Climbing the Samobor Castle Ruins
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
After our time in Varazdin, we set off for the coast to explore Rovinj and the Istrian Peninsula. But, with a four-ish hour drive through northern Croatia ahead of us, we decided to see some sights along the way. Jenna did some research and added two stops to the itinerary: climbing the Samobor Castle ruins and doing a little caving.
Samobor Castle and Choosing Our Route
To get from Varazdin in Croatia’s far north to the country’s Istrian Peninsula, which juts into the Adriatic Sea, you have a few options. The northern route takes you through Slovenia, which would’ve been a cool day trip. Unfortunately, our rental car agreement didn’t allow for cross-border travel.
Instead, we opted to skirt around Zagreb’s northern reaches, hugging the Slovenian border as we drove west to the Istrian Peninsula. In addition to the whole contract compliance aspect, this route also took us right past another castle we wanted to see - Samobor.
Built in the late 13th Century to defend a key crossroads in the market town in its shadow, Samobor Castle now sits in near ruins. Whereas Trakoscan Castle has been immaculately restored and preserved, Samobor has more the feel of legend. With crumbling walls overgrown by centuries of neglect, Samobor lets you truly imagine medieval days gone by.
For the fellow Narnia nerds out there, Samobor feels like the ruins of Cair Paravel. For the Jackie Chan fans - a man famous for doing his own stunts - Samobor is where he almost died while filming Armour of God!
Climbing the Samobor Castle Ruins - Paradise for Little Kids!
Samobor sits about ten miles west of Zagreb, making it an easy day trip from the city if you have a car. We didn’t during our stay in the capital, which is why we hit it passing back through towards the coast.
And, it retains a market town feel - albeit with a far more touristy vibe than, at least how we envision, a medieval market. Narrow alleys and streets straddle a creek that ascends from the town center west into the mountains, with the castle perched on a hilltop in the first reaches of this range.
While some of Samobor’s outlying buildings clearly have the look of 70s-era, concrete abominations, the vast majority of the town center consists of beautifully restored, centuries-old buildings. Restaurants, cafes, inns, and shops occupy many of these structures, and as we slowly wound our way towards the base of the castle, the town bustled with people. Having now seen Samobor, we would absolutely spend a night at one of these little inns to really experience the town.
But, our plans were set, so we had a limited amount of time there. Rather than spend the day strolling through town, we headed straight to the base of Samobor Castle’s hill. Turns out, it was more of a hill than we anticipated! After 20ish minutes of hiking up steep, switchback trails (fortunately in the cool shade of towering trees), we broke into the hilltop sunlight - far more winded than we should’ve been…
With the crumbling castle walls in front of us, the contrast between Samobor and Trakoscan couldn’t have been clearer. But, what the former gives up in restored beauty, it more than claims in adventure. Seeing a crew of little kids bombing around the ruins, climbing anywhere they wanted, it became patently obvious - climbing castle walls and playing “knights and barbarians” is way more fun for little ones than looking at tapestries!
As if reading our thoughts, one of these little hellions ran up to us with an empty squirt gun, dumped a big plastic bottle of Coke into it, and - thinking that we too could use a caffeine boost - asked whether we wanted any “cola?” We smiled and shook our heads ‘no.’ He shrugged, pointed the barrel into his mouth, and took down a big jet of sugary/caffeine-y goodness before launching back into the ruins.
As we explored, we found the mom who’d clearly drawn the short straw for watching these kiddos all day. Sitting on a ledge, it seemed she was taking a well-I-hope-this-tires-them-out approach to the afternoon!
Touring the Grgosovo Caves
Just outside of Samobor, we wanted to check out one more sight before continuing our drive to the coast. After climbing up to a castle, we’d now go down into some caves.
Neither of us had ever taken a cave tour, so when we read about the Grgosovo Caves, we figured it’d be a cool experience. The original cave owner and namesake - a guy named Josip Grgos - discovered the caves while digging a limestone quarry. Shortly thereafter, the government listed the caves as a protected site, recognizing the geological and tourist value to preserving the formations.
Consisting of an upper and lower chamber, visitors can now tour Grgosovo’s upper chamber. Guide rails keep people from tumbling down one of several pitfalls, and yellow floodlights give the caves an ancient-ritual-esque aura. Fortunately, neither of us suffer from overwhelming claustrophobia - can’t imagine this’d be an enjoyable experience if we did.
Related to the pitfalls, visitors aren’t allowed into the caves on their own. Instead, a guide hangs out at the restaurant across the street, and you can schedule tours. We didn’t know this ahead of time, but we lucked out, showing up just as some locals arrived. They apparently knew the system and lined up the tour.
Our tour guide, generously offering to jump back-and-forth between English and Croatian, made sure we didn’t tumble into any holes. But, she was also a wealth of geological knowledge. Most impressive - and one more reminder how insignificant our lives are in the general scheme of things - she explained the time involved in creating the massive stalactites hanging from the cave’s ceiling. Apparently, the minerals in the water continuously dripping from these jagged spikes add about one centimeter of length every hundred years!
So yeah, the caves were here well before we were, and they’ll likely be around long after we’re gone - even more reason to enjoy life while we can!