Lipizzaner Horses & The Stud Farm in Đakovo
While you’re in Đakovo, you’re encouraged to also visit one of the world’s most beautiful and famous horse breeds – the Lipizzaner.
The origins of Lipizzaner horses date back to 16th-century Vienna, when and where they were first bred for Habsburg nobility. Named after the Slovenian village of Lipica (Lipizza in Italian), they are essentially the flagship horse breed of Southeastern Europe.
In Slavonia, there has been a long history of breeding these horses over 500 years. The best example of this centuries-old tradition is the Stud Farm in Đakovo.
Established in 1506, the State Stud Farm in Đakovo is one of Europe’s oldest still operating stud farms – and the family who runs the property are so welcoming and warm.
Nowhere else in Slavonia is the link to the Lipizzaner horses’ long history so strong as it is at the State Stud Farm. This is the place in Slavonia that started breeding them in the early-1800s.
Known nowadays as the State Stud Farm Đakovo, it consists of two locations, Stallion Station and Ivandvor, respectively for horse breeding and horse selection. One of the farm’s main purposes is protecting the Lipizzaner horses’ gene pool, but it’s also one of the best things to do in Slavonia with kids.
Tourists can visit the facilities, see trainers at work, watch the horses galloping across their meadows, learn about the farm’s history, visit exhibits and learn cool fun facts. Interesting facts like that all of the horses are born dark and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete after a few years.
There is also an annual Christmas festival at the Stud Farm, the “Lipizzaner’S Christmas Ball” is held each December. There are theatrical performances with horses and their riders.
Each year in July, the Đakovo Cathedral surroundings are the setting of the Đakovo Embroidery, a fascinating folkloric event.
The celebration features traditional Slavonian folk clothing, singing bands and folklore dancing. You can see choirs, art exhibits and opera singers in the cathedral, while an outdoor horse and wedding wagon show is a major highlight of the event. Additionally, you can also see pure-bred Lipizzaner horses from the Stud Farm.
Location: Kralja Tomislava 3, Đakovo
One of the highlights of Slavonia is visiting a winery. The region’s plains and sloped hills are ideal for growing a wide variety of wines, making this one of Croatia’s premier wine counties. In fact, this is where some of Croatia’s greatest wine-makers and largest wine exporters are based.
Situated in the so-called “golden valley” of Požega on the slopes near Papuk Nature Park, the Kutjevo wine cellar is among the most renowned cellars in the country. It holds several archival wines, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Traminer and the famous Kutjevo Graševina. The extensive collection of wines is valued at over €2 million!
Previously connected to the winery via an underground walkway, beautiful Kutjevo Castle (which is now privately owned and closed for visitors – through the locals are pressuring the owners to once again open the B&B for guests) lies adjacent to the winery.
As a part of my visit to the Kutjevo, I was graced with a wine tasting from in the cellar. As I stood there I thought about the centuries of wine-making that has been taking place there. The cellar was built by Cistercians (a Roman Catholic religious order) who founded an abbey there in 1232, which in turns bestows the honor to the Kutjevo winery of having the oldest wine cellar in Croatia.
The main (and best selling) wine you need to try here is Graševina – it is the most common white grape variety in the Slavonia region and 22% of vines in Croatia. I myself, am not a fan – but many are, so please do report back with your thoughts. Yay or nay?
Fun Fact: According to folklore, Empress Maria Theresa and Baron Franz Trenck enjoyed wines here and locked themselves in the cellar for 7 nights leaving behind 70 marks on the cellar wall and a hole in a stone table. Of course, nobody knows how the hole got there, but one hilarious story our sommelier told us that many locals believe is that Empress Teresa’s butt was so hot while making love that it burned a hole in the table. Hmmm, what do you think? Fact or fiction?
Stay At A Kutjevo Vineyard
One of the main perks of visiting the Kutjevo wine area is that you can stay at a winery. Does it get any better than that? We didn’t think so either!
The Akademija Graševine, for example, is a wonderful winery that also offers accommodation. Surrounded by vineyards, this beautiful building features a restaurant serving homemade food. The ten beautifully decorated rooms are named after a type of wine.
