Thursday, 17 June 2021

Anušić Promises Continued Financial and Political Support to Serbia Croats

ZAGREB, 17 June 2021 - Osijek-Baranja County Prefect Ivan Anušić promised the continuation of Croatia's financial and political support to compatriots in Serbia, during his visit to the village of Bački Monoštor in northern Serbia on Wednesday.

The leaders of ethnic Croats, who received Anušić, said Croatia's help was key for the Croatian minority, the Vojvodina newspaper "Hrvatska Riječ" said on Wednesday.

Anušić and his associates visited the Monoštor parish house which will become with support from Croatia a place for gathering and promoting the culture and tradition of local Šokci gathered around the association Bodrog.

The county prefect said it was their duty to help their countrymen in Serbia, which Osijek-Baranja County has been doing for years.

"We are always ready to do that. Not only help financially but also stand behind you politically. Specifically, when we are talking about the Monoštor parish house, we will allocate additional funds for that project. You can count on us," Anušić said during a meeting with representatives of the Croatian community.

He said that ethnic communities in Croatia were getting support, so Serbia should also do that for their minorities and get more involved in the projects of Croats.

"Until that happens, we will, not only Osijek-Baranja County but also other counties in Croatia, help the projects of the Croatian National Council (HNV)," said Anušić, as carried by Hrvatska Riječ.

He said a meeting would be organized in Osijek to determine cross-border cooperation projects financed by the European Union, which are of interest to both Osijek-Baranja County and Croats in Serbia.

The support from Osijek-Baranja County is equivalent to the funds the HNV received from Serbia's budget, said HNV president Jasna Vojnić.

"Over the past four years, Osijek-Baranja County has provided €100,000, which is a fifth of the HNV's total budget and which how much the Republic of Serbia gives us," she said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Osijek to Get Underpass, 13 Buses in Bid to Improve Public Transport System

ZAGREB, 21 May 2021 - Agreements on EU-funded grants for the construction of an underpass and for the procurement of 13 new buses for public transportation system in Osijek were signed on Friday in that eastern Croatian city.

In attendance at the ceremony was Prime Minister Andrej Plenković who said that the 93-million-kuna underpass in S. Leopolda Bogdana Mandića Street would reduce traffic jams in that part of the city.As high as 85% of this investment will be covered by the European Union's funds while the remaining 15% will be covered by the state budget.

Also, 32 million kuna will be set aside for the procurement of 13 new buses for public transportation. The 85% of the amount is also covered by funds from the EU.

All these projects are part of our policy which we have been pursuing since 2016 as part of the "Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem" project, and we have contracted 17.7 billion kuna under that programme, Plenković said.

The outgoing mayor Ivan Vrkić said that during his two mayoral terms, HRK 1.6 billion had been invested in Osijek since Croatia joined the European Union.

(€1 = HRK 7.508080)

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 17 May 2021

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

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

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

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

reSlavonija_Aero0060.jpgSlavonia © Romulić & Stojčić.

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

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

Imperial horses and the bona fide masterpiece of Đakovo cathedral

State Stud Farm Đakovo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Đakovo cathedral

reDjakovo_katedrala0012.jpgExterior of Đakovo cathedral © Romulić & Stojčić.

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

reDjakovo_katedrala0002.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

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

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

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

reDjakovo_katedrala0028-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_9.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

reDjakovo_katedrala0019-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_12.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

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

reDjakovo_katedrala0026-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_7.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

Breathtaking views of the Danube at Erdut and Aljmaš

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

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

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

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

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

re99127089_1304385849765541_5021631833557696512_n.jpgA glass of Brzica wine overlooking the Danube.

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

The unique landscape and winemaking traditions of northern Baranja

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

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

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

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

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

Podrumi Kolar family winery in Suza

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

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

Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac

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

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

Vinarija Gerštmajer in Zmajevac

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

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

The wildlife-rich wetlands of Kopački rit

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

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

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

The OPGs of Osijek-Baranja County

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

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

Zorić distillery in Erdut

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

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

Seoski turizam Lacković in Bilje

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

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

OPG Čudesna šuma

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 May 2021

OPG Čudesna šuma: Paradise Reimagined in Beautiful, Traditional Baranja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mario Romulić, the host with the most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoked fish of Slavonia and Baranja at OPG Čudesna šuma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 May 2021

"GLOBALLOCAL" Award Bestowed on Osijek-Baranja County

ZAGREB, 10 May (Hina) - The GLOBALLOCAL award has been bestowed on the eastern Croatian county of Osijek-Baranja for being successful in creating an enterprise-friendly atmosphere in Central and Southeast Europe, the county authorities reported on Monday.

