The Castle Jewels of Varazdin County: Trakoscan

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While Croatian tourism may be focused on the Adriatic coast and islands, there are some real gems to be discovered away from the crowds, whatever time of year. A visit to one of the best of them, Trakoscan Castle, close to the Slovenian border. 

Being a Dalmatian island boy, my view of Croatian tourism is somewhat blinded. Mass tourism on beaches, walking tours of charming walled coastal stone towns, there are the images which are conjured up in my mind after 14 years living on the island of Hvar.

Continental tourism has always been something I have known little about, apart from the obvious attractions such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes, with its million plus visitors every year, and of course the capital Zagreb, which is experiencing a real tourism boom in recent years.  

And so an invitation to visit Varazdin County recently had me intrigued. An area close to the capital, as well as the borders of Hungary, Slovenia and Austria (meaning it is very accessible to those tourism markets), Varazdin had always been for me a beautiful but rarely visited old town, with a hard-working population known for their innovation and technology. Quite what the charms of the county would be from a tourism persepective, I was not quite sure, but as you can learn in 25 Things to Know about Varazdin, there is more than enough for you to think of basing your next Croatian holiday there. 

The one place outside the city of Varazdin that i knew was not to miss was the famous Trakoscan Castle, and it was indeed amazing, but not for the reasons I had been suspecting.

The view of the castle, perched on top of a hill, is impressive indeed. A true fairytale castle seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and actually very close to the Slovenian border.  

Its foundations giving an indication of how difficult it has been to conquer over the centuries.

Trakoscan was built in the 13th century within Croatia’s northwestern fortification system, as a rather small observation fortress for monitoring the road from Ptuj to Bednja Valley.

According to a legend, Trakoscan was named after another fortification (arx Thacorum) that was alleged to have stood in the same spot back in antiquity. Another source claims that it was named after the knights of Drachenstein who were in control of the region in early Middle Ages.

Rather than go into great detail about the history of the castle, may I recommend this official tour of the castle above, which gives a much better account, complete with video tour, than this brief visitor could manage.  

Photography in the castle was for the most part not permitted, which was a shame, as there were plenty of fascinating artefacts to observe and appreciate, but for me the greatest magic of Trakoscan was looking away from the castle. For the nature was magnificent.  

Whichever way you looked, tranquil and spectacular views over this lesser explored gorgeous corner of northern Croatia.  

And while I did not visit in winter, it looks even more magical in those colder months. Check out the video below to see a truly fairytale castle glistening in the abundant snow. 

But back to the present, and the lake below looked particularly enticing. 

Apart from tourism, Trakoscan is still used today for official state functions, and although in need of some repair, it is extremely impressive close up. 

Trakoscan was the scene of an important political breakthrough in 2009, as then Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor made an important breakthrough on a long-running border dispute, agreeing to international arbitration. The meeting is commemorated with a plaque at the castle.  

But back outside to outside, the impresive ramparts, gorgeous blue sky, and nature… 

The lake was drawing me to it, and as I sauntered down, I saw I was not alone. The castle and lake are a popular destination for newlyweds – faitytale photos for that fairytale occasion.  

And while I wished the young happy couple all the luck in the world, I did not envy them the hours of photography ahead of them to capture their special day forever.  

Indeed, as we came round to an ideally located bar, a national television crew were heading in the direction of the newly married couple – their love would be captured as a centrepiece of a report about Trakoscan on television that evening.  

Which left me in the truly perfect position of having to put my feet up and enjoy the magnificent silence and gorgeous nature.  

Croatia has a wonderfully diverse tourism offer, much of which rarely makes the headlines away from the beach. And with a luxury four-star hotel with spa just around the corner, I can think of few places in the country better equipped to offer such a relaxing escape from the pressures of the modern world than Trakoscan. An outstanding castle, yes, but perhaps the bigger jewel is what lies around it. 

As they say in France, magnifique! 

And here is how Trakoscan looked in years gone by – and a summer aerial tour below. I encourage you to visit. 


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