Sunday, 31 October 2021

Best Croatian Nature and National Parks For Autumn 2021

October 31, 2021 – With treetops turning orange, red, yellow, purple and brown, the Croatian landscape is at its most colourful right now. These are the best Nature and National Parks for Autumn 2021

Krka National Park

Krka_National_Park2.jpg© Krka National Park

Famous for waterfalls that crash down only a few kilometres from the beaches of Šibenik, there are in fact a series of 7 waterfalls in the park. Several are far from the shoreline. You'll find some deep in the hinterland of Šibenik-Knin County because Krka National Park extends over 100 square kilometres. The river valley and its surroundings are crossed by numerous cycling paths and hiking trails. Now is one of the best times to explore them.

Krka_National_Park.jpg© Krka National Park

If you want to read more about Krka National Park, then look here

Where to stay: The city of Šibenik is truly a year-round destination, with famous fortresses, restaurants, first-class accommodation and brilliant options for active recreation.

Žumberak-Samoborsko gorje Nature Park

Samobor_by_silvijabutkovic.photographer.jpg© Silvija Butković

Covering a vast 342 square kilometres, Žumberak-Samoborsko gorje Nature Park is an epic and varied landscape. Best explored on long hikes, you'll discover rolling hills, mountain meadows, water mills sitting by streams, historic churches and chapels and charming rural communities.

Samoborsko_Zumberak.jpg© Goran Šafarek

Where to stay: If you want the contrast of a big city stay, then Zagreb is just 30 minutes to the east. But, if you prefer perfect seclusion within similar rural splendour, why not try one of these amazing Zagreb County holiday homes.

Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve

Veliki_Pazut.jpg© Goran Šafarek

Although not classed as a national or nature park, this special zoological reserve really comes into its own during autumn. Within this season, the migration of birds has a great effect on the population of places like Veliki Pažut. From further north, residents who will spend all winter here are arriving to settle in. They are joined by temporary visitors who are just stopping off on their way further south. The thinner foliage in the autumn trees also makes it easier to spot deer who roam the forests on all sides of Veliki Pažut.

Goran_ŠafarekD__6321_DxO-1.jpg© Goran Šafarek

If you want to read more about Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve, then look here

Where to stay: Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve is located at the confluence of the rivers Mur and Drava in Legrad, Koprivnica-Križevci County. You could easily visit on a day trip from Zagreb. If you want to stay for the weekend, for an urban stay with lots of cultural options, try the stylish Apartmani Marbis (here) in Koprivnica, here. Or, if you want a secluded rural stay or you're on a weekend of wildlife photography and wish to remain very close to Veliki Pažut reserve, try Guest House Zajec in nearby Kuzminec (here).

251333204_10159958327839108_4607408917831515375_n.jpg© Goran Šafarek

Medvednica Nature Park

Park_prirode_Medvednica.jpg© Medvednica Nature Park

Sitting on the border of Zagreb, to its south and Zagorje, to its north, Medvednica is a protected area of mountains that is largely covered with thick forest. This makes for a wonderful natural habitat for birds and butterflies and others, which you can see while you walk, run or cycle through the park. The higher up the slopes you climb, the more rewarding the views. And, new to autumn 2021, the Medvedgrad Visitors Centre has just opened. It's a great time to go check it out.

zagreb_zagorje_julien_duval.jpg© Julien Duval

Where to stay: Medvednica Nature Park is on the doorstep of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, with some of the best city accommodation options in Southeast Europe.

Kopački rit Nature Park

Kopacki.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Kopački rit Nature Park © Mario Romulić

Truth be told, Kopački rit Nature Park is not at its best in summer. It's not just about the millions of warm weather mosquitoes. The waters of this marshland are at their lowest during summer and the wildlife population retracts. By autumn, rain has helped refill the Danube and Drava rivers, both of which feed Kopački rit.

Kopacki2.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Kopački rit Nature Park © Mario Romulić

The deer have just finished their rut and can be seen freely making their way through the forests. And, the bird population is spreading further throughout the park in response to the rising waters. Without question, boat trips on Kopački rit are best taken when water levels are at their peak.

If you want to read more about Kopački rit Nature Park, then look here

Where to stay: Kopački rit Nature Park is on the doorstep of Slavonian capital Osijek, which has many great accommodation options. Try Guesthouse Maksimilian (here) in the heart of the old city fort, Tvrđa.

Northern Velebit National Park (Sjeverni Velebit National Park)

Nacionalni_park_Sjeverni_Velebit2.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021 © Northern Velebit National Park

The whole Velebit region is a protected Nature Park. And, within it lie two National Parks. As its name suggests, Northern Velebit National Park is the most northerly. The park is exploding in colours rights now as the forests and fields turn from green to brown, purple, yellow, orange and red.

Nacionalni_park_Sjeverni_Velebit.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021 © Northern Velebit National Park

What's even more spectacular is the contrast between these colours and the unique geological anomalies that are protected within the park - Hajdučki kukovi and Rožanski kukovi. Mystifying and beautiful, these rock formations cover an area of around 22 square kilometres and contain no less than 40 summits that lie over 1600 metres. Between them, you’ll see Skrbina Draga and the Veliki Lubenovac field. Hiking in autumn and spring is hands down the best way to explore the extraordinary Northern Velebit National Park.

If you want to read more about Northern Velebit National Park, then look here

Where to stay: The Kvarner town of Crikvenica is a great place to base yourself for exploring the Nature and National Parks of northwest Croatia. Učka Nature Park, Risnjak National Park, Plitvice Lakes National Park and Northern Velebit National Park are all within 60 to 90 minutes drive of the town. Jadran Hotels and Camps have several year-round hotel options in Crikvenica.

Paklenica National Park

PaklenicabyIvan_Coric_Photography2.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Paklenica National Park © Ivan Čorić Photography

Paklenica National Park is the second National Park within Velebit Nature Park. Like its northerly cousin, Paklenica is a joy to explore on long hikes. But, these mountains have a wholly different landscape. Paklenica is dominated by two distinct and dramatic canyons - Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica. Following either, away from the coast and further into the park, will lead you to black pine forest and spectacular karst rock formations. Paklenica is also famous as a climbing location. Recreational and expert climbers from all over the world come here to tackle the rocks between spring and autumn.

PaklenicabyIvan_Coric_Photography.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Paklenica National Park © Ivan Čorić Photography

If you want to read more about Paklenica National Park, then look here

Where to stay: If you're looking for a city stay with many cultural, activity, event and restaurant options, the vibrant university town of Zadar lies on the shore just an hour from Paklenica National Park. But, if you're visiting solely to explore this wonderful National Park and want to stay close by, the much smaller seaside town of Starigrad is where you'll find the main entrance to the park.

Lonjsko polje Nature Park

Lonjsko_polje.jpg© Goran Šafarek

Covering a massive 505 square kilometres, Lonjsko polje is the largest protected wetland in Croatia and the Danube basin. It is also the third-largest Nature Park in Croatia, its floodplain fields and forests are habitats for more than two-thirds of all birds in Croatia.

247218663_4254117711377441_2820130146317535557_n.jpg© Lonjsko polje Nature Park

Like Kopački rit, Lonjsko polje is best enjoyed outside of peak summer and the 'mosquito months'. Bicycle and walking trails along with its flat landscape make this an incredibly accessible park to all. The park s also famous for its accommodation and food offer, the latter featuring river fish and wild meats like boar and deer which are traditionally common in autumn.

If you want to read more about Lonjsko polje Nature Park, then look here

Where to stay: Lonjsko polje is around 90 minutes drive from Zagreb and an easy day trip from the capital. But, if you want a more rural escape, as mentioned, the park is known for its accommodation offer. You can see more of it here.

