You may or may not have heard of the region known as Hrvatsko Zagorje (the Croatian Uplands) in the north of the country, but you will almost certainly have heard of Zagreb - the beating heart of the region, and the capital city of Croatia.
In the main, it is a region of rural beauty, characterised by fairytale castles atop undulating hills and wild, fecund greenery. In contrast, Zagreb is the picture of 18th- and 19th-century urban refinement; its streets adorned with magnificent Austro-Hungarian Empire architecture and a bustling, cosmopolitan day- and nightlife. It is this juxtaposition of calming nature and exciting cultural experiences that make the region a wonderful destination for a holistic, passion-fuelling holiday.
This coolest of the Croatian wine regions specialises in picturesque, boutique wineries. It’s a refreshing change from densely-populated and overly-busy wine regions, especially in the summer, as most vineyards are family-owned with knowledge crossing generations leading to heritage blends and recipes made contemporary and relevant.
You’ll encounter new grapes and wines little-tasted outside of Croatia, with many you’ll see infrequently elsewhere in the world, but that play their part on the global stage. Indigenous white varieties like Mirkovača, Moslavac, and Stara Krapinseka Blina are grown here on small hectarage, but the latter is one of the oldest varieties in the world and is mooted to be the ancestor of numerous world-famous varieties like Chardonnay and Rhine Riesling. You may, however, recognise these varieties as Gouais Blanc and Heunisch Weiss in France and Germany, respectively.
Other remarkable white wine varietals are Graševina, Silvanac, Muškat, Pušipel, Kraljevina, and Škrlet, while international varieties include Chardonnay and Rhine Riesling, but also Sauvignon, Traminac (Gewürztraminer), Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. Given the cool but sunlit growing conditions here, the cultivation of red varieties in this area most frequently sticks to Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Portugizac (Blauer Portugieser).
All this wine history is no limiter of trend or innovation, though. In recent years, the region has been pioneering in the production of icewines and is gaining recognition as a producer of some of the finest sparkling wines. In particular, the area of Pleševica hills is regarded as driving Croatian winemaking and is helping to keep Zagreb and the Croatian Uplands, and Croatia in general, fascinating destinations on the world wine map.
The food of the region again reflects the contrasts you’d expect from the existence of a capital city in one of the most serene areas of a country. In the bucolic locales you’ll find all the “cucina povera” and rustic, homemade cooking you’ll hope to find here, while in Zagreb all wines and foods of the region can be experienced across both fine-dining and more informal temples to gastronomy.Read less
You can arrive in Zagreb & the Croatian Uplands by air or land, with seasonal direct flights from the UK and global flights into Zagreb and Velika Gorica becoming more accessible in frequency and price. Driving down through mainland Europe, taking in the northeast of Italy and Slovenia offers an option with many interesting stops, including Lake Bled, Ljubljana and the northern part of the Zagorje, across the border, in neighbouring Slovenia. The Central Croatia Road and the Dalmatia Road make a tour of multiple Croatian wine regions an interesting and attainable proposition. The rail network, whilst sometimes unpredictable, is scenic and can rule out the need for a designated driver.
The Croatian Kuna (HRK) is national tender, despite Croatia’s EU membership. It’s advisable to change money as you go, as there is intense competition between foreign exchange agencies in Croatia, so you can shop around and find excellent rates.
All the established stores accept international credit cards and ATMs delivering local currency are easy to find in the main cities and towns, such as Zagreb, Velika Gorica and Krapina.
Whilst you can plan travel here all year round, thanks to the region’s mild Mediterranean climate, tourist season in Croatia begins around Easter and peaks in the summer, when warm, sunny weather prevails.
