Straggling along the eastern side of the Sutla valley, hard against Croatia’s border with Slovenia, Kumrovec is a typical village of the Zagorje region, with vineyards, haystacks and clucking turkeys the defining features of its bucolic charm.
No wonder the centre of the village was designated as an open-air ethnographic museum, a conscientiously reconstructed huddle of traditional houses, workshops and barns that show what Zagorje life was like in the years before World War I.
However, there is another reason why the museum was placed in Kumrovec rather than elsewhere; namely that Marshal Tito, the communist autocrat who ruled Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980, was born here under the name Josip Broz on May 7, 1892.
Indeed many of the vistors to Kumrovec’s Old Village Museum (open Apr-Sept 9am-7pm daily, Oct-Mar 9am-4pm daily, 25kn) stop first at the house where Tito was born, a simple one-storey structure that stands at the core of this 40-building tribute to traditional peasant life. Inside are the practical, solid furnishings that a family of the time would have owned; sturdy beds that look like wooden boxes, and a central stove that was intended to heat all the rooms in the house. There’s a small display devoted to Tito’s career as a war leader and statesman, including one of the uniforms he wore in 1944, and photographs of him hosting US president Richard Nixon in Zagreb in 1970.
Occupying centre stage the milky marble bust by Antun Augustinčić of the Yugoslav strongman. It stood in the office of the Croatian president until last year, when incoming head of state Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović decided that it was no longer fitting for a democratically elected leader to keep such authoritarian souvenirs on their sideboard.
Kumrovec isn’t the only place in Croatia associated with the enduringly potent but still ambiguous cult of Tito. However, it is the place that tends to attract pilgrims on significant dates, such as May 7 (the date of his death) or May 25 (the dictator’s official ‘birthday’). A quick flick through the visitors’ book reveals that the man is still the object of respect, even veneration, for many of the people who make the trip to his birthplace.
And what of the rest of the village museum? Well it’s a delightful assemblage of old farm buildings, many hung with corncobs and fringed with well-trimmed gardens. Several feature staged scenes of traditional rural culture, such as a Zagorje-style wedding complete with costumed mannequins, the blacksmith’s forge and the wheelmaker’s workshop. Houses belonging to the gingerbread heart-maker and the toymaker add plenty in the way of charm and colour.
A tavern in the museum grounds serves Zagorje specialties such as štrukli (boiled or baked parcels of dough filled with cheese or jam) and hearty cuts of pork. For slightly more sophisticated dining head for Villa Zelenjak tucked into a narrow part of the valley four kilometres south of Kumrovec, where you can dine on trout, veal or the protected Zagorje turkey and Zagorje mlinci (both of which are among Croatia's best delicacies) in an elegant dining room or on an outdoor wooden deck.
Kumrovec lies 65km northwest of Zagreb, a pleasant drive through green rolling hills. You can also get here on a combination of train and railway-operated bus (changing at Savski Marof) from the main station in Zagreb.
Should you wish to stay, Hostel Kumrovec (049 553 112) has simple doubles and triples in the village itself; otherwise rooms at the Villa Zelenjak (049 550 747) offer more in the cute-and-cosy department.