Thursday, 4 November 2021

Discovering Authentic Croatia's Secrets With Seoski Tourism

November 4, 2021 – Village tourism or countryside tourism - Seoski tourism in Croatia - offers authentic, traditional experiences. Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske (Croatian Rural Tourism Association) tells us more about it, and their work to help facilitate it

Croatia's visitor offer is evolving and expanding. There are exciting aspects of authentic Croatia to be discovered. Away from the beach, villages inland often look remarkably similar to how they did one hundred years ago. There, crops are grown and produce made in ways passed down through generations of families. And, in some lucky instances, these family farmers are willing to open their doors, invite you inside and show you how they live.

25_-_Pelje_ac_-_Bread_under_bell_at_Agroturizam_Antunovi_.jpgBread from the peka at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

Seoski Tourism – translated as either village tourism or countryside tourism – is just that. Family farms that offer hospitality. These are some of the most homely and most welcoming accommodation experiences you can have in Croatia. Offering sights and sounds, tastes and flavours that you can't find anywhere else, visits or stays in Seoski Tourism places have long been loved by locals for weekend breaks or holidays outside peak summer. But, increasingly, these authentic Croatia experiences are being discovered by international visitors.

14_-_Moslavina_-_Goats_at_Kezele_family_farm.jpgMoslavina goats at Kezele family farm © Davor Konjikušić

One institution trying to facilitate the growth in interest is Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske - Croatian Rural Tourism Association. Since it was formed in 2016, they have tried to bring together Croatia's family farm hosts, to promote them and educate them, and to build bridges between these independents and tourist boards, tourist agencies, educators and even the wider world outside Croatia.

16_-_Moslavina_-_renewed_traditional_house_at_Kezelefamily_farm.jpgSeoski turizam Kezele in Šumećani, on the border of Zagreb County and Bjelovar Bilogora County © Davor Konjikušić

Based in Ivanić-Grad, Zagreb County, the Croatian Rural Tourism Association is currently touring the length and breadth of the country, holding workshops with as many Seoski Tourism family farms that will come. And if the farmwork doesn't allow them free time, then they can attend Croatian Rural Tourism Association workshops online.

On the eve of the association's online Seoski Tourism workshops for Central Croatia and Slavonia, TCN interviewed Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske, to find out more about Seoski Tourism in Croatia.

18_-_Prigorje_-_Local_specialties_at_Raki__family_farm.jpgPrigorje specialties at Rakić family farm

My name is Aleksandra Kuratko and I am secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske. As an association, we are 5 years old.

We have 35 members, most of whom are service providers in what we call Seoski Tourism. We also have several tourist boards and two educational institutions as members.

19_-_Bilogora_-_Horses_in_autumn_at_Agroturizam_Na_malenom_brijegu.jpgBilogora horses in autumn at Agroturizam Na malenom brijegu © Vladimir Vlajinić

Seoski tourism is not quite the same as rural tourism, because rural tourism is many different types of tourism that happen in rural areas. Seoski tourism - which you might translate as village tourism - is quite specific. We assemble people who work in agriculture and who, at the same time, are also offering hospitality. In English, you might call them Farm Stays. Or Agro-tourism – a merging of agriculture and tourism.

28_-_Pelje_ac_-_fresh_vegetables_from_Agroturizam_Antunovi_.jpgFresh vegetables at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

People who work on agricultural estates often take care of local cultural heritage. For example, they might maintain and renew traditional wooden or stone houses. Many also have etno collections, in which they preserve different objects from their region. Some of these objects might have been used in agriculture and households hundreds of years ago. So, they are preserving the cultural heritage of Croatian villages. This is what we call material cultural heritage. But, there's another kind.

Ethno0017.jpgCultural heritage preserved in one Slavonian village © Mario Romulić

Non-material cultural heritage is also a part. That might be preserving old recipes of traditional, regionally-specific dishes. Or, it might be showcasing the songs and dance of local music.

We are currently running a project which is supported by the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports in which we hold 37 Seoski Tourism workshops in the field all over Croatia. There will also be around 15 online workshops. The workshops are aimed at colleagues who currently operate in Seoski Tourism – they work in agriculture and offer hospitality. Also invited are local tourist boards and local action groups.

31_-_Photo_from_URTH_workshop_at_Slatina.jpgPhoto from URTH workshop in Slatina

So far, we conducted 20 workshops in the regions of Central Croatia, Slavonia and Baranja, and Podunavlje. From next week until the end of the year, we will conduct the workshops in Istria, Kvarner, Lika and Dalmatia. Some service providers were not able to attend earlier workshops, because of work commitments of Covid. So, we decided to also offer access to the workshops online. Tomorrow is our first online workshop for Central Croatia and on Friday it's the online workshop for Slavonia.

These workshops are interactive discussions between our association, service providers and all other stakeholders. We discuss the legislative framework, which can be extremely complex. We talk about new trends in tourism for the post-pandemic era. We also discuss the importance of integrating cultural heritage in digital promotion.

26_-_Pelješac_-_Donkey_farm_at_Agroturizam_Antunović.jpgDonkey farm at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

For the legislative framework, we have initiated the formation of a working group for the development of Seoski Tourism, which is now operating in the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports. So, at the workshops, we ask if anyone is having issues. We collect the responses and address them in the working group.

Part of the workshop is the presentation of a new web application of Seoski Tourism, which we have developed with Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports. It has two purposes. One is to create a digital catalogue of Croatian Seoski Tourism. You can see region by region some of the Seoski Tourism options – currently around 40, those who have already enrolled.

30_-_Podravina_-_Etno_rooms_at_Zlatni_klas_Otrovanec.jpgPodravina Etno rooms at Zlatni klas Otrovanec

A version of the app is currently available on the website of the National Tourist Board. But, they are building a new website. The forthcoming version of the catalogue will likely be more user-friendly with many more functions and options. On the new website, Croatia's Seoski Tourism options will be detailed in many different languages. It should be a great resource not only for tourists but for travel agencies, journalists like you and for educational institutions. That's the reason we are devoting time in our workshops to encourage Seoski Tourism providers to enroll. We are just at the beginning of the process.