Biokovo Nature Park

biokovo2.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Biokovo Nature Park © Marc Rowlands

Offering some of the very best views in Dalmatia, Biokovo Nature Park is arguably at its best in autumn. Why? Well, the powerful Bura and Jugo winds are more common at this time of year. Visiting Biokovo the day after they've visited is incredibly rewarding. The winds clear the air and, as a result, the visibility is truly incredible. You can pick out tiny detail in the islands.

biokovo.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021: Biokovo Nature Park © Marc Rowlands

Turning away from the sea and islands, Biokovo has an incredible mountainous landscape of its own that is no less thrilling to the eye. You'll discover it best on long hikes. Autumn and spring are the very best times to hike on Biokovo.

If you want to learn more about Biokovo's hiking routes, then look here. And if you want to read more about Biokovo Nature Park in general, then look here.

Where to stay: Having experienced an explosion over recent years in the number of holiday homes available, the nearby city of Imotski is well equipped to welcome visitors. And, unlike some of the coastal options near Biokovo, the visitor offer in Imotski is not negatively impacted by the change in the seasons. Theirs is a year-round offer. Furthermore, the city's 11 lakes are due to join Biokovo within a new UNESCO Geopark from 2022. If you want to read more about Imotski, then look here.

Plitvice Lakes, most famous of the National Parks For Autumn 2021

Nacionalni_park_Plitvička_jezera_Plitvice_Lakes_National_Park.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021 © Plitvice Lakes National Park

The most famous of all Croatian National Parks is a treat in any season of the year. Plitvice's waters are full and more vibrant than ever at this time of year. And, the surrounding nature draws from an incredibly varied colour palette. Perhaps best of all, you have so much more of the park to yourself when you visit outside the warmest months.

Nacionalni_park_Plitvička_jezera_Plitvice_Lakes_National_Park2.jpgNational Parks For Autumn 2021 © Plitvice Lakes National Park

If you want to read more about Plitvice Lakes National Park, then look here

Where to stay: There are many different kinds of rural accommodation options in the vicinity of Plitvice Lakes National Park. But, if you want to combine your stay with a city break, there's nowhere better than Karlovac. The city on four rivers has its own incredible nature to explore, plus amazing culture, heritage and excellent food options. Actually, the city is famous throughout Croatia for its recipes with autumnal chestnuts. And, it's only an hour by car to Plitvice Lakes. If you want to learn more about Karlovac, then look here.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to sincerely thank Ivan Čorić, Silvija Butković, Mario Romulić and Goran Šafarek for the kind permission to use their photography here.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Escape to Osijek-Baranja County and its Epic Sights and Flavours

May 14, 2021 – Breathtaking views of the Danube at Erdut and Aljmaš, the bona fide masterpiece of Đakovo cathedral, the unique winemaking traditions of northern Baranja, the wildlife-rich wetlands of Kopački rit and the OPGs of Osijek-Baranja County. There's a whole other world to discover in this epic corner of Slavonia-Baranja.

It seems like the world is speeding up. Everything now is that much more immediate. In this age of Instagram and 'influencers', we quickly scroll past postcard-pretty pictures on our phones. 'Like'. Forgotten, in an instant.

Croatia is a country not without postcard-pretty pictures. But, to snatch attention in this super-fast, vacuous age, all too often we are shown the same images. Heart-shaped islands from above, dolphins at dusk, sunset over the Adriatic and its epic Dinaric Alps. You could be forgiven for thinking that every view in Croatia contains the sea.

reSlavonija_Aero0060.jpgSlavonia © Romulić & Stojčić.

There are very few mountains in the Pannonian basin. And there is no sea. Well, not any more. Instead, these flatlands stretch 600 km from east to west and 500 km from north to south through several countries. They engulf the eastern section of Croatia we know as Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem.

Unsurprisingly, such a vast plain is not without its epic qualities. But, the epic nature of Osijek-Baranja County in Slavonia-Baranja is difficult to capture in a competing image on social media. Its special qualities instead lie in the sounds, the tastes, the tradition, the sights and the people. This is a place that has to be visited to be understood. And, if you do, it's an experience that will far outlast any fleeting photo on Instagram. Here, we take a look at just a small section of the unforgettable offer in Osijek-Baranja.

Imperial horses and the bona fide masterpiece of Đakovo cathedral

State Stud Farm Đakovo

Horse breeding in Đakovo is thought to be even older than 1506 when first written mention of the town's stud farm comes from. An endeavour of regional bishops, it bred horses of Arab stock. But, that changed at the beginning of the 19th Century.

re45123_1507774006692_993915_n.jpgIn the fields, Lipizzaner horses © Silvija Butković.

Lipizzaner horses were the prized breed of the Habsburg monarchy, their genetic line today traced back to eight stallions from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With the advancement of Napoleon's army across Europe, Lipizzaners were sent further east in order to protect them. This imperial horse has been bred in Đakovo ever since.

Born with black skin and black hair, their hair gradually turns to a characteristic light grey (although, some other colours occur). Traditionally, when the colour change was fully complete, the horses were ready for royal duty.

Denis_Despot_Ergela_Đakovo.jpgYounger horses on the State Stud Farm in Đakovo © Denis Despot / Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Today, at the State Stud Farm Đakovo, the Lipizzaners are bred and trained in dressage. The farm contains Croatia's largest indoor riding hall, in which public performances take place. Previous visitors to the farm include several members of the British Royal family. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip and their daughter Princess Anne came in 1972, while Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall came in 2016.

Đakovo cathedral

reDjakovo_katedrala0012.jpgExterior of Đakovo cathedral © Romulić & Stojčić.

The presence of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer looms large in the history of Croatia. Nowhere does that presence loom larger in a physical manifestation than Đakovo cathedral. By far, it is the largest sacral building in Slavonia, the second-largest in Croatia.

reDjakovo_katedrala0002.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

This part of Slavonia is completely flat. Therefore, you can see the cathedral for miles as you approach Đakovo. Once up closer, its red bricks give it the appearance of a modern building. In fact, Josip Juraj Strossmayer oversaw its construction between 1866-1882. In truth, he'd wanted to build it for much longer, but struggled to get the funds required for his vision. Indeed, the project was so delayed that the artist Strossmayer chose to paint the interior, German Nazarene Johann Friedrich Overbeck, died before he could begin the task. Instead, father and son Alexander Maximilian Seitz and Ludwig Seitz assumed the task.

reDjakovo_katedrala0023-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_4.jpgInterior detail in Đakovo cathedral © Romulić & Stojčić

The building's construction actually only took four years, but it took a full 19 years to complete decorations inside. It's easy to see why. The interior of Đakovo cathedral is a bona fide masterpiece. Ornate frescos depicting scenes from the Old Testament and New Testament radiate from above. Regardless of your faith, it is a breathtaking experience to walk within.

reDjakovo_katedrala0028-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_9.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

reDjakovo_katedrala0019-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_12.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

13 of the frescoes are by Alexander, 20 are by Ludwig. The detail of their work captivates the eye. The Neo-Romanesque architectural flourishes design inside are similarly grandiose. Visiting while on a journey to Bulgaria, future Pope John XXIII proclaimed it to be the most beautiful church between Venice and Constantinople.

reDjakovo_katedrala0026-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_7.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

Breathtaking views of the Danube at Erdut and Aljmaš

re1234rt5y.pngThe Danube, as seen from the Brzica winery terrace in Erdut © Marc Rowlands.

Slavonia is defined by its two longest rivers. To the south, after passing through Zagreb and Lonjsko Polje, the Sava forms a natural border between Slavonia and Bosnia. To the north, the Drava river first separates Croatia and Hungary. Then, after Donji Miholjac, it serves as the border between Slavonia from Baranja. Just a mile or so from Aljmaš, the Drava flows into the Danube, which partially separates Slavonia from Vojvodina.

reSlavonija_Aero0123.jpgThe Danube in eastern Slavonia © Romulić & Stojčić.

When you're standing overlooking the Danube in Erdut village, you could almost believe you're on an island. The peninsula in which the village lies is surrounded on three sides by the Danube. It weaves in and out of the landscape, causing great gulfs between the dense forest that occurs on each side. This area is noticeably raised above the height of regular, flat Slavonia and in Erdut, a small castle tower stands on a hill. It's one of the best places to look at the Danube. The other is from the Brzica winery, less than a kilometre away.

