Samobor river

Dessert in Croatia
Samoborska Dremsnitz - a delicious dessert


Lady shows off cheese in Croatia


Bermet tasting, Croatia


Man with small recipe book
Zlatko Puntijar shows world's smallest Croatian recipe book at Stari Puntijar Restaurant

Croatian castle

Varazdin baroque church





Varazdin doorknobsmall spacerVarazdin





Musicians in Croatia



Croatian lady with flowers




Bosnian War Memorial, Croatia
Memorial dedicated to Bosnian war victims



Croatian church















Croatian wines





Samobor, Croatia
The country village of Samobor, Croatia

Trendy Croatia continued

If you're heading into the countryside, Samobor is one of Croatia's best-preserved villages. The light rain and mist which covered the surrounding hills and the Gradna River that flows through them, presented a magical Sunday morning welcome. Local villagers presented their farm-fresh cheeses and honey in the market square, and smiles and free samples were plentiful, as merchants waited until the packed-to-the-rooftop Catholic church let out.


Many other locals were sitting in the Slasticarnica U Prolazu restaurant, having their Sunday coffee and Samoborska Kremsnita, a custard-colored 3 in.-high cream pastry square, a rich-flavored local tradition. Others were strolling down the path on the outskirts of town near the river, enjoying the budding of colorful flowers and trees, and soaking up the fresh fragrances of spring.

At the Town Museum, check out the intricately-woven folk costumes. Another option is a woodland stroll to the hillside park of Anindol that will take you to the ruins of Samobor's 13th century castle, which you can see on the hill as you drive down the narrow road into town.

Samobor, Croatia

Samobor is also noted for Bermet, a local version of vermouth. This fortified wine, flavored with citrus fruits and aromatic herbs, goes well with crackers and the local Mustarda, a rich brown mustard with a fruity tang. Both the Bermet and Mustarda have been made for generations by the local Filipec family. A tour of their small facility and their shop, guarded by the family dog, will add extra interest to your visit.

Croatian vineyards
Krauthaker winery

Just west of Samobor are the Samobor Hills, a group of forested smooth-topped mountains which make great one-day hikes. The highest point is the 2,883-foot-high Samoborsko gorje, a two-hour walk from Soiceva kuca, a popular restaurant and recreation spot.

Varazdin, Croatia
Main square, Varazdin

If you have time to explore Croatia further, a trip to Varazdin near the Slovenian border is worthwhile. With its 18th century Baroque churches and the oldest rathaus in Europe, Varazdin is a jewel. First founded because of its Stari Grad, a well-preserved 16th century castle, the town today evokes “oohs” and “ahhs” as visitors discover the Baroque facades. On a clear, sunny day, the town is spectacular.

The city, in fact, was the capital of Croatia in 1756, but fire destroyed 50% of it 20 years later. This gave the city a chance to rebuild in Baroque style, and thus today Varazdin enjoys the benefits of tourism. The city first came to light in 1181 in a document sealed by King Bela III of Hungary. It was granted the right as a free royal city 33 years before Zagreb, the locals are fond of pointing out.

Schnitzel in Croatia

The Town Hall (Gradska Vijecnica) has been the seat of the city's town council since 1513, making it one of the oldest buildings of its type in Europe. You can sit out in front of the hall on the main square to soak in the sun, or have a coffee, or watch the changing of the guard by soldiers in their tall, black-tasseled hats between May and September.

The Cathedral of the Assumption with its magnificent interior became the seat of a diocese in 1997, and is noted as the first Baroque structure in town. Known for its acoustics, the cathedral is used during the Varazdin Baroque Evening Festival in September, where both domestic and foreign soloists and ensembles perform.

Croatian dancers

Croatian vineyard

Take your camera with you to this picturesque town.
The Varazdin countryside produces “Varazdin Sauerkraut” (sour cabbage), pumpkin seed oil, honey, goat and sheep cheeses, and fruit wines with a low alcohol content.

Croatian produce Croatian produce

Stretching to the southeast of the country, Slavonski Brod, on the north bank of the Sara River, and bordering Bosnia, features the star-shaped Brodska Tvrdjava (Brod Fortress). With bastions and moats designed to protect against Ottoman soldiers, this huge embattlement could accommodate 4,000 soldiers. The local peasants built the fortress under a forced work program.

The town features the remains of a number of industries, including a large factory where Croatian steam locomotives were once manufactured. Past examples of the plant's engines dot the factory entrance.

Osijeck, Croatia

Moving further into the interior of Croatia and to the east, the city of Osijek is the largest town in Slavonia. Located on the Drava River, the town was founded by the Romans in the first century AD, and after a number of battles, Osijek became the administrative center of the rich agricultural region of Slavonia.

During the battle for independence, it came under siege for several months. A long promenade leads along the river to a large modern suspension bridge which connects Gornji Grad to Copacabana, the town beach.

Osijeck bridge
Bridge connecting Gornji Grad and the Copacabana beach

Close by Osijek is Kopacki Rit Nature Park, a large tract of marshland with many varieties of birds. Located between the Drava and Danube rivers is part of a region called Baranja, with abundant fertile farming land.

Cooking over an open fire
Cooking over an open fire for guests at Kormoran

For an excellent meal, stop at the cozy restaurant Kormoran, located in the park. Some foods are especially prepared in a large black caldron over an open wood fire, and served at your table. You won't go away hungry.

If you enjoy wine, and touring vineyards, Croatia is “ripe” for the picking. Many of the wines I tasted—both reds and whites— were excellent. Croatia's vineyards started around the 6th century B.C. in the coastal regions, and as far back as the 2nd century in the interior.

Wine barrels in Croatia

I especially liked the white wines such as Grasevina (pronounced: gra-she-vi-na), a wine cultivated in the countries along the Danube. Light and refreshing, it tastes different than Riesling, and can have slightly different flavors based on soil and sunlight. A bottle of Grasevina found its way home with me. Ice wines are also popular here, and are often awarded gold medals in competition. A 2009 Pinot Crni with 16.5% alcohol content also was a good wine, perfectly balanced.

Croatian vineyard

Many of the vineyards I visited offer richly decorated banquet halls, capable of serving complete multi-course meals for up to 100-150 people, along with a variety of wines from their cellars. Winery Kutjevo, with the oldest wine cellar in southeastern Europe (dating from 1232); Belje, the biggest; and Ilocki Podrumi at Principovac all offer a variety of excellent wines. You might find bottles from these vitners in the U.S., although not much is exported.

Ilocki Podrumi winery
Ilocki Podrumi winery

Croatia is making a solid effort to produce and distribute their many wine varieties, and Zagreb hosts an annual Wine Festival that’s a great wine-tasting opportunity and is packed with visitors.

I found continental Croatia refreshing because of its simplicity, its natural beauty, its tasty foods and wines and its unassuming people. I expect Croatia's interior to be one of the “hot” travel destinations in the years ahead.

As they say in Croatia, “Zivjeli,” — a toast to your good health!

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