11_-_Hrvatsko_zagorje_-_Grešna_pilnica.jpgGrešna pilnica in Zagorje © Jasna Podboj

The second purpose of the app is to collect information about the service providers. This info will be used by our working group when defining a Croatian model of Seoski Tourism. So far, we have taken examples from Slovenia, Italy and other countries that are successful with Seoski Tourism. But, these models were entered into our legislative system without fully considering our distinct business and cultural environments. That is now about to change.

We are very happy that, following many years of partially successful advocacy, there is now political will at a ministerial level to really shape things up, to change the laws and regulations in order to facilitate Seoski Tourism. We want to encourage more Seoski Tourism, not to have people from agriculture being turned away because of the difficulty of the process and bureaucracy.

22_-_Istria_-_Medieval_theme_park_San_Michael.jpgMedieval Theme Park San Michael © Silvia Otočan

You said part of the workshops will focus on new trends. What are some of these?

Research has been done by a working group that is developing a new tourism strategy for Croatia. It's called Strategy for Sustainable Tourism to 2030. Under the auspices of this group, a number of research fields have been analysed.

The collected data shows that a huge percentage of tourists are now more inclined to eat locally grown and healthy food. They want to spend their time on estates that are run in accordance with ecological principles. So, they really care about issues like how waste is disposed of etc. They also pay a lot of attention to culture. They are curious to learn exactly how we are living, how we are working and how we produce things. They want to learn about our society and culture. And, importantly, they really care about how they spend their money. Above all, they want to spend money in areas that can help support local communities.

17_-_Prigorje_-_Breakfast_at_Rakić_Family_Farm.jpgPrigorje Breakfast at Rakić Family Farm

For us, this is really important. Because Seoski Tourism answers these demands to an incredibly high level. We do produce local, healthy food. Not only on the agricultural estates where you can experience Seoski Tourism, but also from their neighbours who just do agriculture. We are concerned with ecology, we protect cultural heritage and the money spent in Seoski Tourism stays in local communities, where it has very beneficial effects.

In the digital promotion part of the workshops we are trying to persuade people about the importance of their online presence. Basically, these days, if you're not online, it's almost like you don't exist. So, we try to explain the importance of having good-quality photos, short videos and a regular online presence.

1_-_Baranja_-_Kulen__varci_nd_other_specialties_at_Baranjska_ku_a.jpgKulen, čvarci and other specialties at Baranjska kuća © Denis Despot

That's interesting. In some cases, it might be like two different worlds colliding - people who work in a traditional industry and a traditional environment having to adapt to a very modern way of operating. There's also another potential collision when providers learn of the expectations within modern tourism. Because these people can no longer just work in agriculture. To operate in Seoski Tourism, you're also very much expected to also be a host.

Yes. All of our current service providers who are successful within Seoski Tourism are also great hosts. It's essential. You can see it in almost all of the reviews for this kind of tourism. Guests come for the food and drinks and surroundings, yes. But, what they value the most, what they remember the most, is the host part of the experience. On the estates of Croatian Seoski Tourism, guests are welcomed like family. Across all of Croatian tourism we are expected to be good hosts. It's part of our reputation and the reason why many people come here from all over the world. In Seoski Tourism, it is vital we live up to those expectations.

13_-_Moslavina_-_Bread_from_bread_owen_at_Kezele_family_farm.jpgKezele family farm © Davor Konjikušić

Another aspect of this, which is a more recently-observed element, is that visitors often want an insight into the actual lives, even the personalities of their hosts. They want not only to taste the homemade sausages you make, but they also want to know how you do it, where you do it, how you learned to do that. When they go to Spain, they want to know how the people there make their wine. And, when they come to Croatia, they want to learn how we do it here.

So, all in all, those of us in Seoski Tourism are really busy. We are in agriculture, yes, but we are also in tourism and we are also online. With this more recently-observed aspect, we will need to try and devote even more time to our hosting. It can be difficult to balance the demands on your time. But, in our workshops, we are trying to persuade people to talk more about themselves, their lives, their cultural heritage. And, if there isn't time to do everything themselves, then to involve different and often younger generations of the family. Sometimes within the hosting or alternatively just with the online promotion and presence.

15_-_Moslavina_-_Kezele_family_farm_ethno_collection.jpgKezele family farm ethno collection © Davor Konjikušić

I've visited some family farms that were right at the start of their journey with Seoski Tourism and they seemed surprised that I was at all interested in what they do and how they do it. I think maybe they thought I was a bit crazy.

Yes, that is a response we sometimes also see at first. I think it's because our generation takes a lot of things for granted. We sometimes think that what we do is just what we do. We are not so good at showcasing it. “Why would I show someone how I make my cheese? I make my cheese like my grandmother used to make it” But, for those who open their doors to Seoski Tourism, inquiries about how they do what they do are only increasing. So, they seem to appreciate how we advise them in the workshops.

5_-_Me_imurje_-_Picnic_by_Me_imurski_dvori_restaurant.jpgPicnic by Restaurant Međimurski dvori © Igor Nobilo

We are trying to let our producers know that Seoski Tourism is not just a platform to sell their produce and an overnight stay, but it's a full experience they can sell. There are agricultural farms in Austria that are established in tourism that you must pay only to visit. Of course, that doesn't happen currently anywhere in Croatia, even though some of our Seoski Tourism estates have sections that look like museums.

Some of these aspects are very new. And the feedback is great. I truly believe there are hidden treasures to be discovered in some Croatian villages. We are here to tell that story.

IMG_0239fghj.jpgSelection of food from a Slavonian village © Mario Romulić

What is so rewarding about Croatian Seoski Tourism that international visitors would want to go to a traditional farm in some inland village instead of lying on the beach in Dalmatia for 14 days?

