Travel with kids - Croatia: Osijek, Slavonia and Kopački Rit

Croatia - mention it to other travellers and it evokes images of over 1,200 Islands sprinkled throughout the shimmering, crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. 

Roads traversing a sun-drenched coastline as you pass through medieval towns, past ancient palaces and Roman ruins. 

Bronzed Mediterraneans in pursuit of gastronomic delights, beaches, yachting, festivals, lively music and a nightlife that awakens as sunsets turn azure waters to gold.

Romantic - yes? But there's more - there is the Croatia that is off the beaten tourist-track which is where we are right now. This part of Croatia is beautiful and well worth a visit.

We are currently staying with my darling cousin (son of my late dad's brother) and his beautiful wife for a few days the lovely town of Tenja, a little outside of Osijek in Croatia's east.

The best way to get around here is by car. We been driving around with my cousin and I also hired a car for the duration of our journey through Croatia.

Once you've got your wheels then drive around - just drive. 

The Osijek-Baranja County is a part of the historical Slavonian region in Croatia's east and the area where my dad grew up. This part of Croatia borders with Hungary and the river Drava to the north, with Serbia and the Danube to the east and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other side of the Sava river to the south. It's hot in summer and cold and snowy in winter.

Osijek, the fourth largest city in Croatia with a population of over 100,000, is the perfect base for exploring  this region. The closest points of Hungary and Serbia are a little over half an hour's drive while Bosnia and Herzegovina is about an hour away. 

Also within very short driving distance are towns and places of interest which are great for a day or half day trips, notable for baroque castles and fortresses, many cultural events, wineries producing aromatic, fruity white wines and the oak forests surrounding Papuk Mountain. We didn't stop long enough at any of this places on this trip but look them up - Đakovo, Ilok, Slavonski Brod plus the pretty towns and villages as you drive through the Pannonia plains to get there. See the Croatian National Tourist Board website for details of events, accommodation, etc.

Our few days here is mostly about catching up with family, but we have gotten out and about to meander around Osijek, visit Kopački rit Nature Park and the town of Vukovar (see next post).

The centre of Osijek is the upper town, city square and the promenade along the river Drava which is buzzing with shops and restaurants. Summer evenings are lively with families out and about, kids eating ice-cream, and splashing in the fountain (whether or not they should). The Portanova mall includes a cinema, bowling alley and kids' play area. Much of our time here is about food - for the first time (but certainly not the last) the boys try mouth-watering burek, baked pastries with various fillings, and čevapi, mini skinless sausages - Mr 8 is instantly addicted. As we're tourists, we do the done thing and have pizza at El Paso, the boat restaurant, which is well priced and the pizzas are good. 

Just a little down from the town centre, east along the river and surrounded by King Tomislav parklands, is the "old town" - Tvrđa. This baroque citadel is the cultural centre of Osijek and contains an Archaeological museum, the Museum of Slavonia and a shell museum.

The boys find the museum interesting - they actually don't want to leave and are particularly excited when discovering a small display of Australian shells. 

The restaurants here are more traditional and at night this is the hot spot for clubbing. 

Mr 8 and Mr 5 are fascinated as we walk through the Holy Trinity Square, along the cobblestone streets, view the fortress wall and gates. These buildings and streets were built in the 1730s - decades before Australia was claimed and colonised by the British.

Over the coming weeks the boys will visit even older cities and sites, but for now, they suddenly get a sense of history that we don't have in Australia. 

On the other side of the river is the river beach and sports and recreation complex - Kopika, also known as Copacabana, with several swimming pools, sides and restaurant. A walk along the riverside parkland leads to Osijek Zoo which we didn't visit but I'm told has kids playgrounds and a new aquarium, though is not yet at full capacity following the loss animals during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s.

Kopački rit Nature Park
About a 10 minute drive north of Osijek the rivers Drava and Danube meet to form one of Europe's largest natural wetlands. Kopački rit is beautiful and preserved intact - as my cousin said "If a tree falls, it will remain there, unmoved. No one will touch it and nature will be allowed to do its thing."

We purchase tickets for an excursion boat at the visitor centre at the entrance then make our way about 1 km further on. The boat manoeuvres through the backwaters while the guide provides commentary. Fishing and hunting is allowed in certain areas and venison and fish stew are a specialty available at local restaurants.

The residents of these parts include herds of deer, wild boar and other animals. The waters are occupied by over 40 types of fish, turtles and otters.

The waters, trees and skies alive with 300 different species of permanent nesting and migratory birds. I was told to keep my eye out for black storks and white egrets - I did!

There are also over 20 types of mosquitoes - pack repellent!! Go earlier in the day if you can as the mozzies come out in full force mid to late afternoon.

I wish I'd taken more pictures, but honestly - we all just really, really enjoyed the ride.

Julia xo

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