Never-ending vineyards, riverside promenades and the amazing natural scenery of Kopacki Rit: these are just some of the wonders of Slavonia, Croatia.
Slavonia, Croatia’s most eastern region, is characterized by flat terrain, numerous rivers, and outstanding natural sights. Untouched by mass tourism, this Cinderella of Croatia maintains its unique character. No matter whether you prefer cycling, hiking, or boat trips, Slavonia is all about spending time out in nature.
Together with my father, I spent a week visiting Slavonia. We found it very different to the rest of the country (as compared to our experiences on this Croatia road trip). It was so much more personal, unexplored, and authentic. Travelling in Slavonia is taking a road less traveled; if you are bored of being surrounded by tourist crowds, Slavonia is your place.
We started our trip in Osijek, Slavonia’s biggest city and the perfect base for exploring Slavonia (use Kiwi.com finding the cheapest flights). During our trip, we visited many cities and inspiring places, most of which are not adequately covered in guidebooks or other resources.
I have compiled this article to give you some ideas about the wide variety of things that can be done in Slavonia, Croatia (including Baranja and Srjem). Find your favorites and start planning your trip!
01| EXPLORE OSIJEK BAROQUE TOWN
Osijek is one of those cities which you can easily visit on foot. There is a pretty city centre with baroque style buildings as well as an imposing square, Trg Ante Starčevića. If you look carefully, you will recognize it as the scene featured on the 200 kuna note. Although the city was badly damaged during a bombing in 1991, much of its original beauty has been restored.
Architectural wonders including the colorful Art Nouveau street in combination with various parks makes exploring Osijek very enjoyable. Do not forget to pay a visit to Tvrđa, the 18th century defensive fortress located in the eastern part of the city. It was built to to protect the city from the Turks back in the times of the Habsburk Empire. Not much of the walls are left in their original form (some are gone due to war, others to make space for the tram system back in in 1884), nevertheless the citadel is still considered a symbol of the city.
02| WALK THE OSIJEK RIVER PROMENADE
Osijek sits on the banks of the Drava river, and the place offering the best views is the promenade along the river and pedestrian suspension bridge. In good weather, you can spend an afternoon basking in the sunshine and exploring the lovely parks and even the zoo nearby. Popular among visitors and locals alike, the promenade is one of the favorite places to go to spend some free time and relax.
When choosing your accommodation, I recommend Hotel Osijek, where my father and I stayed during our trip. It is located directly at the riverside and you can see the bridge from your room. There is also a wellness centre on the 14th floor (people always think my father and I are a couple at such places, how embarrassing!). You can check the availability at Hotel Osijek here.
03| TWO CHURCHES BY STROSSMAYER
It was quite a surprise to me that Osijek is home to the tallest building in Croatia outside of Zagreb: the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, which features a 90-metre spire. This massive building is constructed from half a million bricks and can hold as many as 3000 people at the same time. The church was built in 1898 under the initiative of the Bishop of Đakovo Josip Juraj Strossmayer.
An equally or perhaps even more stunning sacred building is to be found in Djakovo, 25 kilometers east of Osijek. Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter is another masterpiece founded (again) by Bishop Strossmayer, and features two 84-meter spires and impressive fresco paintings inside. It had been referred to as the most beautiful cathedral between Venice and Istanbul. Even if you aren’t normally into churches, go check this one out; you will be amazed by this monumental structure located in such a small town. What’s more, both churches are free to enter.
04 | PAY A VISIT TO LIPIZZANER HORSES
Although the Lipizzan Horses became famous mainly thanks to the glorious performances of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Slavonia indeed makes for a better place to get to know these beautiful animals. At Stud Farm in Djakovo, you can observe Lipizzaners out in the paddocks running around, doing elegant jumps, and simply being free. It is an amazing experience and great day trip from Osijek, Croatia.
