Thursday, 2 December 2021

IBTM Barcelona: Great Interest in Slavonia as an Incentive Destination

December 2, 2021 - The Croatian National Tourist Board is presenting the Croatian tourist offer as part of the IBTM Barcelona, which has been held until today. Exceptional interest during the event was expressed for Slavonia as an incentive destination that represents something different on the market.

After last year's online edition, the fair is being held in person again this year, so numerous meetings of domestic and foreign partners from the business travel segment have been held, reports Turističke Priče. Namely, in addition to the Croatian Tourist Board as the main exhibitor, seven co-exhibitors present their offer at the fair, including the congress offices of Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Opatija and Valamar, Liburnia Hotels & Villas, Le meridien Lav Split, and Spektar putovanja.

According to the first feedback from the IBTM Barcelona, many partners from the Polish and Ukrainian markets are interested in creating additional offers with Croatian destinations in the business travel segment, while Turkish partners are announcing great interest in Advent programs in our country. Also, exceptional interest during the stock exchange was expressed for Slavonia as an incentive destination that represents something new, different on the market, and which is adorned with a very rich and authentic offer.

Croatian partners, who have already received concrete inquiries for 2022, are also satisfied with the performance on the event, during which the main advantages of Croatia, as business tourism destinations, could be quality infrastructure, proximity, and accessibility; historical heritage, nature, top eno-gastronomy, etc.

Let us add that this event presents more than 3,000 destinations and providers, who have the opportunity for business meetings with more than 15,000 professionals from the business travel industry. The IBTM Barcelona congress, along with the IMEX Frankfurt, are the most important events of its type in Europe and the world.

If you want to learn more about Osijek, Vukovar, Vinkovci, Đakovo, Baranja, Slavonski Brod, and other magical destinations in Slavonia, be sure to check all the full detailed guides at Total Croatia here.

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

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Discovering Authentic Croatia's Secrets With Seoski Tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31_-_Photo_from_URTH_workshop_at_Slatina.jpgPhoto from URTH workshop in Slatina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Drava Story: Get to Know It Through an Interactive Quiz

October 26, 2021 - Do you know which animal is a natural barometer or how many fingers an otter has? These are just some of the questions of the famous quiz master Morana Zibar, who will intrigue you and present the Drava Story, a project from Noskovac in Virovitica-Podravina County, in an interesting and interactive way.

Do you know which animal is a natural barometer, how many fingers an otter has, where it springs, and in which river the Drava flows? These are just some of the questions of the famous quiz master Morana Zibar, who will intrigue you and present the Drava Story, a project from Noskovac in Virovitica-Podravina County, in an interesting and interactive way.

If you answer all ten questions correctly, you will win a free welcome drink at the Visitor Center on the banks of the Drava, which was the summer residence of Count Drašković in the 19th century, reports Turističke Priče.

Today, the Drava Story is an unavoidable destination on the attractive Noble Route of Slavonia and Podravina. Educational trails, fragrant garden, owl-shaped labyrinth, stork recovery center, insect hotel, bio-research station, bird choir, hostel with 34 beds, themed spaces, multimedia facilities, cycling, canoeing, walking along the Drava … - a great choice for lovers of nature, healthy living, adventure, and recreation.

But before coming to the Dravska priča Visitor Center, don't forget to solve the quiz on the website, but also on the Visitor Center's social networks. Then confirm your knowledge live: experience a garden of fragrant experiences, walk through an owl-shaped maze, visit a bio-research station, explore the area by bike and canoe. The Drava Story hides a whole range of diverse experiences and programs.

This corner of paradise of exceptional biodiversity and preserved natural heritage is in the area of ​​the recently declared pentalateral Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve, under the protection of UNESCO, which covers almost a million hectares and has more than 700 kilometers of rivers.

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

Thursday, 13 May 2021

OPG Čudesna šuma: Paradise Reimagined in Beautiful, Traditional Baranja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mario Romulić, the host with the most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoked fish of Slavonia and Baranja at OPG Čudesna šuma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 April 2021

Srijem and Slavonia: A Taste of Happiness

April 3, 2021 - From small snacks to spicy dishes and the most delicate desserts, when it comes to food, Srijem and Slavonia are unsurpassed.

