The second Fra Ma Fu reportage and reporters festival in Virovitica concluded on September 4, 2016, an event attended by TCN.
What is the best way of promoting a lesser known destination in Croatia on a limited budget? How about organising a festival which is going to attract a wide selection of the country’s journalistic talent, who can then spread the word? And so it was that I was invited to the second Fra Ma Fu reportage and reporters festival in Virovitica, a town close to the Hungarian border about which I knew almost nothing.
The little I did know centred on the fabulous star building in the middle of the town, Pejacevic Castle, surrounded in lush green nature, and well hidden from the rest of the town.
The beautiful building has seen better days, but good times are around the corner, with an 80-plus million kuna investment approved for its complete restoration, with the bulk of the cash coming from EU structural and investment funding.
A wander around the town centre revealed all sorts of surprises, including this full-length swimming pool which puts some of Croatia’s bigger cities to shame.
Striking historical buildings in a relaxed enviroment, with nature a key component.
Child-friendly green open spaces.
And so to the festival itself, which has quickly expanded from celebrating a famous local writer into a ten-day festival celebrating the finer things in Virovitica, including its rich offer of traditional products in a special exhibition in the centre of town.
In bright September sunshine, the centre of Virovitca shone.
A family event, there was plenty on offer for the little ones.
And a quick wander round town included the local market, source of excellent local produce from the abundant fields nearby.
And so to the festival itself. As a foreigner who has been accepted into the community of the Croatian Association of Journalists, I was delighted to be invited to the event, a rare opportunity to get a foreign birds eye view into parts of Croatia which most tourists miss. I will confess that my Croatian language and cultural knowledge means I do not grasp every nuance of what is being presented, but it was pleasant indeed to be part of the welcome in front of Virovitica library on the Friday evening. And I was not the only one having fun…
Overseeing all was Croatia’s first president, Dr. Franjo Tudjman.
There were little quirks in Virovitica which made me smile. The Virovitica metereological stone, for exampe, which is a great predictor of weather. If the stone is wet, it is raining, if it is white it is snowing, and if it has fallen over, there has been an earthquake…
Event organisers Goran Gazdek and Ivan Žada put on a rich and varied programme for the 30 plus journalists who made the journey by bus from Zagreb.
First up was a visit to the highly successful Jan Spider factory, whose 800-hectare lands are the source of much organic goodness, which is exported all over the EU and beyond. A tour of their organic tea factory.
Which was followed by a tour of the nearby bio farm and lunch. Lots of space, clean air and healthy living.
A round table on journalism in Croatia and young journalists was then held by festival participants. Croatian journalism is in somewhat of a crisis concerning the next generation, and there was spirited discussion on the topic.
And so to the town library to celebrate the star of the festival, legendary local writer Franjo Martin Fuis, after whom the Fra Ma Fu festival is named. Eulogies, extracts from his writing and the documentary film ‘Seagull’, which showcased his writing about Croatia’s islands with commentary. An event which left a clear impression on his journalistic colleagues who followed in his footsteps generations later.
And afterwards a picnic with a Fuis impersonator with one star-struck young lady.
The following day saw a tour of the pretty Virovitica countryside, and a first wine stop at Podrum Vineda.
A very pleasant spot, and I can recommend the 2014 Chardonnay, but it was here that things went slightly awry for this foreign journalist…
After 14 years here, I have yet to learn that an invitation to jump in the car and taste someone’s wine ‘and we will be back in ten minutes’ actually means that I might as well write off the rest of the day, especially when, soon after arrival, a man carrying a double bass was spotted walking through the vineyard, quickly joined by fellow members of his tamburasi group.
And if you have ever wondered how Croatians celebrate the erection of a wooden scarecrow in a vineyard in Northern Croatia, all you need to know is contained in the video above.
While I had a wonderful, if unconventional, night, my journalist colleagues had a ball, with a feast served up for them by local actors.
The journalist tour included a tour of the countryside which included a stop at this house, a pretty object in an idyllic village not far from Virovitica. From the outside, it looked like a normal village house.
The first sign that things were a little different was this monument in the garden, to the one-time owner of the house, a Petar Preradovic, a 19th century Croatian poet, writer and general in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Inside his house was a real tardice – the theatre at the back of the house just one of the rooms.
And a 21st century Petar came out to address his audience. Lovely organisation, which was greatly appreciated by my Croatian colleagues, while I resorted to Wikipedia to try and catch up…
And while this correspondent had to leave early on Sunday for other commitments, the party carried on.
A reportedly excellent afternoon in Virovitica’s pristine nature, before the team headed back to Zagreb after an excellent weekend in one of Croatia’s most overlooked and least visited parts of Croatia. After a successful festival this year, news is sure to spread, and who knows – the beautiful words of Fra Ma Fu all those years ago could be contributing to a gentle expansion of tourism in this forgotten region. Many thanks for the invite and the opportunity to witness an event few foreign eyes have come across.
And just to prove how undiscovered Virovitica is, the mere mention of a foreigner in town was enough to bring out the reporters from national television (see below)…