The official tagline of the Špancirfest Festival in Varaždin is ”A festival of good emotions”. This may well be best way to describe the event.
As we have already written, ‘’Špancirfest’’ is the biggest Croatian street festival. In the end of August the small baroque city of Varaždin hosts hundreds of acts and artists, from street performers, theater groups and visual artists to some of the biggest names in music.
During Špancirfest cobbled streets of the pedestrian zone in the city center are overflown with people. Tiny hidden squares become stages for jugglers, actors and musicians. The pavements become improvised exhibition spaces for painters, sculptors and an endless array of crafts. Food stands draw you in with the scents of traditional street foods: pretzels, sausages and traditional langoši (savory fried dough).
Walking through this slightly chaotic, but incredibly seductive mess of sounds, sights and scents, it is easy to get lost in time and space. The word ‘’špancir’’ means ‘’to stroll’’. You walk around in the crowds of people and watch the city change before your very eyes. In the end you can’t remember where you’ve been. One second you are watching a one man play, you go around the corner to get something to eat and when you come back there’s a light show in its place. You are constantly distracted, but you don’t mind. You just stroll aimlessly in wonder. There is always something to see, something to try, a memory to collect.
Literally everybody can find something of their liking. Špancirfest is imagined as a festival for everyone. You see couples with small children having a nice family day out and hipsters drinking beer in the park waiting for a rock concert that evening. There’s an opera production, a rock concert and a folk costume exhibition all within a hundred meters of one another. In the evening you can kick back and enjoy a nice chilled glass of white wine and listen to a smooth jazz quartet on a secluded green terrace. Or you can catch a show from some of the hippest urban music acts from all over the region and the world, on a unique stage beneath the old city castle. It’s entirely up to you.
What binds this eclectic event, and draws all types of people together is a common understanding that during the ten days of the festival there is no place for ‘’bad emotions’’. There is an inexplicable sense of joy and happiness everywhere you look. There are a few things in this world that universally evoke feelings of warmth. This general feel of Špancirfest falls into this category. Nothing feels artificial or forced. Everything is somehow spontaneous and well-intended, every interaction accompanied with a smile.
But even with all of the performers, entertainers, musicians and acts, the real hero of this charming event is the town of Vraždin itself. This small baroque town in the northwest of Croatia has a really specific charm. It just feels like a perfect little place to visit with its wonderful architecture, rich history and incredibly kind people. Varaždin truly gives Špancirfest a perfect setting.
First held in 1999, Špancirfest has grown from a local festivity to a serious tourist event drawing as much as a 200,000 visitors a year. Even with its growing popularity and a serious level of organization and production, Špancirfest managed not to lose the warmth, openness and the spontaneity that made it special in the first place.
Photo Credit: Petra Bosnar