior, while others have created museums and visitor centers to bolster the experience. Still others have been converted into luxury hotels and high-end restaurants. We've combed through Croatia's interior to bring you its 5 most stunning castles.
Over the centuries, the castle has served as a government center, a prison, a defense fortress and a setting for public festivals. Today, the castle also houses the Ethnographic Museum of Istria, which showcases 3 floors worth of displays that include Istrian bells, barrels, farm tools, musical instruments and clothing. While the castle itself is a point of interest, its location perched above the Pazin Pit -- an enormous, 426-foot-deep gorge cut by the Pazinčica River -- draws scores of travelers hoping to witness and photograph the dramatic views below.
Varazdin's Stari Grad is one of northeastern Croatia's most popular tourist attractions; the well-preserved castle also houses the town's historical museum, which displays furniture, weapons and paintings. Today, Stari Grad castle enjoys the status of a UNESCO protected site. Try to plan a trip to Varazdin at the end of August, when the town hosts the Špancir Fest, a 10-day festival during which the town is flooded with street performers, musicians and artists.
Other noteworthy features of the castle include a 102-foot-deep well, a wine cellar with a winepress and a great hall whose walls are decorated with weapons. A chapel also exists on the property that allegedly houses the skull of the doomed Veronika of Desinić, a woman who was drowned in the 15th century after a doomed love affair with the son of a count. As well as touring the castle, visitors can also explore a small museum that opened after the renovations. Exhibitions include collections of swords and armor, paintings and pottery.
The castle underwent a series of renovations over the centuries, but gained its current, neo-Gothic style in the 19th century when it was owned by Count Juraj V. Drašković. A tour of the castle will take visitors past restored 19th-century furnishings bearing the castle's coat of arms, as well as centuries-old weapons, tapestries and portraits in the knight's room, hunting room and music salon.
Visitors approach Bezanec via a 300-foot-long, tree-lined drive, at the end of which rise the castle's looming clock tower and triangular gables. The property rests upon a hilltop overlooking a verdant valley, and the castle grounds include a small park filled with gingko and basswood trees. You don't need to be a guest at the castle to enjoy the lavish decor and many antiquities, like furnishings and art, which fill the castle's halls and loggias. Bezanec is a tourist attraction in its own right, and fortuitously happens to house a restaurant specializing in traditional Croatian cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. Try the štrukli, a type of cheese strudel, or the gibanica, a walnut, cheese and poppy pie.