Another suggested place to stay in Kutjevo is the popular and well-rated B&B Winery Sontacchi. As its name suggests, this is essentially a modern winery where you can spend the night. There are five double rooms and a restaurant, the absolute perfect base to explore the rest of the Kutjevo area (and perhaps find out more about the tales of the Empress and Baron!).
A major cultural event in the town is Kutjevačko Vincelovo, a popular wine festival announcing the start of the grape harvest. On the central square, you can sample authentic Slavonian kulen and locally made wines, all while listening to traditional bands performing on the stage.
When: Held each January on Graševina Square, in Kutjevo
Town Of Požega
The main town in the Požega Valley, which the Romans called Vallis Aurea—Golden Valley, Požega is an old town in central Slavonia. First mentioned in war documents in the late-12th century, the town used to be home to a mighty fortress. For a while, the Croatian-Hungarian queen even lived there.
Though now, the fortress is long gone. After many centuries of conquests and economic booms and declines, Požega is a quiet town set amid an area characterized by farming, viticulture, and local crafts.
Its most notable historic feat is the fact that it was the very first town in Croatia that used the Croatian language for official business and documents. Thanks to some achievement by locals, it even got the nickname of “Slavonian Athens.”
Emperor Maria Theresa (remember the same one from Kutjevo) requested the construction of a church dedicated to Saint Teresa of Avila, now classified as a cathedral is a definite must-see.
When I toured the cathedral and the church’s newly founded museum, it was a whirlwind, though I was fortunate enough to be guided by the local priest and a translator. I was overly enthusiastic with my questions and interest I guess, because as I left, the priest gifted me with a wonderful book on the collections. Which might I add is vast, and worth many, many millions of Kuna.
The Cathedral is open to the public, without a fee. As you pass the doors, take note that each one weights some 450kg each!
Požega Diocesan Museum
The cathedral owns, and houses 450 pieces, spanning several levels of a building adjacent to the church in the charming town square. The oldest piece is a crucifix dating back to the 15th-Century.
Other highly prized pieces are a series of paintings from Ivo Dulčić, his paintings are particularly valued by the Catholic community, as he continued to paint church scenes during the period of communism in the formally known Yugoslavia. Also be sure to find the works from Zlatko Šulentić and sculptures on the top floor made out of foil – truly interesting.
Separate to the main museum, in the cathedral are many liturgical artifacts of exceptional cultural and historical value, some of which are antiquities. The collection is well preserved, including liturgical vessels and Gothic chalices from the 15th and 16th centuries. Also in the collection is a humeral veil that Empress Maria Theresa donated in 1763. Oh and some opals from my home country – Australia!
If you are in the Požega town square after dark, head to Porin cafe Bar. This bar is directly opposite the cathedral and the perfect place to watch the fountain-light installation. With the cathedral providing a backdrop to the dancing water, it’s an entertaining spot to enjoy a Slavonian wine.
What Else To Do In Požega
The historical and cultural heritage of Požega goes back multiple centuries, which is still celebrated in many annual events and festivals. It hosts the Croatian Minute Movie Cup and the Kulenijada, a popular event featuring Slavonian Kulen and wine tasting. Additionally, there’s also the cannon and mortar show on St. Gregory Day and the Golden Strings of Slavonia music festival. And, while my visit was fleeting, I can say there is definitely more to go back and discover.
If you happen to get back there before I do, please let me know what else to add here.
Having mentioned Slavonian Kulen a couple times before, let’s zoom in on this iconic Slavonian food. Arguably the most precious meat product in all of Slavonia, Kulen is a type of large pork sausage flavored with paprika (which is a favorite ingredient in many Slavonian dishes).
Kulen-makers use only the best pork for their products, determined among other things by the age and weight of the pig. After stuffing the sausage mixture into a large pig intestine, it is salted, smoked and air-dried for at least one month—often several months. Slavonian Kulen is a sausage with a diameter of about ten centimeters, which is cut up into slices.
I love a slice (or 5) on a piece of fresh bread, and a rakija (Croatian brandy), as a snack or for lunch!
This traditional meat product is of such cultural value that the European Union granted it geographical protection status – and it’s one you can’t (and trust me you won’t) miss while in Slavonia.
