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.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Discovering Đurđevac: Legend of the Rooster and Croatia's Only Desert

October 28, 2021 – Where the fields and vineyards of the lower Bilogora foothills meet the Drava floodplain and Croatia's only desert, you find the town of Đurđevac.

The east of Croatia is not known for its mountains. And yet, a long stretch of more or less continuous hills separates the Drava river's long valley from the rest of Croatia. For around 80 kilometres, part of the task is taken by the relatively low-lying Bilogora mountains.

The land between the mountains and the river slopes gently from foothills to floodplains. It is fertile, filled with vineyards and fields of agriculture. But, inexplicably, within this terrain, you'll find a desert.

This remarkable anomaly is the only such sand-filled wilderness in the country. And it is at this point - where the fields and vineyards of the lower foothills meet the floodplain and the Croatian desert - you find the town of Đurđevac.

Old Town Đurđevac (Stari grad Đurđevac)

Marc345.JPG© Marc Rowlands

Old Town Đurđevac is the most iconic building in this part of Croatia. Given its name, you could be forgiven for thinking this fortified structure is the origin of the town. Not so. Located just to the south, Đurđevac was already an established village when, in the 1480s, Bishop of Pécs Sigismund Ernušt commissioned the defensive fort. It was built in response to the rising threat of the Ottomans from the east.

nemetDJI_0295.jpg© Ivan Nemet

The land on which the original village and Old Town was placed is wet - river meadows in the floodplain of the Drava. Still to this day, you'll not find anything built on this partial swamp for over two kilometres to the north of Stari grad Đurđevac. Like buildings in the original settlement, the fortification was constructed on sandbanks created to elevate the building from the marshland. Its location and sturdy, defensive build - with surrounding walls and 9-metre tower – served the town well. Though besieged many times, Old Town Đurđevac never fell.

DSC_1571.jpg© Mato Zeman

Today, Stari grad Đurđevac holds important art and artefacts of the town. Inside, you'll find the Picokijada Interpretation Centre and Đurđevac City Museum. The former explains the legend behind the town's greatest annual event. The latter holds one of the region's most important collections of paintings, statues and artistic posters, much of it a donation made by local artist Ivan Lacković. But, this building is not only a relic and reminder of the past.

Željko_Car_34_2.jpg© Željko Car

By day, re-enactments and events take place in the walled courtyard. By night, youngsters of the town often gather here. On the ground floor of the main fortress, an open-air bar and restaurant. It is one of the best places in town to eat.

DSC_5088.jpg© Mato Zeman

Authentic food of Đurđevac

MarcfghjkWHEEEL.jpgAward-winning cheeses, fresh from the farm shop at Family Farm Imbrišić (here) in Kozarevac, near  Đurđevac © Marc Rowlands

Recognisable as the cuisine of continental Croatia, you have to look a little closer to identify the distinct menu of Podravina and Đurđevac. Meat preserved as sausages and river fish from the nearby Drava feature on the Đurđevac menu, as they do a little further downstream in Slavonia. But, Đurđevac and Podravina have a much greater tradition of dairy products than Slavonia. You'll find many local cheeses on the menu at Restoran i pivnica Stari grad (here), within the walls of Old Town Đurđevac and at Restaurant Đurđevečka iža (here), inside the town's Hotel Picok. The fresh river fish from the Drava you can try year-round at nearby Ribička hiža (here).

Marc788.JPGBreakfast at Restoran i pivnica Stari grad © Marc Rowlands

Croatian Sahara (Hrvatska Sahara): Stari grad Đurđevac Zoo

DJI_0285.jpg© Ivan Nemet

Sitting just next to Stari grad Đurđevac, Hrvatska Sahara is the small zoo of the town. It is titled after the Croatian Sahara, a near-forgotten moniker for the desert nearby. And, just like in the deserts of North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, you'll here find camels. They share the sands with goats, donkeys, horses, chickens, peacocks and llamas.

ZooStarigradurevac-1010186.jpg© Ivan Nemet

Natural assets: Đurđevac Sands (Đurđevački pijesci) - the only desert in Croatia

Mato_Zeman3ertgh.jpg© Mato Zeman

Born high in the Alps of Italy, the Drava river crashes down 1000 metres through Austria and Slovenia before reaching Croatia. Any rock that falls on the same path is pulverised by the time it reaches here. Formed by deposited glacier sediment, the sandy riverbanks of the Drava and the Đurđevački pijesci are testament to this. Đurđevački pijesci are simply sands of the river that were blown to this area by persistent, strong winds.

Mato_Zeman12.jpg© Mato Zeman

There was a time when people sought to tame this wilderness. As recently as the 20th century, an active process to afforest the sands was underway. And it was successful. While Đurđevački pijesci cover around 20 hectares today, at one time they were known to stretch some 12 kilometres. In fact, the dunes were so vast that it wasn't uncommon for people, horses and carts to disappear in the desert. For this reason, the Croatian Sahara earned the more sinister nickname of the 'Bloody Sands'.

Mato_Zemanfghjk.jpg© Mato Zeman

In 1963, part of the Đurđevački pijesci was declared a special geographical and botanical reserve. This protection now preserves the peculiarities of the vegetation here - only certain plants were able to adapt to living in this desert. Among them are several endemic species. Over 30 distinct species of butterfly can be found in and around the area of the sands. They can be seen when visiting Đurđevački pijesci, along with the spectacular dunes.