Slavonian small snacks and finger food are even tastier, for starters, if they are from the black Slavonian pig. Gingerbread, kulen, kulen cutlet, švargl, sausage, bacon, cheese, ajvar, and more. Then hearty soup, just removed from the heat, still smoked, then sarma and delicious cookies of all colors and sizes. First of all, brandy, and with every dish, the wine of the Srijem vineyards. A very ordinary day in Srijem and Slavonia will look like a real feast, so if you are a gourmet, be sure to stop by. The invitation is valid indefinitely.

It’s not that it won’t make your cheeks glow and your stomach warm. It has everything you need - a harmony of flavors: it is moderately salty, moderately thick, and somewhat spicy. The noodles melt in your mouth and red ground pepper does not cover the delicate taste of fish. It only lacks fish bones. That is why it was given an honest and straightforward name - boneless fish.

Vecernji List reports, this innovative version of one of the most popular dishes east of Zagreb was designed many years ago at the Dunav Hotel in Ilok and has since become their trademark. This hotel, otherwise a real avant-garde in the traditional Slavonian, Srijem, and Baranja cuisine, is not only known for its innovative fish, but it was also the first in this part of the country to receive a Michelin recommendation. Everyone who has eaten there at least once knows. Super price, top quality, everything is fine and fresh, and for a sweet finish, our recommendation is šnenokli. It may seem too simple to you, but that’s exactly where the charm lies. With an absolute explosion of flavors in such a traditional and everyday dish, you will want to immediately ask for a recipe from the head chef. 

Good wines accompany delicate dishes, and those from Ilok, the center of the Srijem vineyards, have seduced the most demanding palates for centuries and are drunk in European courts since the princely family Odescalchi filled them in unique packages in the Old Cellars 200 years before Bordeaux and Burgundy. They are protected from traders and resellers who often confused it with that of inferior quality.

True connoisseurs and wine lovers in Ilok will enjoy the fragrant Traminers, and there is still talk of that Ilok cellars that were drunk at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The grapes for the top Traminers of this most awarded Croatian winery are grown on Principovac, a famous wine-growing position and the country estate of the Odescalchi family, where his first vine was planted in 1710. Since then, this royal variety has not ceased to intrigue the wine world.

In Ilok, you have to walk through its beautiful historical core, visit the church of St. Ivana Kapistrana, the Museum of the City of Ilok in the Odescalchi Castle, the Old Cellars from the 15th and 18th centuries, and, with prior notice, at least two or three more wineries, about twenty of them on the Ilok Wine Road.

A homely, positive atmosphere, which can only be provided in Slavonia and a modern, refined interior, characteristic of fine dining restaurants in major world capitals, is how at first the new Vinkovci restaurant Lu could be described. The award-winning chef, Ana Marija Stanković, is a national champion and bronze medalist at the Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart. Fire burger, homemade smoked sausage, pork fillet, glazed pork ribs, chicken fillet in an almond crunch, french lamb rack, beefsteak, rump steak, perch fillet; you will enjoy its interpretation of traditional Slavonian cuisine; especially if you follow modern trends and above all appreciate quality food.

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Restaurant Lu Vinkovci | Restraurant Lu Facebook

Although there are more and more modern restaurants and pubs, Srijem and Slavonia will wish you a warm welcome in traditional, proven good restaurants where dishes are simmered, long and slow, with a lot of heart and a few secret ingredients, just like the daughters-in-law used to do.

The final stop is Sotin, the popular Gondola restaurant, and the picnic area. It is cooked there according to traditional, carefully selected recipes. You will enjoy fragrant Slavonian sausages, the famous shepherd's pie or delicious Šokac steaks with špecli, and the greasy bread and the finest saltines homemade jam owned by Aunt Luca look so good and entice with the scents that even the most notable characters will not resist. And only when you take the first bite, that is the taste of happiness.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Slavonia Tourism: Papuk Nature Park Experiences 300% Growth

March the 9th, 2021 - Slavonia tourism isn´t something that is booming, living in the shadow of its coastal cousin of Dalmatia and indeed other parts of continental Croatia such as Zagreb, but an increase has been seen...

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, proving to be the only choice for coronavirus travel for Croatian guests, destinations in continental Croatia during the pandemic were given a unique opportunity to be promoted live on the local market. They were also provided with the chance to finally impose themselves as an equal player in national tourism policy and promotion.

