Slavonia Croatia: A Region That Does Not Get Enough Attention
Along with Dalmatia, Istria, and Inland Croatia, Slavonia is a region in Croatia. Situated in the far northeast of the country, this is Croatia’s least-visited part.
While Dalmatia and Istria get flooded with (summer) tourists, Slavonia remains virtually untouched by mass tourism. Yet, Slavonia is certainly a region that’s very much worth visiting, especially if you like off-the-beaten-path destinations.
The Slavonia region borders Bosnia-Herzegovina to the south, Serbia to the east and Hungary to the north. Its borders are roughly formed by three rivers—the Danube, Sava, and Drava Rivers. In addition to the valley landscapes along those major rivers, the region is also characterized by some small hills and expansive, fertile plains. Contrary to the mountain-dominated Croatian coast, most of the landscape of Slavonia is pancake-flat. Locals joke that the highest mountain in the region is a cabbage.
It’s the plains, home to fields and farms, which give the Slavonian region its nickname, the “breadbasket of Croatia.” No less than 45% of agricultural lands in Croatia lie in Slavonia, producing everything from corn, wheat, sugar beets, sunflowers and clover to natural gas and oil. This is a rural area, dotted with authentic towns and villages and a few larger historical cities.
History of Slavonia
Like basically all of the western Balkans, Slavonia has been part of many different foreign empires. From the Romans (until the 5th century) to the Ottomans to Austria-Hungary and part of Yugoslavia, it has known various cultural influences. This is actually exactly why this region is so culturally and architecturally diverse, why there are so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Balkans.
Slavonia, too, has a number of interesting historic features, most notably the large Baroque and Classical houses in the Osijek area and once-mighty fortresses.
The current Slavonian culture is a mix of the different cultural and social influences it has experienced throughout the centuries. Particularly the Austro-Hungarian rule of Slavonia, which started in the late-17th century after the Ottomans were defeated, has strongly influenced the regional culture.
The most notable cultural feature in the region is the distinct Baroque art and architecture that began dominating Slavonian cities in the 1700s. Many nobles and aristocrats were given estates in the area as a reward for their service during the Great Turkish War. Several of these mansions and manors are still there today, a quintessential feature of Slavonia.
Several Slavonians have contributed to Croatia’s culture as a whole, including writers and poets, scientists, musicians, and artists.
Especially music is a significant aspect of the Slavonian culture. Annual folklore festivals aim to preserve the local culture and its traditional music. Originating in the region, the distinct musical form known as bećarac is designated Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
Regarding cuisine, Slavonia offers a blend of culinary influences—Hungarian, Viennese, Turkish and even Arabian. Especially the Hungarian influence is strong. The Slavonian cuisine is characterized by the use of smoked meats, pickled vegetables, and dairy products. Additionally, this is one of Croatia’s major wine-making regions. The primary centers of wine production are Kutjevo, Đakovo, and Ilok, where grape vines are known to have been grown since as early as the 3rd century.
Where to Go in Slavonia
Straddling the banks of the Drava River, Osijek is the capital of Slavonia. This vibrant city is a world away from the coastal cities in Croatia such as Split and Dubrovnik. This is because, once, it literally lay in another country – it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Unfortunately, Osijek was one of the epicentres of the tragic “Homeland War” in the 1990s. You can still see bullet holes in many of the buildings’ façades. The war, however, is long over and Osijek is again the ever-vibrant city it’s always been.
Papuk Mountain is basically the only mountain in the Pozega Valley area. With its landscape of rivers, forests, lakes and slopes, this is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. It’s a reinvigorating area, not in the least because of its refreshing freshwater springs. Visitor facilities and mountain lodges are plentiful.
A floodplain between the Danube and Drava Rivers, Kopacki Rit Nature Reserve is one of Europe’s largest remaining wetlands and an important refuge for birds and other wildlife. Birds you can spot include common species such as cormorants, gulls, ducks, and herons but also rare ones such as white-tailed eagles, great white egrets, and black storks.
Situated on the northern slopes of Krndija Mountain in eastern Slavonia, Našice is a town renowned for its historic mansions and architecture. The greatest attractions in town are the two castles of the Pejačević family, which are set within gorgeous English-style gardens. Other highlights are the Gothic church and the library of the Franciscan monastery.
Croatian winemaking dates back almost 2,000 years. They clearly knew how to do it and, recently, the international wine industry has come to realize and appreciate that. Slavonia is home to some of Croatia’s greatest, award-winning wineries. Make sure to visit Kutjevo Vineyards, whose wine cellar, dating from 1232, is the oldest one in Croatia.
The main touristic feature in the town of Slavonski Brod is the monumental Brod Fortress. Built by the Austro-Hungarians as a stronghold to protect the empire against the Ottomans, this is one of Europe’s best-preserved fortresses. It’s also one of the largest fortresses on the military border of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.