Đurđevac Sands Visitors Centre (Posjetiteljski centar Đurđevački pijesci)

Željko_Car_15.jpg© Željko Car

Within recent memory, the town's Picokijada Interpretation Centre found itself among the most popular museums in Croatia. Taking inspiration from its immersive experience, the Đurđevac Sands Visitors Centre is the next-generation version. At the time of writing, it is likely among the most modern, multimedia museum experiences in southeastern Europe.

On paper, a visitors centre dedicated to a geological irregularity doesn't sound that exciting. But, Đurđevac Sands Visitors Centre offers such an engaging experience, it's easy to see why kids don't want to leave.

Your journey begins not with a scientific explanation, but in the mysterious world of myths and folklore. In the roof space, a planetarium-like projection space introduces you to the local legends on which the region is founded. Thereafter, a series of rooms with different multimedia, augmented reality and interactive elements keep a firm grip of your attention. At the end of the tour, you've learned not only about the Đurđevac sands and the Drava river, but also the diverse fauna and flora that lives here.

Natural assets: Drava river

MarcDrava345.jpgThe Drava, near Durdevac © Marc Rowlands

Although it doesn't run through the town, the Drava river shapes almost everything about Đurđevac. Certainly, the river is part of the reason the town is here. It informs not only the river fish section of the local menu but also the wine list. The incredible white wines that are made all around the town are a product of the sandy soil deposited by the river.

The river also offers the nearest recreational escape for town residents. Sitting less than 10 kilometres away, there's plenty of room on the banks for local fishermen and guests. So too, children on horseback. Canoeing, rafting and boating are great ways to see the river and its wildlife up close. If you want to learn more about the sights and activities available on the Drava river near Đurđevac, then look here.

Picokijada and the Legend of the Rooster (Legenda o picokima)

Željko_Car_21_2.jpg© Željko Car

While the Old Town fort remained unconquered by the Ottomans, that's not to say the invaders didn't try to overcome the town and those inside its walls. In fact, on at least one occasion, it's said they came very close to succeeding.

MatoZeman_1.jpg© Mato Zeman

The Legend of the Rooster (Legenda o picokima) tells the tale of the most famous encounter between the Ottoman forces and the town. So the story goes, leader of the attacking forces Ulama-beg encountered such unexpected resistance that he was unable to take the town fortress. He decided on an alternate strategy. By laying siege to the Old Town of Đurđevac, he hoped to exhaust the resources of the people and eventually starve them into submission.

Željko_Car_33.jpg© Željko Car

It almost worked. As it is told, the long siege took a terrible toll on the town. Food inside the walls had all but disappeared. Saved by an elderly woman of the town, there was only one small rooster left - in the Đurđevac dialect, a 'picok'. It wasn't nearly enough to feed all those inside. So, as a last roll of the dice, the old woman suggested the rooster instead be put in a cannon and fired into the Ottoman camp.

_Mato_Zeman2.jpg© Mato Zeman

Exhausted themselves by the long siege, the Ottomans are said to have lost all heart upon seeing the bird shoot into their encampment. If there was still so much food that those inside could freely scatter and mock, surely there was no near end in sight? The ploy was successful. Ulama-beg gave up the siege and ordered a retreat from the battlefield, cursing the people of Đurđevac as 'picoki' as he left. It's a nickname they proudly keep to this day.

Picokijada2021-3807.jpg© Ivan Nemet

The Picokijada is an annual re-enactment of this legend and is one of the most important cultural events in Koprivnica-Križevci County. It has been held at the end of June since 1968 and now takes place over three full days.

Since 2006, the event has been protected as an intangible cultural heritage of Croatia. It has a cast of thousands and draws many more thousands of visitors. Alongside the theatre and legend, Picokijada features sports, games, activities, a procession and a popular cake competition.

Picokijada-Cakeexhibition-2021-02566.jpg© Ivan Nemet

This article was produced with the co-operation of Koprivnica-Križevci County Tourist Board. Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to sincerely thank Željko Car, Mato Zeman and Ivan Nemet for the kind permission to use their photography here.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Discover the Beautiful Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County

October 14, 2021 – From thrilling watersports and cycling, brilliant wine and food festivals to wonderful weekend escapes, the epic Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County is an endless source of fun and inspiration.

Of the many rivers that run through Croatia, five of them could truly be classed as European giants – they stretch for around 300 kilometres or longer. They are Sava (945km), Drava (749km), Kupa (297km), Mura (483km) and Danube (2860km).

These rivers help define Croatia. They dictate the agriculture, activities and cuisine of the Croatian regions they pass through. Furthermore, they often create the very borders of the country.

Goran_ŠafarekIMG_1479_DxO.jpg© Goran Šafarek

Running along the length of the country's most northerly border, the Mur river separates Croatia from Slovenia in the west and Hungary in the east. But, near the Nature Preserve of Veliki Pažut and the historic municipality of Legrad, both in Koprivnica Križevci County, the Mur river gives up its task. Here it flows into the Drava river, becoming its biggest tributary. Thereafter, the Drava continues the job of separating Croatia and Hungary.

The Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County

marcy387u5ythg.JPGA wide expanse of water, the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County © Marc Rowlands

By the time the Mur meets the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County, the Drava has already travelled more than half of its journey. To get here, it has descended over 1150 metres. Such a long fall has a significant effect on how the river looks and behaves here.