This year, and especially in 2022, which could be much more upbeat for tourism, they plan to capitalise on Slavonia tourism, which has been promoted for years as a joint cluster on the foreign market, and since last year they have been together here on the domestic market. Their goal is guests who are looking for much more than sun and sea when on holiday.

This was revealed by Rujana Busic Srpak, director of the Vukovar-Srijem County Tourist Board and the coordinator of the Slavonia tourist cluster, into which five counties in eastern Croatia joined last year through an informal association.

"Our goal is to more strongly recognise ¨green Croatia¨ on both domestic and foreign markets, areas that do not have the sea to boast of but have so much else to offer, providing real value for money to travellers who are looking for such an offer, and their number has increased due to these new circumstances.

This year we´re still addressing the domestic market, made up of people who were more or less unable to travel abroad, and it what we have to offer and what it is worth returning to has finally been given the spotlight. As soon as the pandemic subsides, we will invest more in the promotion of Slavonia tourism across foreign markets that have great potential, but we will need more help from the Croatian Tourist Board (HTZ) and travel organisers, because our advertising budgets are very limited,¨ explained Busic Srpak.

She also pointed out that 2020 brought completely new trends in travel to Slavonia, with the biggest growth in the otherwise dead season - in the first few months of the year, and in the summer when only her county achieved 68 percent of the traffic they saw back in pre-pandemic, record 2019. Papuk Nature Park recently announced that the winter saw 300 percent more guests arrive than came last winter, which prompted them to invest in a new toboggan run.

"When it comes to domestic guests, in addition to showing them what we offer, a good part of our task is to break the prejudice that everything east of Zagreb or far away has tied to it, or the social case, which is that the area is underdeveloped. Foreign markets are looking for a different promotion than the just the Croatian Adriatic, partly because a good part of our guests come by the Danube. As such, river cruisers are on an upward trend, and we traditionally attract guests from Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, but also the USA and even Australia.

In the French market, Slavonia tourism promotions were realised in cooperation with the Croatian National Tourist Board representation there, and a more intensive presentation for the British market was planned in 2020. However, it seems that things will hang on a bit and wait for the overall launch of foreign promotional activities,¨ said Busic Srpak.

A good part of the year is already behind us, and things are still being decided on a weekly basis, there is a lot of uncertainty and that is why the view of the Slavonia cluster is focused more on 2022. Thematic packages are currently being designed for agencies that will sell it.

The informal association of five county tourist boards from Slavonia was accompanied by a strategic plan until 2025, on the basis of which projects and joint packages are nominated - Slavonia wants to use the strength of the Croatian brand, but also its own strengths. Slavonia tourism has infrastructure, about 2100 tourist beds that need to be filled first, then we can think about building new ones, this sort of thing is partly funded by the EU.

"The support system in Croatian tourism should be focused on underdeveloped areas that need support in order to strengthen their market position(s) and thus strengthen the destination itself. The development of underdeveloped areas should be our goal, but according to the criteria of quality and importance for the overall development of the destination,¨ concluded Busic Srpak.

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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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Saturday, 12 September 2020

Visit Osijek on the Croatian Road Less Travelled

July 8, 2020 - TCN travel series The Croatian Road Less Travelled with Marc Rowlands. In this edition, we visit Osijek in eastern Croatia, on the banks of the Drava river and look at things to do in Osijek 

Situated in the far east of Croatia, the city of Osijek is a sizeable distance from the regular coastal or capital city footfall of visiting tourists. Indeed, considering its history, importance and its vast, unique appeal, its surprising just how many Croatians you meet who have also never been to Osijek. Sitting on the banks of the Drava river, the city is the de facto capital of Slavonia and the administrative centre for Osijek-Baranja county and served as a strategically important outpost in the Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Osijek was the first city in Croatia to have a tramway and, after Rijeka, the first Croatian city to be serviced by an international train route (running to Pécs in Hungary via Beli Manastir, this very line was re-opened in 2018).

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Osijek's Old Town, Tvrđa, is the largest and best-preserved ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia. It sits spectacularly by the Drava river, separated by the defensive walls of its Hapsburg-era fort © Romulić & Stojčić

Why visit Osijek?