Snašini Kućari Museum & Accommodation
In Gradište, near the town of Županja lies one of the most authentic accommodation options and living museum in Slavonia. The Ethno House Snašini Kućari is one of the oldest family houses in the village – said to be 100 years old, and it is run by an elderly lady, who is a total firecracker.
Marica Jovanovac greeted us outside her soothing yellow home, and although I was unable to hear what she was saying to our guide – she was certainly letting him know who was in charge! She impressed me with her get-up-and-go from that moment.
She proudly showed us the house’s 100 to 150-year-old traditional furniture, embroidery, old photos, and trinkets. Her passion was clear and contagious, she wanted to preserve her families history, and if you want to experience how people used to, and still, live in rural Slavonia, there’s hardly a better place than this than at Snašini Kućari. The Jovanovac family have done a smashing job.
Marica can show you how traditional cloth weaving is done, prepare a fantastic homemade Slavonian meal and guide you around other parts of the house. Accommodation is available in a few smallish yet authentic rooms with a kitchen, terrace or patio, and shared bathroom starting at 200 Kuna per night.
People often speak about the warmth of Slavonian people, and on my trip, I can confirm this – on more than one occasion – but here, I felt a real warm. Literally. Ms. Marica Jovanovac asked me about how I understood Croatian, and when I explained her my story – she bear-hugged me so damn tight. It reminded me of those lovely cuddles my Grandmother used to bestow upon me.
Golden Thread Road
A culture-infused drive unique in Croatia, the Golden Thread Road links the town of županja with other surrounding villages. It links together numerous traditional farms, museums, accommodations and other places of interest in Slavonia.
Although this is definitely a relatively new tourist route, the road itself has been around for centuries. Known as Cesta Zlatni Niti in Croatian, it takes visitors on a scenic drive through Slavonia’s southeastern corner. This road is all about local cultural heritage. It’s an extraordinary experience filled with traditional music, local handicrafts, visiting rural households, going for horse-drawn carriage rides and tasting local foods and drinks such as plum brandy, Slavonian kulen, and fish stew.
On my trip I visited a few places along the Golden Thread Road route and can totally recommend:
- Stjepan Gruber Museum (Town of Županja) – Look out for the oldest item in the collection, a giant wooly mammoth tusk and teeth which were found in a local river left over from the ice age – which might I remind you ended some 115,000 years ago
- Šumarski muzej Bošnjaci (Bosniak Forestry Museum) – This museum is for anyone who has an interest in wood, forestry and the animals who live in the forest. There are over 700 exhibits on display, housed across 13 rooms
32275 Bošnjaci, fra. T. B. Leakovića 2
- Restoran Bistro-Pizzeria Aquarius – Here is where I ate the intriguing pasta poppy seed dish and had the baked stuffed paprikas I mentioned here.
- Snašini kućari – As mentioned in detail above
- OPG Juzbašić (Matkova pecara) – If you want to try rakija (Croatian brandy-like drink) start here. There are several tasty ones – I purchased a bottle of elderflower rakija to add to my collection!
Town of Županja
Located on the Slavonia side of the Sava River, Županja is the main town on the Golden Thread Road. There’s plenty of history and culture to be soaked up in the region, as you could read above, but the town’s greatest claim to fame is sports-related.
Its development boosted by English industrialists in the late-19th century, Županja has the distinction of being the first Croatian town where games of football and tennis were played. At first, they played each other, but soon enough football teams included staff and workers from the factories, which effectively were local guys. These young local men quickly learned the rules of the game, which made football an extremely popular pastime in the Županja area.
If you have an affinity with football, head to the main square where the town pays homage to the game in the form of a football statue.
This town may be small, but it’s welcoming. When my tour group arrived, they had arranged a showcase – we were greeted with glasses of rakija, a horse and carriage ride, warm poderane gaće, and local children. The children were dressed in folklore outfits or were playing football in the square.
I was traveling without my two children, and it brang a tear to my eye when I saw the kids. I got off the bus and immediately gravitated to toward little Luka. I befriended him with the promise of money for ice cream (with the permission of his mother), and snapped a few pictures of him. I can’t say he was as happy as I was – but thanks Županja, you’ll forever be an warm memory.
