Thursday, September 25, 2008

Croatia Online - Slavonia Part 1 - Osijek

Osijek, close to the Hungarian border and the Danube, in fertile Slavonia, was once Croatia's largest city. Now it takes fourth place after Zagreb, Split and Rijeka.
The architectural style is hard to pin down in a nutshell and the Church of St Peter and Paul, pictured and known as The Cathedral, offers images of Birmingham (red brick) and Paris (the flying buttresses of Notre Dame) at the same time. Our local expert tells us that Osijek's buttresses are for aesthetic purposes only whereas those in Paris are structural, angled to support the arches against which they are placed.
Just a short walk away from this, the centre of the upper town, the area around the fortress of Tvrdja has a strong Baroque influence, and in between are some grand Secessionist Mansions in various states of repair.
So far, we've just scratched the surface but like what we've found: an eclectic mixture of old style hotels, perhaps a little daunting from the outside but well equipped inside with friendly staff and quiet but efficient service; spacious squares surrounded by buildings, many with plenty of space behind them for parking or gardens, modern cosmopolitan restaurants and traditional local ones, boutique hotels and equally comfortable larger or modern ones; a very different menu from Mediterranean Croatia, often featuring game (venison and wild boar) and influenced by neighbouring Hungary; lush green plains without a mountain in sight; and the cafes along the Drava, a wide River fed, in Spring, by the melting snow from the mountains to the west.
Whilst the Croatian Tourist Board's slogan "The Mediterranean that once was", is now an effective and strong brand, it is misleading in the extreme for about 50% of the nation's territory, does little justice to the diversity of Croatia, and an injustice to Slavonia which is continental, rather than Mediterranean. Whether or not coastal Croatia still has that undiscovered, undeveloped feel is a subject for a different posting but, from what we've seen so far, Slavonia is completely unspoilt, deserves more attention, and could be the next destination for discerning travellers seeking to discover continental Europe as it once was.
Cycling, birdwatching, hunting. horse riding and wine roads are just some of the activities that Slavonia lends itself to and it's also rich in history, culture and tradition. On the downside, so far, it's not so easy to get to from the UK but that could change soon as the small airport seeks new links. By road, the motorway from Zagreb has another fifty or so kilometres to go before it reaches Osijek, but it's a lovely drive.
Coming next...Lipizzaners and the Kopački rit Nature Park.


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