People come because they really want to see a different side of Croatia. And, there are many different aspects of Croatia to discover – not just Seoski Tourism, but also National Parks and Nature Parks. All of our current trends show us that more and more tourists are willing to come inland from the coast or to explore a different part of Croatia – inland Istria, for example, or continental Croatia.

20_-_Karlovac_-_Kamačnik_river_canyon.jpgKamačnik river canyon © Aleksandra Kuratko Pani

They really want to try authentic, local food. They want to eat healthy, to know what they are eating and how it is made. And, they want to experience flavours that are different from the usual ones they get from the supermarket.

6_-_Me_imurje_-_Traditional_Me_imurje_table_at_etno_restaurant_Me_imurski_dvori.jpgTraditional Međimurje table at Etno restaurant Međimurski dvori

Also, I would say that with Seoski Tourism, people get to know better an authentic version of Croatia and its culture. It's a story we hear very often from our members. Some of them are visited by large groups from cruisers. These are people who might be on a cruise on the Adriatic and who journey inland for a day trip. Or, it might be a group who are cruising the Danube and disembark to visit a family farm in Slavonia, Baranja or Srijem.

24_-__ibenik_-_Drnis_prosciutto_Ivana_Kalpi__Agroturizam_Kalpi_.jpgProsciutto from Drniš at Agrotourism Kalpić © Ivana Kalpić

When they visit farming estates on day trips, it's very often a huge 'wow' moment for them. For many, in their minds, Croatia is simply sun and sea. And that's not entirely their fault. We, as a country, have done very little until now to promote alternative sides of Croatia. The visitors experience these wow moments because of the hospitality they receive and because of the tangible aspect of the visit. This is a modern aspect – people want to touch things, know how things feel, taste, smell. They want to ride on horses or feed them. Or take part in cultural activities. These parts of a visit to Seoski Tourism are very difficult to experience anywhere else.

img_0261.jpg__648x432_q85_subsampling-2.jpg(left) Ivana Alilović, director of Zagreb County Tourist Board (right) Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske (Croatian Rural Tourism Association) © Zagreb County

Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske's online Seoski Tourism workshops begin today and their physical workshops continue next week in Istria.

If you'd like to read more about rural tourism in Croatia, then look here

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

World's Best Naive Art: Authentically Croatian Hlebine School

September 1, 2021 – We visit Podravina to discover the incredible Hlebine School of Croatian Naive Art

Croatia is sometimes difficult to find. Of course, with modern GPS and Croatia's nine international airports, getting here is no problem. But just where are you when you arrive?

Looking down at your dinner, the plate may hold a dish recognisable across the Mediterranean. Above your head, the architecture could be Roman, Austro-Hungarian or modern, indistinguishable. Ottoman influence lies everywhere from the best-loved handheld snacks to the mountain of slippers in every dwelling's doorway.

FolkCost.jpgA friendly local wears the folk costume of the small region surrounding Koprivnički Ivanec, near Koprivnica. The costume features the incredibly intricate Ivanečki vez embroidery, which has been safeguarded locally for over 90 years and is now a protected part of Croatia's cultural heritage. Photo © Marc Rowlands.

Actually, the true essence of the country you'll find in the Croatians themselves. And yet, their history is all too often obscured by the impositions of empires that once were here. However, we can find this history away from the major cities, the centres of influence. We find it in the villages. Specifically, in their folk costume, their folk song and folk dance. And we find it in the art there.

What is Naive Art?

IvanGenerali_Kraveuumi_1.jpegCows In The Woods by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Naive art is any art made by someone who has received no formal or classical training. In this sense, the earliest discovered art of humans – cave paintings – are naïve art. However, there is nothing the classical art world likes more than specifically defining art movements. And, to them, the modern era of European Naive Art begins in the late 19th Century, with a growing appreciation of painters like French Post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau (1844–1910).

Because of the lack of formal, classical or academic training, it is said that common characteristics exist within the work of many Naive Artists. Specifically, these characteristics stem from an ignorance of strict perspective. Naive Artists often do not mute colours or lessen detail with distance. Also, they often don't attempt to accurately decrease the size of objects at distance.

Croatian culture as a part of national identity

IvanGenerali_Rogatikonj_1.jpegHorned horse by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Croatian Naive Art is one of the best recognised and best-loved in the world. In truth, Croatia's movement doesn't begin to emerge until well into the 20th Century. Although, it is important to view the country's Naive Art within its broader search for a Croatian national identity. The roots of this movement stem back over 100 years prior to the emergence of Croatian Naive Art, beginning with the foundation of the Illyrian movement, Matica Hrvatska and more.

This older movement of national awakening had strong preoccupations with language, written text and cultural identity. Actually, its instigators were very much the educated intelligentsia of cities like Zagreb.

ivangeneralioupanipevec1954_1.jpeg'A Battered Rooster' by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Before the end of World War I, Russia had undergone two revolutions. After the war, the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires collapsed. Much of Europe was plunged into over half a decade of political upheaval - revolts, unrest and strikes by workers. Mostly socialist in sentiment - organised by workers and disillusioned former soldiers – this unrest and the accompanying birth of new nations lay not in the hands of the inner-city intelligentsia. And, many believed the cultural and artistic expression which reflected this new era should also come from the proletariat.

Krsto Hegedušić and the Earth Group (Grupa Zemlja)

imagKrsto_Hegedušić.jpgKrsto Hegedušić 'poklade' © Muzej moderne i suvremene umjetnosti Rijeka (MMSU)

One Croat who believed strongly in this was painter Krsto Hegedušić. He co-founded the Earth Group in 1929 during a challenging period for Croatia. Europe was still reaping the dire economic repercussions of the First World War. Croatia had finally been freed of Austro-Hungarian hegemony, only to be forced into existing within another monarchy.

