I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within.
For such a small country, there is a lot to explore within Croatia's borders. Fabulous beaches, ancient seaside towns, emerald blue streams running through mountains, amazing food; what doesn't Croatia have? One of the country's assets that's frequently overlooked is Slavonia, the landlocked northeastern part of the country and one of Croatia's four historical regions. This rural part of the country gets significantly much less tourism than the rest of Croatia, but rural tourism is a fast growing industry and for good reason.
Since Slavonia is spread out and I wanted to visit sights tourists don't typically go to, I rented a car from Zagreb and thus Mango could tag along. (There are trains in this region, just an fyi.) We had a great time traveling around this land ruled over once by Romans, Ottomans, and Habsburgs. Slavonia provides nearly half of the country's agricultural land, with wine and livestock being the leading industries. During the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s, this region in particular suffered in the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army culminating with the Battle of Vukovar. So without further ado, here are the highlights from our day's jaunt through Slavonia, Croatia.
This quaint farming community and ethno-village is best known for Baranjska Kuca serving up local fare, but it's the Pannonian architecture that makes the town worth visiting.
Being a weekday, Mango and I were the only people at Baranjska Kuca and we had the gorgeous, sunny patio all to ourselves. Our waiter, a nice young guy who admitted things got a little slow in this town of a thousand, kindly brought Mango some chicken from the kitchen. The food was good (more so for meat-eaters, I imagine) and after eating, Mango and I took a stroll down the restaurant's pet project, the "street of lost time" lined with traditional buildings in the area that specialized in trades like carpentry and blacksmithing.
Visiting Karanac, one gets a taste for typical Slavonian village life. With the exception of a few homes in disrepair, most houses in town are in the Pannonian style, or "houses made of logs or loam with thatched roofs, vineyard cottages, corn drying houses." A traditional house in Karanac resembles two simple ranch homes put together at an angle and enclosed by a sturdy gate and the backside of a neighboring house; a corridor running along the main building has its own door to the street and each home has plenty of space for a garden. This style of architecture is definitely for people that like generous living spaces and gardens.
Osijek is Croatia's fourth largest city with about 110,000 residents; in the 1800s the city was Croatia's largest city with strong influences from neighboring Vienna and Budapest. However, in the 1990s Osijek was heavily bombed (800 residents killed) and suffered greatly, losing its proud title as a powerful industrial center. Today, the city bustles with trams and cyclists although there is a lot of potential to make Osijek the grand, beautiful destination it is.
Slavonski Brod Fortress
Built on the north bank of the Sava River by the Austrian Habsburgs between 1715 and 1780, Slavonski Brod Fortress was an important strategic center controlling the main commercial routes towards Turkey and the slowly receding Ottoman Empire. (AtlasObscura.com) Another great example of Croatia blending its past with its present, this fortress fell into disrepair in the 1990s and its romantic ruins are now part of Slavonski Brod's city park. One row of buildings has been carefully restored, but it looks almost boring next to the dilapidated, crumbling rows of brick buildings that remain. And also in true Croatian form, park visitors and canine friends are welcome to wander the grounds freely.
The day's light was fading as Mango and I scurried to get a closer look at this curious sight, a concrete tulip-shaped sculpture in the middle of a field. The very-Yugoslavic Stone Flower in Jasenovac was erected in 1966 to honor the victims of the town's concentration camp. Yes, the Croatian government (not the Nazis) ran one of Europe's largest concentration camps in Jasenovac, with 77,000 to 99,000 estimated deaths on site (most of which were Serbs). The concentration camp was closed and razed in 1945 and this moving tribute to those that perished nearby.