SLAVONIA & BARANJA
Slavonia and Baranja is an undiscovered destination containing an abundance of magical natural beauties and scenery cultivated by man. You will not be shutting down your camera. Here you can find some of the last intact swamps in Europe, vast wheat fields, fruitful vineyards, and centuries-old oak forests. Osijek-Baranja valley is surrounded by two great Pannonian rivers, the fickle Drave, and the mighty Danube. The valley rises in the south towards the Krndija, the Papuk and the Dilj hills, and it barely noticeable blends with the Erdut and the Bansko Hill, which is also known as the „Mountain“ of Baranja (nicknamed so because it’s only 243 meters high).
People from Slavonia and Baranja give their guests the most precious gifts – an honest smile and arms wide open as a sign of a warm welcome. Kindness and generosity are a part of every encounter, and the experience begins with a generous table, recommendations for spending your leisure time and general advice on how to travel the region like a true hedonist. The hosts will become and remain your friends here. In return, the guests quickly begin to talk about the local flavors, scents, and colors, as well as the delightfully slowed down rhythm of savoring each pleasure and the astonishing symbiosis of traditional and modern. Big hearts of people in Slavonia and the charm of people in Baranja are the greatest values of eastern Croatia.
Although it is filled with oases of intact nature, peaceful corners, and rustic ambiances, the area of Slavonia and Baranja is well-connected. Osijek, the center of the region is connected by a highway, a railroad, and an airport to the rest of Croatia and Europe. There are three big international airports – airports of Zagreb, Belgrade, and Budapest at a distance of around two hours. Apart from this, you can travel to Slavonia and Baranja as a real hedonist-adventurer by motorcycle, bicycle, or boat. The Danube cruise ships and two EuroVelo bike routes are at your service!
ĐAKOVO – THE HEART OF SLAVONIA
If you take the highway „Slavonika“ to get to the heart of Slavonia, you will have an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful scenery of the valley and a vast horizon. Somewhere along the mystical border of the valley and the sky, you will find Ivandvor. Here, in the picturesque countryside, you can see a herd of Lipizzaner horses galloping and enjoying their unconstrained freedom. After the horses grow up, they are moved to the nearby State Stud Farm Đakovo founded in 1506. It is also one of the oldest stud farms in Europe. For example, it is 74 years older than the stud farm in Lipica known for this glorious horse breed.
In the words of F. Westermann, Lipizzaner horses are horses which „when you touch them, you are touching history“. The horses are an inevitable part of the year-round visit program of the State Stud Farm Đakovo. Apart from this, they are among the main attractions of the big annual events. The horses are used along with singers and dancers from many foreign lands to perform in the „Đakovački vezovi“ parade, a cultural and folklore performance with a half-century tradition. The neighing of horses is united with joyful singing of bećarac, a traditional Slavonian musical ensemble, and with clashes of sabers from a ritual dance of the Gorjani village beauties. They are also known as „ljelje“ or queens and are the last carriers of age-old custom, held in spring, in which girls present themselves to prospective suitors by dancing with sabers in their hands (something that might remind one of the choreography from Charlie’s Angels). An inevitable part of the parade in Đakovo is passing next to the Cathedral of Saint Peter, one of the most famous sacral buildings in Croatia. It is the essential part of the skyline of Đakovo. The building is 84 m high, built with seven million bricks, and 395 oaken pylons from Slavonia built-in its foundations. The inside of this neo-Romanic building is decorated with murals and sculptures of numerous artists, and in the crypt of the cathedral is the tomb of one of the most important Croat of the 19th century –Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer
OSIJEK – THE CENTER OF SLAVONIA AND BARANJA
The center of Slavonia and Baranja, located in the area between wheat fields and the Drave River whose flow it follows stretching from the west towards the east. It is one of those towns that are for a reason considered to be suited to people, especially if you consider yourself a family type of person. There are truly numerous reasons that make this city special. Nor too big, nor too small, rich with social and cultural events, airy and surrounded with natural beauties. In the words of Branko Mihaljević, a Croatian poet: „My Osijek full of sun, by the Drave peaceful and quiet, will forever remain poem and verse close to my heart“.