Osijek is an incredibly beautiful place and perhaps Croatia's only option which simultaneously offers all the thrills of a genuine city coupled with incredible nature. It's possible to walk from one end of the city to the other passing only through statue-littered parks, the air is constantly fresh and, being Slavonia, the ground is entirely flat, making it a great place for bicycle enthusiasts. It's also a great place for swimming and other water activities such as fishing, rowing and boating. Osijek has a range of great nightlife options; three catering to fans of turbo-folk, two for those who prefer tamburica and Croatian folk music, one for students, one for the alternative crowd and several bars which host live music including jazz. Specialist monthly club nights offer drum n' bass, hip hop, house music and the techno night, Traum, is well known across Croatia and fronted by two of the country's finest DJs in the genre - Insolate and Volster.

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Cooling off in the Drava river, right in the heart of the city - just one of Osijek's great swimming options © Romulić & Stojčić

Osijek has, by far, the longest waterfront promenade in Croatia. Both banks of the Drava are pedestrianised. On the side of the city, the prom is lined with parks, cafes, bars and restaurants built within converted river-cruising boats. This side also holds the impressive Osijek city walls, behind which lies the Old Town centre, Tvrđa. On the opposite banks, you'll be walking alongside wild nature, with the vast open-air swimming complex Copacabana at one end and Osijek Zoo at the other. Osijek's pedestrianised bridge links both sides in the middle; it's is one of the city's most iconic sights and looks particularly special at night when colourfully lit.

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Osijek pedestrian bridge by night © Romulić & Stojčić

Osijek and wider Slavonia are Croatia's least-heralded gastronomic powerhouses. The cuisine here is as unforgettable as the warm Slavonian welcome. Paprika-rich stews such as čobanac (made with locally caught wild boar and deer), fish paprikaš and perklet are a clear influence of nearby Hungary and most attempts to faithfully reproduce them outside the region fall extremely short. Although all you'll ever hear about is pršut from Dalmatia and Istria, Slavonians are masters of curing pork and even have their own high-quality breed, Slavonian black. Authentic kulen from Baranja is unquestionably the highest quality sausage from Croatia and you'd have to look hard to top Slavonia's paprika or garlic-flavoured kobasice too. In Osijek, as in its wider region, you can go to a restaurant and order one of the best pizzas you'll ever try and pay the same as you would for a starter course on the coast.

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A selection of Slavonian meats. Kulen is a speciality of Slavonia and Baranja, the best quality sausage made in Croatia. It is preserved, made from top cuts of pork, richly red from paprika and versions from both Slavonia and Baranja are protected at an EU level. You can spot the one from Baranja by its irregular shape © Romulić & Stojčić

If you're a fishing or hunting enthusiast, this is also the place for you – days floating down the Drava along the 15 kilometre stretch before its confluence with the Danube can be as unforgettable as the monster-sized fish you can catch here. Osijek also makes a great permanent base for travel in the wider region, with trips across the nearby Serbian and Hungarian border offering different cuisines and culture again. The Slavonian white wine industry can also be explored from here. Equidistant between Zagreb, Budapest and Zagreb international airports, it's conveniently placed on the intrepid backpacker's route too.

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Rowing on the Drava river in Osijek. The city has produced several champions in the sport © Romulić & Stojčić

How to get to Osijek


Osijek has its own airport. With established internal and international routes, this holds huge potential for the city. However, it is not without its problems. That no public transport service runs between the airport and the city is shameful. Unless you know a local, your only option is a taxi, whose fixed rates are substantially higher than the 25 kuna maximum it will cost you to travel between any two points in the city itself. Conflict between budget airlines and authorities has resulted in some international routes being cancelled. Bargaining budget airlines demand lower landing fees in return for the tourists they can deliver into the local economy. But, largely, those using the routes are not tourists; they are locals from Croatia, Hungary, Bosnia and, in particular, Serbs from Vojvodina, for whom Osijek is the most convenient airport to fly to on their way back from work in Germany or Ireland. Why should Osijek subsidise their travel? One solution may be to implement a passenger landing fee which can be fully recouped by tourists via vouchers for any accommodation they take in the city or wider Slavonia.

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Osijek train station, one way to arrive when you visit Osijek © Romulić & Stojčić

Osijek is well connected by bus; you can travel there from Belgrade and Novi Sad in Serbia, from Zagreb, direct from coastal regions Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia and even from Montenegro, via Dubrovnik and Imotski. It is accessible by train from all of northern Croatia and Zagreb although the lines and stock have not been updated in so long that, shamefully, it's actually quicker to take the fast train from Zagreb to Vinkovci, disembark and take a local bus to Osijek than it is to travel on the direct train there from the Croatian capital.

