Croatia Online - Varaždin
In the course of researching our Croatia Cruising Companion, covering the Dalmatian Coast and Islands, we've come across some extremely photogenic villages and towns. Inland Varaždin has to rank high amongst Croatia's best, alongside the likes of Sučurac and Vrboska on Hvar island, Sali on Dugi Otok, and Primošten, Trogir and Šibenik on the Dalmatian mainland.
Varaždin, particularly its 14th century castle pictured in the background, has a slight feel of Portmeirion in Wales, made famous by The Prisoner TV series, though Portmeirion is based on the Italian city of Portofino and Varaždin is distinctly Habsburg. Whilst the castle and its manicured gardens is arguably the centrepiece, this city, once Croatia's capital, is bursting with architectural delights packed into a compact car free centre. In contrast with Dalmatia however, though there are bars a plenty, restaurants are not so abundant and most are in side streets leaving the prime locations for boutiques and other shops.
On the hotel front, there are two good new ones this year - Varaždin, by the train station, and Istra in the centre. Just as well as the accomodation is full to capacity when big events are on like last weeks Baroque musical evenings. Good budget alternatives are Pansion Maltar, near the Turist hotel, and the rooms above the BBC bar, on the west of town, though these can get pretty full as well so try and book ahead.
For restaurants, The Zlatna Gusta is Varaždin's most feted. Next door is the Park which offers cheap menus popular with the town's students, as does the Raj. We ate a good value Pizza in lovely surroundings in Pizzeria Domenico and hunted high and low for somewhere different the following night that wasn't crammed with queuing students, or temporarily closed or seemingly inhospitable. Those more used to Dalmatian restaurants need to adjust to inland Croatian restaurants which are, on the whole, distinctly more formal, sometimes less populated, and much harder to suss out from the outside.
Varaždin is the perfect place for a weekend break with a great mix of culture, art, shops and history - and just the right size to wander around and get to know intimately in a few days. Only a 2 hour bus ride or 2.5 hour train journey from Zagreb as well!
"Prisoner" lovers will be interested to know that, as we researched Portmeirion more closely to see if our initial gut comparison was justified, we discovered that a remake of the series for 2009 was being considered. Link to http://tvseriesfinale.com/articles/the-prisoner-mckellen-and-caviezel-signed-for-2009-mini-series/ for more information on that or to http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/inpictures/pages/portmeirion.shtml?1 for pictures of Portmeirion to compare, for yourself, with those of Varaždin - tourist board link http://www.turizam-vzz.hr/en/posjetite/varazdin/