Since ancient times, the area of the Pannonian Basin was a hotspot of civilization. During the Classical Period, it was settled by Romans, and later on in the Middle Ages by Slavs and Ugrics (Hungarians). In the middle of the 16th century, eight Wonder of the World was built here by the Ottomans who ruled Slavonia and a big part of Hungary. It was known as the Suleiman’s Bridge and it was built out of wood. The bridge led from Osijek over seven kilometers of swamp area to Darda, the center of Baranja. In the late 17th century, the Ottomans were suppressed by the Austrians who burned down the bridge. It marked the beginning of a new architectural period in Osijek. The fortified, central part of the city, which consisted back then from three separate settlements became a military center. One of the biggest fortresses in Croatia, also known as the Tvrđa (the Citadel) was built in the swamp in 1722. Westwards and eastwards from it are the Upper and the Lower Town. These parts became the center of Osijek’s economic and social growth after the city was united in 1809 and received the status of a free royal city. Until the middle of the 19th century, the capital of Slavonia will also become the largest Croatian city.
Who would not want to explore a place of such history! Nevertheless, before you do, respect the famous Croatian tradition of a cup of coffee (or possibly schnapps) before any successful sightseeing. You can drink it in some of the cafes in the city center (once known as the Upper Town) or in the taverns of the Tvrđa. Discover the place where coffee is served since late 1718!
We already said a few words about Osijek’s Tvrđa (the Citadel). Once it was a big military complex and today it is a fortress of culture and tourism. Here you will find several galleries, ateliers, and museums among which is the Museum of Slavonia, the largest general museum in Croatia. On the recently restored Vatroslav Lisinski Square is an educational and tourism center located in the Old Bakery building which is becoming a new popular place to visit in Osijek. The proverb „nomen ist omen“ is not true for the nearby Kazamat Gallery. You will not be imprisoned and tortured in the rooms of this former dungeon, but rather you will have the chance to see various works of art. It is impossible to be hungry or thirsty with the broad offer of food and beverages around the walls of the Tvrđa (the Citadel). However, if you wish to make the most out of your stay here, it would be best to visit Osijek’s Tvrđa on a Saturday especially if it is the first Saturday of the month.
LIFE IN THE LUXURIOUS CASTLES OF SLAVONIA AND BARANJA
Although Osijek is the heart of Slavonia and Baranja, Slavonia and Baranja have so much more to offer. Stories about charming noblemen, fortress builders, great conquerors, and ladies are a starting point for discovering the numerous hidden corners of this region. So, do not forget to pack a map (or simply charge the battery of your smartphone) and start exploring! Discover plains, hills, and walnut forests. Take a look at the parks and discover what it was like to live on feudal properties in Slavonia and Baranja!
From the beginning of the 18th century, fertile Slavonian soil was given to numerous noble families by Austrian rulers. As a result, a vast number of feudal estates with a country house and a manor were built around the area. Although it was far from Vienna, the people here tried to keep up with the latest lifestyle trends in the center of the Habsburg Monarchy. On one side, salons were a gathering place for the gentlem0en of Slavonia and were filled with hunting trophies and trophy firearms. On the other side, salons were places where ladies and children spent their days and were filled with sheet music, instruments, and shelves of family libraries. From Donji Miholjac and Valpovo to Našice and Erdut, nobility from the country discussed not only politics, economics, hunting but also art, education, and agriculture. Some of the noblemen from this area especially stand out. For example, the ones in Belje that took over almost the whole of Baranja that has continued to strive from 1697 until today. During the 18th and 19th century the area of this feudal property became one of the most productive properties in all of then Hungary.
WHERE DOES „KULENOVA SEKA“ GROW?