At Brzica, you're some 80 metres above the Danube. Here, winery owner Ivo Brzica has taken advantage of the view. He's built a beautiful holiday home where guests can stay. It's right next to his own dwelling and the winery. The properties share a huge, open and informal terrace overlooking the river. It's a great place to try the award-winning Brzica wines. They plant Graševina, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Vranac. On some bottles, the label reads 1378. It's the number of kilometres the Danube has travelled to reach this point.

re99127089_1304385849765541_5021631833557696512_n.jpgA glass of Brzica wine overlooking the Danube.

Erdut visitors wanting to get up closer to the Danube can now do just that. A newly appointed 10-kilometre footpath now runs alongside the river all the way from Erdut to Aljmaš. It's a beautiful walk through epic nature.

The unique landscape and winemaking traditions of northern Baranja

While much of Slavonia is uniformly flat, the topography is more varied in Baranja. Baranja Mountain stretches in a northeast-southwest direction between Beli Manastir and Batina. It is 21 kilometres long, three kilometres wide and much of its slopes are used for agriculture, grapes for winemaking, predominantly.

Krešimir-Čandrlić-TZ-Osječko-baranjske-županije.jpgA Surduk in Baranja © Krešimir Čandrlić / Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Long ago, heavy rains began to produce natural gorges which cut through the higher ground. Over time, some of these became considerably deep, widened by the flow of water and sometimes mud. Eventually, these gorges between hillsides became passageways for horses and carts. In Croatia, these narrow routes are exclusive to the Baranja region and are very pretty to walk. Their walls are lined with tree roots, which stop them from collapsing. The branches and leaves of these trees often overhang the gorge, sometimes giving you the impression you're in a tunnel. Such a route in Baranja is known as a Surduk.

59929298_291292758447045_4092839649649623040_n-1.jpgA line of traditional Baranja wine cellars. Unique in Croatia to Baranja, such a building is known as a Gator © Visit Baranja.

On this same ground, you'll find another phenomenon unique to Baranja. A Gator is a traditional wine cellar of this region. Sometimes found on the lower course of a Surduk, a Gator is unlike a typical wine cellar in that it has no subterranean section where the wine is stored. Instead, a Gator extends back into the hillside. Wine is kept in the deepest recesses of the building, where it is coolest. In several places in Baranja you can see a street with several of these buildings side by side. Usually, each Gator is owned by a different family and each will make their own particular family wine.

Podrumi Kolar family winery in Suza

rrrrrrrrrrrr184522583_4216656801706120_7724425057568396905_n.jpgWith a 100-year-old cellar and great wines, the Podrumi Kolar family winery in Suza.

The Kolar family wine cellar is 100 years old, although the restaurant and tourism aspect of their enterprise has only been around since 2004. The whole family are involved and they purposefully intertwine their winemaking with a visitor offer. In addition to the restaurant attached to the wine cellar and they have a wonderful campsite just a couple of hundred metres down the road. All of their wines are great. But, if you visit, be sure to try their Sauvignon. Some say it's the best in the whole of Baranja.

Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac

reee80820150_10157752856922510_7899019450953760768_n.jpgTraditional Baranja and Slavonia flavours at the Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac.

At the Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac they make brilliant wines. Among them, Baranja shiller, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Graševina, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon. You can visit the wine cellars and try traditional foods of the region in their extensive restaurant.

Vinarija Gerštmajer in Zmajevac

reee10409647_797460223636993_347799443786816980_n.jpgIncredible views from the garden at Vinarija Gerštmajer in Zmajevac.

A deep dust gathers on some of the oldest bottles kept in the cellar at Vinarija Gerstmajer. And, there's plenty of those. The charming family patriarch is clearly a proud wine enthusiast and reserves some bottles from every year of their celebrated but small production. Sadly, this archive now stretches back only until the mid-1990s. It used to be much older, cataloguing all of the years his own father ran the winery. But, when the family returned after the war, they were greeted by empty cellars. The cellars are once again full. You can try them in the cellar or out on the terrace, overlooking a scene of uninterrupted nature.

The wildlife-rich wetlands of Kopački rit

reKopacki_rit.jpgWetlands of Kopački rit © Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Occupying the marches, lakes and floodland between the Drava and the Danube, Nature Park Kopački rit is one of Europe's largest wetlands. Although a home to many different types of life, it is most famous for its bird population. As many as 300 different species of birds inhabit the park, many of them being migratory and nesting species. Of particular note, a large colony of grey heron and and the largest population of woodpeckers in the entire Danube basin. You can now tour a section of the waters in a large visitor boat. It is electrically powered so as not to disturb the life-rich riverbanks. After the boat drops you off, make your way through the rest of the park across specially constructed pathways that wind their way across the waters and reeds.

reee181763729_3395698553866665_437148493806686223_n.jpgThe wooden walkways of Kopački rit Nature Park in Osijek-Baranja County © Romulić & Stojčić.

The OPGs of Osijek-Baranja County

The landscape in Osijek-Baranja County is only so picturesque because of the people who live in it. It is their endeavours that shape it. Traditional agricultural pursuits explain the pretty rows of vineyards, the different coloured fields and gardens filled with fruit trees. While some agriculture here exists on a grand scale, many families in the region make the most of their own small plots of land.

Osijek-Baranja County family farms or OPGs preserve the traditions of the region, not only in the way they use the land but in the produce that results. From the beekeeping that makes EU-protected honey to the vineyards producing Croatia's best white wine, practices in these family farms are often passed down from generation to generation. The best way to learn how they do it – and try the amazing traditional flavours of Osijek-Baranja County – is to go to an OPG. Here are just several you can visit.

Zorić distillery in Erdut

Zoric.jpgZorić distillery in Erdut, Osijek-Baranja County.

The Zorić family in Erdut have long been growing fruit and making Croatian brandy aka rakija. But, this youngest generation, lead by youthful father Dinko and his wife Sanja, have upped their game significantly. They have built the most modern craft rakija distillery in the region. From there, they make one of Croatia's best new premium rakijas, Divania. In English or Croatian, they will guide you around the distillery and explain the process before letting you try it on their lovely terrace. If you're lucky, you might also get to try the family-made kobasica sausages – they're very good! Their rakijas are made from apricots, quinces, apples, pears and cherries and the family are great hosts.

Seoski turizam Lacković in Bilje

re20431767_822347511276386_375301605997322700_n.jpgFilled with flowers, Seoski turizam Lacković in Bilje.

A beautiful family-run farm, with 16 beds for guests, Seoski turizam Lacković are used to hosting visitors. The farm itself has pretty rows of vegetables out back. Next to them, a variety of birds are kept. The hosting area has a lovely terrace with a view of the pretty tree-lined path that extends down through the large garden. During the recent Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje), visitors tried their hand at making traditional baked foods pita and kiflice.

OPG Čudesna šuma

rROMMM182218841_3395418300561357_8222892496436052806_n.jpgMeeting the llamas at OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

Visit the llamas or a special gastronomic event at this future eco-village and food forest. To read a detailed reportage from our spring 2021 visit to OPG Čudesna šuma, look here.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in creating this article: Ivana Jurić and the Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County, Marija Burek and the Tourist Board of Đakovo, Renata Forjan and Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit and Domagoj Butković of expert travel guides to Slavonia and Osijek-Baranja County, Kulen travel.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

OPG Čudesna šuma: Paradise Reimagined in Beautiful, Traditional Baranja

May 13, 2021 – OPG Čudesna šuma: How an unexpected turn of events helped world-renowned photographer Mario Romulić realise his lifelong dream.

War and genocide and the aftermath. Famine. Disease. Death. In a former life, harrowing images filled the lens of internationally renowned photographer Mario Romulić. But thankfully, we're now far from such scenes.

