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Travel inspiration: why this Croatian city isn’t just for summer holidays

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Stylist’s editorial assistant Moya Lothian-McLean noses her away around Zagreb, a Central European city with a twist.

I’m peering at a half-written Post-it note. “I really think you are an angel,” it starts, before ending with a truncated “Good morn-”. The writer was a Turkish man and the note is the only remnant of a four-month dalliance that ended in March 2013, against his wishes. How do I know these intimate particulars? A helpful plaque tells the sad story.

Here, in the Museum of Broken Relationships (MBR), it’s just one of many unorthodox exhibits former lovers have donated as testament to terminated connections. There’s the heart-rending (a frayed parachute pack, bequeathed after the death of a partner in a skydiving accident), the petty (“How are you going to make toast now?” reads an entry next to a rusty toaster) and the hilarious (a box of pizza dough – the donor is gluten-intolerant).

Institutions like the MBR are why Zagreb, Croatia’s capital in the north-west of the country, is quickly shooting up the radar of quirky culture enthusiasts. Zagreb may not boast the beaches of coastal destinations like Split or Dubrovnik, but it’s making a name for itself as a city with a glut of unusual culture squirrelled away within its cobbled streets. There are more museums per square foot in Zagreb than in any other city in the world. 

Like the Museum of Naïve Art that sits opposite the MBR, which showcases artwork by mostly self-taught Croatians who later found success. Within walking distance is also the Mimara Museum’s eclectic art collection – famed for its reputation as being made up of “95%” forged works – the quirky Zagreb 80s Museum and the trippy Museum of Illusions.

Walking is something you’ll do a lot of. While trams glide through the streets, Zagreb’s three main areas – the ancient Upper Town, 19th-century Lower Town and post-WWII ‘new’ Zagreb – are best reached on foot. I’m staying at the new Canopy by Hilton and don’t take public transport once during my three-day stay.

Canopy by Hilton provides the perfect boutique bolthole.

The presence of a Canopy demonstrates Zagreb’s ascent as a Central European hotspot. These boutique boltholes only pop up in cities renowned for their rich character and Zagreb is the first continental European location to welcome one – which is lucky for me. The Canopy experience is defined by: one) the most comfortable beds possible (they have their own mattress supplier so you’re not going to get a sleep like this anywhere else in the world) and two) staff with an exhaustive knowledge of the best-kept local secrets. 

There’s Stari Fijaker, a restaurant favoured by Zagreb natives where I dine on a delicious venison stew, or the Michelin-starred Bistro Apetit, helmed by chef Marin Rendić which serves me a veal cheek I will never forget. My only tip for would-be samplers of Zagreb’s foodie delights? ‘Vegetarian’ is a foreign concept here. And don’t even think about vegan. 

But it isn’t all museums and food. Two hours’ drive from the city is Unesco World Heritage Site Plitvice Lakes National Park. Sixteen gorgeous blue-green lakes are interconnected by a series of thundering waterfalls and acres of woodland. As I set off on a hike with guide Angelo, thick flakes of snow begin to fall and within minutes, the ground is blanketed. Angelo tells me we’re lucky; he’s never guided in snow during his three seasons at the park.

Moya takes in the Narnia-esque Plitvice Lakes National Park.

The snowfall transforms the lakes into Narnia; a winter wonderland I wouldn’t believe was real if it wasn’t for the lost circulation in my fingertips. But it’s here, it’s tangible and it’s the cherry on top of a stay that’s proved why Zagreb should be on every travel list in 2019.

Rooms at Canopy by Hilton Zagreb City Centre start from £116 including breakfast; canopy3.hilton.com

Images: Getty and Canopy Hilton 

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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is Stylist’s editorial assistant where she spends her time inventing ways to shoehorn Robbie Williams into pieces. A reoffending dancefloor menace, a weekend finds her taking up too much space at disco nights around the city and subsequently recovering with dark sunglasses and late brunch the next day. 

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