In Krapinske Toplice: along the Sutla River - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

September 4, 2020

In Krapinske Toplice: along the Sutla River

Today’s interesting geographical fact, which somehow escaped me until now: Zagorje is the Croatian word for behind the hills or backland, and refers to this terrain on opposite side of Zagreb from Medvednica, the mountain that towers above it to the north.   And, I’ve been wrong in thinking of it as a county.  It comprises both Krapina-Zagorje County, the one we’re in today, as we’ll as west-central Varaždin County.

Which brings to mind a region of northern Greece we cycled through two years back: a cluster of beautiful, remote stone villages near the Albanian border.  They were in a small area also described as behind the hills, but in Greek of course.  Looking back at an entry from that journal, I’m startled to be reminded that they are Zagorichoria, or the Zagori Villages.  The Croatian and Greek words must stem from the same Slavic origin.

For today’s ride we’re heading to the far northwest corner of the region, to the slender miniscus of bottomland along the Sutla River that forms part of the border with Slovenia (the Slovenes, who have their own language, call this river the Sotla).  It’s the part of the region I’ve been most curious to see here, partly because we also saw it 22 years ago from the Slovenian side.  I have fond but dim memories of riding through this valley to Olimje, on our way to a charming two night stay there.  Our layover in Olimje was spent hiking, and after all these years I still think back on that day as my favorite dog story ever.  At some point on our ride to Olimje we illicitly crossed the border into Croatia to ride on what looked to be a much quieter road on the Croatian side, a road I believe we’ll be following today.

To reach the Sutla River from here, we’ll bike straight north up the Kosteljina, the small river that flows from the mountains to the north down through this town, Krapinske Toplice.  Beyond that we have a bit of a climb to leave the valley before dropping down the other side to the Sutla.  From there we’ll follow the river and the border for ten or fifteen miles before cutting back east toward our home of the moment; and, this being the Zagorje, we’ll cross a few low but annoyingly steep ridges on the way back.

We have a near-perfect day for the ride.  After the morning fog burns off we bike north on a crisp, clear morning with great visibility.  It will be well on the warm side when we cross over those last annoyingly steep ridges in the early afternoon, and we’ll be tired and hungry by then and ready to call it a day.

In between though, this is just about as good as cycling gets.  Let’s look.

The washing machine here works much better than that nefarious one in Krapina that tried to eat our clothes. Looks like the dryer should work well too.
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There was a dense fog over the valley when we arose today, but it quickly burned off and revealed the hills and a full moon.
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Demonstrating my new mastery of our espresso machine here in Krapinske Toplice. Rachael’s tired of waiting on me and gave me a quick tutorial. I feel so smart now!
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Heading north, following the tiny Kosteljina River. Discouraging - only a mile from town, and already she’s almost out of sight up there.
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Atmospheric wreck of the day.
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Leaving the Kosteljina Valley, we begin climbing and soon enter the wine belt. I imagine these hills are speckled with klopotecs, but on this windless day they aren’t announcing themselves.
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This short 15 per center isn’t too steep for Rachael (even I made it). She’s walking because a string of cars passed her on the narrow road, forcing her to dismount, and it was too hard to get started again.
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The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Pregrada. Pregrada, population 1,800, Is one of the larger towns in Zagorje and the largest we’ll pass through today.
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No idea what this fine old building is, but it gave me an excuse to break up the climb for a minute.
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Still following the Kosteljina, we climb toward the high point of the day: an 1,200’ saddle that divides this basin from the valley carved by the Sutla River. And yes, that looks like a ruin atop the hill ahead.
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Looking up at the ruins of Kostelgrad castle.
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I really admires this fine old structure.
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Worth a second look, so you can appreciate its fine craftsmanship.
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Here’s some detailing you’d miss in the photo above. It’s zoomed in on the interior of the upper left corner.
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There’s a store at the top, so Rachael stops for snacks since the ride is taking longer than she’d planned on.
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Gliding along at the top. Rachael is bellowing at me from behind to wait up, because she’s tired of carrying my wallet that I lent her at the store.
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Fantastic views from the top. Here, we’re looking north toward the hills of Slovenia in the distance.
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S: Shall we stop for lunch soon? R: No, it will take too long, and I want to have lunch when we get home. S (a bit confused): So can we stop for a snack then? R: Yes, and right now. I’m starving! Let’s break out the chips I just bought!
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On the glorious drop to the Sutla River.
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Video sound track: Can’t Keep It In, by Cat Stevens

The Sutla River seems barely a stream at this time of year, but it forms the Croatian/Slovenian border here (the Slovenians call it the Sotla). Here we’re looking at a pedestrian border crossing.
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We enjoy a gorgeous ten mile ride along the river. The road on the right is in Slovenia, and much busier. I’m pretty sure we biked on today’s road not far from here on our tour of Slovenia, when we snuck across the border to ride on a quieter road for a while.
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Along the Sutla River.
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Looking across the Sutla/Sotla to the Slovenian side. It’s noon, and the bells from that church on top of the ridge toll faintly across the valley.
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A great gourd gallery. G!
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We haven’t seen one of these corn drying racks since we were in Slovenia; but then, we’re only a few hundred feet from Slovenia here.
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Suzanne GibsonCool corn cob collection. C!
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonSo there’s a challenge! Two down, 24 to go!
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2 weeks ago
Looking across the spa town Atomske Toplice, we see Podčetrtek Castle. In our tour of Slovenia we stayed for a couple of nights in Olimje, in the valley just below the castle.
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Podčetrtek Castle.
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Yow, this is scary. It looks like a medieval torture device.
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Suzanne GibsonTerrible triangular torture tool. T!
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonHey! You’re running the table! Save a few letters for me. And not just the diacritically marked Croatian ones either.
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2 weeks ago
The Slovenes and Croats must not have always been on the best of terms. This is Velika Tabor Castle, three miles east of Podčetrtek Castle, on the Croatian side of the valley.
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One last beautiful townscape before we drop back to the valley and race home so Rachael won’t be late for lunch. This is Desinić.
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Church and bicycle, Desinić.
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Suzanne GibsonAre arches always angular? A!
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2 weeks ago
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Ride stats today: 46 miles, 2,800’; for the tour: 594 miles, 17,700’

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 594 miles (956 km)

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Noreen BreAccording to Wikipedia, the Greek region of Zagori is indeed derived from the Slavic word as in the Byzantine period some Slavs settled there. Generally, "behind the mountains" seems to be a popular description as to where your settlement can be found among the Slavs: Zagorё in northern Albania, Záhorie in western Slovakia, Zagorje can be found at least 3 times in Slovenia plus once in Kosovo and Bosnia/Herzegovina, respectively. And then there is Zagóra in Poland (about 6 times) as well as Stara Zagora in Bulgaria. I may have missed a few! I guess one could be kept quite busy linking all these villages/towns to a Poland to Greece cycling tour ...
Thanks for all the work you put into that journal by the way, I might be enjoying your tour nearly as much as you are!
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Noreen BreNoreen! How nice to hear from you again. I remember how appreciative I was last fall I’m Extremadura when you identified a stonechat for me.

Thank you for following along. If you’re enjoying this half as much as we are, you must be having a good time here. It’s hard to overstate how great it is to be here this autumn.

And thanks for the research! You saved me some work. It was on my list for a rainy day to look for other behind the mountain backwaters.
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2 weeks ago
Jen GrumbyThanks for the link to the great dog story. I like the photo of you scratching dog #2's belly!
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2 weeks ago
Jen GrumbyAlso, perfect song for the video of today's beautiful ride!
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2 weeks ago