In fact, at OPG Čudesna šuma - Mario Romulić's home and family farm - we're pretty much far from everything. One other eco-farm is his only neighbour. Well, unless you count the llamas the Romulić family keep out back. Occasionally, through the rich green of surrounding trees, you see birds flying above the branches. Probably they're toing and froing from Kopački rit. The nearby Nature Park is less than a kilometre from OPG Čudesna šuma. Famously, the wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds. They are also the reason why Mario Romulić is here.

ReeeeeMG_2366_DxO-GŠ-e1559901697596.jpgKopački rit Nature Park © Kopački rit Nature Park.

“Back then, I was very occupied with Kopački rit,” remembers Mario of the time, 21 years ago, when he moved to what is now OPG Čudesna šuma. “I was working as a cameraman for people like Reuters, all over the world. The assignments would last 7-10 days and I'd be in places like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Bosnia. It was often quite dangerous. For the next 20 days, I would spend a lot of time in Kopački rit, trying to calm my nerves. It was something like a cure after seeing all these horrible scenes. Eventually, instead of travelling every day from my home in Osijek to Kopački rit, I decided to try and find something close by. And this is what I found.”

Just as this beautiful, natural landscape in Bilje, Baranja once served as a peaceful getaway for Mario Romulić, his OPG Čudesna šuma today does the same for others. Because, after dreaming for two decades of turning this blissful plot and homestead into a forest farm and eco-village, Mario Romulić is finally turning that vision into a reality.

REEEEE123849689_631301844230484_3242943399468051911_n.jpgThe impossibly pretty OPG Čudesna near Kopački rit Nature Park, Bilje Municipality, Baranja © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“Because of my job - first, travelling all around the world, then travelling Croatia - I did not even have much time to think about it, let alone do it,” says Mario. “But, then Corona came. Finally, I found myself at home. At last, I had time to work on my dream.”

OPG Čudesna šuma in the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje)

A group of 30 or so are Mario's guests today at OPG Čudesna šuma. They're here for a presentation of speciality cooking. It's the grand finale of the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje).

Over previous weeks, OPGs from all across the region have welcomed guests to try goulash, soups, stews, perklet and other traditional foods of the area. While visiting, they've been embraced by the beautiful landscape of Baranja. Not only have they discovered how this delightful, distinct cuisine tastes, but also they've learned exactly how it's prepared. However, they've evidently saved the best for last. On the menu today, river fish inventively cooked, accompanied by a riotous rainbow of seasonal vegetables.

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181580000_726510768042924_6910637969151864081_n.jpgSeasonal vegetables of Baranja in springtime at the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje) © OPG Čudesna šuma.

It's a beautifully sunny day, right at the start of May. It depends on your preference, but looking across this happy vista in the glorious sunshine, it's difficult to imagine this not being the perfect time to be in Baranja. Young children are raised to chest height by their parents so they can meet Mario's free-roaming llamas face-to-face. The children's faces flit between surprise, curiosity and delight. The llamas return their stare. They're used to welcoming new guests.

re182218841_3395418300561357_8222892496436052806_n.jpgMeeting the Romulić family llamas at OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

Partially shaded by trees, the smiling adult guests sit casually on wooden benches around a central, outdoor cooking area. Several open fires display a range of traditional cooking methods. Steam rises from a cast-iron stove suspended over one. Beneath the vapours, you can make out the dish is fish paprikash. It's unmistakable because of the deeply red coloured bubbles, a result of generous amounts of paprika.

RErommy.jpgGuests enjoy a warm springtime day at OPG Čudesna šuma during the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje), as fish paprikas cooks over an open fire © OPG Čudesna šuma.

A huge bag of this paprika sits propped up, close by. It's from another organic OPG, just a kilometre or so from here. The colour is vivid, impossibly red, unrecognisable from anything store-bought. At the next fire, pike impaled on wooden sticks are placed far enough from the flickering flames so they cook slowly and do not burn.

RRRRRRMG_9076.jpgPike impaled on sticks, cooking by an open fire at OPG Čudesna šuma @ Marc Rowlands.

In the outdoor kitchen, Mario Romulić's co-chefs prepare an unending supply of fish dishes and vegetables. Carp, catfish, trout, bream. There's a bounty of fresh asparagus. It's that time of year. With the restraint of experience, they've cooked it perfectly. After the crunch of the bite, the flavour explodes. They're seasoned simply – delicious olive oil and sea salt.

RRRRRMG_9083.jpgSeasonal asparagus, perfectly cooked, served with smoked river fish © Marc Rowlands.

A group of peers – accomplished chefs from Osijek-Baranja restaurants – peak over the shoulders of Romulić's co-chefs. They're admiring the inventive techniques employed. Although, being chefs, they can't help themselves. They end up briefly forgetting their families in order to help out.

Mario Romulić, the host with the most

re181662505_3395417317228122_5675229268416633172_n.jpgMario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

After all the guests arrive, Mario Romulić holds court. Cheerily he welcomes us all to OPG Čudesna šuma and the event. Without question, the success of rural, village tourism depends on the personalities of the hosts. It's no good plonking a group of visitors in a pretty place and throwing some food in front of them. We've all seen trees, grass and food before. Rural tourism is not just about the place, it's about the experience, the ambience. And, especially, it's about the people.

Hands down, the OPGs of Slavonia and Baranja are the best in Croatia at this. The folks here are famous for their friendliness, warm welcome and big personalities. And, Mario Romulić has one of the biggest of them all.

In the research for this reportage, looking back at archive pictures of Mario Romulić is startling. During his years spent as an international photographer, he himself has been photographed many times – on assignment in distant countries, at the opening of exhibitions that have showcased his celebrated work. In most, there's an intensity to his stare. It's sometimes difficult to look at. He looks like a man who has tales you never want to hear, like a man who has seen too much.

re181833835_3395419193894601_1580949382978993421_n.jpg(L- R) OPG Čudesna šuma co-chef at the event Mihael Tomić, renowned Osijek chef Ivan Đukić currently of Osijek's Lipov Hlad and a happy Mario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

By comparison, the Mario Romulić that welcomes us at OPG Čudesna šuma today is unrecognisable. Sure, there's a little more grey to his long hair and beard but, otherwise, he looks incredibly healthy and happy. The intense stare is gone, replaced by a warm, wide smile that shows across his entire face. Even in early May, he has a darkened skin tone, the telltale signs of a man who spends much of the day outdoors. Romulić's enthusiasm for his guests and the event is palpable. After his sincere welcome, this enthusiasm is immediately transferred to each of his guests.

Mrs Romulić ensures everyone's glass is overflowing with wine or juice. One of Mario's teenage sons helps out with the food, while the other is taking photographs of the event. Well, someone has to do the photography now that dad wants to be a chef and host! Mario himself is engulfed in smoke. Among the other duties he's assumed today, Mario is tending a smoker. Without a doubt, this is the most revelatory cooking method we meet today.

RAFGGMG_9033.jpgMario Romulić tends to smoked river fish, a revelatory gastronomic experience at OPG Čudesna šuma © Marc Rowlands.