The Lipizzan Stud Farm in Dakovo is one of the biggest horse farms in Croatia and in Europe. It was founded in 1506, though the tradition of breeding horses in Djakovo goes all the way back to 1374. Nowadays the farm is split into two locations: one is in the centre of Dakovo and the other is in Ivandvor, which is 6.5 kilometers from the city (if you have to choose only one, go for the latter).
05| GO DAYDREAMING TO KOPACKI RIT
This is a place for daydreamers! Kopacki Rit is all about serene views, calm waters, and lots of birds flying around. My father and I got to experience the park in the morning, when most living things are just waking up. We toured around the canals on a small boat, and this trip was our best memory of the whole Slavonia trip.
The nature park Kopacki Rit, arguably the most amazing piece of nature in Slavonia, belongs to the largest wetland area in Europe. It is situated at the confluence of the rivers Sava and Donau, and comprises various backwaters surrounded by an astonishing array of vegetation (140 recorded species of plant). There are 293 bird species, 44 fish species and 21 species of mosquitoes. On our trip, we also got to see a wild boar. You can arrange your boat trip in the park’s visitor centre. Make sure to have a stroll around the wooden bridges as well.
Practical tip: If you get hungry when visiting the nature park, head over to the rustic regional restaurant Didin Konak , located at the village of Kopačevo near the park. You can have lunch (the food is incredibly tasty there plus they have a great wine cellar!) or even stay overnight in one of their homey cottages.
06 | GET LOST IN KNEZEVI VINOGRADI
The eastern part of Croatia is all about good wine. Osijek might not be the number one place to experience it, but don’t worry, the vineyards are not too far away. You can plan a day trip to Baranja, a rural area know for its regional restaurants and splendid wineries.
Baranja consists of villages with a lot of Hunagrian influence (the signs are in both languages). One nice place we found was Kneževi Vinogradi, a cluster of vineyards located at 105 meters above sea level (this is relatively high since Baranja is mainly flat). The scenery is marvelous and you can hike around to take in the beautiful views. If you have time, also check out the village itself, as it features quite a few historical buildings.
TRAVEL TIP: You can easily visit Knezevi Vinogradi on the same day as Kopacki Rit – both places are situated in the Baranja region and not too far apart. There are splendid wineries at every corner around here.
07 | EAT AT BARANSKAJA KUCA
Although all of Slavonia is about good food and we enjoyed many amazing meals and local specialties during our trip, we had one gastronomic experience that needs to be mentioned. It was at Baranskaja Kuca, typical restaurant located in the picturesque village of Karanac. It is not only in a cute local setting, but there is just one word that can express their dishes: Foodporn.
What to order? You can start with fish stew, a spicy soup prepared with lots of paprika (you will taste the Hungarian influence). As for the main course, go for the local delicacy: carp on a spit, prepared on an open fire. It was very crispy and amazing – although we also eat a lot of carp in the Czech Republic – this tasted just SO much better. All the food is local and there is a great atmosphere. You can even visit it on the same day as Kopacki Rit as the nature park is also in Baranja.
08| VISIT VUKOVAR MUNICIPAL MUSEUM
Vukovar, a city 37 kilometers from Osijek, hosts some of the most excellent museums in the whole country: Vukovar Municipal Museum and Vucedol Museum (see the next point), both award-winning places full of well-presented information.
The Vukovar Municipal Museum is situated in the 18th century Baroque Palace of Eltz right on the bank of the Danube river. There are four floors to explore: from beginnings of the city until today. One of the most interesting things is the arieal video showing Vukovar shortly after the bombing. I can honestly say that this is the best history museum I have ever visited; a special thanks to our lovely guide who tried hard to squeeze 8000 years of Vukovar history into one hour. More info here.
09| LEARN ABOUT VUCEDOL CULTURE
Another interesting museum to acquire some knowledge but also play in is Vučedol Culture Museum, located five kilometers from Vukovar. The place where the museum is situated is one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe. The area was inhabitaned as early as 6,000 B.C.
