Many people split Croatia into three main regions; Istria, Slavonia and Dalmatia; however, the regions of Kvarner and Central Croatia are often not mentioned… quite odd considering that these regions have the oldest tourism tradition. Perhaps many just focus on three regions to simplify the equation, including Central Croatia under Slavonia and blending Kvarner between Istria and Dalmatia, but; who knows. Now let’s take a closer look at the imperial region of Central Croatia first.
Although its borders are slightly ambiguous and defined differently by everyone you’ll speak to, but in a nutshell, it is the region between Istria and Slavonia with the country’s capital of Zagreb tucked into its middle. Actually, Central Croatia is home to some of the most significant castles and forts from the former Kingdom of Croatia and Austro-Hungarian Empire so as far as culture and medieval history is concerned, this is the place to go.
Drive along the fairytale landscape in the rolling hills of Hrvatsko Zagorje to encounter the world’s finest concentration of medieval castles and manor houses built for Croatian kings and nobles of the Habsburg Monarchy. A must is a visit to the 13th century Trakošćan Castle and 15th century Veliki Tabor Castle, considered to be the most beautiful medieval castles in the country.
Let’s not forget Međimurje, Croatia’s flower garden and smallest county located between the Drava and Mura Rivers. For a little history and culture, head to the main town of Čakovec and take part in the Fašnik carnival, dedicated to scare away the demons of darkness and winter, and pop into the fortified town of Zrinski and the Secession Palace. Choose Međimurje for a spa retreat and dive into a pool in Sveti Martin, where Roman soldiers once healed their wounds between battles…and end off with a round of golf!
Think baroque, think Varaždin. The town of Varaždin, an hour’s drive north of Zagreb, is much like a little Vienna as it boasts the most impressive examples of baroque architecture in the country. Visit on a Saturday and experience the guard-change ceremony in front of the 1523 baroque town hall before visiting Sermage Palace for art and the Herzer Palace for insects (yes, insects!). For baroque galore, attend the Varaždin Baroque Evenings in September where classical music performances take place across town.
Zagreb, other than being the capital city and economic center of the country, is a cultural hub where cobblestone streets guide you to breathtaking vistas, fascinating museums and galleries, fancy parks, and charming cafes. Experience Zagreb by heading up to Gonji Grad (Upper Town) to get a slice of history before gliding down the 1890 funicular-tram to mingle with the urbanites on the grand Ban Jelačić Square.
A town you cannot avoid is Karlovac, on the crossroads between coastal Croatia and the hinterland. This charming town is known as the town of four rivers, as it sits calmly between the Korana, Kupa, Mrežnica and Dobra, making it an ideal destination for active holidays; rafting, fishing, canoeing, and a game of volley on the Foginovo river beach. Karlovac is the home of the much-loved Karlovačko beer and to celebrate the glory of pilsners and lagers, come at the end of September for a 10-day beer bonanza. Oh, and let’s not forget to pack in a little history to your stay by visiting the core of town, a 16th century fortification with bastions forming a six-pointed star.
So you’ve planned your island hopping; why not squeeze in a little county hopping in Central Croatia? Have you climbed a medieval tower in Zagorje? studied insects in Varaždin? or downed a beer in Karlovac? Tell us about it..!