The Croatian National Tourist Board has divided Croatia into six distinct tourist regions, and Central & Northern Croatia is one of these regions.
Međimurje County is located in northern Croatia, bordering to both Slovenia and Hungary, and with just 30 km of Slovenian territory separating it from Austria. With slightly more than 27,000 inhabitants, Čakovec is the largest city in Međimurje and also the county seat.
The north-western part of Međimurje is characterized by sloping Alpine foothills filled with vineyards. The south-eastern part of the county is much flatter an used to grow potatoes, maize and cereals, and there are also many apple orchards here.
In February each year, the Fašnik festival is celebrated in Međimurje, with masked people parading to drive away the demons of darkness and winter. Čakovec’s city center is the focal point for the celebrations, attracting plenty of participants and spectators from the surrounding areas. To signify victory over darkness and winter, a hay doll is set on fire at the central square at the end of the Fašnik.
The annual fair Porcijunkulovo is held in Čakovec between 30 July and 5 August. It’s a great opportunity to buy locally produced foods, drinks and crafts, and some producers will have shows where you can learn how the products are made.
The Međimurje countryside is dotted with castles and spas, and there are many clubs arranging activities such as mountaineering, parachuting, and flying unpowered and powered gliders. Fishing and hunting is also popular in this region.
The city of Varaždin is famous for its baroque buildings and music scene. Varaždin Old Town is a medieval fortress, where the oldest parts are from the 1300s. The rounded towers were added in the 1400s and are an excellent example of Gothic architecture in Croatia.
One of the largest of the annual festivals in Varaždin is the ten day long Špancir Fest in late August and early September. During Špancir Fest, the city streets are filled with musicians and other performers, as well as vendors.
Covering over 505 square kilometers, Lonjsko polje in Central Croatia is the largest protected wetland in the entire Danube basin, and an important protected area for many species of bird.
The wetland is named after the Lonja river (Lonjsko Polje means Fields of Lonja), a left tributary of the Sava river. Lonja flows through central Croatia, from the Kalnik mountains in the north. After Ivanic-Grad, it flows parallel to the Sava river, with Lonjsko polje covering the remainder of the Lonja river basin. Towards the end of its course, Lonja splits into two – one arm enters Sava at the eponymous village Lonja, while the other continues and reaches Sava 5.5 km downstream from the village Trebez.
Marija Bistrica in central Croatia is home to a Marian shrine of the Black Madonna that is one of the country’s largest pilgrimage sites (Marija Bistrica: Our Lady of Bistrica, Queen of Croatia). Each year, thousands of pilgrims visits the shrine, and in 1998 Pope John Paul II beatified the Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac here in front of half a million spectators, thereby recognizing that the dead cardinal had entered Heaven and had the capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who prayd in his name.
The Black Madonna here is at least as old as the 16th century, because we know that it wash hidden to save it from being destroyed by the invading Turkish forces in the 16th century. After the invasion, it remained hidden for several decades before it was re-discovered.