Željko_Car_12.jpgTraditional wooden fishing boat by the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County © Željko Car

Gone are the violent drops, gushing waterfalls, narrow channels, big boulders and sharp rocks. By now, it has left all that far behind. Instead, the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County is an epic, wide expanse of water. On either side, it is bordered by thick, green forests and fields. Its banks are a fine sand, creating beaches on which fishermen and families happily sit all day. This is how the Drava river is here, the perfect natural place for relaxing and recreation.

DSC_1247.jpgFishermen enjoying summertime on a Drava beach © Mato Zeman

Recreation, relaxation, activities and unmissable sights on the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County
Beaches, birdwatching and boats in Legrad and Veliki Pažut

Goran_ŠafarekIMG_1847_DxO.jpgFrom above, part of the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve at the confluence of the rivers Mur and Drava © Goran Šafarek

Further upstream, people take advantage of the Drava's powerful descent. There, the river is regulated, channelled and harnessed for hydroelectric power. But, where the Drava meets the Mur in Legard, it is wild and unregulated.

Goran_Šafarekušće_Mure_u_Dravu_Meridijani_2019.jpgIn the mist, the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve © Goran Šafarek

This is an ever-changing landscape, right on the border of Međimurje. Here, the rivers are left free to roam. Before 1710, nearby Legrad was actually in Međimurje. But, the Drava changed course and gave Legrad to Podravina. These constantly shifting waterways and floodplains create new habitats and restore existing ones. Subsequently, this is an area of immense biodiversity.

Goran_ŠafarekMG_8164_DxO.jpgTwo of the colorful residents in the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve, captured by © Goran Šafarek

The Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve is 1000 hectares that are specially protected to preserve this biodiversity. Its wetlands and running waters are home to beavers, ducks, coots, waterfowl and reed warblers. In winter, wild geese (spotted goose and hawthorn goose) stay here in large numbers. The deer who wander the surrounding forest are also protected, so long as they stay in Veliki Pažut. You can catch sight of this wildlife and photograph it from the new, specially designated solar-powered boat.

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In warmer months, people bring their picnics and barbecues down here to the water's edge. There's a famous beach at the old Legrad-Halasz Csarda resort and nearby a new children's playground.

čigre_na_sprudu_National_Geographic_2015.jpgAnother two residents in the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve, captured by © Goran Šafarek

You can read more about the visitor offer in Legrad and at the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve here

Cycling the Drava river routes

podravina-prigorje-bike-ilustracija-005_1.jpgCycling by the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County © Podravinaprigorjebike.com

The Drava route is the oldest and most famous bicycle path in Podravina. As its name suggests, it largely follows the course of the Drava river. Although, it veers away from the riverside to take in some of the must-see sights of the county.

podravina-prigorje-bike-ilustracija-001_1.jpg© Podravinaprigorjebike.com

On the 84 kilometre route, you pass through a diverse landscape - fields of golden agriculture, the neat rows of gently descending vineyards and forests that filter the sunlight. From the confluence of the Mura and Drava in Legrad, you drop down past Šoderica lake, before taking in the remarkable village of Hlebine, world-renowned as the centre of an art movement.

podravina-prigorje-bike-ilustracija-015_1.jpg© Podravinaprigorjebike.com

It's not the only historic settlement you meet. The grand city of Koprivnica sits on the route. Its town centre holds several monuments to cycling, so appreciated is the pastime here. Thereafter, traditional rural villages like Podravske Sesvete and Ferdinandovac give a timeless sense of life next to this great river.

Of course, this epic bike path is not the only one in Koprivnica Križevci County (you can see all of the specially designated ones here). Nor is it the only one to pass by the county's special waters.

Goran_ŠafarekD__6321_DxO-1.jpgDeer climbing the banks of the Drava, captured by © Goran Šafarek

At 394 kilometres in length, the D7 bicycle route is incomparable. Starting on the Adriatic sea and ending on Lake Balaton in Hungary, it takes in some of Croatia's greatest water features, including Plitvice Lakes National Park, Lonjsko polje Nature Park and the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County. Other highlights it passes in the county are the medieval town of Đurđevac and the village of Gola. From Gola, an alternative bicycle route takes you back along the Drava, then across the river and on to Šoderica lake. The lake is surrounded by new recreational paths perfect for walking, cycling and skating.

Fishing on the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County

Željko_Car_2.jpgIn autumn. Fishing on the Drava is enjoyed all year. © Željko Car

Boasting a massive 831,43 hectares of fishing waters, Koprivnica Križevci County is a fisherman's paradise. Carp, catfish, common bream, trout and pike are among the most commonly encountered here. These waters include not only the Drava and the Mura rivers but also more than 20 designated fishing lakes. They're managed by ZŠRK Koprivnica (here), who can also issue permits to any visitors drawn to fish in the spectacular county waters.

0000180000.jpgPeaceful seclusion on the Drava © Mato Zeman

Camping by the Drava and Šoderica lake

Soderica54.jpgOn a summer day, Šoderica lake © Marc Rowlands

Often, the best way to connect with nature is to get up close and stay awhile. Camping by the Drava is great for relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. The Aqua Terra campsite (here) at Šoderica lake is just a couple of hundred metres from the river. There, you're only a few steps from the recreational lake, which is fed underground by the Drava itself.