The museum is dedicated to a prehistoric culture who lived in the area during the Eneolithic period (3000 to 2500 BC), when Vucedol was a significant center in Europe (around the time of the rise of Troy in Asia). Although focused on many historical subjects, there is a lot of multimedia and a great design, making a visit interesting and enjoyable. There are a lot of hands-on experiences you can try. More info here.
09| VUKOVAR WATER TOWER
There is no way you could miss this sight when travelling around Vukovar: imagine a fifty-meter bullet hole-ridden water tower, remaining as a memento to all the suffering that took place during the Battle of Vukovar and the Croatian War of Independence. Back then, the water tower and the city itself were largely destroyed by Serbian forces. Vukovar is the only European city that has been completely destroyed since World War II.
We made a short stop there while travelling from Vukovar to the east – you cannot go inside, but it is still worth taking a few minutes to see it from the outside. It‘s one of the places that truly leaves you speechless.
TRAVEL TIP: If you are interested to spend some more time in Vukovar and learn more about war history, visit the Hospital (it’s the same one that was used duing the siege of the city), Tank Graveyard Street, some of the local memorials, and the Cementary (due to the presence of land mines, only walk on the paved streets). Keep in mind that visiting these places can be an emotional experience.
10| CRUISE THE DANUBE RIVER
Vukovar today is not only about the past, but also about the future. Vukovar had to be completely rebuilt and although you can see damage on houses throughout the city, the heart of the town is quite lovely.
The most popular place where locals spend time gazing at the Danube river is the walkway around the river, and in the summer the Island of Vukovar with its popular public beach. A great way to enjoy views on the Danube in with a one-hour boat trip –my father and I arranged a trip on a smaller boat, but popular WaterBus Bajadera is a cool vehicle, too. Either way, you will spend one hour cruising, and on sunny days, the views are spectacular.
11| MEDIEVAL FORTIFICATIONS IN ILOK
Ilok, Croatia’s most eastern town, takes pride in its medieval fortress raised above the Danube. The medieval town is surrounded by fortifications including two monuments from Ottoman times (a tomb and a 16th century hammam). The views from the fortifications are amazing; you can see all the way to Serbia. You can visit the Gardens Church and Friary of St. John of Capistrano, the latter of which displays artifacts from the long history of Ilok, reaching back to the Roman period.
12| GET BACK IN TIME AT ILOCKI PODRUMI
Ilok features unique old wine cellars from the 15th century which are definitely a must-visit. They are situated next to the old castle. We took a 20-minute tour given by an enthusiastic guide who took us around the huge underground wine cellar featuring huge oak casks as well as unique wine collections dating back to 1983.
One great things is that they are able to do it in English, so you will not miss any information (better if you call ahead). Apart from the wine cellar itself, there is a wine tasting corner with an great selection of local wines. It is worth staying to eat at the connected restaurant as well – it is situated in a huge historical feasting hall. Both the food and the wine my father and I had here were amazing, the best we experienced in Illok.
13| SUNSET AT PAPAK WINERY
Situated at a serene spot in the vineyards just a few kilometers from Ilok town, family-run Papak Winery makes the best use of the area’s fertile ground. When I visited here, the family was still working on their autumn harvest, and yet found a moment to sit with me and tell me about their life. Together, we watched an amazing sunset over the vineyard.
Illok is (together with Baranja) one of the best places to taste wine in Slavonia – make sure to taste Traminac, one of signature wines of Papak Winery. It’s definitely a great place to visit, and if you have time, you can spend a night there, too. For me, the place reminded me of the hills of South Moravia, a wine region in my home country (Czech Republic). It is all about friendly hard-working people and good wine. More info here.
14 | ENJOY VIEWS AT PRINCIPOVAC
If you are searching for the best views near Illok, search no further. Hill Principovac, just four kilometers from Illok, is the right place to enjoy the stunning beauty of this fertile land and its never-ending vineyards
Although the venue features a lavish 4-star resort, golf course, and photogenic restaurant, you don’t need to do all of these. It is okay to just make a short stop to enjoy the scenery. We visited it both by day and by night, and loved the views.
