Danube and around (“pre-Wine Roads”)

This was an adventure I organised by myself in connection with the Wine Roads 2017 by Rotaract Osijek, Croatia and can be used as a recommendation for the “extended wine roads”. The trip focused on three regions, Syrmia, Baranya and Slavonia; and three rivers, Danube, Drava and Sava.
For all Rotaractors familiar with Croatia through Rotaract Sailing Trip, forget all you know about Croatia, because this is a completely different area, with different nature, culture and cuisine.
How to arrive: there is an airport in Osijek, but almost all connections to the rest of Europe go through Zagreb. Other airports around are Belgrade (Serbia), Pecs (Hungary) and Tuzla (Bosnia). I chose Tuzla due to the low-cost direct flights from Stockholm. It’s one of the smallest and shabbiest airports I have ever seen. After considering public transport options, we booked a car from Avis. Although they are an internationally known company, they have their own rules in Bosnia, which neither comply with conditions presented by Avis Sweden, not with their own answers about the conditions, but that’s a story for itself.

To the first stop: I chose the most eastern point of Croatia, Ilok in Syrmia region, overlooking Danube river. Fun fact, when you google Ilok, you mostly find various advanced locks called iLoks. I guess all the words starting with “i” are ruined. After careful driving through Bosnia, we could raise our speed above 60km/h in Croatia. The whole area looks very empty and it seems that a majority of houses in villages are not inhabited. Although Ilok has only 5000 people, it’s a place of a rich multicultural history and beautiful nature. There is one hotel, but we ended up in a private accomodation called Srijemska kuća (Syrmia House), which was chosen based on the fact they were the only googlable and available private accomodation (double room+breakfast 300 HRK). We had a whole farm estate for ourselves, with a view over the old roofs of the village. Our friendly hosts stopped by only to offer us a welcome drink (cherry liquer, plum brandy and a local wine), share their love for Nordic noir and to prepare the breakfast. They recommended a restaurant called Stari Podrum (Old Cellar), where we also had a whole place for ourselves. We tried spicy čobanac (shephard’s stew) with lamb and pork and less spicy fiš-paprikaš, (fisherman’s stew) with catfish. A meal for two (which looked more like a meal for four to me), with two glasses of wine made in their own Iločki podrumi (Ilok cellars) winery was 100-125 HRK (13-17€). We also tried a random fast food next to the PBZ bank, where we got a giantic portion of ćevapi (grilled minced meat) with ajvar (pepper-eggplant chutney) in a lepinja (flatbread) for 30 HRK.

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At the entrance of Syrmia House in Ilok

What to do in Ilok: visit the medieval old town with Odescalchi castle with a museum (20HRK, or 30HRK for 2), church of St John of Capistrano and have a promenade by Danube. Don’t miss Principovac country estate, if not for their restaurant and winery, at least for the amazing view of vineyards around. On the way from Ilok to Vukovar, one can also stop to see the ruins of medieval Šarengrad fortress above the Danube riverbank.

Second stop: Vukovar (<40km from Ilok). When you google Ilok, you find iLoks. When you google Vukovar, you find all the horrors of the universe, starting with the battle of Vukovar in 1991.
Since, I’ve heard that the war tourism is a thing, I can name some of the sights on the way from Ilok to Vukovar, like the water tower with its 600 shrapnel holes, utterly sad mass grave Ovčara, memorial cemetery for the casualties of the war, with almost a thousend crosses, and finally the basement of Vukovar Hospital. If you are not into war horrors, (which are anyhow hard to skip due to numerous shrapnel and bullet holes in the city), I recommend a baroque castle Eltz with its museum, and the downtown in general, also in Maria Theresia baroque style.
Souvenirs: I stopped buying souvenirs I can’t use, so here I decided to buy Startas sneakers (6-30€) by Borovo, handmade from natural materials.

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Vukovar, Danube
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Silver-plated beehive – the symbol of the Rotary Club established in 1932 in Vukovar

Third stop: Kopački rit, 15km from Osijek. It’s a nature park north of river Drava, in Baranya region. When I was a little girl, I read a Scooby-Doo-style mystery book called “The Ghost in the Swamp”. Well, that “swamp” was Kopački rit, actuallly one of the most important intact wetlands in Europe, and I had to check it out. The entrance was only 10 HRK (1.3€), but we spent further 7€ for a guided boat tour. The receptionists were nice enough to call the boat to wait for us, since the next boat was leaving in an hour. We got to know all about mosquitos, fishes, birds, otters, beavers, hogs and deers living in the area. After the pitoresque tour, we went to Tikveš castle on the other side of the park (10km away). Although not so impressive today, it was once Austrian royalty’s castle, then Serbian royalty’s castle, finally it became even a Yugoslavian president Tito’s castle, and now it’s waiting for a renovation. Some hundred meters before the entrance of the park, in Kopačevo village, was a resturant nicely incorporated into the old local architecture, called Didin Konak (lunch for two <100 HRK).

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Cormorants in Kopački Rit

Fourth stop: Osijek, 35km from Vukovar. We chose charming Austrian-Hungarian guesthouse Maksimilian in the very centre inside of the fortification walls (double room + breakfast 414 HRK). This was the first time that someone was not afraid to speak English with us, although we didn’t really test anyone’s knowledge of English due to my Croatian. Their little library had books in Swedish, their interior design included a penny farthing bicycle and an antique Singer sewing machine and they had an endless supply of coffee and tea. We decided to bring a local Osječko beer to Maksimilian fairy-tale-like garden and enjoy the afternoon.

Fifth stop: Đakovo, 50 km from Osijek.  More about Osijek, Đakovo, and everything around was the central part of the wine trip described here. Except wines, there was also a lot of horses and one magnificient cathedral.

Sixth stop: Županja, 65km from Osijek. We chose Županja because it was on our way back to the airport, near the border on river Sava. We also chose Sava restaurant, purely based on the fact that it was the only restaurant marked on Google Maps. I finally tried a grilled trout, which was different than sea fish I am used to, but still recommendable.

We spent two nights in Ilok and two nights in Osijek, all together about 550km by car (31€ of gas bought in Bosnia), 45km on foot in less than 96 hours.

Tips for foreigners:

  • If you can’t google out things, call or ask in person. Do not rely on English with tourist workers, although you can try with German (many places had a menu in German) or even Hungarian in Baranya. Or just follow grape pictograms on the way, which will lead to winemakeries and cellars.
  • Don’t wander around to mine fields (all suspicious area is marked).
  • Take a bicycle, because it’s an absolute flatland.
  • Manually choose your mobile network near Danube, in order to avoid unwanted non-EU roaming.
  • Finally, my designated driver warns about Croatian drivers’ love for blinding high (long) beams.

Surprising for a Swede:

  • coloured toilet paper which seems to be unknown in Sweden
  • people who take time to help you: our first host called a restaurant to check which meals are available and gave us a ride there, a hairdresser Marijana in Ilok who rebooked my appointment after a late flight (colouring, highlights, haircut, blowdry = 200HRK), a salesgirl in Borovo shoe store laced my new sneakers etc.
  • so many tourist sights for a not so known region and the difference with the more famous, Adriatic regions of Croatia.
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