117035465_2693303857613533_5173964214743674320_n_1.jpgSummer fun on the beach at Šoderica lake © Aqua Terra

You're not alone on the lakeshore. Since before the 1960s, this has been a favourite place to come. Weekend houses sit back from the shoreline promenade. In warmer months, children's voices carry across the water while they're swimming in Šoderica. In the evenings, young adults congregate at popular bars on the edge of the lake. Music concerts, sports tournaments fill the lake's social calendar.

Marcy1.JPGCyclists take a break from the sun at Šoderica lake © Marc Rowlands

The camp itself is spread across 20,000 square meters and includes an activities park - with rope bridges through the treetops - and a beach bar. You can find out more about the events and activities on Šoderica lake here.

Hunting in the forests of the Drava

dia_0090_levels.jpgThe river in winter © Mato Zeman

The forests that thickly line the banks of the Drava are filled with wildlife. Roe deer, red deer, boar, rabbits and pheasants are just some of the inhabitants. The region's hunters play a vital role in maintaining the habitat of these animals and in keeping track of population numbers. Visitors from several European countries are regularly welcomed to join their activities. Koprivnica-Križevci County Hunting Association can be contacted via local tourist board offices. Alternatively, there are private hunting grounds run by tourism experts KTC (here), who also offer hunting lodge accommodation (here).

DSC_8738.jpgRaft on the Drava © Mato Zeman

Wild swimming in Koprivnica Križevci County

DSC_0332.jpgJumping into the Drava © Mato Zeman

In summer and early autumn, the Drava warms before reaching the county. In some stretches, where the water is deep enough, yet protected from the always strong currents, you can swim in the river. Children jump from rope swings, then plunge into the cooling waters. The river feeds two lakes which are also popular places for summer swimming; Šoderica near Legrad and Đelekovec and the Čingi lingi lake, which lies between the villages of Repaš and Molve.

Goran_ŠafarekČingi_Lingi_DJI_0062_1.jpgFrom above, Čingi lingi lake © Goran Šafarek

Rafting, kayaking, canoeing and boat trips on the Drava river

Željko_Car_1.jpgThis giant river is full and wide, even in summer © Željko Car

Many of Croatia's rivers are too dry in summer to support activities. Not the Drava. This giant flows thick and fast even during peak summertime. A great way to enjoy the natural surroundings is from atop the water itself. A whole new perspective of the riverside banks and forests opens up from a canoe or kayak. Gliding silently through the landscape allows it to unfold. For a more thrilling experience, take to the Drava by motorboat or wild rafting.

Željko_Car_10.jpgCanoeing through an epic landscape © Željko Car

You can go rafting with Rafting Club Koprivnica (here) or with Etno Kuce Karlovcan (here). Karlovcan also offer motorboat excursions and accommodate larger parties on river tours. You can find out more from the Tourist Board of Dravski Peski (link below). 

Food and drink from the Drava river and its fields

Fishyev1234.JPGFrying fish at Fišijada Ferdinandovac © Marc Rowlands

At the annual outdoor cook-off Fišijada Ferdinandovac, you could well imagine being further down the Drava in the region of Slavonia. The fried fish and the deep red, paprika-rich fish stews here are classics of Slavonia. And they're favourites here too. The carp and catfish are pulled from the same river, the paprika a long embraced influence from Hungary on the other side.

IMG_2251REJIG_1.jpgMaking gulash in competition at Rokovo in Kozarevac © Marc Rowlands

But, you'd be wrong to think that Podravina cuisine is an exact match of Slavonia's. Koprivnica-Križevci County has its own distinct recipes, ingredients and flavours. Wild mushrooms, plucked from the forests and fields by the Drava, can be found alongside barley in a classic local soup. It's delicious.

AnyConv.com__IMG_2044fgvbnmjnhg.jpgThe all-organic vines of Vinarija Šipek in Kloštar Podravski, Koprivnica-Križevci County © Marc Rowlands

Koprivnica-Križevci County also has exemplary wines. You'll find superb whites like Riesling, Chardonnay, Grasevina, Sauvignon blanc and more here. They thrive in sandy soil. It has been deposited in the fields here over millennia by the Drava. Vinarija Šipek in Kloštar Podravski (here) run an all-organic winery with excellent wines and heritage grapes. Vinarija Kostanjevec in Lukovec (here) are decorated internationally. In 2020, their Premium Riesling won Silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards. But, there are many more great winemakers all across the county.

fishandfootball.JPGFood preparation and football from ŠNK Bušpan at Rokovo in Kozarevac © Marc Rowlands

In this part of Podravina, celebrating the fine local food and drink is a regular part of the culture. Every village has at least one notable event. Often held outdoors, they are great social occasions and a good excuse to visit a neighbouring place. More often than not, a sports match, music concert or a funfair runs in tandem. If you want to try the river fish dishes of Podravina, restaurant Ribička hiža near Đurđevac (here) serves these specialities year-round.

cheese.JPGSelection of award-winning cheeses, fresh from the farm shop at Family Farm Imbrišić (here) in Kozarevac, Kloštar Podravski © Marc Rowlands

Staying by the Drava river

218857084_129845805966818_2553627362942924296_n_1.jpgFrom above, Dravski raj on the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County © Toni Fereža/FT STUDIO

You can find great traditional accommodation across all of Koprivnica-Križevci County. And, if you want to stay right next to the Drava, there are some super options.

accomm.JPGOrnamental gardens at Dravski raj © Marc Rowlands

Dravski raj (here) is a delightful renovated farm complex that backs onto the Drava. Inside traditional buildings, you'll find modern bedrooms, a games room, hot tub and free bicycles for exploring the surrounding nature. You can draw your own water from the well to drink – or just take it from the tap, of course.

accomm234566.jpgPerfect for events and relaxing, the sprawling grounds of Etno kuce Karlovcan © Marc Rowlands

Etno kuce Karlovcan (here) is a large plot containing artefacts of regional agriculture and life from the last few hundred years. Longstanding stakeholders in tourism on the Drava, they offer food, accommodation, boat rides, rafting and horse riding too.