Smoked fish of Slavonia and Baranja at OPG Čudesna šuma

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181569372_726510701376264_2349368327366088172_n.jpgAn American-style smoker, loaded with river fish. TOP TIP: A great way to stop fish sticking to the grill of your barbecue or smoker is to place them on top of a layer of lemon slices © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“We do have smoked fish here, but not in this way,” he says. “This is more like an American grill. I never heard of anyone trying Baranja cooking like this. Actually, I never heard of anyone nearby who has a smoker like this. The first time I tried stuka (pike) in the smoker, that was unbelievable. It's incomparable, really special.”

re182065042_3395417427228111_6987374227558501361_n.jpgExquisite presentation of river fish by the enthusiastic team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

“In Slavonia and Baranja, there are just a few ways we usually cook our river fish - carp on sticks, fish paprikash, perklet and fried fish. So, we tried something new, to expand the palette. For instance, almost nobody eats Babuška (a type of carp). They feed it instead to their pigs. It costs 5 kuna a kilo! But, if you cook it in this completely natural way, it's delicious.”

re181464507_3395417533894767_3887484501591319798_n.jpgMore river fish, cooked by the team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

He's not wrong. Today's mountain of different smoked fish is the talk on most of the adult lips. The rich flavours surprise. Compliments and returns for second helpings ensue. Mario stands to one side, happily watching as his smoked fish secret escapes. In the future, he plans similar events based on other regional foods - Black Slavonian pig, wild meats like deer or boar. Eventually, in the seven hectares of land he owns here, he would like to expand OPG Čudesna šuma as an eco-village, with beds for visitors, a natural swimming pool and then surround it with a food forest. Big plans. It looks as though the camera may stay more permanently in the hands of his son. Because it's difficult to imagine Mario Romulić leaving his happy place and the realisation of his long-held dream.

re60723980_10157204309393875_1954899380326629376_n.jpgMario Romulić in his happy place, with a friend © OPG Čudesna šuma.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in creating this article: Ivana Jurić and the Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County, OPG Čudesna šuma, Mario Romulić and family, Renata Forjan and Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit and Domagoj Butković of expert travel guides to Slavonia and Baranja, Kulen travel.

Friday, 22 January 2021

22 January: Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia

January 22, 2021 – January 22 is Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia. Marked significantly in continental winemaking regions, its folk traditions pre-date Christianity and are celebrated with food, wine, music and merriment

Nearing the end of January, it's not uncommon to see snow on the fields of Croatia. The ground can be hard, brittle, frozen. There's little to be done in them right now. And yet, on 22 January in Croatia, winemakers traditionally head to their vineyards. They do this not to undertake a day's work – for today is a day of rest. Instead, they go there to mark the tradition of Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

Croatia_Baranja_Belje_Vineyard_0184_1.jpgSt. Vincent's Day in Baranja © Romulić & Stojčić

Vinceška, Vincekovo, Vinkovo, Vincelovo, Vinceće - St. Vincent's Day

As a name, Vincent has many variants, Vinko being one popular in Croatia. Similarly, Vincekovo is also known by several different names. For example, St. Vincents Day in Baranja is called Vinceška, in Erdut it's Vincekovo, in Ilok it's Vinkovo, but you can also hear it called Vincelovo and even Vinceće.

Vincekovo_GVT-2019-14a_1.jpgVincekovo marked with wine and meat in traditional folk costume in Varaždinske Toplice © Grad Varaždinske Toplice

Vincekovo is mostly marked in the northern continental area of the country and throughout the entire far east of Croatia - eastern Slavonia, Baranja and the Croatian part of Syrmia, around Ilok. In these places, it is a day inextricably linked with the production of wine. That people seem to associate St Vincent as 'the wine guy' seems reasonable – Vinko and vino (the Croatian word for wine) are almost the same, right? Well, not quite.

The related name Viktor (also used in Croatia) actually gives us the best example of the meaning of the name. Vincent comes from the Latin word 'vincere' (to conquer or to be victorious). But, although it looks similar in Latin, the word for wine is much, much older. And it may have an entirely different root.

Ilok2020.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2020 © Youtube screenshot

Why we say 'wine'

Nobody is really sure where the word 'wine' comes from. The ancient Greek word 'oinos' certainly pre-dates the Latin but its true origins have been lost in time. This provides an entertaining mystery for today. Fascinatingly, we find a common origin word for wine in several completely different language groups.

You can trace the historic use of the word 'wine' through a vast territory. In ancient times, the name was used in the area of what is today southern Russia and nearby in the Caucasus. Although they belong to a different non-Indo European language group, peoples in what is modern-day Georgia used the same word. In the western Semitic languages of the Levant (Arabic: wain, Hebrew: yayin) it is the same. In Mediterranean languages like Latin and Greek, it is also virtually the same word. Travelling back up to the territory of modern-day Russia, this time through regions where ancient Slavic and Germanic languages were spoken, the word is still the same. It seems that ever since people learned how to cultivate and ferment grapes, they have somehow all referred to the end product using the same word.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a shared origin for the words? As any winemaker will tell you, to make good wine, you do need to conquer the vines. DNA testing proves that the vines from which we grow grapes originally come from varieties that grew historically in the wild in an area that is today Russia and central Europe. Yet, the earliest traces of wine production are found in more southerly regions, where the climate is warmer. This journey itself is a conquering act of cultivation. In early Indo-European languages, the root 'wei' means to turn or to bend. Could the word wine be referring to human manipulation of the wild vines?

The earliest evidence of grapevine cultivation and wine production comes from the South Caucasus, present-day Georgia and dates back at least 8000 years.

1275px-Barry_capitaine._F._25._Grand_vase_pour_la_conservation_du_vin_en_Kacheti_Géorgie._Mission_scientifique_de_Mr_Ernest_Chantre._1881.jpgA Georgian man in traditional dress stands alongside a qvevri, a clay pot used for making Georgian wine in 1881. Once filled, the clay amphora are buried beneath the ground, which helps regulate the temperature of the fermenting wine. Evidence of winemaking in the region is the oldest in the world - it goes back 8000 years  © Public domain

Saint Vincent aka Vincent of Saragossa (Vinko iz Zaragoze)

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_by_Tomás_Giner_14621466_1.jpgVicente de Zaragoza by Tomás Giner

Although several saints share the name Vincent, the Saint Vincent we celebrate on 22 January is Vincent of Saragossa. Born to a well-off family in Saragossa (Zaragoza), north-eastern Spain, Vincent devoted his life to the church and became deacon in the Church of Saragossa. He was tortured under the persecution of Christians demanded by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Vincent was asked to renounce his faith - which he refused to do. Subsequently, he was martyred around the year 304. We mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia and the western Christian world on 22 January as this is presumed to be the actual day of his death. Vincent of Saragossa is not only the patron saint of winemakers but also of vinegar makers. This may come as a comfort to some less able wine producers.

Basilica_del_Pilar-sunset.jpgCathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Puente de Piedra bridge on the Ebro River in Saragossa, the birthplace of St Vincent © Paulo Brandao

Quite why the midwinter period of 22 January should be significant to winemakers poses some questions. “I have no idea!” one Dalmatian winemaker told TCN when asked to explain the significance of the day to his craft. “But, you know those Slavonians are all crazy, right?” And, on the surface, his unknowing is quite understandable. There is little happening in the frozen fields right now. But, it is possible that this celebration pre-dates not only St Vincent but also Christianity itself.

History of 22 January as Saint Vincent's Day (Vincekovo)

Vincekovo-slika-Likovna-Republika.jpgA Croatian painting tellingly shows how traditions of St Vincent's Day in Croatia have little changed over the years © Tourist Board Jestrebarsko

Everyone's favourite ancient God at the party, Dionysus had a wide portfolio of fun stuff to look after. He was the Greek God of wine, the grape harvest, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre. He was traditionally celebrated in the period from the 11th to the 13th of anthesterion - which in today's calendar corresponds to the period between late January - around now - and the start of February. On the wild feast of Dionysus (who is sometimes called Bacchus or Liber, as in liberty, freedom), barrels of new wine were broken open. The celebration marked the impending arrival of the new season – spring. And, this too is how people mark St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

1775px-Cornelis_de_Vos_-_El_triunfo_de_Baco.jpgThe Triumph of Bacchus, a 17th-century painting by Cornelis de Vos © Public domain

Several saints' days in Croatia and Europe correspond to significant points in the agricultural calendar. This tellingly reveals their pre-Christian roots. Another of those corresponding to winemaking is Martinje – St Martin's Day in Croatia (which you can read about here). However, Martinje is traditionally a more proletarian festivity – it comes at the end of the harvest when there is no more hard work for all the manual labourers to do. Vincekovo is a day more traditionally associated with their boss - the vineyard owner. It is also traditionally a more testosterone-filled affair – a sausage party, perhaps. Well, you could say that, and in more ways than one.

