There’s more to Croatia than the Coastline…
When most people think about Croatia, they think about the sea, perhaps a day trip to Zagreb at the beginning or end of their visit to this beautiful country but not much is often mentioned about the eastern part of the country known as Slavonia. Both locals and frequent visitors to Croatia would agree that Slavonia is a “whole new world” compared to the usual imagery of Croatia we see on social media but not any less beautiful. Despite being a 3 hour drive from Zagreb, the Slavonian region of Croatia is still special in it’s own way, catering for those seeking cultural and rural tourism. Some would even say, that this is the part of Croatia to visit if you really want to avoid the crowds.
As most of you are aware, my family are from Slavonia and I have spent a lot of time in this region of Croatia over the last four years. One of the highlights of my year so far was visiting Vukovar, a city that is still my favourite in Slavonia. Since I am from Osijek, I was curious about the other counties and what they had to offer.
I was thrilled to be invited along to the second part of Croatian National Tourism Board‘s #VisitSlavonia trip where I’d be introduced to a side of Slavonia that I’d never experienced before, many places on the itinerary I never knew existed. My husband, a very proud Dalmatinac was also in for the journey and we were both eager to expand our knowledge and experiences in Slavonia, along with 12 other bloggers and influencers from Europe.
#CROATIAFULLOFNATURE ・VISIT PAPUK NATURE PARK
There are only 140 UNESCO Geoparks in the world, Papuk Nature Park being the only one in Croatia. Keeping the status as a UNESCO Geopark isn’t easy and requires a strict assessment every 4 years where committee members spend a week overlooking the park’s infrastructure, educational trails and connection with the local people. Jankovac Mountain Park is the ‘Pearl of Papuk‘ featuring a hiking trail and several waterfalls that you’re able to get up close and personal with. The cost of entry to Papuk Nature Park is 25kn (approx 3€) per person (as opposed to 200kn for an adult at Krka National Park), making Papuk very affordable for a family.
Over 25,000 people visit Papuk Nature Park annually, local Croatians making up the majority of that figure however, tourists from Hungary and Bosnia are also known to stop by. Papuk Nature Park is home to 20 rare endangered flora and fauna and 15 endangered animals, so as you can imagine protecting the natural eco-system of the park is pivotal. For those thinking about spending the day at Papuk Nature Park, there’s also a fantastic restaurant where you’ll be welcomed with open arms at the mountaineer’s home for lunch or dinner with all produce sourced locally. Don’t forget to try the local wines and rakija. The warm cherry strudel a winner in my eyes. If you love your visit so much, you’re more than welcome to stay overnight in a variety of lodges surrounded by the sounds of nature. There is WiFi available in the restaurant and lodges, however around the park you won’t find any signal. Let this be a sign to let the all your usual unnecessary distractions go and embrace the nature.
#SPECIALMENTION ・Camp Duboka
Camp Duboka located on the edge of Papuk Nature Park and has only been in business for the past year as a camp and caravan park can accommodate up to 200 people. It’s no where near as big as the camp parks you see across Dalmatia but it’s a great start as it is the first of it’s kind in the Slavonia region. Usually attracting German, Dutch and Polish travellers looking for a place to stay overnight ahead of their trip down to the coastline or on their way back home, Camp Duboka has one rather interesting feature about it, it’s toilet. Located in the middle of the park for all to see, this glass cubicle enables the person sitting on the toilet to see outside very clearly but nobody on the outside can see anything within. It will potentially be your most paranoid trip to the toilet yet. If this freaks you out, the camp does offer proper toilet and bathroom facilities 10m away from this glass cubicle, don’t fret.
An adrenaline park has been approved and will begin being built next year, while an expansion into glamping facilities are also being considered. There’s an empty swimming pool only 5 minutes by foot down the road that will also be restored in the near future.
#CroatiaFullofWineries (& views) ・Winery Kutjevo & Rural household OPOĐE
Rural household OPOĐE has views of the Slavonia unheard of on the opposite side of the region where I am where lowland plains are normal. Rich hues of green, uninterrupted views of mountains and close encounters with clouds all seem to come together to create the perfect picture. Located in Požega in a small village called Cernik, Rural household OPOĐE offers accommodation in 4 double rooms, olympic size room and zoo featured local animals, ideal for a family weekend away.
Visiting Winery Kutjevo, an award winning winery still in the Požega Region was one of the rare moments in my sobriety I missed being able to drink. I had to resort to smelling the fine wine from my husband to get as close as I could to appreciate the flavours.