58462828_636129590147500_5910088862897537024_n.jpgFrom the water, Country House Ivančan © Domagoj Krznarić

Art centar Ješkovo have robinson accommodation near Ješkovo. Also, Country House Ivančan (here) is perfect for a riverside getaway. The family enterprise is also famed for the food they prepare.

This article was produced with the co-operation of Koprivnica-Križevci County Tourist Board. Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to sincerely thank Željko Car, Mato Zeman and Goran Šafarek for the kind permission to use their photography here.

If you would like more information about any of the mentioned events, activities or county cycle routes, you can contact Koprivnica-Križevci County's tourist boards on these links.

Koprivnica town tourist board here 
Križevci tourist board here 
Đurđevac tourist board here 
Central Podravina tourist board here 
Tourist board of Dravski Peski here 
Kalnik tourist board here 

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

PHOTOS: Colour, Cuisine and Art of Koprivnica at Motifs of Podravina

September 28, 2021 – 27-year-old Motifs of Podravina Festival showcases all the region's unique art, cuisine and culture, including fantastic wines, music, dance, folklore, food, arts & crafts plus a huge outdoor exhibition of Croatian Naive Art. We preview the 2021 Autumn edition in pictures...

Puhački_orkestar_Grada_Koprivnice.jpg© Puhački orkestar Grada Koprivnice

DSC_7057.jpg© Mato Zeman

DSCF7788.jpg© Mato Zeman

The city centre streets and parks of Koprivnica will once again explode with colour, cuisine, music, dance and art this weekend for the 28th Motifs of Podravina Festival. The much-loved event showcases all of the unique aspects of culture from the region.

19575425_1703858969641992_934163681752732336_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

58442340_2623787240982489_7140235872351289344_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

Usually taking place in summer, the 2020 event was postponed by the pandemic and instead held in autumn. With very surprising results. Numbers of visitors to the event increased dramatically. As a result, another autumn edition of Motifs of Podravina will take place on Saturday 2 October and Sunday 3 October 2021.

19488650_1703858972975325_2254106294995156293_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

19488753_1703859206308635_124983653371108446_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

60218729_2647962695231610_2862254076790308864_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

A run-up to the event is already underway at some of Koprivnica Križevci County's most famous museums. There are special exhibitions currently on show at Koprivnica Gallery, the Gallery of Naive Art in Hlebine and the Mijo Kovačić Gallery in Koprivnica. All these participating museums will open their doors to the public for free this weekend.

Damir_SpeharPIXSELL.jpg© Damir Spehar/PIXSEL

213446709_4675281032499756_8221180981284860485_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

The celebrated works of the region's famous artists will be joined by an explosion of colour through Koprivnica City Park. There, one of the largest outdoor exhibitions of art in Croatia takes place. Over 50 Croatian Naive Artists will be displayed through the park and on Zrinski Square. As such, this is one of the best times and places to come and learn more about Croatian Naive Art and the very famous branch of it that comes from this region - the Hlebine School (you can read more about it here).

DSC_2049.jpg© Mato Zeman

13179349_1272049402822953_963944158979435237_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

13558798_1309142192447007_2179776285567409474_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

Stalls displaying Hlebine school paintings and other art of the region will be interspersed with others offering arts & crafts, traditional produce and tasty treats.

13568796_1308462045848355_3214339414383773437_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

DSCF7762.jpg© Mato Zeman

61651477_2698359726858573_3126198869604433920_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

DSC_7000.jpg© Mato Zeman

Holding the event in autumn allows Motifs of Podravina to take advantage of harvest time. Colourful pumpkins and squash might well be seen. The surrounding countryside is rich with wild mushrooms. Famously, they are collected to make a local specialty soup. And, the county's famous corn is ripe and ready, as are the chestnuts. So, too, the brilliant, new season wines of Koprivnica Križevci County. This year, some of the best local wines will be joined by guests from Hungary and presented by Koprivnica City Museum.

AnyConv.com__IMG_2044fgvbnmjnhg.jpgVineyards of Koprivnica-Križevci County © Marc Rowlands

IMG_1802wsdfgh.JPGAward-winning wine of Koprivnica © Marc Rowlands

Adding to the colour with a distinctly local flavour, music, folklore and dance are offered by Folklore Ensemble Koprivnica, the International Children's Folklore Societies Meeting and KUD Rudar Glogovac. Additional music comes from Koprivnica City Puhački Orkestar, folk-rock band Ogenj and singer Eric Vidovic.

Folklorni_ansambl_Koprivnica.jpg© Folklore Ensemble Koprivnica

64228557_2704861002875112_8717602078261772288_n.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

13575878_1309142109113682_3176602002895970111_o.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica

Folklorni_ansambl_Koprivnica2.jpg© Folklore Ensemble Koprivnica

Entrance to Motifs of Podravina Festival. Photographic preview of the event made possible with the kind assistance of Turistička Zajednica Koprivnica here and photographer Mato Zeman.