Vinceška-Vina-Belje-2019-21-960x640meats.jpgKulen and other sausages, hung traditionally beside the vines on St Vincent's Day - the company that made these, Belje, is one of the best and most famous in Croatia. They trace their history in the Baranja region back to the year 1697. In Baranja, you'll most likely hear this day called Vinceška © Belje

Music, food, theatre and wine - traditions of Vincekovo, Saint Vincent's Day in Croatia

Around this time of year, vines within the vineyard will be cut back. There are a limited amount of nutrients that can pass down a vine. This cutting back ensures the nutrients are concentrated and helps guarantee a limited but good crop. Whether this cutting back has actually taken place in days prior, on Vincekovo vineyard owners are charged with visiting their vines. Whatever the weather, they will march into the fields and ceremoniously cut back a vine. Usually, it's one with at least three new buds on. Traditionally, this vine is then brought into the home and placed in a watered jar. The progress of the buds supposedly predicts the next season's crops. Many other folk traditions associated with Vincekovo also serve the same purpose of 'predicting the crops'. Melting snow, rain and sunshine on Vincekovo are also regarded as predictors of a fine harvest. Although, some believe that water dripping from the eaves on Vincekovo could mean the year will be wet.

Pavlomir_Novi_Vinodol_Primorsko-Goranska.jpgVincekovo celebrated in Pavlomir, Novi Vinodol, Primorsko-Goranska County © Youtube screenshot

Again following Dionysian traditions, Slavonian people are famously gregarious. They rarely make the trip to the vineyard alone. Neighbours, family, friends and even musicians might make the journey with them and join in the blessing of the vines. In Croatia today, you can still see some people undertaking this ceremony in traditional folk costume.

Vinkovo_in_Ilok_2019.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2019. Brrrrrr! © Youtube screenshot

The vine that has been pruned is ritually sprinkled with old wine. Song and drinking accompany the ceremony. Both old and new wine may make an appearance. No Slavonia or Baranja party is complete without kulen, their king of sausages. And, on Vincekovo, it is traditional to hang kulen and/or švargla (another monstrous portion of preserved pig product) from a post. Supposedly, this theatre is done in order to encourage the next season's crop to be as fertile and bountiful as these sizeable sausages.

1626px-Sacrificio_a_Baco_Massimo_Stanzione.jpgSacrifice to Bacchus by Massimo Stanzione c. 1634 © Public domain. Some of the folk traditions observed on St Vincent's Day in Croatia probably pre-date Christianity

Hearty snacks usually accompany the celebration in the fields. After the ceremonious part is taken care of, people now think to return indoors. Although, not necessarily to your own home. Because now is the traditional time to march around the locale to visit the wine cellars of your neighbouring growers. If you're a winemaker of a Dionysian bent, you'll probably take along some food with you like kulen, a roasted pig or even the tamburica musicians who came to the fields with you. Croatians rarely arrive at a party with empty hands. If such treats are not taken to the event, probably they'll already be waiting in your neighbour's cellar. Although, you might have to pace yourself. If you live in an area of traditional winemaking, there could be quite a lot of neighbouring wine cellars to visit. Subsequently, celebrations on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia - can extend well into the night.

fishp.jpegFiš paprikaš is a spicy river fish stew, richly red from paprika. It is popular in Slavonia, Baranja and Syrmia. Along with the wild meats stew čobanac and whole šaran (carp), butterflied and cooked outside over an open flame, it is a warming and popular dish to eat in eastern Croatia on St Vincent's Day © Romulić & Stojčić

Friday, 18 December 2020

PHOTOS: 11 Incredible Croatia Treehouses to Stay In and Escape to Nature

December 18, 2020 – Staying in one of these amazing Croatia treehouses offers perfect seclusion and a welcome return to nature

Sometimes you just want to be alone. Parties and crowds have their time and place, but sometimes what you need is an escape to the countryside. Journeys into the wild can be more than just a breath of fresh air – they're a chance to reconnect with nature, a getaway from laptop screens, the buzz of overhead cables and the sounds of the city. Staying in one of these splendidly situated Croatia treehouses will provide a true return to nature. Sometimes basic and closer to camping, at others, luxurious and with every amenity you'd expect from a stylish seaside villa, all of them allow you to get up close to wild surroundings you've come to be amongst.

Treehouse Cadmos Village, Komaji, Konavle near Dubrovnik
CadmosVillage2.jpg© Treehouse Cadmos Village

Sat between the branches of Cadmos Village Adventure Park, this small treehouse overlooks the Konavle valley, with the Sniježnica mountain in the background. Its position within the family-oriented adventure park marks it as the perfect place to crash out after a day of paintballing, rope bridges, climbing, cycling, zip lines or archery.

CadmosVillage1.jpg© Treehouse Cadmos Village

The treehouse sits on a seven-metre-high platform with a terrace where you can take in the view. Solar-powered, it can accommodate six people in three bedrooms and has a kitchen, dining area and showers. It's 25 kilometres from Dubrovnik from here, ten kilometres from Cavtat and just five kilometres from Dubrovnik airport.

CadmosVillage3.jpg© Treehouse Cadmos Village

Mlin Treehouse, Sveti Vid Dobrinjski, Dobrinj, Krk island
tree-house-ivan-juretic-7mliin.jpg© Ivan Juretić architects

Sitting in the trees behind the Holiday House Mlin near Dobrinj, in the interior of island Krk, Mlin Treehouse is small in size – just eight square metres inside – but has a definite wow factor. This can be attributed to architect, Ivan Juretić, who has designed here a building full of unexpected angles and intermittent panels which allow light to stream into the property.

mlin1.jpg© Ivan Juretić architects

Dobrinj itself is a great place to get away to, and you're only a couple of kilometres from the sea here. Better still, the main Holiday House Mlin has its own private pool – you should probably check before booking if you're allowed to use it.

tree-house-ivan-juretic-8mlinkrk.jpg© Ivan Juretić architects

Tree House Gorski Lazi, Tršće, Gorski Kotor
GorskiLazi1.jpeg© Tree House Gorski Lazi

This treehouse in Gorski Kotor looks little more than a garden shed from the outside and, indoors, the two double beds found here are indeed tucked tightly into the corners. But, the experience at Tree House Gorski Lazi isn't supposed to be taken exclusively within the rustic interior, it's one to be enjoyed on the outside and within the natural landscape.

GorskiLazi2.jpeg© Tree House Gorski Lazi

To encourage this, a large, open-air terrace sits in front of the house from where you take in the view – grassland rolls gently below you before being engulfed on all sides by surrounding forests that change colour spectacularly through the seasons. They rise to cover nearby hills, mountains completing the perfect vista on a near horizon. Further encouragement to spend your time in this spot is the barbecue and loungers situated here, although there's a gas stove in the kitchen below the house if you fancy something quick. The house is located 15 kilometres from Risnjak National Park.

GorskiLazi3.jpeg© Tree House Gorski Lazi

Treehouse Resnice, Barilović, Karlovac County
Resnice3.jpg© Treehouse Resnice

Sat within the treetops of eight hectares of natural forest in Barilović, Karlovac County, Treehouse Resnice is one of the most homely and inviting of all Croatia treehouses. From the dwelling, the rivers Mrežnica and Korana are just a couple of kilometres walk, inviting you to take romantic and peaceful walks of exploration in either direction. But, truth be told, you might be just as happy hanging around the house - Treehouse Resnice is beautifully constructed, with no less attention paid to its interior design.

resnice-treehouse-2.jpeg© Treehouse Resnice

A balcony on the house encompasses a supporting tree and you can rest here in a hammock. There are two additional structures next door specifically for relaxing and dining outside. Indoor and outdoor dining areas, complete with barbecue, extend its offer throughout the seasons. The double bedroom is found in the loft, beautifully decorated beneath wooden beams.