Where to eat: Slavonska Kuća, Kod Ruže, Vrata Baranje or Čarda kod Baranjca are brilliant, informal places to try traditional Slavonian cuisine, including all dishes mentioned previously. Further out of the city, Ugostiteljski Obrt Varga in Bilje, Citadela and Darócz in Vardarac and Didin Konak in Kopačevo are really special versions of the same. Rustika is the best sit-down pizza restaurant in the city, has a lovely summer courtyard for dining and is extremely affordable.

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The courtyard at Rustika, a great, casual place to dine and try Slavonska pizza when you visit Osijek © Grill pizzeria Rustika

Food to go / home delivery
: Lipov Hlad and Pizzeria Novi Saloon do the best home delivery pizza in the city (Rustika deliver too). Other choices are thin on the ground, save for the standard fast-food chains and pekara (the El Pan bakery on the edge of Sjenjak hood does the best burek with meat).

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Get to know Slavonian wine when you visit Osijek © Vinoteka Vinita

Where to drink
: The simple but extremely passionate Vinoteka Vinita is one of the best places to try Slavonian and Croatian wines, with many top and rarer titles sold by the glass. If you're more into beer, Beertija in the modern city centre has a great range. General Von Beckers on Tvrđa is the best place to try the leading local craft ale, Beckers, but all of the bars on Tvrđa are worth investigating and during the summer their terraces stretch far into the historic square creating a unique atmosphere.

What's new? Osijek's football club is undergoing a renaissance following its purchase by new investors. An impressive new stadium is reaching completion and you shouldn't be surprised to see this team challenging for the top domestic titles, or reaching European competitions, in the near future.

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Fiš paprikaš is a Slavonian speciality. Spicy from paprika, it is made from river fish and can often be seen being cooked in a large pot over a blazing open fire if you visit Osijek in warmer months © Romulić & Stojčić

What not to miss:
The protected nature park Kopački rit is wonderful to visit at any time of year, a sanctuary for all manner of wildlife, particularly rare species of birds. On Tvrđa, Slama Land Art hosts workshops, art and music events and you'll meet great creative types there. There's an extreme sports event, Pannonian Challenge, which sees international competitors visit Osijek and an annual Osijek Beer Festival which feels more like a street party. There's also a music festival called UFO. Osijek Wine Days and the celebrations celebrating the end of term at the city's sizeable university are each year accompanied by great partying and music performances. Look up the art deco Cinema Urania. At over 100 years old, it's Croatia's best independent cinema outside Zagreb. If you're looking for something a little more upmarket than the aforementioned Copacabana outdoor pools, or if you're visiting in cooler months, the renowned Bizovac Toplice is close by and there are free bus shuttle services from the city. It's a sprawling spa complex with multiple pools, offering fun and wellness therapies. But, whatever you do, don't miss the extraordinary and varied architecture of Tvrđa or Slavonian cuisine.

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Kopački rit. The nature reserve is a must all year round when you visit Osijek © Misalalic

What to buy:
If you're heading somewhere else in Croatia after you visit Osijek, take some Baranja kulen with you for posh sandwiches. Slavonia is famous for its honey, which is protected at an EU level. Take some back home with you. Local designers Lega Lega make cool t-shirts and accessories emblazoned with words exclusively used in the local dialect. Pick up some Slavonian white wine when you visit Osijek. Graševina is the most commonly made white wine in Croatia and the most popular. They make the best Graševina in Slavonia, but also look out for Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Traminac too. There are countless excellent wine producers in Slavonia to look out for, including Kutjevo Graševina, Krauthaker, Galić, Trs, Adžić, Kolar, Enjingi, Antunović, Erdut and Iločki Podrumi.

