The jumble of geographical regions that make up inland Croatia seem, on the face of it, to have little in common with one another. Historically, however, the Croats of the interior were united by a set of cultural influences very different from those that prevailed on the coast. After the collapse of the medieval Croatian kingdom in the early part of the twelfth century, inland Croatia fell under the sway of first Hungary, then the Habsburg Empire, increasingly adopting the culture and architecture of Central Europe. This heritage has left its mark: sturdy, pastel-coloured farmhouses dot the countryside, while churches sport onion domes and Gothic spires, providing a sharp contrast with the pale stone houses and Venetian-inspired campaniles of the coast.
The main appeal of inland Croatia lies in its contrasting landscapes. It’s here that the mountain chains that run from the Alps down to the Adriatic meet the Pannonian plain, which stretches all the way from Zagreb to eastern Hungary. The Zagorje region, just north of Zagreb, resembles southern Austria with its knobbly hills and castles, while southwest of Zagreb are the captivating lakes and waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes. Much less touristed but equally rewarding are the wetlands southeast of the capital, with the Lonjsko polje Nature Park offering a mixture of archaic timber-built villages and birdwatching opportunities. The eastern province of Slavonia features broad expanses of flat, chequered farmland only partially broken up by low green hills. Tucked away in the province’s northeastern corner is the Kopački rit Nature Park, a wildlife-rich wonderland of reedy waterways and sunken forests. It’s in these areas of natural beauty that rural tourism is taking off in a big way, with village B&Bs, folksy restaurants and well-signed cycling routes cropping up in the Zagorje, Plitvice, Lonjsko polje and Kopački rit. Vineyards and wine cellars are a growing feature of tourism too, especially around Ilok in the far southeast.
The region also has worthwhile urban centres, with several well-preserved Baroque towns in which something of the elegance of provincial Habsburg life has survived. The most attractive of these are Varaždin, northeast of Zagreb, and Osijek, a former fortress town in eastern Slavonia.Read More
Food and drink in inland Croatia
Food and drink in inland Croatia
Inland Croatian cuisine is invariably a waistline-enhancing affair, with generous helpings of pork, turkey, duck and freshwater fish forming the backbone of most menus. Signature dish of Zagorje and the northeast is roast turkey served with mlinci, sheets of pasta torn into misshapen scraps and covered with tasty juices from the bird.
Paprika is the main characteristic of Slavonia and the Baranja, where meat and fish is cauldron-stewed with generous helpings of the red spice. Carp, catfish and pike-perch from Sava and Drava rivers frequently end up in fiš paprikaš, the spicy, soupy mainstay of most restaurant menus around Osijek and in the southeast. Frequently served with tagliatelli-like noodles, fiš perkelt is a slightly reduced version of the same thing. The meat-eater’s alternative to fiš is čobanac, a goulash-esque paprika-laden stew which is served up in vast tureens. Many Slavonian families keep a pig or two, traditionally slaughtered towards the end of November in the annual kolinje, or pig cull. The main pork-based delicacy is kulen, a rich, paprika-flavoured sausage served as a snack or hors d’oeuvre.
The wines of inland Croatia are an increasingly big deal, with excellent Graševina (Welschriesling) and Traminac (Gewurztraminer) on sale in the family-run wineries of Zmajevac and Ilok.