Treehouse Resnice1.jpg© Treehouse Resnice

Robins Hood, Zakrajc, Skrad, Gorski Kotor
Robins3.jpg© Robins Hood

Situated in the small settlement of Zakrajc near Skrad, between the Zeleni Vir water spring and the Kulpa river which acts as a natural border between Croatia and Slovenia, the topography surrounding the Robins Hood lodging is a gift to hikers and walkers. Streams and the river cut through rocks and hills, there are lots of pretty settlements and forestland to pass through.

Robins4.jpg© Robins Hood

The mountains of Gorski Kotar provide an impressive backdrop. Far from neighbouring eyes, this is one of the Croatia treehouses if you want to be alone with your surroundings, although the owners who built this place do also have a highly-rated restaurant in nearby Delnice and might extend an invitation.

Robins1.jpg© Robins Hood

Sanjam Treehouses, Lika
Sanjam Liku Treehousecroatia2.jpg© Sanjam Treehouses Lika

The uninhabited settlement of Drenovac Radučki in Gospic, at the foot of Mount Velebit, offers what seems to be perfect countryside seclusion when viewed exclusively from the windows or terraces of the two ultra-modern Sanjam Treehouses in Lika. Occasionally, you might hear a car pass on the nearby road from Karlobag to Knin. But, not so often. It's surprising to think that from here, in summer months, folks are swimming in the waters of the Adriatic less than 10 kilometres away. For visitors with a car wanting to escape the crowds after a day on the beach, these Croatia treehouses are an extremely inviting option.

Sanjam Liku Treehousecroatia23.jpg© Sanjam Treehouses Lika

The interior design is contemporary, sparse and uncluttered, featuring every home comfort you could wish for on any extended stay. One house has 43 square metres, with two bedrooms, while the other has 39 square metres and one bedroom. The experience here might not be so secluded and carefree if you're staying at the same time as neighbours you don't know – the treehouses are quite close and the view from one terrace faces the windowless, rear facade of the other. For an extended family or group taking both houses simultaneously, it's the perfect spot.

Sanjam Liku Treehousecroatia24.jpg© Sanjam Treehouses Lika

Plitvice Holiday Resort, Grabovac, Rakovica
Plitvice Holiday Resort2.jpg© Plitvice Holiday Resort

The five pretty treehouses of Plitvice Holiday Resort in Grabovac sit beneath towering trees and overlook a few more traditional glamping huts and a water feature through which wooden walkways snake. Yes, you might have neighbours here, but if you're looking for a superior camping spot that will keep you close to the nearby Plitvice Lakes, this is a lovely option.

Plitvice Holiday Resort1.jpg© Plitvice Holiday Resort

Each of the houses has two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom, plus a kitchen and a terrace and all come with WiFi and air-conditioning for the warmer months and heating for the cooler ones. The surrounding locale and views are pretty year-round.

Plitvice Holiday Resort3.png© Plitvice Holiday Resort

Obonjan Treehouse, Obonjan island, Dalmatia
Obonjan2.jpg© Obonjon island

Obonjan island has in recent years been run as a private camping site, catering only for adults. Music festivals have taken place there, revellers dancing between the pine trees, doing yoga by the beach or swimming in the seas close by. The island offers a range of camping accommodation options and in 2018 set up this, its first treehouse, with a view to expanding the offer with more builds.
Obonjan1.jpg© Obonjon island

The small and simple construction has a unique appeal among the Croatia treehouses listed here as it lies just eight metres from the inviting blue of the Adriatic. It has an en-suite bathroom, fridge, air‐conditioning, electricity and a small external terrace with table and deck chairs.

ObonjanTree-House-008.jpg© Obonjon island

Riverland Mrežnica, Zvečaj, near Duga Resa, Karlovac County
RiverlandMrez2.jpg© Riverland Mrežnica

Small and simple camping huts, the appeal of the two Croatia treehouses of Riverland Mrežnica is undoubtedly the truly fantastic views. Windows and terraces overlook (as the name suggests) the Mrežnica river, the view framed between the branches in which the treehouses sit.

RiverlandMrez1.jpg© Riverland Mrežnica

This green backdrop surrounds on all sides. Each treehouse accommodates two people, with double beds, located immediately below the roofs, accessed via wooden step ladders. You can take a bike or a boat to explore the nature around you.

RiverlandMrez3.jpg© Riverland Mrežnica

Zlatna Greda, Baranja, nr Osijek
ZlatnaRek2.jpg© Zlatna Greda

The appeal of the countryside around Osijek and Baranja is becoming better known and reasons for visiting Bilje Municipality, just north of Osijek, now extend much further than the beautiful Kopacki Rit Nature Park that can be found there. To the park's immediate north, Zlatna Greda is an adrenaline park and eco-farm offering cycling, rowing, ziplines and the perfect door into the surrounding nature.

ZlatnaRek1.jpg© Zlatna Greda

Although Zlatna Greda is the sole inclusion on this list of Croatia treehouses which does not offer overnight stays, it can be rented for several hours and is a good spot for groups to rest, take lunch or dinner and watch the sunlight fade. It can accommodate a group of up to 12 people and there are several tiers of accommodation – both dormitory and private rooms – available elsewhere in the complex.

ZlatnaRek3.jpg© Zlatna Greda

Tree Elements, Donji Nikšić, Rastoke, Karlovac County
treel2.jpg© Tree Elements

Not close to completion yet, the images here show how the Tree Elements Croatia treehouses in Donji Nikšić will look when finished. Situated within a 28 thousand square metre plot, bought specifically for the purpose by a young entrepreneur, build of the first two treehouses is ongoing, their progress delayed by the unforeseen happenings of 2020.

TreeEl1.jpg© Tree Elements

The plans look special and we confidently expect to see them rising further from the ground in 2021, when visitors will be able to take advantage of the wonderful surroundings of forest, streams and the nearby river Korana. The village of Rastoke, with its cascading waterfalls and waterside eateries, is also extremely close by.

treel3korana.jpg© Tree Elements

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Stories from the Diaspora: Moving from Osijek to Sweden

December 8, 2020 – Yesterday, TCN reported that Croatia is among the most sought after tourist destinations for people in Sweden. Today, we meet a couple who went the other way – from Osijek to Sweden – for a more permanent stay. How does life compare for young couple Marin and Vedrana?

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Marin Relja from Darda (25) and Vedrana Maksimovic from Sarvaš (24) swapped Slavonia for Västerås in June of 2019. We interviewed them to find out some of the ways life compares when you move from Osijek to Sweden.

Marin: We lived with parents when we were back in Osijek. A lot of the time we spent at Vedrana's parents, we had our own space there, which was great, but we didn't have total freedom. There were always quite a lot of other people around and when you are surrounded by family, certain responsibilities are put on you. It's much easier to live by yourself.

Vedrana: If we'd stayed in Osijek, probably we would have needed some support from our families so we could live together, independently. Here, we can do that by ourselves.

130058936_5421648361194130_1157747551257652485_n.jpgMarin and Vedrana's new neighbourhood, in Västerås, Sweden

Why did you move from Osijek to Sweden?

Marin: There are lots of different reasons - opportunities, money, the church...It's cold. And there is a lot of snow. I like winter a lot more than summer. If it's cold, you can always put on more clothes. If it's too hot, what can you do?

Vedrana: I hate the winter and cold weather, actually. Marin wanted to come here. And my brother was already here. Maybe because it's totally different? Marin wanted to go to Ireland or Sweden. But, Ireland is a religious country, Catholic, like back home. We didn't want to live in another place like Croatia. I was here visiting, one year before we came, and it was -15. Freezing. Right now it's not so bad, around 4.

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Vedrana doesn't like the cold. Marin's dream job is riding snowmobiles all day.

Marin: It can be -10 here but feel like -30 because the winds are sometimes very strong. Last winter wasn't so bad, but if you're on the windy side, it can feel really cold. I wear Christmas socks a lot. They're very warm. I have many pairs.

I saw you also have many pairs of papuče (slippers) by your front door. Why?