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'Lega' in local dialect is short for colleague. It is a term affectionately (and exclusively) used when speaking to someone from Osijek. Try using it when you visit Osijek © Lega-Lega

On these links you can read about the other destinations in our The Croatian Road Less Travelled series:

Ludbreg - a site of Holy pilgrimage where the historic meets the contemporary

Donji Miholjac - a hidden gem in the heart of the Pannonian basin

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

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Monday, 8 June 2020

Slavonia Finally Gets Joint Platform for Tourism Promotion

Slavonia is one of the most overlooked parts of all of Croatia. This eastern part of the country, formerly the bread basket of the entire region, is now famed for its mass emigration. With all of the money pumped into the coast, the primary destination of tourists to Croatia, what this region has to offer has unfortunately been kept very much in the dark. Until now.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes on the 7th of June, 2020, Feel, taste, meet/Osjeti, okusi, upoznaj, are the three key messages of the new digital platform Slavonia.travel, where for the very first time - the whole of Slavonia is presented to tourists in one place.

A new communication strategy based on the strategic marketing plan of Slavonia made by the Institute of Tourism, in cooperation with the tourist boards of five counties in Slavonia, was designed by the agency S.T.A.R. Digital, and the project was thought up and designed during Croatia's coronavirus lockdown period.

As the project associates pointed out at the presentation in Zagreb on Friday, the goal of the platform is to provide all the information about Slavonia in one place, jointly represented by the five county tourist boards, and this is the starting point for the eastern Croatian region's future promotion on the global market.

For a start, Slavonia will be presenting itself to domestic guests in the campaign on social networks in the coming days, which already makes up about 90 percent of tourist traffic in Slavonia, and which boasts great potential for tourist traffic, especially in today's unpleasant circumstances.

"Slavonia is the right choice for all those who want to travel in times when budgets need to be taken into account and when social distancing still needs to be paid attention to, but on the other hand - it's also for all those who want to enjoy the freedom that travel provides. The new platform provides potential guests with key information about our unique destination that you should definitely feel, taste and meet. As a cluster, we've been conducting promotional activities together over recent years, but in digital times this communication platform is an extremely important place for travel inspiration and information about Slavonia as a destination,'' said Rujana Busic Srpak, the director of Vukovar-Srijem County Tourist Board.

As stated, the new platform is based on the new strategic marketing plan for Slavonia, which on the one hand included a homogeneous and complete space, and on the other, each of the five counties has its own specifics.

"We know that tourist products know no administrative boundaries, we tried to answer what binds the area, what unites it and what is the common denominator," said Snjezana Boranic Zivoder from the Institute of Tourism, commenting on tourism trends.

Green, ecologically preserved, undiscovered and honest, and in connection with the current situation, safety and destinations without crowds are important. In this context, Slavonia is on trend and perfectly respond to these demands.

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Monday, 16 September 2019

Pilot, Hospitality Worker and Priest Aim for First Golf Course in Slavonia

The Croatian golf story is a long, complicated and often completely embarrassing one. With lawsuits and false promises surrounding the oddly hot topic of golf in Croatia, could three unlikely individuals from Slavonia be the ones to introduce the sport to Eastern Croatia's plains?

As Novac/Nikola Patkovic writes on the 15th of September, 2019, one day, a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest met at the airport... It could be the start of a good joke, which could develop in different directions, but this isn't a joke, but a serious story that goes in only one direction. And yes, behind it are indeed a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest, and the path they've taken together took them to the founding of the Golfing Association in Vinkovci, Slavonia.

Now, one might think we're returning to the joke, but we're not. Professional pilot and manager of the Sopot Airport in Vinkovci, Milan Mravinac, local Vinkovci hospitality worker Antun Jelenić (aka Toni) and Krešimir Aračić, a priest from Berak (Tompojevci), make up a trio that is credited or indeed "guilty" of giving birth to a very interesting idea, which took on more serious outlines and in due course could introduce the first golf course in Slavonia.

But, there's a long way to go before the idea of a real golf course in Slavonia could come to fruition, and the unlikely heroes of this story are more than aware that they can't do it all on their own, so they aren't hiding that while they're continuing to push forward, they're dissatisfied with things as they currently stand.

''We're using the resources which are at our disposal, which is the grassy area of ​​the airport or its take-off areas, where we hold training sessions whenever the opportunity arises,'' says Mravinac, who came up with the idea of ​​launching golf activities at the airport, when Jelenić arrived for a conversation.

''Since I worked in Germany for a while, where I had the opportunity to get to know golf in this form, that is, in this way, by playing it at the training ground, talking to Milan, we came up with the idea that it could be started here as well,'' Jelenić said, who also told Mravinac that he had heard of a priest who is a golf player and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to get in touch with him.