The project of conferring this award is aimed at drawing attention to successful local communities and public institutions that apply original solutions and creative measures to boost sustainable entrepreneurship.

This year, 122 anonymous proposers nominated 263 candidates for this award and the award hopefuls came from seven countries.

County Prefect Ivan Anušić was quoted as saying that this prize was yet another proof  of the good policies pursued in the county to boost SMEs.

The award-giving ceremony is to take place in Dubrovnik later this year.

For more, follow our lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

PM Andrej Plenković: Zoran Milanović Has Stepped Out of the Framework of a President's Normal Conduct

ZAGREB, 30 March, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Tuesday that with his posts on social networks, President Zoran Milanović "has stepped out of the framework of normal conduct for a president," adding that his hate speech has "practically drawn a target on MP Milorad Pupovac."

Milanović wrote on his Facebook profile on Monday that "before he runs away to Brussels," Plenković would have to render his accounts, with Plenković saying that the President was continuing his ranting and insults.

"These are threats in fact, accusations of political corruption, robbery, criminal conspiracy. I will say once again, he has entirely stepped out of the framework of normal conduct for a president," Plenković told a press conference during a visit to Osijek-Baranja County.

That is not just his style or his being rude, as the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Peđa Grbin tried to downplay, said Plenković who considers that Milanović has resorted to that because he was legally and politically badly defeated in the incorrect procedure which he, without any cause, began with the recommendation of the president of the Supreme Court.

Plenković said that the President's spokesman Nikola Jelić was flustered and warned that he was attacking Hina reporters. Jelić publicly called out Hina reporter Sandra Bartolović on his Twitter account because of her sharp private comments regarding Milanović's behaviour and said that Plenković had referred to anyone who did not think like him as being the "dregs of social networks."

Milanović's posts are the "dregs of social networks"

"That is frightening and striking. I will now explain that to his flustered spokesman who attacks Hina reporters when I said "dregs of social networks," because I see that he and his partners in Bridge do not understand what that means. For me that is hate that is developing and damaging, poisoning society," said Plenković.

"Milanović's statements are the dregs of social networks. What he is writing is hate speech and I will be absolutely explicit - he has practically drawn a  target on MP Pupovac, and Pupovac confirmed that this morning on the radio," underscored Plenković.

He once again called out SDP's candidate for Zagreb mayor Joško Klisović and Milanović's chief-of-staff Orsat Miljenić to stop hiding and say if  they agree with Milanović's "drawing a target on the leader of the SDSS (Independent Democratic Serbian Party)."

"Do we all think that we need to wake up from what he is doing or will we just say 'he's like that.' That cannot be. He can rant on as he likes but he will come across sharp responses from us all who have sound reason," said Plenković.

Asked whether he was referring to hate speech in the legal sense, Plenković answered affirmatively. "What is this, what does this look like? We need to wake up. We have become a little too tolerant," he said and called on reporters and editors to "watch and see who is saying what and make it clear who is who."

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

VIDEO: Move Your Borders and HeadOnEast to Osijek-Baranja County!

March 27, 2021 - You'll want to HeadOnEast to Osijek-Baranja County after seeing all the region has to offer this year! 

HRTurizam writes that the HeadOnEast project, with which the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board has already successfully promoted the destination, will take a step forward in the new tourist season.

Namely, as could be heard at this year's first "tourist coffee," or socializing with journalists, HeadOnEast has been standardized, and an agreement has been reached on cooperation with all tourist boards operating in Osijek-Baranja County.

Thus, the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board, together with the tourist boards of Bilja, Baranja, Osijek, Draž, Đakovo, Erdut, Donji Miholjac, Valpovo, Bizovac, Našice, and Belišće, presented numerous initiatives and projects with which the system is actively preparing for the tourist season. And according to the program prepared by the tourist boards, there will be interesting manifestations and events in eastern Croatia this year!

