Osijek: The Gateway to Little-Known Slavonia

Photo by Freeimages.com/Paulo Simão

by The Daily Telegraph, March 17, 2016

Today Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will visit a European destination about which most Britons know very little, and undoubtedly struggle to pronounce – Osijek, a place added two years ago to the map of the continent (as drawn up by the low-cost carrier Ryanair).

Let’s get the tricky pronunciation bit out of the way first: the key here is to remember that the ‘j’ is pronounced like an English ‘y’ - so it’s something like Osi y ek. And that’s a lot more manageable than, say, Bydgoszcz or Rzeszow – two of Ryanair’s Polish destinations.

Osijek is in fact in Croatia, a country best known for its astonishingly beautiful Adriatic coastline and, for younger travellers, its beach-side summer music festivals.

This pleasant place, however, opens up the lesser-known far eastern part of the country, the region known as Slavonia, and a central European city from which it is very easy to travel into the neighbouring states of Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Osijek itself is a modestly-sized city (pop 114,000), picturesquely positioned on the river Drava. Attractions include a fortified centre (the Tvrda) dating back to the 18th century, the splendidly neo-Gothic Church of St Peter and St Paul and the grand Europska Avenija, along which can be seen some excellent examples of the Art Nouveau architecture popular in this part of the world in the late 19th century and a slightly unnerving statue entitled Soldier in the Throes of Death.

Although the city was bombed in the wars that followed the break-up of the old Yugoslavia in 1991, much of its baroque heart survived intact and in the intervening years much of what was damaged has been restored.

It could easily be explored over the course of a weekend, but those who come for longer would be rewarded by travelling farther afield – to the north and the immaculately preserved traditional village of Karanac, where the Baranjska Kuca restaurant offers hearty Slavonian fare (smoked meats and stews are big here) and excellent local wines; to the east and the bird and wildlife-rich wetlands of the Kopacki Rit Nature Park; west to the Djakovo stud farm, in which the world famous white Lipizzaner horses are bred; or south to Vukovar, the city on the Danube that became a symbol of the Yugoslav wars, but which is now is a key stopping off point for cruise ships plying one of Europe’s greatest rivers.

It is a fascinating part of the continent with rich stories and deep histories. Charles and Camilla may want to drink to that with a glass or two of Osjecko beer.

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