48 hours in Zagreb

If you want to go somewhere different this summer, away from the tourist hordes, then Croatia's capital city offers ancient buildings, quiet boulevards... and excellent fruit brandy.

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Zagreb is one of Europe's few undiscovered capital cities. Contrary to popular belief, there is no longer a war on - and even when the rest of Croatia was involved in fighting, Zagreb was pretty much untouched. But the effect has been that there are, as yet, very few tourists visiting this outpost of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, which makes it a delightful spot for a weekend away from it all.

BEAM DOWN

Croatia Airlines (020 8563 0022) flies daily between Heathrow and Zagreb; tickets start at £190 return. British Airways (0345 222111; www.british-airways.com) flies from Gatwick to Zagreb every day except Wednesday and Saturday, from £219.70 return. No visas are needed for anyone holding a British passport. Buses between the airport and the city centre bus station (1) run every half-hour in each direction.

CHECK IN

The oldest hotel in Zagreb is the recently refurbished Esplanade (2) at Mihanoviceva 1 (00 385 1 45 66 666; www.esplanade.tel.hr/esplanade), next to the station (3). It was built to accommodate passengers from the Orient Express, which used to stop in the city. Double rooms start at 1399 kunas (£116), without breakfast; there is a 30 per cent discount at weekends. Rather more modest, but right at the heart of the action, is the Pansion Jagerhorn (4) at Ilica 14 (00 385 1 4830 161). It is easy to miss, but quieter than its city-centre location might suggest. Double rooms start at 650 kunas (£54), including breakfast.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Unusually for a city with a river, the water has never been the focal point. The river Sava is to the south of the centre, separating the unattractive modern suburb of Novi Zagreb from the Zagreb that the tourists come to see. The lower town (Donji Grad) (5) is the liveliest district, while the government and administrative buildings are spread across the two hills of Kaptol and Gradec in the historic Gornji Grad (6), or upper town. For a free information pack, contact the Croatian National Tourist Office on 020 8563 7979.

TAKE A RIDE

A funicular railway (7) links the lower and upper towns, and although there are several streets and flights of steps that connect the two, this is a pleasant way to admire the layout of the city. The trip takes you up to a 13th-century watchtower (8), from which there is a panoramic view over Zagreb. If you are on or near the funicular at midday, don't be surprised when a cannon is fired across the city, a tradition dating from the 16th century. According to legend, it was installed in the tower to defend Zagreb from the Turks, massed across the Sava river waiting to invade. The first attempt at firing it worked so well that, although they were far away, some of the Turks were killed. The cannon has been fired daily as a precaution ever since, just in case they should ever think of coming back.

CULTURAL MORNING

Any kind of cultural activity - at least in the sense of visiting museums - should be done in the morning, since many close on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There is a museum to suit every taste, but worth a detour, for the architecture alone, is the Art Pavilion (9), built for an exhibition in Budapest in 1896 and later moved to Zagreb. The 17th-century house where Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia's best-known sculptor and artist, had his workshop (10), is attractive, and the simple pictures on display at the Naive Art museum (11) reflect a style that is very popular in the region.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Kerempuh (12) is a small café with a pleasant terrace overlooking a corner of Zagreb's market; it is known for its home cooking and traditional Croatian recipes. Everything is bought fresh from the market as it is needed, so nothing is ever kept hanging around; the owner prides himself on having no need for a fridge. No food is served on Sundays, although the café is open for drinks. The market is worth looking at while you are there; a covered area below the square is good for meat, fish, local cheeses and bread, while in the open section, stalls are piled high with fruit and vegetables brought in from all over Croatia.

WINDOW SHOPPING

The main shopping street is Ilica (13), which cuts through the city from west to east, dividing the lower and upper towns. There is a department store on the right hand side as you leave the main Trg bana Jelacica square (14), but Zagreb is not a great place for souvenirs. If you want something to take home, you can buy bottles of the local wine or olive oil in branches of the supermarket Konzum, which are all over the city.

TAKE A HIKE

The upper town, deserted at weekends as the locals relax in cafés along ulitsa Tkalciceva (15), is easy to explore. From the tower at the top of the funicular, head for St Mark's church (16), and around it the Sabor (17), or parliament, and the city's first theatre. Don't miss the medieval Stone Gate (18), and its candlelit shrine.

AN APERITIF

The traditional Croatian aperitif is fruit brandy. The local beer is Ozujsko, and there is also a huge variety of good wines. To rub shoulders with Croatia's celebs, go to Charlie's (19) at Gajeva 4 (00 385 1 4811 039). Quieter is the candlelit garden at Tolkien's House (20) (rooms are decorated after scenes in Tolkien's novels).

DEMURE DINNER

Although Zagreb is miles from the sea, fresh fish is popular and is flown into the capital several times a day from the coast. There are various restaurants specialising in fish, among the best of which is Murter (21), at Kaptol 27 (00 385 1 4817 745). Particularly worth trying is the black risotto, made from squid ink.

SUNDAY MORNING

The Miragoj cemetery (22), to the north-east of Zagreb, offers an interesting glimpse into Croatian life. It is surprisingly busy at weekends as people come to tend family burial plots or bring flowers to the grave of Franjo Tudjman, the president of Croatia who died last year. Take the 106 bus from Kaptol.

BRACING BRUNCH

For a city which seems to have more cafés per head than most, it can be surprisingly difficult to find anything substantial to eat on Sunday. A welcome exception is Kaptolski Klet (23), opposite the cathedral at Kaptol 5 (00 385 1 4814 838). A restaurant with a shady courtyard, it serves a good selection of typical dishes.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

It is possible to get out of Zagreb and into the mountains in under an hour. Start in Trg bana Jelacica square, and take a couple of trams - the 14 to Mihaljevac, and the 15 to Dolje. A 15-minute walk will take you to the base of the Zicara cable-car (24); the path is clearly sign-posted. This goes to the top of the mountain, where there are several cafés, and clearly marked paths back down through the forest to the end of the tramline.

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