Since the beginning of time, Slavonia’s valley has been known for the peasant that lived there. What grew in the ground and grazed the field was used to feed families in both the villages and the cities. Apart from the riches that came from the field, the heritage of Slavic, Hungarian, Germanic, and Ottoman cuisine became a part of the gastronomy od Slavonia and Baranja. The local culinary tradition consists of venison, different fish delicacies (fish soup known as „fiš“, carp on a stick), different stews such as „paprikaš“ and „čobanac“, but also farmer’s food such as beans in a pot and dishes made from pasta. Preserved meat slices and homemade processed meat such as Kulen (Kulin), Kulenova Seka, sausages, pork rinds, and bacon are especially respecte
Before the making of the before mentioned products is the famous Slavonian process of preparing the meat. Even with the help of the omnipresent schnapps, this event is not for the faint of heart. However, those who experience it can be sure that they have experienced one of the key events in the life of the folk of Slavonia and Baranja. On the other hand, those who are more favorable of vegetarian delicacies will have to visit the markets of Slavonia’s towns. The biggest one is the one in Osijek where fresh groceries are delivered from nearby villages from spring until late autumn. The short journey from farm to fork is one of the primary reasons for the attractive colors, aromas, and flavors of the cuisine in Slavonia and Baranja.
There is not a lot of feelings that can be compared to enjoying the delicacies of Slavonia and Baranja in an authentic ambiance of today’s rural households. Scholars might call this synesthesia, but we call it the taste of Kulen on your palate, the smell of an almost done beef stew (čobanac), neighing of horses in the background, the beauty of a blossomed garden in front of your eyes and a bit more of Kulen, cheese, wine and fresh salad in your hands! Rest assured that surrounded by this even Beckett would have met Godot, and Proust would not have needed seven volumes to find the lost time. Moreover, in Karanac, one of Baranja’s most picturesque villages it would already have waited for him – at a full table in the Street of Lost Time.
WHAT DO PEOPLE FROM SLAVONIA EAT?
Every proper meal starts with an aperitif, a homemade melon, plum, pear, apricot, walnut, or sour cherry schnapps. Partly because it would be a sin to try just one and partly because of its beneficial influence on the atmosphere at the table several toasts are usually raised. This lasts until some of the delicacies described in the previous paragraph are not brought to the table. Some kind of a seasonal salad or pickled vegetables is always eaten with the main dish. They also do not save calories on the dessert. Typical desserts for you to choose from are dumplings with plums, poppy seed noodles, „taške“ (a dish similar to ravioli but often with sweet filling) or a walnut roll. Imagine yourself enjoying delicious food and wine with the sound of bagpipes, tambourines, or a violin in the background…
WINE HEAVEN FOR HEDONISTS
Wines of Slavonia and Baranja have been more attractive and respected over the past few years. Four vineyards dominate the region: western or the vineyards of Ferinački, southern or the vineyards of Đakovo, northern or the vineyards of Baranja and the eastern or the vineyards of Erdut. The vineyards of Baranja and Erdut are also considered to be the homeland of „the wines from the Danube“ due to their impressive location next to the Danube River.
„Bor“ which means „of wine“ and „anya“ which means „mother“ are Hungarian words that coin the name of the Baranja region – the mother of wine. The wine culture is a part of Baranja’s identity, and it is apparent at almost every corner. Therefore, it is easily noticeable in some places. Discover the viewpoint on Bansko Hill, one of the most beautiful Croatian wine roads. Take a look at its center, a wine cellar in Kneževi Vinogradi also known as the biggest wine cellar in Croatia. Then take a break in Suza, a picturesque village whose beauty will bring tears to your eyes. Do not be afraid of emotions, they are a virtue of true hedonist! Besides this a visit to Zmajevac, a village on the Danube River in Baranja known for its wine will once more align your emotional compass. There you fill find „gators“, wine cellars located in small and narrow canyons created by water, also known as „surduk“. In these cellars the Mother of Wine will reveal all the secrets of its white and red charms: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Traminer, Chardonnay, Rhein Riesling, Sauvignon as well as Frankovka, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Along the way, you might even find out about the Red Martha, known as the evil mistress of the vineyards and the godmother of Zmajevac (the Hungarian name of the village is Vörösmart or The Red Martha).