2009Mato.jpg

DSCF3503.jpgPhotos of celebrity and local guests at previous editions of Motifs of Podravina, captured by © Mato Zeman
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.

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

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Martinje - Saint Martin's Day Celebrated Across Croatia

November 11, 2021 – Saint Martin's Day is today celebrated across Croatia. It's a time to be thankful for the successful harvest that will tide you through winter. We take a look at Saint Martin, his close connection to Croatia and the distinct traditions here that mark his day

Saint Martin or Martin of Tours is one of the most recognised of all Christian saints. He is the patron saint of beggars, wool-weavers and tailors, soldiers, geese and the country of France. He is also the patron saint of innkeepers and winemakers. He is celebrated all over the Christian world on September 11, the day of his burial (Saint Martin died on 8th November, 397, and was buried three days later).

wine-259876_1920.jpegAcross Europe, the long-held celebration of Saint Martin's Day is closely associated with the autumn harvest - in Croatia, particularly the wine harvest in continental regions

The feast of Saint Martin began to be celebrated in France, where he died, before spreading all across Europe and the Christian world. In the northern hemisphere, Saint Martin's Day coincides with a key time of year. It is the end of harvest time, the beginning of natural winter. It is the time for food to be conserved for the forthcoming colder months, the time for animals to be slaughtered and vegetables to be preserved. It is also the time when the year's first new beer and wine first become ready to drink. Depending on the local crops and climate of the country, Saint Martin's Day can be associated with different foods and drinks. But there are recurring associations, in particular throughout Europe. In the great winemaking country of Croatia, Saint Martin's Day is often most closely linked to that particular agricultural endeavour.

Louis Anselme Longa, La Charité de Saint-Martin Huile sur toile. Eglise de Saint-Martin d'Oney.jpgSaint Martin depicted in Louis Anselme Longa's, La Charité de Saint-Martin Huile sur toile

Saint Martin feels at home in Croatia. And well he might. Martin of Tours was born less than 90 kilometres from today's Croatian border, in Pannonia, present-day Hungary. His father was a tribune in the Roman army and, being the son of such, Martin was required to follow in his footsteps. At the age of 18, he was stationed in Amiens, present-day France, probably as an elite cavalry bodyguard of the Emperor, who accompanied the leader on his travels around the Empire. We actually know quite a lot about the life of Saint Martin. So important did he become to the spread of early Christianity in the region, that many details about his life were recorded by a biographer, Sulpicius Severus. Not only did Severus live within Martin's lifetime, but also he actually met him.

Martinje-visit daruvar.jpgA previous celebration of Saint Martin's Day in Daruvar © TZ Daruvar

While Martin was still a soldier, it is said he experienced a vision. One day, as he was approaching the city of Amiens, he met a beggar. Martin instinctively cut his military cloak in two, so he could share his clothing with the poor man. That night, Martin dreamed Jesus was wearing the half-cloak he had given away.

Martin's cloak became a famous relic and was preserved in the Marmoutier Abbey near Tours. During the Middle Ages, it was carried by the king into battle and used as a Holy relic upon which oaths were sworn. When it was not in use, so important was the cloak that it was assigned its own military priest who would watch over it. He was called a cappellanu, his title taken from the Italian word capella, meaning cloak. This is the origin of the word chaplain that we use today to describe a priest assigned to the military. And it is the origin of the word chapel, meaning small church, which comes from the building assigned to house Martin's cloak.

Saint Martin and the Beggar by Anthony van Dyck.jpgAnother depiction of Martin splitting his cloak for the beggar - Saint Martin and the Beggar by Anthony van Dyck

Opinions about the length of time Martin spent in the army vary, as he is said to have renounced violence - in keeping with the Christian faith he had adopted before joining. However long he spent in service, it is to a life of religious devotion he entered upon his departure from the ranks. He travelled back home and is said to have converted his mother in Pannonia to Christianity. Thereafter, he returned to present-day France with his mentor, Hilary of Poitiers, where he helped establish a building that would become the oldest known monastery in Europe, Ligugé Abbey. From there, he toured the region preaching Christianity, spreading his religion and, perhaps unwittingly, also his name.

graddugoselo.jpgIn this picture, the local clergy bless the full harvest in Dugo Selo on Saint Martin's Day © Grad Dugo Selo

Being a renowned Holy man, Martin was asked to attend a sick man in the city of Tours. The request was a ruse. Christians within the city wanted to have Martin as their bishop and had lured him there. Reticent to take up the position, Martin is said to have run away and hidden among a barn full of geese to avoid his persuaders. This is where the association of Martin with geese comes from. In many countries, the cooking of a goose is traditional on Saint Martin's Day, including Croatia. Not everyone has always been able to afford such a grand bird - poorer families have traditionally served duck, turkey or, more recently, chicken on Saint Martin's Day. The traditional accompaniment in Croatia is layers of pasta known as mlinci.

mlinci.pngMlinci, sheets of thin pasta, traditionally served as an accompaniment to a roasted bird in Croatia, especially on Saint Martin's Day

