Parking Spot to Ethno Village – Meet Strug

Paul Bradbury


May the 28th, 2024 – Why do many of Croatia’s best tourism stories remain largely untold? Meet Strug in the amazing Lonjsko Polje.

One of the things I have appreciated over the years in Croatia is just how many amazing stories there are out there of private individuals who are putting their own stamp on tourism in this country,  many of them without much publicity. This is especially true in continental Croatia, which has a lot less exposure than the Adriatic coast.

I knew that continental Croatia had its many attributes, but without a guide to show me the way, it would be a hard job to find these hidden gems, which is why I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Croatian Rural Tourism Association over 5 years ago to go and visit some of their members in northern and eastern Croatia. It was a magical trip, including my first visit to Baranja and the incredible Baranjska Kuca in Karanac.

Among the other excellent businesses on the 4-day trip, was a visit to Eko-Etno Strug in the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park, one of Croatia’s most fascinating regions, and yet one which officially sees just 5,000 tourists a year.  Superb wetlands famous for its storks, Lonjsko Polje is also a popular fishing haunt for Zagreb fishermen, located as it is about an hour east of the city. 

One such Zagreb fisherman was the owner of Strug, Zeljko, whose wife has roots in the area.  A wonderful lunch of river fish in the restaurant directly on a lake, followed by a tour of an impressive collection of traditional wooden houses from different eras, which Zeljko had converted to modern accommodation without losing the authentic appearance, were highlights of that visit back in 2016. As was the opportunity to sit on my first tractor – a Porsche no less!

Earlier this year, I found myself back in the area filming with my daughter and a friend. Although it was out of season and everything was closed, I wanted to show them the little Strug complex as a great example of a private initiative. As we walked around admiring all the period houses, a man came out of the main restaurant building to find out what we wanted. After a few steps, he recognised me from all those years ago, hugged me like an old friend, and insisted I come into the closed restaurant for a drink. 

And then he told his story… 

A keen fisherman living in Zagreb, Zeljko was first introduced to the area by his wife who hails from the Lonjsko Polje area. He found the fishing to be fantastic, as well as the bird watching and general escape from the busy city life he inhabited. After several visits, he decided that he would like buy a small piece of land that he could use to park his car, as he did not feel comfortable coming regularly without a permanent place to park. Feelers were put out to the local population to see if anyone had a small plot for sale. 

And that is when is started. An old lady offered him what was for her a useless piece of land, 10,000 m2 in total, which was located right on the lake. She wanted ten thousand for it. Unclear if this was kuna or euro, he asked for clarification. 10,000 m2 was rather excessive for a parking spot for one car, after all. Having confirmed that the seller’s price was in kuna, new possibilities opened up. Not only would he have a place to park his car, but waterfront access to the lake as well. But what to do with such a big piece of land?

And so the concept of Strug was born. It started with a restaurant, then progressed with the restoration and conversion of traditional houses of the region into tourism accommodation. And then it expanded into whatever services guests would ask for, including the purchase of horses to offer horse-riding. 

Lonjsko Polje is particularly rich in wildlife and river fish, and delicacies such as venison, wild boar and rabbit are staples on the menu, while the shifting water levels of the region mean that at times the lake is very shallow and the fish are there to be literally lifted from the water and onto the grill. Zeljko had added a fishing and adventure tourism aspect to his expanding portfolio. For those in the city who want to escape the stress of modern life and experience the beauty and taste of Croatian nature at its finest, Strug in Lonjsko Polje is a real treat under the radar. 

My favourite part of Zeljko’s story was the reaction of the local population to the opening of the first restaurant in the area. There were of course excited, and yet very disappointed when they saw the menu. The menu understandably focuses on the rich diversity of the wildlife and fresh catch from the rivers and lakes. The problem for locals, however, is that they are all accomplished fishermen and hunters, so the far on the menu is standard food back home. What they really want to try at the restaurant is pizza… 

Lonjsko Polje Nature Park is a unique piece of Croatian natural beauty, as well as home to some extraordinary traditional wooden villages. And although it is supposedly off the beaten track, it is really just an hour east of Zagreb, off the main motorway to Belgrade. Step back in time and into nature with a choice of wooden traditional house (or a more modern version including heated outdoor pool), and explore this delightful and undervisited slice of Croatian magic. 

The Strug website is being updated, but you can connect via the Facebook page (you are advised to book in advance, especially out of season, as Zeljko is based in Zagreb and not always there).   

So the next time you are thinking about buying a parking spot, be aware – you never know where you might end up… 


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