The Gator Fest is held each year at the beginning of June in Kneževi Vinogradi, Suza, and Zmajevac! It is a festival of fine wine, good living, and interesting activities. The organizers of the festival take the well-being of its visitors into consideration, which is why every year the visitors can participate in a relaxing Wine & Walk Tour. The tradition of vineyards in Đakovo dates back to the Middle Ages. The mystery around it and its excellence in flavor have been preserved to this day. Right next to the Đakovo Cathedral you can find the Archbishop’s Palace as well as the wine cellar of the Đakovo – Osijek Archdiocese. There you can try the famous altar wines from Đakovo that make every Eucharistic celebration even more divine. In the vineyards of Đakovo, white wine varieties that stand out are Riesling and Traminer, latter known as one of the favorite wine varieties of eastern Croatia. Apart from these, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Silvaner and Rhein Riesling can also be found here. The main red wine varieties are Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
The scenery of the Danube meander in the area of the Erdut District is a protected landscape area. It is also the place where famous wines of rich flavors and aromas are produced. The cultivation of grapevine here dates back to the time of the Roman Empire. Today the vineyards in Erdut are dominated by wine variety Riesling, besides which Traminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Rhein Riesling also stand out.
Out of red wine varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zweigelt are grown here. Among several events that present the enological and gastronomic offer in Erdut, „Erdut – the city of wine“ attracts the most attention. It is a medieval fair taking place each May during which medieval heritage and wine culture are united as the two most prominent features of this area.
The winemaking tradition is also cherished since the 13th century around the Feričanci district, located at the slopes of the Krndija Mountain. Even today top-quality wines are produced traditionally there. In the vineyards of Feričanci, the ratio of red to white grape varieties is almost equal, although the red wine variety Frankovska stands out. Apart from it and Riesling, other wine varieties attract attention as well. Those are white wine varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris and out of the red wine varieties, those are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.
Apart from the traditional wine celebrations such as the Vinkovo in January, there is a growing number of modern wine manifestation which unite hedonism, art, and active vacation. Among them, Osijek’s WineOs, Wine and Art Nights, Wine & Bike Tour Erdut, Wine BorMarathon in Zmajevac and Frankovka Festival in Feričanci stand out.
They say that the energy of green color eliminates the feeling of restraint, creating a soothing effect. Why wait then – only ten kilometers from Osijek, in the far southeast of Baranja, there is a green oasis – the Nature Park Kopački rit, the oldest one in Croatia (1976). Swamps, damp lawns, river sleeves, meanders and sandbars make the magic zone one of the last pristine European wetlands. Briefly said, your dose of anti-stress therapy awaits you, available without a prescription in unlimited quantities. Kopački rit was shaped by the Danube, and to a lesser extent by the Drave. The water levels also determine the rhythm of life in the Rit. To a visitor eager of discovery and excitement, this means that at any time of the year they will be greeted with special sights like blossoming flowers, sunken canopies, deer bellow, with thousands of bird species led by the white – tailed eagle, and its wingspan which two and a half meters… Not surprisingly, Kopački rit is also a dream destination for all nature and photography lovers. The area of the Rit is the biggest nursery and hatchery of fish in the Danube region, and consequently a particularly important ornithological reserve (to many birds there, fish is the number one specialty). Here, every year about 140 nesting bird species, and many linger here during seasonal intercontinental migrations. Obviously, they also know that it is best to rest in the east!
You can explore Kopački rit more immersively by participating in numerous educational programs, canoeing, bird watching, through a photo safari, listening to deer bellow. It is possible to rent boats and bikes, as well as recreational fishing areas especially designated for it. Visiting Kopački rit by water, with expert guidance, is a treat not to miss. The visitor’s experience is further enhanced by the offer of the Tikveš Presentation and Education Center (Sophia Loren not on the guide list still).