As could be heard from the director of the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board, Ivana Jurić, the emphasis was on dispersed events. This means that there will be something for everyone, and events will be held throughout the year in different locations. Most importantly, the same visuals will be presented in the entire county in terms of communication.

 

The meeting began by reading the letters from Slavonian and Baranja citizens with an invitation to move your borders and discover this picturesque destination already in spring. This was the introduction to the new promotional campaign of the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board called "Move Your Borders," which started this week at the national level.

The further development of the brand platform HeadOnEast Croatia / Visit Slavonia Baranja was presented, and new visuals for destinations make up the offer in Osijek-Baranja County.

Thus, for the first time, all three Baranja tourist boards act under one visual identity: the Municipality of Bilje - Kopački rit Tourist Board, the Municipality of Draž Tourist Board, and the regional Baranja Tourist Board.

This informally united tourist board, in cooperation with the county tourist board, is organizing a new event called "Month of Baranja cuisine" this spring, in line with current epidemiological measures. From April 10 to May 2, every weekend, an open-air workshop will be held on rural estates for 25 participants to prepare authentic Baranja dishes, while Baranja restaurants will offer old dishes in a new guise.

Projects implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Croatian National Tourist Board, such as "Safe Stay in Croatia" and special offers for digital nomads, were also presented.

As the new Law on Foreigners has been in force since the beginning of the year, allowing you to stay in Croatia for up to a year, the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board has joined the project to promote the destination as an ideal place to stay for digital nomads, through special programs prepared in cooperation with Golden Slavonia Travel and Maksi Tours, local travel agencies that deal exclusively with attracting guests to Slavonia and Baranja.

Through the offer of congress and team-building programs, the destination was presented to international customers at the MEETEX business fair. This time, the Croatian Congress Industry Fair was held virtually, and the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board, Hotel Osijek, and Golden Slavonia Travel presented the destination's offer at a dozen B2B meetings held via the Zoom platform with potential buyers from Israel, Germany, Austria, Finland, Belgium. France and Italy. The interlocutors were representatives of large companies such as Ericsson and travel and event agencies specializing in smaller groups and incentive programs.

 

They are also actively working on developing new products such as circular cycling routes in the most attractive locations in cooperation with Osijek-Baranja County, which recently submitted a project on this topic to the tender of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. In the meantime, the City of Đakovo Tourist Board informally joined forces with the municipalities in the Đakovo region and started preparing the first "outdoor" routes.

The director of the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board, Ivana Jurić, points out that the goal of all activities and the new campaign is to invite domestic visitors to move to eastern Croatia and Slavonia and Baranja, but also to push the boundaries in the perception of this interesting and yet undiscovered region of Croatia.

For the latest travel updates and COVID-19 news from Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Syrian Migrant Family Rescued from Inaccessible Slavonia Wetlands

February 13, 2021 – Osijek-Baranja police rescued a Syrian migrant family, including two children, from inaccessible Slavonian wetland terrain. They had become cut off and stranded on an island, surrounded by swollen waters

Osijek-Baranja police have rescued a Syrian migrant family, including two children, from inaccessible Slavonian wetland terrain, police revealed in a statement released on Saturday 13 February. They had become cut off, surrounded by swollen waters, in the area around Kopacki rit Nature Park.

At around 10 a.m. Friday 12 February, in a forest area near Aljmaš, police found a 19-year-old Syrian citizen during a regular patrol. The 19-year-old asked for police help because his family was cut off on a river island of Kopački rit.

Immediately after learning about the other members of the Syrian migrant family, the police dispatched two patrol boats to look for them. They discovered the Syrian migrant family in a very short time. In addition to the teenager already discovered, police found the rest of the Syrian migrant family travelling party to include three women, born in 1973, 1998 and 1999, and two children, born in 2016 and 2017.

The found persons were transported to the mainland by the police. There, they were met by an ambulance, which had been called due to cold temperatures in the area and fears their exposure could have lead to hypothermia. They were transported to the Osijek Clinical Hospital Center (KBC).

The Syrian migrant family was released from the hospital later in the same day.

It has been established that the Syrian migrant family have expressed their intention to apply for international protection in the Republic of Croatia. They have been sent to the Shelter for International Protection Seekers, a reception centre for asylum seekers in Zagreb, said the police.