The founding beliefs of the Earth Group were that authentic artistic expression should be a product of the time and space whence it came and should be free of foreign influence. Art should not be created for the sake of art, but to depict an actual reality.

imagerequiem.jpgKrsto Hegedušić 'Rekvizicija (Requisition)', 1929 © Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka

Krsto Hegedušić himself was very much a product of his studies. In 1920 he enrolled in what is today the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. After graduating, he spent an additional two years on a scholarship in Paris. And yet, as a painter, his subject matter often reflected the world around him. Social critiques, within his work he depicted everyday poverty and the exploitation of Croatian peasants.

Ivan_Tabaković.jpg'Football match' by another of the Earth Group's founding members, Ivan Tabaković, 1927 © Gallery of Matica srpska, Novi Sad

Born in Petrinja, Krsto Hegedušić spent summer holidays in the idyllic countryside and agricultural land surrounding his father's birth village of Hlebine, Podravina. When he was aged just 8 years old, Krsto's father died. Subsequently, the family moved to Hlebine. Later, Krsto would spend time living in Zagreb, not least for the duration of his studies. But, just one year into the life of the Earth Group, Krsto Hegedušić discovered a teenage artist back in Hlebine.

Hlebine School First Generation: Ivan Generalić, Franjo Mraz and Mirko Virius

Ivan_Generalić_Autoportret_1953.jpgSelf-portrait by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine. Photo © Koprivnica Town Museum

When we speak of the Hlebine School within Croatian Naive Art we are not actually talking about a building, an institution of learning. After all, the very definition of a Naive Artist is they are not classically trained. Instead, the Hlebine School is a discipline. And, more so than any Croatian Naive Art that followed, it is quite easy to define.

IvanGenerali_Kanas_1.jpeg'Kanas' by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Within its first generation, the three most prominent artists are Ivan Generalić, Franjo Mraz and Mirko Virius. Both Ivan Generalić and Franjo Mraz were born, lived and were discovered by Krsto Hegedušić in the village of Hlebine. Mirko Virius was from Đelekovec, less than 15 kilometres to their north-west.

IvanGenerali_Plesvgoricaj_1.jpeg'Ples v goricaj' by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Key to identifying the Hlebine School in its First Generation is the subject matter. All three of these artists painted the world around them – their neighbours and peers, living everyday lives, in the villages, landscape and towns of today's Koprivnica-Križevci County. Certainly, Krsto Hegedušić helped inspire this subject matter, moulding the artists to suit the ethos of the Earth Group.

HlebMusJosip1.JPGSome of Ivan Generalić's earliest drawings, made on brown paper shopping bags, now displayed at Galerija Josip Generalić, Hlebine. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Ivan Generalić was just 16 years old when discovered by Krsto Hegedušić in 1930. The meeting would have a fast and long-lasting impact on Generalić. Ivan's humble early canvasses were the brown paper bags used in the business of a close relative. Yet, within a year of meeting Hegedušić, Ivan Generalić found his work being exhibited in Zagreb.

HlebMusJosip2.JPGProgramme from the 1932 Earth Group exhibition at Zagreb's prestigious Art Pavillion. Ivan Generalić was exhibited by Yemlja in Zagreb in 1932 and the year before, 1931, when he was just 17. From Galerija Josip Generalić, Hlebine. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Hegedušić's shaping of the artists didn't obliterate their existing perspectives as much as it simply shifted them. For instance, Hegedušić's advice might have been "Instead of painting the church, why not paint people walking to the church in the snow?" or "Instead of marking the religious holiday by painting its origin story, why not show how you and your neighbours celebrate this holiday?"

Whether Hegedušić was conscious of doing it, or whether the artists were willfully lead, this guidance ultimately had the effect of politicising their work. In turn, this would lead the most authentic of all Croatian art into dangerous times when fascists took over the country. Proletarian in their themes, the Hlebine School and the Earth Group became viewed as Communist. The latter group was banned and Hegedušić arrested several times. During the Second World War, Mirko Virius was arrested, taken to a concentration camp in Zemun and executed. Ivan Generalić's painting of the sorrowful incident, 'The Death of Virius', is among his most famous. Franjo Mraz was also arrested during World War II but managed to escape.

Ivan_Generalić_195.jpg'Mask' by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Aside from informing the subject matter of their work, Hegedušić also educated the painters in different techniques. One of these techniques – painting on glass – would become an enduring component of the Hlebine School and Croatian Naive Art.

Painting on glass

Galerija_naivne_umjetnosti_-_Ivan_Generalić_Krave_pod_Ajfelovim_tornjem_1.jpg'Eiffel Tower' by Ivan Generalić. The original hangs at Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

Copying the style from imported religious art, when Hlebine School artists learned to paint on glass, it gave their efforts several distinct qualities. Firstly, if stored in the right conditions – away from damaging light – the glass protects the colours of the paint. As a result, much Hlebine School art is as brilliantly vivid today as the day it was first painted.

Secondly, this format makes the works heavy and fragile. Several masterpieces have been lost by falling to the floor and smashing.

Thirdly, painting on glass is time-consuming and challenging. Each painting must be thought out and planned in advance. The painter initially makes a sketch or preliminary painting as a guide. The image is then transferred to glass effectively in reverse. Details in the forefront of the painting must be applied first, with the background painted on top. Throughout the process, the artist will continuously check their progress on the opposite side of the glass.

Hlebine School Second Generation and onwards: Josip Generalić, Ivan Večenaj, Ivan Lacković, Mijo Kovačić, Franjo Filipović, Dragan Gaži

Ivan_Večenaj_Pevec_na_sunčaniciRooster_on_sunflower_oil_on_glass_1971.jpgRooster on Sunflower by Ivan Večenaj © Galerija Ivan Večenaj

Perhaps to their surprise, the painters of Hlebine School first generation became a big hit. Exhibitions of their work were appreciated first in Zagreb. But, then the exhibitions began to tour across Yugoslavia and eventually the art capitals of the world. This attention would help inspire a new generation of artists from Hlebine and the surrounding area.

