Art is never finished, only abandoned.
-Leonardo da Vinci
From secret tunnels built to support the Nazis to a German-inspired castle on the Slovenian border, there is a lot to discover in the mountains north of Zagreb. Mango and I enjoyed our second day trip from Zagreb, discovering a side of Croatia few tourists see. And just like other abandoned buildings in Croatia I've visited, these places were open to anyone eager to explore them in depth. Ah, accessibility: one more reason to love Croatia.
In 1932 during World War II, Croatian dictator Ante Pavelić built this grand chalet in the Croatian forest. After the war, Pavelić fled and his manse became a mountain resort. Tragically in 1979, a major fire left behind just a stone foundation and little else of the Nazi-sympathizer's estate. But it wasn’t the end of the chalet, because something remained hidden in the rubble. An extensive network of secret tunnels. Yes, Pavelić had a system of tunnels built into the hills that connected his home to nearby military bunkers and escape routes, and the tunnels remain open to anyone who wants to explore them. Mango couldn’t be bothered to walk into the tunnels with me (too many delicious-smelling piles of garbage to distract him), so I walked into the tunnels and let the darkness swallow me, then turned around and scurried back into the daylight; it was creepy. I don’t know how long the tunnels go on for, but they are in excellent condition and I’d guess the system is intact. (Tragically, my lens was out of focus so my pictures of Villa Rebar are less than stellar.)
Just as interesting as Villa Rebar are the ruins of this formerly palatial complex deep in the mountains. Brestovac Sanatorium was built under the guise of tormented love in 1909 as one of Europe's finest facilities for tuberculosis patients. After sanatoriums fell out of style a few decades later, it served as a a military hospital during both World Wars. By 1968, the hospital was abandoned and fell into major disrepair; today, the ruins act as a haunting backdrop for paintball players. (This isn't Croatia's only creepy paintball site.) More great photos of the original buildings are here and here.
North of Zagreb and right at the Croatian-Slovenian border is this delightful Neo-Gothic castle regally perched on a hill overlooking water and forests. The Celjski family built Trakošćan Castle (derived from the Latin 'draco' for dragon and German 'stayn' for stone) in the 1200s as a small Romanesque fortress watching over local roads, but subsequent owners enlarged and remodeled the facility to look as it does today. After a century of neglect in the 1700s, the castle was made into a "residential dwelling modeled on German romantic castles" in the early 19th century, complete with an artificial lake and thick forests (castle literature). Trakošćan fell into disrepair over time but now the interior is carefully preserved, with arms and portraits on display and rich molding throughout. Entrance is about $4.50 and there are few tourists to fight with, although the site is quite popular with school groups during the week. Fun fact: Trakošćan Castle was the first building with electricity in this part of rural Croatia.
Referred to as Croatia's "little Vienna," Varaždin is a charming little town of less than 50,000 and colorful baroque buildings. The town was founded in the 1100s and served as Croatia's capital briefly from 1756 to 1776 when a fire destroyed much of the downtown. While there is a lot to do in this mostly tourist-free town, things such as an inviting castle, an intriguing bug museum, a well-endowed art museum, and various festivals throughout the year, Mango and I just stopped in Varaždinfor a quick lunch in the pedestrian-only old town.