Marin: The tradition isn't going to die (Vedrana laughs). We brought that tradition with us from Osijek to Sweden. Most of them are for us, so we can wear different pairs, but some are for guests, although we rarely have any. We just have extra papuče that we don't use.

130498081_452298736144809_2248280422156425007_n.jpgCroatians overseas: a tsunami of papuče

Vedrana: Our apartment here costs around 800 Euros per month. That includes water and payment for cleaning of the communal areas of the building. We pay extra for electricity, wifi and home insurance. Home insurance is mandatory. It costs around 100 Euros a year.

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Marin: We came to Västerås because Vedrana's brother was here, but now he moved to another place. He helped us find an apartment when we first arrived. It's difficult to arrange an apartment from Osijek to Sweden with an agency - you actually have to be here. It's not something we could do online before we came.

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Vedrana: We were saving for around a year before we came, in preparation. We got around 30, 000 kuna. We spent it on travelling here, start up and the first apartment. My brother's wife worked in a company here and she made a recommendation for me and I started to work there. Then, I made a recommendation for Marin. Everything here is made with recommendations. Everything. Our company offers services. Anything you could think of. Home services, customer services. Sometimes you might be sent gardening, babysitting, fixing something in someone's home, painting a room, window or home cleaning, helping someone move house. Sometimes the client is a private individual, other times it's a company.

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Stones1.jpeg"We like going for walks here. The scenery is very different to Slavonia" Vedrana

Vedrana: We don't work full time here. We work around 75% of a full-time job. So, it's part-time. But still we have enough money to live and much more than back in Osijek. In Osijek, for working in the store full time, I earned 400 Euros per month. As a waiter, Marin earned around 600 Euros per month, depending on tips. Here, after tax, we earn around 1200/1300 Euros each. Sometimes Marin earns more because he can drive and so he can be sent outside of the area to do jobs. He is paid for his driving time.

Vedrana: Around one week ago, I bought myself some boots for 200 Euros. I would never have been able to do something like that in Osijek. When we went food shopping in Osijek, we always went with a list. If you didn't have a big salary, like us, you have to count what you are spending. Here, we don't do that. If I see something that I like, I will buy it.

What jobs would you like to be doing there?

Marin: I would like to work as a graphics technician or as a waiter again. I like being a waiter, I like working in hotels. Of course, my dream job would involve driving a snowmobile all day.

Vedrana: I would like to be a care assistant, but I need to learn Swedish first and then go to school.

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Marin: We had nothing when we arrived. We had two small chairs and we borrowed a thin mattress from her brother that we slept on. We bought pans, pots, plates, glasses and knives and forks first. Next, we bought a table and chairs. Then, we acquired a bed, we bought a sofa. After that, we stopped buying anything until we found an apartment that we could see ourselves living in for a long time. That's the one we are in right now, it's our third apartment here.

Did you meet any other people from the Balkans in Sweden?

Vedrana: Yes. I met a lady in an apartment agency. She took our ID details to check our backgrounds and when she saw our names, she said “Maksimovic? Where are you from?”, in English. When we said “Croatia”, she said “Pa mozemo i ovako pricati (well, we can talk like this)”. She was from Sarajevo. She came here 10 years ago. Another time, I went to a woman's apartment to work for the day. As a client, she already had my name and details. When she opened the door, I said hello and asked if she spoke English. She replied. “Možemo pričati na našem”. Her name is Elena and she is from Belgrade. We still see her sometimes, she is nice. She's been here around 20 years.

How difficult it is to learn Swedish?

Vedrana: It's really hard.

Marin: It's easy. I started when we were still in Croatia, just to get some basics. A few months ago, we started school. I learned English and German in both elementary and secondary schools. You can see the associations of those languages with Swedish.

Vedrana: The accent is difficult. You must make different sounds with your mouth than we have in Croatian. It's a very beautiful language when you hear it. It's not like German.

Marin: They sound funny when they talk. It sometimes sounds like they are singing.

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Would you move to a different city in Sweden if the right job opportunity was offered to you?

Vedrana: Yes. I would like to go to Gothenburg or Stockholm. It's more urban there, more to see and do, and more opportunities.

Marin: I would like to go to the north of Sweden. It's even colder and more remote there. And more snowmobiles. But, they only do mining there, and I don't know how to mine, so I'm not sure if I could find something there.

How different is the food in Sweden?

Vedrana: We don't eat meat, so we got used to cooking for ourselves at home before we moved from Osijek to Sweden. So, we haven't noticed a big change in what we eat. We do both eat fish. The kinds of fish you can buy here are really different. We sometimes eat salmon steaks. You never really saw those much in Osijek. Salmon is not so expensive here like it is in Croatia.

129953154_433817921132492_6956453034701630535_n.jpg"In the summertime, it is light all the time. The sun comes up around 3am and stays up until 11pm, but there is light all the time. I like it. I don't have trouble sleeping through it. Marin did, at first. In winter, there is no sun. It gets lighter around 9am and that lasts until around 3pm. But, there is no sun. It's like that from late October until March" Vedrana

Marin: People are a lot calmer here. Driving is different. There are not so many cars on the road in Osijek, but here, nobody sounds their horn at you or sticks their middle finger up at you because they don't like the way you drive. Nobody seems to be in a rush.

Marin: Alcohol is expensive here if you go to a bar or club. In Osijek, you pay maybe double the price for beer in a bar that you would in the supermarket. Here, the beer you buy for 15 kronas in the store you would pay 70 kronas for in a bar. But, it's not so expensive to go out if you work full time.

Vedrana: Here, you cannot buy alcohol in a store or a supermarket like back home. You have to go to the special Systembolaget store to buy it. You must be 20 years old, it closes at 8pm in the evening, it closes at 3pm on Saturday and is closed on Sunday.

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Marin: When you move from Osijek to Sweden, you can meet people from all over the world. It's not like Slavonia. We have neighbours from India. We speak together in English. We have a friend from Sri Lanka. I met a guy at work who is from Africa.

Do you ever regret moving from Osijek to Sweden?

Marin: Not sure yet. We don't regret it, but sometimes we feel nostalgic. But we realise that is amplified by this COVID situation – there's just not been any opportunity to travel back home and visit family and friends.

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Saturday, 6 April 2019

Prince Eugene of Savoy's Castle in Croatia to Be Reconstructed

ZAGREB, April 6. 2019 - Agreements on partnership in the implementation of the renovation of Prince Eugene of Savoy's castle in the eastern town of Bilje was signed in the city of Osijek on Friday, setting the conditions for the renovation of this historical building.

The documents were signed by the property's co-owners, Osijek-Baranja County Prefect Ivan Anušić and the Bilje Mayor Željko Cickaj.

The preparation of the project documentation will cost some 2.2. million kuna, and 1.8 million kuna of that amount is to be covered by European Union funds. The preparation of the documentation and public procurement procedures are to take two years.

The project is supposed to usher in a new cultural and tourist route called "The Route of Prince Eugene of Savoy", local authorities reported.

County authorities are collecting funds for the reconstruction of two more castles in the town of Našice.

The projects for the reconstruction of the castles are estimated to cost 75 million kuna. After the completion of its refurbishment, the Bilje castle will offer programmes in connection with hunting and wine tasting tours.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was born in 1663 and died in 1736, was a general of the Imperial Army and statesman of the Holy Roman Empire and the Archduchy of Austria.

The Bilje castle was constructed in the 17th century at his request in the vicinity of the Kopački Rit Nature Park.

The municipality of Bilje is a few kilometres north of the biggest eastern Croatian city of Osijek.

More news about Slavonia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Castle in Bilje to Become Attractive Tourist Centre

A new era and a refreshing breath of new life for another old building is on the horizon.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The 12th International Land Art Festival Slama – Bilje, Osijek

The Slama Land Art Festival is an annual event organised by Nikola Faller, who has a passion for raising consciousness and expression through art.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Bilje in Baranja Region: Nature, Culinary Gems and Hunting

Wealthy businessmen opt for Bilje’s tranquil forests.

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