As bishop of Tours, Martin had a much greater responsibility and area to minister over. In these early days of Christianity, it was all too common for force and the military to become involved in the conversion of non-believers. But, Martin had renounced violence. He used an alternate method - the power of persuasion. Martin is said to have been such a formidable opponent in discussion that royalty would often refuse to grant him an audience for fear he would inevitably leave with the terms he sought. He regularly campaigned for the forgiveness and freedom of prisoners, even those whose religious views he opposed.

kutjevo2.jpgSome of Croatia's best white wines come from Kutjevo in Slavonia - it's no surprise to see them go big for Saint Martin's Day © Kutjevo doo

From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages, a 40-day period of fasting starting the day after Saint Martin's Day was observed over much of Christian Europe. This long period eventually relaxed and receded, becoming known as Advent – the time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. However, what remained was the great feast enjoyed just before the fasting commenced - Saint Martin's Day.

visitmedimuje.jpgA typical scene from St Martin's Day in Medimurje © Visit Medimurje

Martinje or Saint Martin's Day in Croatia

In Croatia, Saint Martin is the patron saint of Beli Manastir in Baranja, Virje in Koprivnica–Križevci County and Čepinski Martinci in Slavonia. Each has a church named after Saint Martin. These are far from the only places where Saint Martin's Day is significant in Croatia. In Istria, as work in vineyards would come to an end, winemakers would often come together to taste the fruits of their labour together. Saint Martin's is celebrated across several days there, from village to village, and tradition holds that the new wine most liked on Saint Martin’s Day will be the best wine next year.

3bc7aa7f337d2b6d218588b9fca9e94f_L.jpgCelebrating Saint Martin's Day is a long-held tradition in Croatia, as this old photo from Požega City Museum attests

Like Istria, northern and eastern continental Croatia have an extremely strong reputation for producing great white wine. It is the harvest of the white wine grapes that most closely coincides with Saint Martin's Day, so it's little surprise to see it marked so significantly in these regions. In particular, Sveti Martin na Muri in Međimurje, all of Koprivnica–Križevci County, Požega and Kutjevo in Slavonia, Daruvar in Bjelovar-Bilogora County, Velika Gorica, Sveti Ivan Zelina and Dugo Selo in Zagreb County are big fans of Martinje. But, many other places where white wine is made also celebrate Saint Martin's Day, such as within Šibenik-Knin County. In the more easterly parts of Slavonia, they traditionally celebrate their wine with a blessing of the fields on Saint Vincent's Day (22 January).

purica_4-maja-danica-pecanic.jpgTurkey and mlinci is a dish commonly served on Saint Martin's Day in Croatia. Both the turkey and mlinci of the Zagorje region are protected by the EU for their distinct place of origin © Maja Danica Pecanic / Croatian National Tourist Board

Within these regions, in particular, the folk custom of 'Baptising' the wine, to purify it, is a part of proceedings. In many places, this is even done by a real priest. The ceremony frequently takes place on town squares and is enthusiastically attended by locals. After the lighthearted formalities, the celebrations are usually extended with food, music and, of course, wine.

grad daruvar.jpgAnother scene from a previous Saint Martin's in Daruvar © Grad Daruvar

Outside of continental regions, the island of Korčula is one of the few places in southern Dalmatia where Saint Martin's Day is seriously celebrated. The party there starts the night before, with children making a procession with lanterns. This is a commonplace way to celebrate Saint Martin's Day in The Netherlands, some parts of Germany and Belgium. Indeed, so significant is the day in western Flanders, Belgium, that children receive their annual gifts on Saint Martin's Day instead of December 25th. They don't go that far on Korčula, but they do make special foods for the occasion and celebrate Saint Martin's Day, like many places in Croatia, with joyous song and dance.

47_KUTJEVO3.jpg© Kutjevo doo

Monday, 2 November 2020

Croatia Pan Europe Trains Will Run 160 Kilometres Per Hour By 2030

November 2, 2020 – From southern Spain to Budapest through Rijeka and Zagreb and from Salzburg through Zagreb, Belgrade and Skopje to Greece, Croatia pan Europe trains will run 160 kilometres per hour by 2030

In the biggest investment ever made in the infrastructure of the country's rail network, Croatia pan Europe trains will run 160 kilometres Per Hour By 2030. In an investment costing 4.5 billion Euros, 750 kilometres of railways will be modernised.

koncar08.jpg© HZPP

The lines that will receive the upgrade will connect Rijeka to Budapest in Hungary via Zagreb (RH2) and Zagreb to Belgrade via Vinkovci (RH1). Though these lines already exist, they have never undergone an overhaul of the scale proposed. The modernisation with ensure double lanes across the whole of both routes and facilitate passenger train speeds of 160 kilometres per hour.

The level of investment means that during the next ten years, HŽ Infrastruktura's (Croatian Railway Infrastructure Company) rebuild of the Croatia pan Europe trains network will be the largest infrastructure project in the Republic of Croatia and the largest beneficiary of EU grants in the transport sector. Most of the money for the modernisation is coming from European Union grants.

ddzphoto.jpgAlmeria on the Mediterranean, in Andalusia, southern Spain, where the Mediterranean Corridor begins © ddz photo

The RH2 line is part of the Mediterranean Corridor which connects the south of the Iberian peninsula with eastern Hungary via six countries. The line runs from Almeria on the Mediterranean coast in the south-east of Spain, through Madrid and Barcelona. It passes through Marseille in France, then northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, the Hungarian capital of Budapest, before finishing in Záhony in the east of Hungary, not far from the border with Ukraine. The route covers more than 6000 kilometres. The Croatian section will pass through Jurdani (six kilometres north of Opatija), Rijeka, Karlovac, Zagreb, Dugo Selo, Križevci and Koprivnica.

