Varaždin: Medieval City of Croatia
If you ever find yourself on the driving from Hungary to Croatia, along the southern shores of Lake Balaton, then you should probably consider stopping for lunch and a wander around the old town of Varaždin, Croatia. Aside from the occasional mention of its annual film festival, Varaždin doesn’t get a lot of press, nor is it featured in many guidebooks. Despite this, the town is charming and is the perfect spot to spend half a day or even overnight. My mother and I stopped here one afternoon while on a drive from Hungary to Trakoscan, Croatia. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around the old town and admiring the views of Varaždin‘s stunning medieval castle.
The city of Varaždin dates back to the 12th century and was once the capital of Croatia. The castle, which is arguably Varaždin‘s most noteworthy attraction, was built sometime during the 14th century and featured the iconic turreted towers and moat, the remains of which can still be seen today. The castle is open to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday year round and houses a small collection of armor and other artifacts. We were there on a Monday, when the castle is closed, so had to make do with wandering around the walls of the castle and nearby gatehouse.
While strolling around the streets of old town Varaždin, we stumbled upon another interesting feature. Next to a this yellow church is a smaller version of Split’s famous statue of Bishop Grgr Ninski (Gregory of Nin). Gregory was a bishop who defied the Pope and began conducting religious services in the native language rather than the traditional Latin, which the common folk were never able to understand. He’s essentially the Martin Luther of Croatia, if you will. As in Split, this smaller version of Grgr is also rumored to bring you luck if you partake in rubbing his big toe. It’s also not uncommon to see a local affectionately brush their hand across his feet as they walk by.
We finished our visit with a browse through a shop displaying locally crafted souvenirs and stop at a local creperie for lunch. Then it was back in the car for our drive to Trakoscan. One thing that we missed in Varaždin that I had really wanted to see was the Varaždin Cemetery, which is said to be not only the most beautiful cemetery in Croatia, but in all of Europe. I know it seems odd to want to visit a cemetery and to call one “beautiful,” but I often find cemeteries fascinating places to enjoy a peaceful stroll. Oftentimes, headstones and mausoleums are a form of artwork in and of themselves. Here is a link to an article from Atlas Obscura where you can see some photos and learn more about the history of the cemetery, its monuments, and their sculptors. This might not be up your alley, but it’s definitely a place you should consider seeing if you ever find yourself in the city of Varaždin.
Well, have I convinced you that Varaždin is a place to add to your list the next time you’re in Croatia? If not, I hope that this encourages you to visit small towns off the well beaten tourist track in Croatia or any other country you find yourself in. Thanks for reading and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.