The Spačva Forest in southeastern Slavonia, near Županja, is notable because it’s Croatia’s largest oak forest, with 40,000 hectares of oak tress. If you’d like to add some natural scenery to your Slavonia itinerary, this would be a great place to go to.
I can vouch for taking an electric car ride through the forest – ah-may-zing! The team at Kunjevci will take you on a family-friendly drive through a specially marked route, and you may be lucky enough to spot a deer as I did on my tour.
Don’t worry though, there are no bears or wolves.
Warning though – those suckers are fast and startle easy, so keep your eyes peeled. Once inside the forest, you can walk underneath towering oak trees and let your worries subside.
You can also enjoy the forest’s rivers and streams, or go for a scenic bike ride. This is a gorgeous natural gem hidden in a remote corner of Croatia.
Town of Vinkovci
Located along the minor Bosut River and in between the larger Danube and Sava Rivers, people have lived in the Vinkovci area for thousands of years. Human history goes back to the Neolithic period, the city now being a hub of culture, archaeology, folklore, and traditions in eastern Slavonia.
In the city center, the pre-Romanesque church dates from 1100. Bearing the coat of arms of Ladislas and Koloman, it is one of Croatia’s most significant cultural landmarks.
The major attraction in Vinkovci, however, is the annual Vinkovačke jeseni (Vinkovci Autumn Festival). Organized each September for the past 53 years, it is one of the largest folklore festivals in Slavonia.
During the event, a folklore show introduces the traditions and customs of Slavonia. Folk music bands play traditional songs, while makers of Kulen and brandy show off their skills in competitions.
I was in Vinkoci for the opening day of Vinkovačke jeseni, I stood and watched as the men and women got off the coaches, all dressed in their folklore outfits and or with instruments in hand. Wow, really, what an experience.
In addition to the music and food, there is a reasonably sized fair that sells handmade products and local crafts. I am still kicking myself for not buying a winter coat I saw there. I wanted to go back a the end of the evening so I did not have to lug it about – but I went back to late – the store was closed. Gah. I guess there is always 2019.
The main touristic feature in the town of Slavonski Brod is the monumental Brod Fortress. Built by the Austro-Hungarians as a stronghold to protect the empire against the Ottomans, this is one of Europe’s best-preserved fortresses. It’s also one of the largest fortresses on the military border of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Our group was greeted by dramatic performance, the actors were both hilarious and engaging, and I hear that there are often local characters portraying what life would have been like back in the 18th century when Brod Fortress was constructed.
The 18th-century Brod Fortress is one of the largest forts in Croatia and among the biggest along the former Austro-Hungarian Frontier. Because it’s so monumentally large, some people say it’s Slavonia’s version of Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Though, this one needs a little more love and renovations.
The Austrians built the fortress in Slavonski Brod on what was then their border with the Ottoman Empire. It was part of the extensive defensive system of fortifications that stretched all across Slavonia, among which also were the several forts in Papuk Nature Park and the fortified baroque town of Osijek.
Like many other European forts built on flat terrain, its star shape offers maximum defensive power. It could accommodate no fewer than 4,000 soldiers and had 150 cannons.
The Brod Fortress was so damn impressive, it didn’t see any action, maybe that is why it has remained a much-loved historic treasure in Slavonia.
Slavonski Brod Museums
In addition to Brod Fortress, Slavonski Brod has another place that will surely be of interest to culture lovers. At the Slavonski Brod Mandolin Museum, also known as the Tamburitza Museum, you can learn about the history of this traditional musical instrument.
Dedicated to the Slavonian tamburitza, it houses exhibits of precious tambure and handwritten tamburitza orchestra notes from 1912. Additionally, there are numerous old photos and fascinating workshops showcasing how the instrument is made.
Another museum-ish type place that I found good in a creepy kind of way, was a series of rooms in the fort that showcase what it would have been like back in the day to be held as a prisoner. Cobwebs and all.
Head to the towns visitors center to get a map, and find all of the cool places to see in and around the fortress,
Town of Virovitica
Located along the Sava River and the border with Hungary, Virovitica is a small town with a long history. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it has been part of the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. It is during that latter period that it gained its most notable attraction.
