Just over an hour’s drive southeast of Zagreb lies a particularly beautiful stretch of seasonally flooded wetland known as the Lonjsko polje, an enchanting area of ancient timber houses, rustic lifestyles and – most famously of all – nesting storks. Marking the Lonjsko polje’s southern end, the town of Jasenovac was the site of a notorious concentration camp in World War II and is now home to a dignified memorial park.
Lonjsko polje can be treated as a day-trip from Zagreb if you have your own transport, although the bucolic B&Bs of the region provide sufficient inducement to linger. However you approach the region, you’ll find yourself on a badly surfaced road which winds its way along the banks of the River Sava, passing through a sequence of single-street villages characterized by their chicken-choked yards and the kind of tumbledown, timber-built houses that seem to have jumped straight out of an illustrated book of fairy stories. The polje’s dyke-top roads are perfect for cyclists, and many of the B&Bs rent out bikes.
The polje (which literally means “field”) is at its wettest in spring and autumn, when the tributaries of the River Sava habitually break their banks and the area is colonized by spoonbills, herons and storks. The area’s oak forests and pastures are also home to the Posavlje horse (Posavski konj), a stocky, semi-wild breed, and the spotty-hided Turopolje pig (Turopoljska svinja), which lives off acorns. The villages of the polje contain more in the way of nineteenth-century wooden architecture than any other region of Croatia, and are protected – alongside the flora and fauna – by the Lonjsko polje Nature Park (Park prirode Lonjsko polje).Read More
The village of ČIGOĆ is a world-renowned migrating stop for white storks, which head here every spring (usually arriving late March or early April) ready to feast on the polje’s abundant supply of insects, fish and frogs, and nest on chimneys and telegraph poles throughout the village. You stand a good chance of seeing baby storks during the hatching season, which falls in late April or May. According to tradition, the storks leave Čigoć for the wintering grounds of southern Africa (an eight- to twelve-week journey) on St Bartholomew’s Day (August 24), although a handful of creatures stay in the village all year, their migratory instincts weakened by food handouts by soft-hearted locals.
Most of the houses in Čigoć are traditional two-storey structures with shingle roofs, overhanging eaves and a main entrance on the first floor, reached by a covered outside staircase known as a ganjak; many also have elaborately carved porches or balconies.