In the immediate vicinity of the Nature Park, since 2006, the Straw Land Art Festival is held every August. Gathered under the bright sky, artists create sculptures from numerous bales of hay, designed to enrich the public places of the Slavonia and Baranja towns thereby contributing to the integration of art, heritage, and principles of sustainable development.
Along the northern part of the Rit lies the Eco-Center Zlatna Greda. Their Nature House is a former administrative building of one of Baranja’s waste, production and agricultural complexes built during the 19th century (remember the story of the successful Belje estate). Zlatna Greda offers visitors a variety of activities: team building, horseback riding, cycling, bird and animal watching, rowing. There is also an adrenaline park, the first in eastern Croatia, and a remarkably interesting school in the nature, dedicated to biodiversity, ecology, and sustainable development
In Slavonia there are well-known religious centers, destinations of numerous pilgrims. In addition to the before mentioned churches of Đakovo and Osijek, the sanctuary of Our Lady of Refuge stands on the bank of Danube in the village of Aljmaš. The symbolism of this special place is enhanced by the impression of the nearby Drave estuary into the Danube, as well as the proximity of the Erdut vineyards and medieval ruins there. On the other hand, in the west of the Osijek-Baranja County, also along the banks of the Drave River, there is a “place of peace, prayer and rest” – the Shrine of St. Anne in Bistrinci. According to the legend, this secluded and wooded shrine was chosen by Ana herself, by letting her image float down the Drave River and remain floating just before the Bistrinci, despite the speed of the river.
Slavonia and Baranja are intertwined with roads that cyclists and cyclo-tourists use to travel to their favorite destinations: nature parks, picnics, or Saturday lunches in the countryside. We offer a growing number of Bed & Bike accommodation and campsites that have content tailored to the needs of this type of tourists. The region is bordered by two EuroVelo routes, no. 6 (Atlantic-Black Sea) and no. 13 (Iron Curtain Trail). The increasing popularity of cycling in Slavonia is evidenced by the increasing number of local recreational cyclists and hikers. They are joined by an increasing number of runners across the Slavonian – Baranja plains, hills, and valleys.
The season of active-tourist delicacies begins, of course, with spring. April brings the Osijek Half Marathon event, and May brings the Tour de Slavonia & Baranja cycling race. The longest cycling race in Slavonia is also an opportunity for a dynamic panoramic view of the area between Donji Miholjac, Našice, Valpovo, Osijek and Baranja. The Pannonian Challenge, a festival of extreme sports and music, the largest of its kind in the whole of southeast Europe, has been held in Osijek for years. The event consists of BMX, SKATE, and INLINE competitions. One of the most generous prize pools in Europe attracts the biggest names from the world scene, and consequently a large number of visitors (more than 300,000 so far). The early autumn (September) is reserved for the Baranja Half-Marathon, which is organized in the beautiful setting of Kopački rit. Since 2009, the FIG World Challenge Cup has been held in Osijek every May. How could it not, when the oldest gymnastics club in Croatia was founded in 1865 – the “First Gombalacah Society”. Today, the Gymnastics World Cup – DOBRO World Cup Osijek is being transmitted to over 70 countries worldwide, reaching more than half a billion households. You can watch it live in Osijek’s sports hall, City Garden, and if the world’s best gymnasts inspire you, go ahead – we eat fine in Slavonia, but we are also happy to exercise.
The EuroVelo 6 (Atlantic – Black Sea) route in Croatia is also known as the Danube route. It starts from the Croatian-Hungarian border, along the route Batina – Osijek – Vukovar – Ilok, to the border with Serbia. It is about 150 km long. The EuroVelo 13 route is also known as the Drava route in Croatia. It extends from the Croatian-Slovenian-Hungarian three-border line, along the Gola – Sopje – Donji Miholjac – Petlovac – Batina route, all the way to the border with Serbia. It is about 190 km long. It largely overlaps with the route also known as the “Amazon of Europe” Bike Trail
HORSEBACK RIDING, FISHING, AND HUNTING
People from Slavonia and Baranja have always lived with noble animals – horses. Once upon a time, working horses used to live and farm in the backyards, and today they are taken care of by recreational and sports horse lovers. Horses are bred out of love on many farms. Visitors can ride them or walk along the wooded paths.