PatriceAudet.jpegTo Croatian rail passengers, the Spanish city of Barcelona will be just a few hours away by 2030 © Patrice Audet

The RH1 line is part of the Pan-European Corridor X. The Croatia pan Europe trains section of this transport route was once one of the three lines taken by the Orient Express. The modernised rail line will start in Salzburg, Austria and pass through Ljubljana before reaching Zagreb. The line will pass through Slavonski Brod and Vinkovci before making its way to Belgrade, then Niš in southern Serbia. The old Oriental Express line then headed east, to Istanbul via Sofia, Bulgaria. The EU-funded train section of the Pan-European Corridor X instead heads south, to Thessaloniki in Greece via Skopje in Macedonia.

Djordje Jovanovic.jpgThe rail journey time between Zagreb and Belgrade (pictured) will be shortened considerably by the improvements © Djordje Jovanovic

Trains are currently the greenest transport option for long-distance travel. As the world heads in the direction of seeking energy sources that do not rely on finite fossil fuels, rail also currently looks to be the long-distance travel option best-equipped to meet this challenge. In the future, visitors from all across Europe may increasingly rely on the Croatia pan European trains network in order to access the country. The improvements also increase business and leisure opportunities for Croatians in Europe.

Dimitris Vetsikas.jpgThessaloniki in Greece is one of the most popular cities in Europe for visitors. The renewed rail section of the Pan European Corridor X will end here © Dimitris Vetsikas

Around 935 million Euros was invested in the Croatian railway infrastructure between 2010 and 2019. The new investment dwarfs those figures. The initial investment, occurring between 2020 and 2024 amounts to as much as 1.8 billion Euros, of which almost 78.7 per cent is co-financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI) and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). From 2025 to 2030, EU funds totalling more than 2.7 billion Euros are expected to be invested in the Croatia pan European trains network.

Freight train passage along the lines will also be increased, reaching a new speed of 120 kilometres per hour. The Croatia pan European trains network also offers great potential to open up continental Croatia regions to international visitors. The Croatian railway network currently has 2,617 kilometres of track, of which 274 kilometres are double-track and 980 are electrified.

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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.

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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Varazdin, Medjimurje, Koprivnica-Krizevci Counties to Introduce Integrated Passenger Transport

October 2, 2019 - Medjimurje, Varazdin, and Koprivnica-Krizevci Counties will be the leaders of integrated passenger transport in Croatia. 

HRTurizam reports that in cooperation with the Varazdin, Medjimurje and Koprivnica-Krizevci counties and Croatian Railroads (HZ), and as part of the "Integrated Passenger Transport (IPP)" project by the Railway Association, an agreement was signed at the beginning of the year for the "Integrated Passenger Transport Master Plan".

With this agreement, HZ Passenger Transport and the three northern counties begin active cooperation in the implementation of measures that will, in the long run, result in establishing integrated passenger transport throughout the three counties. This means that in a few years, we will have a public transport system where the passenger will be able to easily combine train and bus lines with a single transport ticket and arrive at almost any location in the three counties throughout the day.

It is important to note that Integrated Passenger Transport is applied by all developed regions of Europe and the world. Experts are unique in assessing that such a system provides quality access to the entire urban, suburban and rural areas in a region, and it significantly improves the quality of life and competitiveness of the economy, since workers can easily and conveniently reach their jobs and meet many other needs without using a car. This means that there is less traffic congestion, that no parking is required, the environment is less polluted and the transport system as a whole is safer.

"For the past five years, we have seen a 10 percent drop in public transport, while the European Union has grown steadily. A small number of lines, inefficient systems, and obsolete rolling stock are a major problem for the rail and bus systems, and a transformation of the entire system is needed that will only come to life if we start thinking about traffic and the way these three counties think. We are entering a period where more than ever will be invested in railway infrastructure and the development of railway transport, and I am glad that it is precisely Medjimurje, Varazdin and Koprivnica-Krizevci County that will be the first and the leaders of integrated transport in Croatia for the benefit of our citizens and economy,” stated Nikolina Brnjac, State Secretary for Transport at the Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure.

"In the area of Medjimurje County, we carry about 2 million passengers a year, and because of these passengers it is important to improve the functionality of transport and contribute to their mobility," concluded the President of the Board of HZ Passenger Transport, Zeljko Ukic.

The total value of the project is 5.2 million kuna - each of the counties has set aside around 260,000 kuna, and EU funds cover the rest. The project also plans to build and modernize a new high-efficiency line between Cakovec-Varazdin-Lepoglava-Zabok, and a feasibility study is underway, with plans to complete the works by September 2020, said Varazdin County prefect Radimir Cacic.

Also, a study on a new network of bus lines for these three counties is being prepared, and the plan is to establish a so-called "pilot line" consisting of trains and buses and introduce a single map for both modes of transport. The pilot line, for which only one ticket will be sufficient, should cross the route Varazdin - Lepoglava - Bednja - Trakoscan, with a changeover in Lepoglava, and Varazdin - Ludbreg - Mali Bukovec, with a changeover in Ludbreg. 

"In three counties, the train and bus routes will be harmonized, there will be about 20 departures in the main routes from morning to late at night, all of which can be used by purchasing a single transport ticket," said Cacic.

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