We have all been at that point in our childhood when we were fantasizing about what we want to become one day. But before dreaming about being astronauts, doctors or garbage men (yes, some kids actually come up with this idea), we dreamt about being either princes or princesses. And that of course, entailed having our own castle.
Once a privilege that required royal riches, living or staying amid palatial surroundings is quite doable nowadays. Nothing has such a pure fantasy appeal like staying in a castle. And there’s no reason for first time visitors to fret, heating and plumbing have come a long way since medieval times.
While conducting research to come up with suggestions for the Croatian government on how to utilize a multitude of precious historic buildings that are scattered around the country, I couldn’t help but be impressed with European countries whose vision of revitalizing and utilizing these buildings for their own benefit, has come to life. In many European countries castles are one of main tourist attractions and a significant source of revenue, not only to its owners.
It all started with creation of Spanish Paradores- one of the most profitable luxury hotel chains in the world. The history of the Paradores dates back to 1910 when the government of Spain led by José Canalejas, initiated a project of creating a hotel structure with the intention to preserve and present Spanish cultural and historical heritage to the world. Moreover, the project aimed to create jobs and a better socioeconomic situation for the poorer regions in the country and also to encourage increased contact and collaboration between them. And it did.
Inspired by this excellent example, many European countries have turned their castles not only into luxury hotel chains, but also into rentals, hostels, museums, libraries, universities, members-only country clubs, luxury residence buildings and art centres. Many of them are also revamped into event venues, gaining world popularity by hosting high-profile weddings of celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Eros Ramazzotti and Petra Ecclestone (Italian Castello Orsini-Odescalchi), Madonna and Ashley Judd (Scottish Skibo Castle), and Avril Lavigne (French Château de La Napoule).
On the other hand, there are countries in which these precious historic works of art are being unused, used for unsuitable purposes, or simply left to decay. And this is where our Bearing team puts years of our regional development experience into use.
Croatia has more than 1.000 historic buildings whose construction can be followed with certainty over the last 2.000 years. From Roman villas and palaces like Diocletian’s palace in Split, to medieval castles and renaissance villas in Dalmatia, there are many examples of restored castles. However, a large number has also fallen into disrepair and is in need of restoration. According to analysis, 45 % of these castles are in very poor condition, and from the ones that are being used, 37 % is misused. For example, a valuable 18th century baroque castle Gornja Bistra has been used as a hospital from 1959, while the castle’s interior is adorned with many exquisite ornaments, beautiful furniture, frescoes and a painted ceiling.
Among manors that are currently ruins, Opeka manor stands out by its large 64-hectare arboretum that counts more than 100.000 specimens of trees, bushes, vines and flowers. It is one of the most precious parks of continental Croatia, and one of the world famous English-style parks, and yet it is completely neglected.
These historic buildings are not just plain structures, they are unique and unrepeatable cultural heritage. It is of importance to acknowledge them as initiators of cultural, regional, and economic development and turn them into welcoming places where the reality lives up to the fairy tale of having your own castle.