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Varaždinska zupanija, or Varaždin County, stretches across approximately 1,262 square kilometers of Croatia's territory, with an estimation of 175,951 people living in the area. The county contributes to Croatia's state borders with Slovenia to the northwest. At the same time, it neighbors Međimurje County to the north, Krapina-Zagorje County to the southwest, Zagreb County to the south, and Koprivnica-Križevci County to the southeast. Varaždin County bears historical significance as it is the oldest Croatia county. Thus, a number of historical and cultural landmarks can be spotted in its Old Town. Another city that is notable for attracting visitors to Varaždinska zupanija is Varaždinske Toplice, known for its thermal spas and baths. Reportedly, the local thermal springs have been exploited already during ancient times by Romans. In terms of nature, the Drava River traverses the county, with three reservoirs, Lake Ormož, Lake Varaždin, and Lake Dubrava, found along its flow. Ivanščica and Kalnik are among the predominant mountains in the county. Thus, people also tend to visit Varaždin County to engage in various outdoor activities, such as cycling or hiking.
Some of the most prominent attractions of Varaždin pertain to its historical and artistic heritage, as the city is a preserved Baroque urban center in both Croatia and the broader region. The city's historic core features palaces, public buildings, houses, and villas that are characterized by various architectural styles from Baroque to Classicism. The Old Town holds considerable historical and architectural significance. Varaždin's historic Old Town is represented by a feudal fortress, which stands as the city's predominant historical building. Its origins date back to the 14th century, and over time, it underwent renovations and expansions, transitioning into the Wasserburg castle with fortifications against Ottoman invasions. The fort passed through the hands of various noble families before becoming the city's property in 1925, now housing the city museum. The Old Town showcases its cultural and historical heritage with various collections as well as the Tower—also known as the "Watchtower"—with a chain bridge that serves as a remnant of the former defense system, now connecting the fortress to the city.
Varaždinske Toplice is a town in the landscapes of Hrvatsko Zagorje, acknowledged for its natural thermal water spring that has been used for therapy and treatment since ancient times. The town's history dates back to the Roman Empire when it was called Aqua Iasae. Today, Varaždinske Toplice is the oldest thermal spa in Croatia, offering spa facilities and medical rehabilitation services. The thermal water rises from a depth of almost 1,800 meters, with an average temperature of 58 °C. The town also hosts various events and festivals.
One of the historical attractions in the Varaždinska Zupanija is Castle Trakošćan, a medieval fortress built in the late 13th century as part of the defense network in northwestern Croatia. During the 18th century, the castle was neglected. In the 19th century, it was restored in a German romantic style, and eventually, in 1953, it became a museum owned by the Republic of Croatia. Today, the castle features a museum and a forest park, a preserved part of the former estate of the Counts Drašković, forming a historical and natural unity. The forest park boasts diverse flora and fauna. Apart from a lake, the area also features the Holly Cross Chapel and an educational pathway called the Faerie Path.
Concerning some outdoor activity options, Varaždin County offers several road bike routes and one partially off-road route for cycling enthusiasts. The Castle to Castle route takes visitors from Varaždin to Trakošćan Castle, showcasing the county's features, while the Toplice route leads to Varaždinske Toplice, known for its thermal spa. Drava bike trail is a 710 km-long bike path passing through four countries, including Croatia, with the Varaždin part of the trail offering views of the Drava River. For hikers, Ivanščica mountain, the highest mountain in continental Croatia, is one of the possible destinations. Another option is Ravna Gora, the last branch of the Alps.
Varaždinska zupanija is located in the central northern part of Croatia, contributing to the state borders with Slovenia to the northwest. The city of Varaždin is found in the northernmost part of the county in close proximity to Lake Varaždin, which stretches across the county's borders into Medimurje County. Another considerable water surface, also shared with Medimurje County, is Lake Dubrava, located to the east of Varaždin. Other towns in the county include Ivanec, Ludbreg, Lepoglava, Novi Marof, and Varaždinske Toplice, along with another 22 municipalities. The Drava River flows along Varaždinska Zupapanija's northern border, with three reservoirs - Lake Ormož, Lake Varaždin, and Lake Dubrava - partially situated within the county. Additionally, the Bednja River and the mountains of Ivanščica and Kalnik traverse the region.
Among geological protected areas in Varaždin County is Gaveznica-Kameni Vrh in Lepoglava, which is a preserved fossil volcano that dates back approximately 22 million years. Covered by younger sediments after its formation, it resurfaced about two million years ago. Today, it is a protected site and serves as a considerable scientific, educational, and tourist attraction. The area is known for being the first discovered agate deposit in Croatia, with agate stones of various shades from light blue to dark gray. Other semi-precious stones such as chalcedony, red jasper, and amethyst have also been found nearby. Moreover, the region has historical connections to minerals and mineralogy.
In terms of Varaždinska zupanija's natural heritage, people can visit the Opeka Arboretum, a protected natural and horticultural monument, reportedly ranking first among Croatia's three heritage arboretums. Its landscape is enriched with diverse plant species, including approximately 14,000 specimens of nearly 200 plants. The park's hilly hinterland features a cypress oak and sweet chestnut forest, while the plain hosts exotic species from various parts of the world.
Regarding climatic conditions and weather in the county's capital, Varaždin, the warmest month is generally July, with an average daily temperature of 28°C. Reportedly, January is the coldest month, as temperatures average high of 4°C. January also tends to be the driest month in Varaždin because it receives about 38 millimeters of rainfall on average. The most precipitation falls during July, with an average of nearly 88 millimeters.
The Varaždin County is "the oldest Croatian county," with its first mention dating back to August 20, 1181, in a charter by King Bela III. Over time, it expanded to include parts of present-day Krapina-Zagorje, Koprivnica-Križevačka, and Međimurje counties. The county exhibited a model of increasing independence in its governance, with the county assembly playing a pivotal role in decision-making and administration. Following the revolution of 1848 and the end of feudalism, the county underwent significant changes in its political structure.
The capital city, Varaždin, historically known as Garestin, has a history dating back to 1181, when it was first mentioned in a legal document by King Béla III. Over the centuries, it became a considerable economic and military center of northern Croatia. The town's ownership changed several times, and in 1756, it became the capital of all of Croatia, hosting the Croatian Sabor and Royal Croatian Council. However, the Reformation and counter-reformation periods influenced its development, with several Baroque-style buildings being erected during that time. The city experienced a fire in 1776, leading to the relocation of administrative institutions back to Zagreb. In the 20th century, Varaždin became an industrial center and played a role in the Croatian War of Independence in 1991.
One of the historical destinations in Varaždin County is the town of Ludbreg, one of Croatia's oldest settlements, with a history dating back to ancient times. The area was once home to the Romans, who built Castrum Iovia "with complete infrastructure and thermal baths." Over the centuries, Ludbreg became a crossroads for trade and witnessed the passage of Illyrians, Celts, Tatar and Turkish hordes, and others. The Romans established a settlement alongside their monumental building IOVIU. As time passed, Ludbreg developed further, and Christianity began to spread in the region. Today's old town stands on the site of the ancient settlement as a testament to its ancient roots.
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