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A Baroque jewel of fine palaces and churches, Varaždin was a fortress town, a Habsburg stronghold against the Ottomans. Croatian aristocrats who prospered from these border wars turned Varaždin into a lively centre of society and culture. Meetings of the Croatian parliament were held here, and the town may well have become the long-term capital of Croatia were it not for the great fire of 1776. Today, Varaždin hosts August’s Špancirfest, a ten-day-long series of parades, street performers, theatre, craftmanship and music concerts, but there’s more than enough going on any time of year to warrant the two-hour journey from Zagreb.