Ogulin is a small town in continental Croatia, located halfway between Rijeka and Karlovac in the Gorski Kotar mountain forest area. Founded in the 16th century, this Croatian town surrounds a Frankopan Castle. Myths and legends of fairies, witches, and elves from the deep forests surrounding Ogulin are part of the charm of the area.
Two rivers flow through deep gorges, and a beautiful lake rests to the south. These waterways lead to fantasy-inspiring villages outside the town of Ogulin, whose town limits are bordered by old stone bridges. Be sure to stop at these bridges, as they create their own fantasy-inspiring moments by framing views of the mountains to the west. Visitors can enjoy outdoor activities, mountaineering, castle exploring, and driving through the hills for some very lovely scenic sightseeing.
The first geological map of Croatia referred to the town as Julin Grad after the legend of Đula (also Zulejka or Zula), who threw herself into the abyss of the River Dobra because of an unhappy love affair. There are a few opinions surrounding the origin of the name “Ogulin”. One story claims that the surrounding woods needed to be cleared for more effective military defense of the town, so Ogulin received its name from the resulting clear cut “bare area” (ogolio in Croatian). The castle was built by the family Frankopan who owned many castles in Croatia. This one was for Prince Bernardin Frankopan and marked the boundaries of the town between Modruš and Vitunj. This special area has been referred to as the fairytale region of Croatia.
We arrived in Ogulin from the mountains to the north west, driving from Fužine through the mountains, then down into the town. On our scenic drive, we were amazed by the mountain Klek to our right. Standing high above the valley, this towering alpine monarch has a history all its own. The legend goes that during stormy nights around midnight, the fairies, witches, and elves from all over the world gather here on Klek for their meetings. As we continued on, we stopped to see an old stone bridge resting under the mountain vista to admire its amazing beauty. Continuing on toward Ogulin, we drove over another bridge right next to the castle and then turned into the parking for our hotel reservation.
We stayed at Hotel Frankopan, which is situated right next to the Frankopan Castle.
The hotel courtyard was renovated in 19th century style. We stayed in one of the four apartments, all of which offer lovely views. The view from our room was over the hotel courtyard with the castle in the background. Once we went outside to explore the castle, we found a surprise we didn’t expect. The entire part of the town is built on top of a deep gorge which leads into a massive cave. This castle was built on top of a huge cave system! The name of the area is Đula after the woman of myth who threw herself into the gorge.
According to a legend dating from the first half of the 16th century, Ogulin was named after a young girl, whose name is debated; her name was either Đula, Gyula or Zulejka. This story about the abyss of the river Dobra (translates to “good”) has resided in local imaginations for generations since.
She was the daughter of John Esq. Gušić, the Ogulin commander of the fortress. As was the custom of that time, women were promised in marriage, and she was promised to Zulejku, an older nobleman. However, the brave young captain Krajina Milan Jurišić came to Ogulin and the girl (Đula, Gyula, or Zulejka) fell in love with him. Milan was killed in battle with the Turks shortly afterward. Upon hearing this, the young maiden’s heart was broken and rather than marry Zulejku, Đula threw herself into the abyss of the river Dobra.
When visitors look toward the cliff above the abyss, they can see the profile of a man looking toward the abyss of a dark cavern. Ogulin inhabitants will say that it looks like Milan, missing his fair maiden Zulejka.
Source: (the best of Croatia)
Today, the castle is the Ogulin Heritage Museum, and it is open for visitors throughout the year. Here, history buffs can peruse relics from prehistoric times, and there are interpretive guides to help direct tourists through the museum and answer questions. Next to the castle, a cute house hosts young visitors for a fantasy experience in Ivana’s House of Fairy Tales. The interactive center is fantastic for kids.
The river Dobra also finds her origins in Ogulin, deep in a gorge on the other side of town. The river’s headwaters begin where there is a tiny spring of water cascading over the rocks to create a small waterfall. Outside the town limits there are many hiking trails. Mountaineers from all over Croatia come to hike up Klek. There is also a nice walking area along the lake for a leisurely stroll.
We enjoyed the dinner at the Frankopan hotel – their food is fresh and flavorful. There is no wine in this region of Croatia, so we tried a lovely Bosnian wine from their collection. The hotel restaurant boasts a diverse wine cellar to explore.
Remember those hiking shoes – it’s a wet area with lots of springs, rivers and lakes which makes the terrain a bit slippery and muddy.
Stop to take pictures of the lovely church outside of town. When entering town, after the stone bridge, the next left is the church.
Plan one or two nights in Ogulin, then allow time to drive the back roads to Karlovac. It’s a lovely mountain road with idyllic scenery, and there is a gem of a stop along the way at a magical village I’ll be sharing in next week’s blog post.