The region is well-favoured by European tourists in summer, but you can still find escape and peace, even in mid-August. Winters in the region can be mild but rainy, and some tourist facilities close in November until March. However, the climate is perfect for activities throughout the year - the average day temperatures are suitable for sports and adventuring; and April and May see weather ideal for cycling, which is an immersive way to explore the region. Spring is vibrant, but can bring showers. Regardless, that can be a chance worth taking in May or early June, when the area’s natural beauty is bursting with promise. A grand tour focused on the wine and food hotspots of the hinterland beyond Zagreb is magical at virtually any time of the year.
Your visit duration can fit flexibly into a wider tour of mainland Europe or can form the focus of a single-stop holiday, for there’s plenty to amuse la bouche et le corps – destination dining opportunities showcasing local ingredients in their cultural context, active pursuits that enable you to commune with natural beauty spots, scenic walks, and wineries that exemplify the unique terroir and culture. Our tip (see Itineraries below) is to visit for a 4-5 day sojourn in this pretty region.
The Croatian capital is located on the Sava river, overlooked by Medvednica mountain at its northern edge. Characterised by Austro-Hungarian architecture, it is the largest city in Croatia and comprises a historical Upper Town and a vibrant downtown scene. You can relax into the resident culture of passing hours in pavement cafés and tiny, alfresco restaurants, and watching the world go by. If you want to stretch your legs, hiring a bike is a good idea, as you can cycle around most of the city very easily.
A proliferation of excellent restaurants (with more Michelin-awarded restaurants this year than Dubrovnik, which many erroneously consider the capital city), wine bars and wine shops make Zagreb the gateway to the Croatian Uplands and its wine roads. Many of these establishments have a mission to bring together the region’s wines to give you a taste of Hrvatsko Zagorje, even before you head for the hills.
Zagreb is surrounded by Zagorje and Prigorje, with Plešivica, Moslavina and Međimurje in the close vicinity. Each of these subregions is building on its winemaking history and creating wines that blend the old and the new. Of particular interest are Varaždin town and its castle, Velika Gorica, Krapina and their connecting wine paths.
As you travel through the Uplands, you’ll find many neighbourhood and winery restaurants offering Croatia’s own version of “slow food”, promoting local, fresh and seasonal ingredients, and enjoying the ritual of eating. Even at the smallest hostelries, each course will be paired with appropriate wines that showcase the immediate locality.
The Restaurant Route - Zagreb and Back: The city is your most likely entry point to the region, yet there’s too much on offer to spend just a day here, so we recommend you bookend your stay in the Croatian Uplands with stops in Zagreb. This enables you to take in a gastronomic pilgrimage, as restaurants are a delectable way to experience a whole range of Upland wines, given the cellar door and boutique nature of many of the region’s wineries. (Although, many wineries now have restaurants and rooms on site.)
Indeed, Noel, the most recent addition to the Michelin-acclaimed restaurants of Zagreb was noted as having an “excellent wine list” by the inspector who awarded them a coveted Michelin star. He’s right too, the wine list marries delicious examples of Croatian, Italian and French wines and pairs them with beautifully-crafted dishes to synergistic effect. Other regional restaurants are recommended with Michelin plates, and for the first time this year in Croatia, Michelin awarded the Bib Gourmand for “extraordinary cooking at friendly prices” to Vuglec Breg in Krapina.
Therefore, we recommend spending four to five days discovering the food and wines in harmony, with your choice from Apetit, Zinfandel's, Takenoko, Mano, Dubravkin Put, Boban, Mundoaka, Bistro Apetit, Agava, Gallo, Le Bistro Esplanade and the aforementioned, Noel (all Zagreb); with visits to Bedem in Varaždin, Vuglec Breg in Krapina (above), and the surrounding wineries as the meat in your Zagreb sandwich.
Many Winerist tours are fully-formed itineraries in their own right, and cover many single or multi-day trips, meaning all the thinking is done for you.
Whatever your preferences, timescale or budget, a unique bespoke tour can be created by the travel experts here at Winerist, for you. Simply email email@example.com or speak to Catherine or Céline on 020 7096 1006.