Fishermen and hunters are happy to go to riverbeds and rivers, but also to Slavonian and Baranja oak forests. Rivers, lakes, and ponds are especially rich in freshwater steelhead such as carp, perch, pike, and catfish. The largest fish ponds in the County are near Donji Miholjac and Našice, while the favorite fishing spots are Borovik and Josava lakes in the vicinity of Đakovo, Našice, Lapovac and the former Baranja river backwaters – Topoljski Dunavac near Draž and Stara Drava near Bilje. Not far from Bilje, in Kopačevo, the manifestation Fishermen’s Days has been held for about twenty years. In addition to fishing, Slavonia and Baranja have a rich hunting tradition. The forests here are rich in trophy game, among which stands out the magnificent Baranja deer, followed by roe deer, wild boar, and other feathered and small game.
RIVER, SAND, SUN
When was the last time you walked barefoot on a sandy pond, looking for bird tracks, watching the river flow and the poplar swinging in the breeze? The slightly untamed nature of Slavonia and Baranja will do just that – a rest for your body and soul. This is especially true of Slavonian-Baranja rivers and lakes. Have you heard of “bistrigine”, for example? It is a Pannonian “picigin” played by smiling men on the most beautiful Drava sand beach, the one in Bistrinci. In other words, a summer vacation on the continent can be a real treat, as you can simply enjoy the cultural heritage, the beauties of nature, the eno- and gastro-specialties, by swimming in the Drava, the Danube or numerous lakes. Along the Baranja village of Draž, on the very intersection of Croatia, Hungary and Serbia, you will come across the most attractive Baranja beach, located along the 10 km of the Topolski Danube mentioned above. When it comes to town beaches, except Osijek’s Copacabana, you can enjoy the pools in Kneževi Vinogradi, Beli Manastir, Belišće, or Đakovo.
ELTZ CASTLE AND MUSEUM OF VUČEDOL
Culture Vukovar, a hero city on the banks of the Danube, is marked by a number of sights. In addition to heritage of multiculturalism and memorials related to the Homeland War, one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in Croatia is located here – the Eltz Castle, today home to the Vukovar City Museum. If you head five kilometers downstream, you will find the Museum of Vučedol Culture. Its exhibition is dedicated to the history of Vučedol, one of the civilization centers of prehistoric Europe. How did a Vučedol house look like, the oldest European four-wheeled car, the first batch of metallurgical production in the world, and the oldest European calendar (contemporary of Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian), you will find out everything at this fascinating archaeological-museological site.
Active holidays, exploring the rich past, a visit to the Lipik State Stud Farm, enjoying the Duboka Adrenaline Park and Papuk Nature Park are just some of the reasons why you should head to Kutjevo. Turković Castle is one of the most beautiful monuments of its kind in Slavonia. In addition, it houses one of the oldest wine cellars in Croatia, built in 1232. According to tradition, Empress Maria Theresa performed various misconceptions with the famous Grandees Franjo Trenk,. How could we blame her? The legendary Kutjevo Graševina is all but the wine of the innocent. You can go out on Megdan (Graševina, not Maria Theresa) every May, by visiting the Kutina Festival of Graševina.
SECRETS OF GREEN PAPUK
The Geo Info Center in Voćin and the Jankovac Resort are favorite destinations for lovers of active lifestyle and nature. The Papuk Nature Park, also the first Croatian UNESCO geopark, provides the curious with a lot of fun, adventure, and interesting insights about natural heritage. If you wish to complement the experience of the most interesting Slavonian Mountains with cultural content, we recommend that you descend from Papuk to the newly renovated Pejačević Castle and park in Virovitica.