Kopački Rit, where the Syrian migrant family were rescued, is a nature park in the eastern Croatia municipalities of Bilje and Kneževi Vinogradi. It is located northwest of the confluence of the Drava and the Danube, right next to the border with Serbia. It is comprised of many backwaters, marshland and ponds that exist immediately between these two great rivers. It is one of the most important, largest and most attractive preserved intact wetlands in Europe.

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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. They instead do this to mark the tradition of Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

As a name, Vincent has many variants, Vinko being one popular in Croatia. Similarly, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is also known by several different names in the country, depending on the region. You can hear it called Vinceška, Vincekovo, Vincelovo, Vinkovo 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 - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is mostly marked in the northern continental area of the country and throughout the entire east, in traditional Slavonia and Baranj 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, actually it's not so simple.

The related name Viktor (also used in Croatia) gives us the best example for 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 ('in vino veritas' - in wine there is truth), the word for wine is much, much older and may have an entirely root.

Ilok2020.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2020 © Youtube screenshot

Nobody is really sure where the word 'wine' comes from. The ancient Greek word 'oinos' certainly pre-dates the Latin but, truth be told, its true origins have been lost in time, providing entertaining mystery for today. What we do know is that there is a common origin word for wine that crops up in several completely different language groups.

You can find a similar ancient word for wine being used from southern Russia, right the way down through the Caucasus and the non-Indo European languages used in the area of modern-day Georgia, and in the western Semitic languages of the Levant (Arabic: wain, Hebrew: yayin). From the Mediterranean tongues of Latin and Greek, back up again to Russia, this time via Slavic and Germanic lands, the word is the same. It seems that ever since people learned how to cultivate and ferment grapes, different peoples have all know the end product by the same word.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a shared origin for the words? As any winemaker will tell you, the production of excellent vino does indeed require a conquering of the vines. The vines from which we grow grapes actually hail from wild varieties that grew in 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 a conquering act of cultivation. In early Indo-European languages, the root 'wei' means to turn or to bend. 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

Although several saints share the name Vincent, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, marks the death of the saint known as Vincent of Saragossa. Born to a well-off family in Saragossa (Zaragoza), north-eastern Spain, Vinncent 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, asked to renounce his faith - which he refused to do - and was martyred around the year 304. We mark Vincekovo - 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. St Vincent is not only the patron saint of winemakers, but also the patron saint of vinegar makers, which may come as comfort to some of the less able wine producers of the region.

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

As with other mysteries surrounding wine, quite why the midwinter period of 22 January, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, should be significant to winemakers also poses some questions. “I have no idea!” said one Dalmatian winemaker 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 Christianity itself.

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 favourite ancient God at the party, Dionysus was the Greek God of wine, the grape harvest, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre. His celebration took place in the period from the 11th to the 13th of anthesterion, which corresponds in today's calendar to between around now and 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 and the celebration marked the impending arrival of the new season – spring. And, this too is how Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is marked.

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 correspond to significant points in the agricultural calendar, tellingly revealing their pre-Christian roots. Another of those corresponding to winemaking is Martinje – St Martin's Day in Croatia. 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 - St Vincent's Day in Croatia is a day more traditionally associated with their boss the vineyard owner. It is also traditionally a more testosterone-filled affair – a sausage party, if you will. 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. Without very much fanfare at all, they have been significant contributors of food to the relief effort for the 29 December 2020 earthquake in Sisak Moslavina County. In Baranja, you'll most likely hear this day called Vinceška © Belje

Around this time, vines within the vineyard will be cut back. There is a limited amount of nutrients that may pass down a vine and this cutting back ensures the nutrients are concentrated to help guarantee a limited, good crop. Whether this cutting back has actually taken place in days prior, on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, vineyard owners are charged with visiting their vines – whatever the weather – and ceremoniously cutting back a vine, usually one with at least three new buds on, which is then traditionally brought into the home and placed in a watered jar. The progress of the buds supposedly predicts the next season's crops, although many other folk traditions associated with Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, also serve the same purpose. Melting snow, rain and sunshine on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia are also traditionally regarded as predictors of a fine harvest, although water dripping from the eaves on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia could mean the year will be wet.