15 | STAY AT A LOCAL FARM
Slavonia is more about villages and small towns than abig cities. Acin Salas, a local farm in the village of Trodici, is the perfect place to enjoy an authentic farm experience. There are plenty of animals, including the pigs, dogs, chickens and many others, making is almost feel like a mini-zoo.
There is also an amazing restaurant with local specialties, and their cottages are pretty amazing, too; you can spend a night or weekend here experiencing the lifestyle from hundreds of years ago. You can check the availability here.
16| FIND A BIRTH HOUSE OF IVAN KOZAREC
This lovely house with a yellow facade situated at a quiet spot on the Bosut river in the lovely town of Vinkovci encompasses a story of worth remembering connected with the region. It used to be the home of Ivana Kozarec, Croatian novelist and poet. Nowadays, you can find a small and very personal museum there.
Outside, there is nice sculpture of Ivan and his cousin, who was his secret love (a love which, by the way, was never fulfilled). The writer lived with his family in poverty and died at the age of 25. Even though he was an active writer for only four years, each of his works is an expression of love to Slavonia. You can find more info on the museum’s website.
17 | LEARN HOW TO DECORATE PUMPKIN
Before travelling to Slavonia, I had no idea that decorating pumpkins is actually a special artform. But travelling is all about learning new things, right?
If you want to participate in this unique activity, there is one place to go and experience it. Make sure to visit Snašinih kućari in the town of Gradiste, with just 2700 inhabitants. You will get to visit a local farm in a lovely setting and learn how to decorate the pumpkin from a charismatic local woman. I have to admit that I wasn’t the best once I tried it, but it was fascinating to see how it is done.
18 | TASTE THE LOCAL SPIRITS
Many people in Slavonia produce their own alcohol from fruit and they are really proud to present it. Actually, every time you go to visit someone or enter a new restaurant, the local firewater is a first thing you are offered. And it is hard to say no; local hosts are usually insistent, so sooner or later, you will end up tasting it 🙂
If you want to try various kind of liquor and see how they are produced, there are two good places in Bošnjaci: one is Ambar and the other is Markove Kućare. To get something in your belly beforehand (a really good idea before drinking spirits), or alternatively to spend the night, comfortable Guest House Aquarius is just across the street. The apartments are newly renovated and the restaurants serves local specialties (during our lunch, we were not even able to eat half of what was on the table).
19| EAT, EAT, EAT…
Well, what can I say – do not expect to be on a diet while travelling in Slavonia. The food is pretty amazing in Slavonia, especially when it comes to smoked meat. I enjoyed some amazing fish there as well, as well as the fish stew that I mentioned above.
Slavonia is all about small but homey regional restaurants, so you can really have a great culinary trip here. I have never seen food served in such a big portions as in Slavonia. One local guide expressed it quite perfectly: “Everything can happen to you in Slavonia, but you will never be hungry or thirsty here.”
20 | MAKE FRIENDS WITH SLAVONIANS
One of the reasons why I enjoy coming back to Croatia is the local people: they are friendly, chatty, and helpful. In Slavonia, this goes double. Maybe it is the slower pace of life or maybe it’s the wine, I don’t know 🙂 Within Croatia, Slavonias are known as the hardest working people.
Although its a tough topic to discuss, I found it very interesting to speak about the times of war with the locals – many people had to flee the country and then return to find even more war. Truly, everyone in Slavonia has an interesting story to tell.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO SLAVONIA OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN CROATIA?
Most people only know the coastal parts of Croatia. Beaches are great for sure, but other less-visited places are equally interesting. Let me know what your experience travelling to Croatia was like!
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This article was created in partnership with Prague office of Croatian National Tourist Board. All opinions are, as always, my own.