Virovitca felt so known to me, I have a friend from the area and she had already told me about all of the cool sights I had to see when I went home with her (gah, there was just never enough time to go!), and so as I wandered around the own the Mayor, and tourist directors, I found myself nodding along like ‘yup, I knew that’, ‘oh cool, that’s what it looks like’, ‘Oh that’s bigger than I thought’. It felt so good to see the place – finally!
I am already thinking about returning to the town for the unveiling of Virovitica Castle (due late 2019). The castle was built between 1800 and 1804 during the rule of the Slavonian noble Pejačević family, the Pejačević Castle in Virovitica (also called Virovitica Castle) is one of several castles in the region that belonged to the family.
The town purchased the building in 1930 and made some small renovations. Since 1953, it’s been a town museum housing a variety of archaeology, history, culture and ethnography collections. The new renovations will see the castle coming alive with an art space, restaurant, and museum.
Franciscan Monastery and the Church of St. Roko
Another notable building in Virovitica are the Franciscan Monastery and the Church of St. Roko. The day of St. Roko occurs on August 16 – so maybe next year I’ll go back with my son Roko and celebrate.
The surrounding area offers everything from fishing on the Virovitica Ponds to wine tastings on the “Virovitički vidici” wine route and also “Mali Park”, a newly opened area where you can buy honey and crafts.
Papuk Nature Park
Papuk Mountain is basically the only mountain in the Pozega Valley area. With its landscape of rivers, forests, lakes, and slopes, this is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. It’s a reinvigorating area, not in the least because of its refreshing freshwater springs. Visitor facilities and mountain lodges are plentiful and I loved this place.
I enjoyed the nature park so much that I wrote an entire post about it, you can find it here.
Typical Slavonia Souvenirs
There are numerous Slavonia highlights and after a fun-filled and culture-packed trip through the region, you’ll probably want something to remember it by or relive the experience.
For lovers of clothes, there’s no better thing to buy than traditional Slavonian handicrafts. A great example is zlatovez and šlinga, which is gold embroidery. Another traditional piece of clothing is the Šokačka jacket, woolen coat famed for its embroidered sleeves and hem.
Other things that make for excellent Slavonia souvenirs are the region’s food products. It goes without saying that Slavonia Kulen is one of the best things to take home with you.
Buying a bottle or two of local Kutjevo wines is a good idea as well, as is stocking up on olive and pumpkin oils.
Other Notable Sights In Slavonia
As I said, this trip with the national tourist board was quick, so it is impossible to see the whole county – that said, here are a few places that while I never went to, you should look to visit. Colleagues and friends of mine, have all told me I must return to see them on my net visit.
Straddling the banks of the Drava River, Osijek is the capital of Slavonia. This vibrant city is a world away from the coastal cities in Croatia such as Split and Dubrovnik. This is because, once, it literally lay in another country – it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Unfortunately, Osijek was one of the epicenters of the tragic “Homeland War” in the 1990s. You can still see bullet holes in many of the buildings’ façades. The war, however, is long over and Osijek is again the ever-vibrant city it’s always been.
Kopacki Rit Nature Park
A floodplain between the Danube and Drava Rivers, Kopacki Rit Nature Reserve is one of Europe’s largest remaining wetlands and an important refuge for birds and other wildlife. Birds you can spot include common species such as cormorants, gulls, ducks, and herons but also rare ones such as white-tailed eagles, great white egrets, and black storks.
Situated on the northern slopes of Krndija Mountain in eastern Slavonia, Našice is a town renowned for its historic mansions and architecture. The greatest attractions in town are the two castles of the Pejačević family, which are set within gorgeous English-style gardens. Other highlights are the Gothic church and the library of the Franciscan monastery.
Wineries In Slavonia
The primary centers of wine production in Slavonia are Kutjevo, Đakovo, and Ilok, Croatian winemaking dates back almost 2,000 years. Recently, the international wine industry has come to realize and appreciate wine from this area, and now Slavonia is home to some of Croatia’s greatest, award-winning wineries. And, so Ilok is an area I know we have to go back and explore in detail.