Where exactly is it?
Vukovar lies in the green, agriculturally-rich southeast of Croatia, about as far away from the tourist-swarmed Adriatic coast as you can get. The nearest city is Osijek, a Baroque jewel 40km to the north; you can either fly to Osijek or catch a bus from Croatian capital Zagreb (5hr 30min), or from Novi Sad in Serbia (2hr 30min).
What should I see in Vukovar?
The one essential sight in the town centre is the mid-eighteenth-century Eltz Palace, a sweeping Baroque cake of a building that looks out on riverside meadows. Inside is one of Croatia’s best museums, offering everything from bronze-age jewellery to the boots made by legendary footwear manufacturer Bat’a, who set up shop in Vukovar in 1931.
The Museum of the Vučedol Culture, five kilometres out of town on the banks of the Danube, is one of the most exciting and well-represented archeological museums anywhere in Europe. Built into the hillside below the original excavation site, this award-winning structure celebrates the copper-smelting civilization that flourished hereabouts 5000 years ago.
The Vučedol people used highly decorative astronomical pictograms to decorate their ceramics, and laid out their dead in shapes imitating signs of the zodiac. Knowledge of astronomy was crucial in deciding when to sow and when to reap.
Vukovar, Croatia © Goran Jakus/Shutterstock
Where can I get to grips with the 1991 siege?
Dominating the horizon south of the town centre is the stark silhouette of the water tower. Perforated by shell holes, but still standing, it’s a dramatic and rugged symbol of survival.
Vukovar General Hospital (Opća bolnica) was deliberately targeted during the siege, and patients were crowded into a basement that now serves as a memorial centre. Makeshift wards have been recreated to show how beds and equipment were crammed together, with dummy-like sculptures symbolizing staff and patients.
Six kilometres east of Vukovar on the road to Ilok is the Ovčara cattle farm, site of one of the most notorious single massacres of the Croat–Serb conflict. Just after capturing the town, Serb forces took 261 defenders, civilians and hospital staff from Vukovar hospital to storehouses at Ovčara, where they were tortured and shot.
One of the storehouses is now a deeply poignant memorial space, with the personal effects of the victims conveying the obvious but nevertheless necessary message: that these were ordinary, innocent people.
Is there anything to do outdoors?
Only two kilometres west of central Vukovar, the Adica Forest Park offers an enthralling mixture of mixed woodland, riverine swamp, hiking trails and cycle paths. In high summer locals take shuttle boats to the Ada, a tree-shaded island in the Danube that boasts a long, luxuriant sandy beach.