Samobor is an easy hop, only 20km west of Zagreb near the Slovene border. A cantonal centre under Napoleon, Samobor has always been an important stop between Zagreb and the sea.
Many travellers alighted at the hotel K Gradu Trstu on their way to or from Trieste. It was also at the hub of the 19th-century Illyrian movement and attracted many a Croatian poet, writer and politician whose works called for independence. A tradition of folk carnivals and balls is maintained to this day.
This dovetails nicely with Samobor’s penchant for leisure and relaxation. The first spa, Šmidhen, was opened in 1868, the first public park, Anindol, in 1883, and locals flocked here from Zagreb every weekend. By 1914, Samobor could boast three hotels, a boarding house, a restaurant, a coffeehouse and 50 pubs. Until 1979, the narrow-gauge Samoborček slowly shuttled between the capital and Samobor; today it’s a quicker but perhaps less bucolic journey by car or bus (from Črnomerec or the main bus station).
Visitors still come in numbers for relaxation, around Samobor’s main square of Trg kralja Tomislava, through its narrow streets, along the Gradna creek, and in the parks of Vugrinščak and Anindol. Well-preserved sights include the churches of Sv Anastazije and Sv Mihalja, and the chapel of Sv Ana. The Town Museum contains a small but delightful display of local ethnography.
Samobor’s other great asset is its proximity to a wealth of easy hiking opportunities. Šoićeva kuća, a rustic tavern located in a narrow valley 9km west of town, is the starting point for ascents of smooth wooded hills such as the 879m Japetić and 752m Oštrc. Scaling either summit shouldn’t take you much longer than about 90 minutes.
Samobor is, above all, noted for its gastronomic specialities, most famous of which is the samoborska kremšnita cream cake, taken with coffee or after lunch, ideally at the café of the Livadić Hotel, or at the U prolazu cake shop, both on the main square. Nearby is Filipec, owned by a famous local family, who still make the sweet and sour liqueur Bermet according to a secret recipe.
Food historians still dispute whether this mix of red wine, nutmeg, anise, vanilla, dried figs and carob came to Samobor with Napoleon or was an earlier creation by local pharmacists but one thing is sure – you must sip it in a small glass as an aperitif.
Muštarda definitely followed the French but it was modified too - you’ll find it today on every Samobor dining table. Made with mustard seeds, must and spices (another secret recipe owned by Filipec), muštarda may accompany boiled beef, chicken or sausages. Finally rudarska greblica is a pie made of cottage cheese, eggs and walnuts, found in cake shops and at the butcher’s stalls at the local produce market.
Try some of these local delights at one of Samobor’s traditional restaurants. Pri staroj vuri (Giznik 2, 01 336 0548) is set in a 19th century villa, its walls lined with historic local souvenirs. Pates, štrukli, rudarska greblica, stuffed veal breasts, pork and trout are the recommendations here, and there’s a playground outside too.
Gabrek 1929 (Starogradska 46, 01 336 0722) is the oldest working traditional restaurant in town, set opposite Vugrinščak Park. Huge portions of veal, pork, beef, sausage and livers are prepared in style. If humanly possible, try and leave room for the thick, stuffed pancakes afterwards. At both venues, book ahead, especially at weekends.
Kod Špilje (Otruševec 17/4, 01 337 5888; closed Mon), just outside Samobor in the village of Otruševec, is famous for its stuffed and grilled steaks, home-made soups and variety of rakija brandies. Inside, the fireplace is cosy in winter period of a year, outside there’s shade for summer. Again, book ahead. Samoborska klet (Trg kralja Tomislava 7, 01 332 6536) also offers shade, on the main square, plus grilled specialities and, if ordered in advance, veal, pork, game or octopus slow-cooked under the peka cooking bell.
Samobor Tourist Office - Trg Kralja Tomislava 5 (01 336 0044). Open 8am-5pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat; 10am-5pm Sun.