Kovačić_Mijo_1995_Lončari.jpg'Lončari' by Mijo Kovačić at Galerija Mijo Kovačić © Koprivnica Town Museum

Success for the Hlebine School artists showed that Croatian art and self-expression were valid and valued even if unstudied. Thereafter, the tiny village of Hlebine would never look the same. More and more Naive Artists and folk artists were inspired to create. Still to this day, many continue.

While some Hlebine School artists carried on the tradition of painting on glass, others were inspired to sculpt in wood or, like Mirko Virius, paint on canvas. One of the key distinctions between later generations of the Hlebine School and the first is the subject matter.

Kovačić_Mijo_1997_Prodavači_kruha.jpgPodravina bread sellers in a picture hanging at Galerija Mijo Kovačić © Koprivnica Town Museum

Second and then third generation Hlebine School artists were inspired to paint folklore, fantasy, from imagination, and with symbolic uses of vivid colur. This broadening of the style was partially the influence of Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos, the first curator of the Gallery of Primitive Art in Zagreb (today Croatian Museum of Naïve Art). Subsequently, many of these later works would not fit within the paradigms of the Earth Group.

ŽabeFrogs_oil_on_glass_private_collection_of_Galerija_Ivan_Večenaj.jpg'Žabe (Frogs)' by Ivan Večenaj © Galerija Ivan Večenaj

For example, some of Ivan Večenaj's sacral paintings clearly come from the author's imagination and not his actual vision. Similarly, Josip Generalić, son of Ivan, travelled far beyond the limits of his home village in pursuit of his socio-political subject matter. Both artists were concerned with environmental issues on a global, not just a local level. Although, their work is still inextricably linked to their locale; Večenaj works the Podravina rooster emblem into many of his paintings and even depicts Christ within a Podravina landscape. So too does Josip Generalić when he paints The Beatles and others from the 60s counterculture movement.

On the Trail of the Hlebine School in Podravina & Prigorje, Home of the Treasures of Croatian Naive Art

GalerijaMijoKovai-Povratakzgjiva.jpegLocals return from mushroom picking in autumnal Podravina in a picture hanging at Galerija Mijo Kovačić © Koprivnica Town Museum

Some Croatian Naive Art is held in private and public collections across the world. Some of it finds a home in the National Museum of Naive Art in Zagreb. However, the vast majority of treasures from the Hlebine School of Croatian Naive Art remain in Podravina & Prigorje. The national Museum of Naive Art in Zagreb is currently closed as it undergoes the lengthy process of changing address. As a result, the following addresses in Koprivnica-Križevci County are currently the best places to see the most authentically Croatian of all the country's art.

Also, because the landscape of Hlebine, Koprivnica and wider Podravina appears in so much Hlebine School art, you genuinely need to come here to view both together. You'll get a much better understanding and appreciation of this art when you see it in its natural surroundings.

Galerija Mijo Kovačić, Koprivnica Town Museum, Koprivnica

DJI_0007-1.jpgKoprivnica Town Museum © Koprivnica Town Museum

Born 5 August 1935 in Gornja Šuma, Molve, Podravina, Mijo Kovačić is one of the last remaining Croatian Naive Artists of the Hlebine School's second generation. He still paints today, albeit not quite as prolifically as in the past. He has produced such a body of work that not only can you find him exhibited in Croatian Museum of Naïve Art in Zagreb, but also in dedicated Mijo Kovačić galleries in Zagreb and Koprivnica. The one is run by Koprivnica Town Museum, which you can see above. Find out more about the gallery here.

Galerija_Mijo_Kovačić_-Mijo_Kovačić_Portret.jpg'Portrait' hanging at Galerija Mijo Kovačić © Koprivnica Town Museum 

Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine

HlebMus2.JPGInside the Ivan Generalić permanent exhibition wing of Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Founded in 1968, the Gallery of Naive Art in Hlebine is one of the top two most important galleries for Naïve Art in Croatia, the other being the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art in Zagreb. But, unlike their Zagreb counterpart, this gallery concentrates specifically on the Hlebine School and locally produced art. A crowd of sculpted wooden figures greets you on the front lawn. Inside, beneath the wooden beams of a beautiful building designed specifically for this purpose, some of the best artists and paintings of the Hlebine School.

HlebMus.JPGStatues greet you at the front of Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine. Photo © Marc Rowlands

In the mid-1980s, when he was the most famous of all Croatian Naive Artists, neighbour Ivan Generalić paid the gallery a visit. He offered to pay for an extension to the gallery, on condition that it be used to house a permanent exhibition of his work. It was a win-win for the museum and Ivan Generalić subsequently donated some of his true masterpieces for the collection.

Ivan_Generalić_Maska.JPG'Maska' by Ivan Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

The newer part of the gallery is so true to the original design that, unless informed, you'd never guess it was built later. You'll find works by every key member of the Hlebine School here, including Ivan Generalić, Franjo Mraz and Mirko Virius, Josip Generalić, Ivan Večenaj, Ivan Lacković, Mijo Kovačić, Franjo Filipović and Dragan Gaži. Today, the museum is run by Koprivnica Town Museum. Find out more about the gallery here.

Galerija Josip Generalić, Hlebine

HlebMusJosip.JPGSummer house of Ivan Generalić at Galerija Josip Generalić, Hlebine. Photo © Marc Rowlands

“How long have you got?” asks Ivan Generalić, grandson of Josip Generalić, great-grandson of Ivan Generalić, as he greets you at the Galerija Josip Generalić, Hlebine. He's asking if there's time for the1 hour tour or 6-hour tour. We think he's joking. He's not.