''That was all happening back during this spring. I contacted our parish priest, Krešo, who immediately showed his goodwill and desire to help us, so we soon all met up and it all started very enthusiastically. I offered the space of the airport that has everything needed for a golfing driving range and that's how it began,'' said Mravinac, and then the priest, Krešo Aračić joined the conversation - and his story is particularly interesting.

Namely, he is one of three Catholic priests in Croatia who are avid golfers at the same time, so we were interested in how one priest found himself in this, even less common for priests maybe, type of sport and hobby.

''I've been involved in football for a long time, otherwise my father is a football coach and he always told me not to bother with it, and that football isn't for priests, but I felt a love for the sport. In football, as is well known, everything is experienced, so, there's using God's name in vain, swearing about people's mothers, quarrels, and I was temperamental, and oh boy... did I know how to get into conflicts with the other players.

Then I decided to stop with all that, so I switched to tennis. But there was a problem with you always needing someone to play against, so that wasn't a happy solution either, and then a friend from Sombor suggested I try golf. At that time, a golf course was opened in Zmajevac in Baranja, and that's how I started. There, I met Darko Ljubanović, a professional golf player and coach, who opened my eyes more and I became infected with this sport, and got a license as a golf player, because it's the only sport in the world that you need to have a license to play on the courts around the world,'' explained Pastor Aračić.

''When it comes to golf, it's extremely important that players know how to behave nicely, to look out for their teammates, and for those in front of you, and that's what attracted me most to the sport. No swearing, you play against nature, wood, sand... It's one really nice, genuine game that the Scots invented because they lived with nature. With golf, there's no 'cure' for personal frustration like getting irritated with others, like there is in football. If you make a mistake, then you're the one at fault.

I don't play against another player, I play for myself and against myself, that is, against nature. It's a nice, chivalrous, gentlemanly game. We priests are people too, and we work a lot with people, and often we need a day or two of free time in which we devote some time to ourselves,'' said Aračić, who then returned to explaining his cooperation in the Slavonia golf saga with Milan and Antun.

''Milan and Toni asked me to help them and I accepted that offer with joy. A few years ago, there was an attempt to start something similar in Vinkovci, but in the end everything collapsed, I couldn't push on with it on my own, so the story failed. There are other people here who are leading this project, and I'm in the position of advisor and of support. As an amateur player, I must not teach them, because only a professional can do that. I can help them out with advice and that's all, and for now, it's working well,'' stated the priest.

''There are about twenty of us for the time being, and we don't want to be a golf club because we're not ready for that. That's why we will set up an association that will give us certain freedoms, but also make sure we're recognised formally and legally. The terrain will be and remain this way,'' said Mravinac, explaining the due to the area's size, it could never be a proper golf course, but merely a driving range, whose words were confirmed by Aračić.

''At the moment, there are no plans to set up a club, because I don't want finances to hinder us, but instead to carry on our love of this sport. The goal is to set up a Golf Lovers Association, to bring us together as many people as possible here, to practice, and later on, for anyone who feels like it, we can also organise a trip to Zagreb or to Slovenia, where I'm a member of the Radenci club, where anyone who wants to qualify for a golfing license, possibly join a golf club and go to competitions, can do so - but that's still a long way off,'' said the pastor.

Among the twenty members who joined them was Mirko Miškić, an engineer from Vinkovci, who used to practice tennis but became interested in golf a few years ago.

''It's kind of connected. There are a lot of people who switch to golf after tennis and I've been watching golf tournaments on TV for the last few years, I learned the rules too... When Toni told me what they were planning, I was thrilled to come here. So far, we're happy, and we'll see what's to come later. There is some thought about a golf course in the Vinkovci area, even the surface it would be on, but nothing has been defined. We believe that other citizens will be interested outside our circle of friends and acquaintances, and that's our goal, because we want to further develop the culture of this sport,'' said Miškić.

The fact that a golf course in Slavonia would be a great solution is something the priest doesn't doubt at all, as he knows very well how much time and money it takes to go to play a game in Zagreb, Slovenia, Kapošvar or Zabalj near Zrenjanin, where they have golf courses.

''That's why I can't go to as many tournaments or as many games as I'd like to, and I believe that in Eastern Croatia, there would be great interest if we had the right grounds, even with nine holes. It's a wonderful sport that makes you take a few hours out in nature and relax,'' explained the priest.

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