By now we all know what’s on the Croatia bucket list – the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Dubrovnik’s medieval walls, and at least one of Croatia’s growing roster of music festivals. However there’s a lot more to Croatia than meets the eye, so it’s well worth planning a few detours to take in some of the country’s contemporary architecture, offbeat attractions and unforeseen cultural connections.
Heartbreak House: Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships
For a voyage into the more tumescent recesses of the human psyche, there are few better starting points than Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships – a travelling art installation that became a permanently grounded museum in 2010. Based on mementoes donated by the public, it’s a compelling and unique museum of wistful memory and raw emotion, with exhibits ranging from garden gnomes to prosthetic limbs. Each is accompanied by a text explaining why it was so significant to the donor – some are touching, others quite kinky; and quite a few belong to the obsessive world of a David Lynch movie.
Adriatic Modernism: stay in the Hotel Lone
Throughout the 1960s and 70s the Adriatic coast experienced a boom in contemporary architecture, and there are signs that Croatia’s modernist traditions are making a comeback. Looming out of the trees above Lone Bay, just outside the chic Istrian resort of Rovinj, the amoeba-shaped Hotel Lone was designed by Zagreb architects 3LHD, and filled with furnishings, textiles and artworks supplied by Croatia’s leading creatives. Completed in 2011, it’s a rare example of a new Adriatic hotel that functions as both luxury accommodation and complete work of art. If you can’t afford a room, peek inside the circular lobby to see Ivana Franke’s geometric installation Room for Running Ghosts, or the textile wall-hangings knocked up by Zagreb fashion designers I-GLE.
Meet the ancestors (I): Krapina Neanderthal Museum
The discovery of Neanderthal bones near Krapina in 1899 puts this small north-Croatian town firmly on the European prehistory map. However, it took until 2010 for Krapina to get the museum it deserved – an ambitious, ultra-modern, hillside-hugging structure that is little short of a museum of life, the universe and everything. Visitors ascend a spiral pathway, confronting stages in the earth’s development from big bangs onwards. And as a tour de force in evolutionary theory, the museum seems guaranteed to send creationists squealing for the exits. The most entertaining aspects of the museum are devoted to the Neanderthals themselves – a film featuring human actors in prosthetic masks re-creates a day in the life of a Neanderthal tribe, and the display culminates in a diorama featuring startlingly lifelike Neanderthal dummies.