Generalić family have lived here for at least five generations. Having two of the Hlebine School's most famous and most successful painters within their ranks has allowed them to expand their property portfolio. It's just as well, because there's a lot to see here. What was once the simple, semi-agricultural farmstead where Ivan's great grandfather was born is now a sprawling family estate that houses an ethno-museum and considerable gallery spaces filled with incredible exhibits. All of the original furniture from how his great grandfather lived is preserved, displayed as it was, only in an adjoining property the family now own. Alongside the history and many works of Ivan Generalić and Josip Generalić, folk art, sculpture and artisan furniture made by incredible craftsmen from across the Balkans, who the painters once traded with.

Galerija_naivne_umjetnosti_-_Josip_Generalić-Luda_Jaga.jpgLuda Jaga by Josip Generalić, hanging at the Galerija naivne umjetnosti (Gallery of Naive Art), Hlebine © Koprivnica Town Museum

If you already like this kind of art, you might have to pinch yourself more than once that you're being shown around by someone called Ivan Generalić. Ivan himself is not only knowledgeable but extremely engaging - there are several big laughs on the tour. Ivan points out one image of an unloved neighbour, who grandfather Josip sent to the moon. He provides him with a Podravina cow so at least he can survive. Perhaps feeling slightly guilty, in the next room, Josip has painted the neighbour's return to earth. Although, he lands nearby in the famously barren Đurđevac desert (sometimes known as the Croatian Sahara). That's quite a lot of time and paint spent on someone you don't like!

Ivan's great grandfather also had a sense of humour. Having grown tired of friends bragging about their holidays in summer houses on the Croatian coast (which he did not like), at the height of his fame he decided to build his own. He invited several friends to accompany him on his holiday. And proceeded to take them to his own back garden, just metres from his main residence, where he had built the summer house. Genuinely, you'll wish you had time for the 6-hour tour. Find out more about the gallery here.

Galerija Ivan Večenaj, Gola

HlebMusVec.JPGGalerija Ivan Večenaj, Gola. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Some of the work by artists from the first and second generation of the Hlebine School are scattered far and wide. But, with the canon of Ivan Večenaj, it's a different story. Truly breathtaking examples of his finest work – definitely among the very best – were reserved by the artist for his family collection. Included in the collection, most of his key sacral works, including Golgotha, a triptych of the life of Jesus, crucifixion and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom. Beautiful and bright images of Podravina roosters, agriculture and a charming portrait of his wife hang alongside. You can view them all at Večenaj's former home, now Galerija Ivan Večenaj in Gola. Across the road, an ethnic museum preserves life how it once was here. A truly unmissable highlight on the trail of Croatian Naive Art. Find out more about the gallery here.

Galerija_Ivan_Večenaj_-_Pevec_na_obedu.jpg'Pevec na obedu' © Galerija Ivan Večenaj

Galerija Ivan Lacković, Batinske

HlebMusVuk.JPGGalerija Ivan Lacković, Batinske. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Clearly something of a local patriot, Ivan Lacković donated some 300 works to the village of his birth. Within the collection, you'll find not only works by Lacković himself but also sculptures by Naive Artists Ljubica Marulec and the painter's brother, M. Lacković. Find out more about the gallery here.

HlebMusVuk2.JPGInterior of Galerija Ivan Lacković, Batinske. Photo © Marc Rowlands

Podravina Motifs (Podravski motivi)

P7140666-2.jpgPodravina Motifs (Podravski motivi). Photo © Grad Koprivnica

A three-decade-old Koprivnica event that showcases all of the cuisine, culture, music, dance, costume and art of Podravina. Naive Art is a key and central theme to the event. Usually, there are over 50 contemporary Naive Artists from the region exhibited, with their work on sale. Taking place each summer, it's a great place to get to know traditional Podravina and to pick up some amazing gifts. Find out more about the event here.

Šetnja kroz naivu u Hlebinama (Walk Through The Naive of Hlebine)

Šetnja_kroz_naivu_u_Hlebinama.jpgOutside Galerija Josip Generalić during Šetnja kroz naivu u Hlebinama © Tourist Board Central Podravina

An annual open-air gallery of Hlebine Naive Art taking place on the streets of the village itself. Organised by Tihomir Želimorski who has the rural accommodation offer Stari zanati in Hlebine, Šetnja kroz naivu u Hlebinama differs from Podravina Motifs because it focusses exclusively on art – painting and sculpture. The houses in Hlebine are treasure troves of Croatian Naive Art. During this summertime event, all village residents bring their paintings and statues out onto the streets, hang them on trees or in gardens. You're invited to walk around the delightful village to look. Find out more about the event here.

This article was produced with the kind help of Koprivnica-Križevci County Tourist Board and checked for accuracy by Koprivnica Town Museum.

If you want to find out the latest from Podravina, be sure to check TCN pages here.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Podravina Adventure, a New Tourist Product To Show the Wild Side of the Gentle Podravina Region

May 31, 2021 - As ePodravina writes, a new tourist product Podravina Adventure, a joint project of the Đurđevac Tourist Board and the Dravski peski Tourist Board, was introduced last Friday at the Karlovčan Family Ethno House in Brodić.

On this occasion, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports Sandra Herman visited the region. The project was briefly presented by Kristina Sočev, Assistant Director of the Koprivnica-Križevci County Tourist Board, Mario Fuček, Director of the Đurđevac Tourist Board, Vjekoslav Maletić, Mayor of Ferdinandovac and Director of the Drava Sands Tourist Board Alen Janći.                           

 195371343_10159847025274073_3587361850705742198_n.jpg

Kristina Sočev thanked the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the State Secretary for their support and approval of the project as a joint venture between the Tourist Board of the City of Đurđevac and the Tourist Board Dravski peski, as well as for the financial support of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports with which one piece of equipment was purchased.

''We wanted to show that our county is rich in tourist offer that is not sufficiently recognized. The coronavirus pandemic showed that outdoor activities are the future and an opportunity to develop continental tourism'', said Sočev, adding that the tourist communities of Pitomača and Virovitica-Podravina County and Nippy Adventures also participated in this project.