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

As the gregarious Dionysus might have said himself, you can't really have a celebration with just one guy. And, famously gregarious themselves, Slavonians rarely make the trip to the vineyard alone. Neighbours, family, friends and even musicians might make the journey with them to 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 and 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 - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, it is traditional to hang kulen and/or švargla (another monstrous preserved portion of pig product) from a post 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 and with the ceremonious part taken care of, the taste for another class acquired and the body accustomed to the cold, 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 like kulen, a roasted pig, fis paprikas, a wild meat stew (cobanac) or even the tamburica musicians who came to the fields with you. If not, your neighbouring winemaker might well greet you with these. If you live in an area of traditional winemaking, that's a lot of neighbouring wine cellars to visit and 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

Saturday, 16 January 2021

PHOTOS: Incredible Transformation of City Centre Osijek Art Nouveau Villa

January 16, 2021 – An incredible Osijek Art Nouveau villa, situated in the heart of the city centre, it took local entrepreneur Branko Ostović almost 10 years to buy the famous, decaying Villa Batory. In just 18 short months he has returned the building to its former glory

Every town has a grand old ruin. It's the place residents drive past and dream of owning. “If I had a million Euros, I'd buy that place, bring it back to its best and live like a king”

Croatia has more of these kinds of buildings than most. For hundreds of years these lands were presided over by elite European families and royalty who used their considerable wealth to build castles, stately homes, hunting lodges and villas. After the Second World War, such buildings were seized by the state and, for numerous reasons, many fell into disrepair. One such building was Villa Batory, a city centre Osijek Art Nouveau villa.

AnyConv.com__batty.jpgHow Villa Batory originally looked, not long after its completion in 1906

Dvorciutvrde_i_stari_gradovi_Facebook2_Aleksandra_Petrović.jpgThe state of disrepair the villa fell into over the last 20 years - it still looked impressive, if unloved © Dvorci, utvrde i stari gradovi Facebook / Aleksandra Petrović

For over 20 years, this incredible Osijek Art Nouveau villa has lain empty. Prominently positioned on the corner of Radićeva and Reisnerova streets, right in the heart of Osijek, the building has drawn admiring stares ever since it was built in 1906. Even while empty and left slowly decaying, its impressive towers, intricate stone and plasterwork and considered architectural details ensured this Osijek Art Nouveau villa was never far from the daydreams of anyone who walked by.

Croatian_Heritage.jpgAn incredible architectural gem, wasting away, until now... © Croatian Heritage Facebook

One such daydreamer was Branko Ostović. Only, being one of Osijek's successful entrepreneurs, Branko has perhaps more get-up-and-go than many idle dreamers. For him, daydreams were simply not enough. For almost 10 years he tried to negotiate the purchase of the receding Osijek Art Nouveau villa. Progress was difficult, given the listed nature of the property, past disputes over ownership and the building lying within the ownership of the local hospital, who had no funds to renovate and required state permission to sell.

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Finally, in 2019, Branko Ostović successfully assumed ownership of the Osijek Art Nouveau villa. In just 18 short months – and a considerable financial investment – he has not only halted the building's decline but has restored its outer facade so that Osijek residents can once again take pride, rather than pity, in this city centre architectural gem. He has renamed the villa 'Mimi', after his wife, a popular local teacher.

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The villa exists within grounds that cover an enormous 3000 square metres. This is a considerable tract of land, given it is right in the heart of the city. It was built in 1906 as the villa of the manager of Paromlin Union (one of the largest mill plants in the area) by noted Osijek builder Otto Struppi. It is just one of a series of art nouveau gems that lie in this westerly section of the city.

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Throughout his attempts at purchasing the building, Branko Ostović had no real commercial plans of what he could do with the building. Recognised for its architectural worth, there are restrictions imposed by the state on how any renovation may treat the property. The interior cannot be altered in a way that would the property better suited to contemporary living accommodation. Ostović's main motivation for buying it was simply to stop the rot and return it to its former glory.

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He has so far invested some 40 million kuna in the restoration and 5 million kuna in the initial purchase. 95% of work on the exterior is complete, although further investment is needed for the interior. Focussed on completing the long-held project, Ostović still has no clear plans for the building and no potential tenants. He imagines the Osijek Art Nouveau villa might make a good home for a polyclinic or a hotel.

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All contemporary images of the renovated Villa Mimi © Damir Janković

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