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Join the Špancirfest

August 17, 2010 by · 1 comment

Klara Barcic

When people who like to travel talk about Croatia, they usually talk about its magnificent coast and its 1200 islands, covered with green carpets of scented Mediterranean vegetation. Little is known about its hinterland. Indeed, it is difficult to count all the sights to be seen and all the cities that well deserve to be visited, but we can definitely propose a visit to Varaždin, a baroque city in the north of Croatia easily reachable by bus, train or by car (approximately one hour from Zagreb on the A4 motorway).

Photo: samosvoja

Today I’d like to take you to the Špancirfest, one of many events the city offers to its visitors, but before we disappear in the festival’s jam, I suggest you take a glance at some of the city’s sights. The most important one is certainly the Old Town, a fortress first mentioned in the 12th century. Its familiar baroque style goes back to the end of the 16th century. Today a fortress hosts the Varaždin Municipal Museum.


A former Jesuit church, built in the period from 1642 to 1646, and now known as Varaždin’s cathedral, follows the lavish decoration of the rest of the city. A visitor should pay particular attention to its baroque portal, the paintings inside the church and visit the eighteenth-century altar.


While walking through the city, do not forget to pop into the parish church of St. Nicholas on Freedom Square (Trg Slobode), rebuilt in the baroque style during the 18th century. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Varaždin. Many centuries ago the church as well as its surrounding square represented the centre and life of the city. Continuing your walk you will perceive many baroque palaces, built from the second half of the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century by noble Croatian families or by noble families of foreign origin. And yes, don’t forget to add to your itinerary the Varaždin cemetery, abundantly decorated with large trees and alleys, a place of peace and meditation.

Another event you should put on your agenda are Varaždin Baroque Evenings, organized and held every year in September. A series of baroque music concerts are performed by Croatian musicians not only in Varaždin but also in other places around the Varaždin area (like for example in the remarkable Trakošćan castle).

Špancirfest, a street and city festival, a festival of city strollers, is at its 12th edition, and is usually held in the second half of August lasting ten days. This year the event will take place from August 20 to August 28. Everyone who wants to participate in it is very welcome, since it is an international festival based on multiculturalism, tradition and creativity. This year the deadline for submitting the application was February 15.


International and Croatian artists perform in the streets and squares which are full to the brim, especially on the weekends, trying to entertain every visitor. A variety of children’s shows and performances at small puppet theatres will fill the youngest visitors as well as their parents with joy. Those adults and/or children who like to be creative, can also join all sorts of creative workshops, multimedia and visual arts. Street musicians, both individuals and bands, will endeavour to make your promenade through the city very pleasant.


The performers are not the only part of the Špancirfest. Another important group of the participants are vendors, the people who come with their cake, food and handicraft stalls. The good smell of freshly barbecued sausages and pork meat will invite a visitor to stop and to taste the delicacies. These places are usually always fully packed and, if you happen to be there at lunch time, you might not find a place to sit. But then having lunch standing up and elbowing someone at your side, is part of the day’s experience. After the lunch break, your energy is replenished and you can take up your strolling through the festive streets again.


Are you interested in lacemaking? Well, if so you will see plenty of stalls with lacecraft, mostly from Međimurje (a Croatian region that borders Slovenia in the north-west and Hungary in the east) and Lepoglava (a town in the county of Varaždin). Lacemaking is a centuries-long tradition in Croatia. The cooperative Lepoglavska čipka (that is, Lace from Lepoglava) was founded in 2003 and its purpose is to keep the lacemaking tradition alive by transmitting the skills to a young generation of lacemakers. The cooperative has in fact been awarded prize recognition for the originality of its laces. It is no surprise that the laces from Lepoglava are now considered the most original Croatian souvenir of inestimable ethnographic value.

And what about cookies and sweets? Among thousands of sorts on display, it will be a hard choice to pick out the best one. Not only do your eyes relish the sight of them, but much more your palate will rejoice over their delicious taste. All the cookies are strictly homemade, according to the legendary Croatian baking recipes. Ingredients such as butter, nuts, hazelnuts and homemade jam are the best guarantee for their high quality.

While moving through the crowd and tasting the cookies you will catch glimpses of groups of ladies attired in long colourful gowns. Their faces look lighthearted and they seem to be deeply immersed in their long conversations. For a moment you will have the impression you are back in the 19th century. And maybe your impression won’t lead you astray; as all the Špancirfest is a photograph of past times when people used to get together in the streets and sit in coffeehouses.


Both streets and coffeehouses, were places of social interaction. People would talk for hours discussing the last happenings in the city, sharing points of view on cultural events and, occasionally, at the same time, adding snippets of gossip on top. They were happy go-lucky times so why not have a taste of them again by joining the Špancirfest. It is not sufficient to look at the brochure of the festival, it is much more important to go there and to get into the spirit of the festival and become part of the event. Only in this way you will be able to preserve the most precious photographs of the city of Varaždin and of its Špancirfest.


As you probably know, the most beautiful pictures ever are those snapped by the heart.


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