189891584_10159839097624073_6670768233938033400_n.jpg

Alen Janći explained that the new tourist product will include the promotion of rafting, quads, bicycles of the beautiful Bilogora  area, which are united in the name of Adventure Podravina.

''We are sure that it will experience success and increase the number of arrivals and overnight stays in our tourist area'', said Janći.

 192316589_10159839178324073_8759736684792248439_n.jpg

Mario Fuček from the Đurđevac Tourist Board expressed his satisfaction at the fact that the representatives of several tourist boards put their heads together.

''We did it in order to show a different side of Podravina because it is adorned with gentleness, and we see in it the wild side that is also beautiful to show. We have a wealth of tangible and intangible cultural heritage and while we put it all on a pile Podravina really has a lot to show '' said Fuček.

Secretary of State Sandra Herman supported the idea of forming a partnership around tourism product.

''This is an excellent good practice example of joint ventures and why they are important'', said Herman and announced that the funds will be paid this year, and all those who formed joint ventures to pursue their projects will, according to the new rules be able to apply to the public call for project fundinf at the end of the year.

194329348_10159847025454073_2484447719382026555_n.jpg

''We already feel and can experience that joint ventures regarding such projects have a future. Here, the result can already be seen, congratulations. Now we have to further promote your efforts and put it on the tourist market'', she said, emphasizing that Koprivnica-Križevci County will get its place in the Discover Rural Croatia campaign by the end of the year. 

193235339_10159839439584073_7668045080012356097_n.jpg

With the apperance of the coronavirus, Podravina is increasingly turning to domestic, Croatian guests who want to explore the interior, the continental part of Croatia and foreign tourists.

''We will find additional funds for your events and top events for which we did not know at the beginning of the year whether they will take place. The continent is one of the underdeveloped areas, this year we have provided almost 40 million kuna to help underdeveloped areas, we want a balanced and stronger development of tourism, which brings the development of overall tourism in Croatia'', said Herman.

For more tourism news from Croatia, check out the dedicated TCN travel section

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.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Continental Croatia Trains: Inland Opens Up With Green Travel

October 3, 2020 - With charter airlines in a state of flux and Croatia Railways beginning a renewal of their fleet in Slavonia, are continental Croatia trains the eco-friendly and best way to unlock the inland's amazing potential?

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Even before 2020 arrived, lifestyles and trends were headed in new directions. Eco-tourism and agro-tourism were two of the fastest-growing areas within the travel sector, this behaviour change a response to concerns about the environment. And nowhere in the country stands better poised to take advantage of this interest than continental Croatia.

ivo-biocinaCNTB.jpgImpossibly pretty Zagorje - the region lies just north of Zagreb and is accessible by continental Croatia trains © Ivo Biocina / Croatia National Tourist Board

From the impossibly pretty hills of Zagorje, the peaceful rivers of Karlovac county and the hidden vineyards that surround the capital Zagreb to the vast Pannonian flatlands that stretch to Slavonia, Baranya, Vukovar-Srijem and beyond, the varied topography of continental Croatia is wild, exciting and - by many - wholly undiscovered.

This is land where agriculture and nature thrive side by side, where the stresses of modern-day existence ebb away as you readjust to a way of life that would look mostly familiar to the people who lived here centuries ago. These are places where you can truly be at one with yourself and with your surroundings. In continental Croatia, you often find yourself in an environment that is both timeless and traditional, yet wholly contemporary in regards to its ecological aspirations. And you're never far away from an exciting city environment that you can dip into on a whim – not just Zagreb, but Osijek, Slavonski Brod, Karlovac, Sisak and Varaždin too.

kalendar04.jpgTo those who really know and love Croatia, Osijek is simply unmissable. It is both the capital of and the doorway to Slavonia and Baranya and should be more accessible by continental Croatia trains. Sadly, international transportation links to the city by air are also quite poor. Improvements in accessibility to Slavonia and Baranya by rail and road are imminent © Romulić & Stojčić

Unlocking the incredible potential of continental Croatia relies on getting the message out there and facilitating travel to these regions

In recent TCN features we have detailed that motorways within Croatia are among the best in Europe - once you're inside Croatia, travelling by car (or bus) between the regions couldn't be easier. We have also seen evidence of the huge interest in travelling here by rail and using continental Croatia trains.

Of all the modern methods of long-distance travel, rail is by far the most eco-friendly. What better way to begin an environmentally friendly holiday than by arriving on continental Croatia trains? When the country wisely decided to prioritise its internal motorway system, a modern and fast inter-regional rail network was put on the back burner. Nowhere suffers greater from this decision than continental Croatia.

Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe.gifThe Croatian rail network © Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe

The only high-speed line that currently exists in Croatia links Rijeka to Budapest, via Zagreb and Koprivnica. Planned improvements hope to cut journey times between Zagreb and its nearest coastal city to an hour. Same as it ever was - Rijeka was the first Croatian city to be connected internationally by rail. That line also ran into the heart of Austro-Hungary and facilitated upper-class travel to places like Opatija. But does it best benefit the country to invest in more links to the coast or in continental Croatia trains? Well, the inland is not being ignored. Upgrades are being made to continental Croatia trains.

IMG_8990.jpgThis impressive beast actually services the country's coast. But would more investment in the continental Croatia trains network better service more people and help unlock the inland to tourists? Around 70% of the country's inhabitants live in continental Croatia © HŽPP

The rail link between Zagreb and Slavonski Brod is so historic that it was once part of the four routes of the Orient Express. It has been maintained to a standard where you can make a relatively quick journey from the capital to Vinkovci via Slavonski Brod. The same cannot be said for rail travel to Osijek, the access point to Baranya and much more. So slow is the connection between Osijek and Zagreb that it has been possible over recent times to reach the Slavonian capital quicker by taking the train to Vinkovci, then the bus to Osijek, rather than travelling direct by rail.