My heart connected with the bottle of ‘Pinot Crni 2015,’ a full bodied, rich pinot noir. This is one wine tasting I highly recommend as the guide is a great story teller and knows exactly how to talk about each wine, the wine industry and about the grapes which are all hand picked individually. Grapes are grown in a field about 5 minutes drive from the cellar where you’ll be able to enjoy spectacular views of the rich plains over a glass of wine from the Kutjevo cellar.
Winery Kutjevo is the oldest wine cellar in Croatia dating back to 1232 and currently export their wine to 32 countries world wide. It’s also home to the oldest bottle of wine in Croatia which is from 1947 and will set you back 4,000€. There is an exclusive vintage archive part of the main cellar with over 70,000 bottles of wine worth 2million euros. Wrap your head around that!
Both wineries reminded me of my visit to Kraljevski Vinogradi in the Zadar Region earlier this year as they enabled you to experience the best of both worlds, beautiful scenery and some of the finest wines in the country. I was only allowed to smell the wines but according to my husband, devoured each glass.
Don’t Worry, if you drink a little too much down in the cellar, conveniently next door is Castle Turković.
There’s a bridge that crosses the Drava River in Kriznica, a part of Slavonia bordering Hungary that’s referred to as the “Adrenaline Bridge.” It’s shaky, feels unstable (particularly when a group is walking across at the same time) and you’ll most likely do the sign of the cross before you cross it. What better way to kick start your morning? You’ll forget you forgot to have your morning coffee! For those who have no interest in risking their lives (trust me, it’s not that bad), you’ll be happy to hear that a ferry usually used to get cars across the river will also be able to take you to and from.
CENTRE “THE DRAVA STORY”
I have a little soft spot for the people in Virovitica County. They’re really kind and passionate about promoting Virovitica, a part of Slavonia I had never been to prior to this visit. One experience that really stood out to me was the centre called “The Drava Story.” The centre operates as a museum, hostel, educational centre for school kids and even offers hiking and cycling routes, which as a group we thoroughly enjoyed. This particular route took about an hour and mountain bikes were provided at the centre.
Here’s a few fun facts about the Drava River and Virovitica County. With over 70 types, the Drava River has the most variety of fish species. While other rivers may have more fish, the Drava has the largest variety. In Virovitica, there are over 380 bird species (400 types in the whole of Croatia), meaning that 80% are found in this part of the country alone. In Europe, there are 45 types of bat species, 35 types found in Croatia alone.
The Drava Story Centre also operates as a stork rescue centre. Beginning with one stork back in September 2017, the centre is currently home to 15 injured storks. One story I found quite beautiful was that last year before the winter snow, a flock of storks flew down to see their injured friend before making their way towards Cape Town where the weather is quite warmer. How sweet is that?
We had an extra adventure on the final day of our trip where we were taken through an oak forest in Vinkovci in electric cars to participate on some deer watching. Read more about it here.
#CROATIAFULLOFCULTURE ・RURAL HOUSEHOLD “SNAŠINI KUĆARI”
For those wondering what home life in Slavonia looked like over the past 150 years, you’ll be able to visit Rural Household “Snašini kućari,” located in a small village called Gradište, not far from Županja where Marica Jovanovac has opened up her family home. Whether you’re looking to stop by or stay the night, Marica will be happy to meet all your needs, a sweet and kind lady who is passionate about preserving the culture she has inherited from her mother and grandmother. Rural Household”Snašini kućari” is one of the oldest and best examples of how people have lived over the past century in the village with authentic furniture and interiors.
Her home remains the same as many traditional homes in Slavonia prior the war where each room from the living area, kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms were all side by side connected by a long open corridor, leading into the backyard. Regardless of the weather, keeping in mind that Slavonia was notorious for heavy snow fall for over 6 months at a time as my grandmother likes to remind me, residents would still manage to use the bathroom in the middle of the night no matter how cold it was and live their lives in ways we would complain about today. It was all normal and kind of makes you appreciate the luxurious we currently have.
Wojciech Tyluś, founder of Poland’s most popular blog on Croatia, CroLove.pl enjoying some grapes.
Keeping tradition is very important to Marica who still uses the old school machinery to create linen, clothing and accessories, thread by thread. There are also montages of old family photos and portraits, visiting Marica reminded me of all the times I have visited my own grandparents in the village. It really begins to put things into perspective at how life passes by and one day we will look back and hopefully be able to pass on our own experiences to the younger generations with a smile on our faces.
Address: 129, Ul. kralja Tomislava, 32273, Gradište