Slavonija_Osijek0191.jpgOsijek train station. A renovation to the building is planned for the near future © Romulić & Stojčić

However, in February this year, Croatian Railways introduced four direct daily lines between Slavonski Brod and Osijek. And there will be a new tilting train line that will run between Zagreb to Osijek on Friday afternoon and from Osijek to Zagreb on Sunday afternoon, facilitating student travel. On October 15, the first low-floor train will run between Osijek and Vinkovci as an additional part of the renewal of their continental Croatia trains fleet in Slavonia. The welcome return of Croatia's second-oldest international rail line - linking Osijek to Pécs in Hungary, via Beli Manastir and Baranya - was introduced in late 2018.

23e1f08a601e02be10403fbc28ced968_XL.jpgA motorway stretch between Metković and Dubrovnik, integrating the Pelješac bridge and the Croatian segment of the European corridor are the final big remaining projects in a three-decade-long undertaking to give Croatia one of the best motorway networks in Europe. Should Croatia's rail network be next? © Hrvatske Autoceste

Access to Slavonia and Baranya will also be massively facilitated upon completion of the European corridor, which will connect North Europe to the Adriatic. Starting in Budapest, it necessitates the building of a bridge near Beli Manastir. Thereafter the motorway will pass by Osijek, connect to the Zagreb-Slavonia motorway near Lipovac, then pass through Bosnia and its capital Sarajevo and on to Ploče.

The removal of budget airline flights to the airport in Osijek remains a hindrance to attracting many international visitors to Slavonia and Baranya. However, with charter airlines facing the greatest uncertainty of all modes of transport at the current time, though their return is a must, it is perhaps now an ambition that should remain more long term. For the immediate future, improvements to rail travel look to be a brilliant way of opening up not only Slavonia, Baranya and Vukovar-Srijem, but also an eco-friendly access point capable of serving the whole of untapped continental Croatia.

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

Read the Croatian Travel Update in your language - now available in 24 languages

Join the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Medvedgrad: Renovated Fortress to Boast Pantry with 13th Century Scents!

Fancy a coffee in the basement of the fort and "stealing" a recipe from a medieval pantry, seeing three different museums, and visiting the top of the southern part of Medvednica and enjoying a breathtaking view of the Croatian metropolis, Zagreb? At the end of this year, visitors to the legendary Medvedgrad fortress will be able to enjoy all of the above. The beautiful Medvedgrad fortress was built in the 13th century to defend against Tatar attacks, and has never been conquered.

As Vecernji list/Mateja Jezovita writes on the 15th of February, 2020, construction work on the Medvedgrad fortress' third refurbishment, which has been going on since back in November 2018, is currently in its completion phase and in three weeks, everything will be ready for the application for an operational permit. After that, work on landscaping and the museum exhibits will begin, which will run through November. If everything goes according to plan, the official opening of the Medvedgrad fortress will be in December 2020.

The southern tower will house a permanent exhibition called: "In the Kingdom of the Ancient Forests" through which visitors will be able to find out what plant and animal species can be found on Medvednica, such as lynx, deer, wild cats and oak trees. The star will be a small palace where a second exhibition will be housed: ''The Secret of the Ancient Mountain.''

That exhibition will portray the myths and legends of Medvednica through motifs from the forest, such as fairies. In addition, installations called the "Shadow Theatre" will be installed. With a combination of sound, light and shadows, as well as a smoky effect in the room, a costumed guide will introduce visitors to folk tales, such as the one about the so-called Black Queen. The whole experience will be complemented by a pantry where you can see medieval objects and recipes, as well as smell them as if they came directly into the present day from the 13th century. The Grand Palace, however, will have its own "Enchanted History" which will be a time machine through the past of the mountains and Medvedgrad, which has been ruled by more than 150 different masters.

''This part of the Medvedgrad fortress will also include a restaurant, an administrative office and a hall that can be used to hold professional meetings, presentations and educational workshops. Old tiles were specially commissioned 35 years ago, so the requirement was that the same ones should be placed again despite the fact that they are no longer on the market.

''In the end, we found some that are very similar,'' explained the director of Medvednica Nature Park, Marina Popijac.

''Since Medvedgrad is not connected to the water supply, rainwater will be used. That's why we've installed a flushing system,'' said Josip Kujek, the construction manager. They had a big problem, he added, with waterproofing the wall in that room because they couldn't dig outside without damaging the archaeological site. A solution was found in injection, which means that through the special openings on the inside, they released a resin that filled the holes on the outside. As for the smaller palace, that was also a particular challenge.

''The interior was in the worst condition possible, it was completely shabby. We removed the old ceiling panels and installed new ones, and painted and varnished the wooden structure. There used to be land here, and now we have put up panels that mimic the former "peasant" floor,'' said Kujek.

Any material used in the restoration had to be approved by the appropriate institution in order to maintain its original appearance.

''Everything should retain its original appearance. So we tried out dozens of different grout fillings that differed only in their hues until we found the most similar one, which was almost identical to the one of the past. All the walls have been restored, and so far 4,000 square metres have been "drained" explained Marina Popijac and Josip Kujek.

The construction part of the Medvedgrad fortress is now nearing completion, with minor repairs expected over the next few months, and a plan that will include, among other things, the introduction of new trails that will allow pedestrians to walk through and around the fortress. The list also includes the purchase of two electric cars to transport visitors from Zagreb to Medvednica, as well as eight electric bicycles that can be rented.

Video surveillance is yet to be installed, which, according to the director of the Nature Park, will be an important novelty in Medvedgrad.

"We could have used some cameras just a few weeks ago as some vandals broke in and smashed a forklift truck and glass. Fortunately, the Homeland Altar, as it isn't being restored, was protected by pallets and tarpaulins during the works, which now serve as a "defense" against devastation,'' said the director of the Medvednica Nature Park, Marina Popijac.

Make sure to follow our dedicated travel page for more. If it's Zagreb you're interested in, give Total Zagreb a follow or check out Zagreb in a Page.

Search