Of the many rivers that run through Croatia, five of them could truly be classed as European giants – they stretch for around 300 kilometres or longer. They are Sava (945km), Drava (749km), Kupa (297km), Mura (483km) and Danube (2860km).
These rivers help define Croatia. They dictate the agriculture, activities and cuisine of the Croatian regions they pass through. Furthermore, they often create the very borders of the country.
© Goran Šafarek
Running along the length of the country’s most northerly border, the Mur river separates Croatia from Slovenia in the west and Hungary in the east. But, near the Nature Preserve of Veliki Pažut and the historic municipality of Legrad, both in Koprivnica Križevci County, the Mur river gives up its task. Here it flows into the Drava river, becoming its biggest tributary. Thereafter, the Drava continues the job of separating Croatia and Hungary.
The Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County
A wide expanse of water, the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County © Marc Rowlands
By the time the Mur meets the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County, the Drava has already travelled more than half of its journey. To get here, it has descended over 1150 metres. Such a long fall has a significant effect on how the river looks and behaves here.
Traditional wooden fishing boat by the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County © Željko Car
Gone are the violent drops, gushing waterfalls, narrow channels, big boulders and sharp rocks. By now, it has left all that far behind. Instead, the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County is an epic, wide expanse of water. On either side, it is bordered by thick, green forests and fields. Its banks are a fine sand, creating beaches on which fishermen and families happily sit all day. This is how the Drava river is here, the perfect natural place for relaxing and recreation.
Fishermen enjoying summertime on a Drava beach © Mato Zeman
Recreation, relaxation, activities and unmissable sights on the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County
Beaches, birdwatching and boats in Legrad and Veliki Pažut
From above, part of the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve at the confluence of the rivers Mur and Drava © Goran Šafarek
Further upstream, people take advantage of the Drava’s powerful descent. There, the river is regulated, channelled and harnessed for hydroelectric power. But, where the Drava meets the Mur in Legard, it is wild and unregulated.
In the mist, the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve © Goran Šafarek
This is an ever-changing landscape, right on the border of Međimurje. Here, the rivers are left free to roam. Before 1710, nearby Legrad was actually in Međimurje. But, the Drava changed course and gave Legrad to Podravina. These constantly shifting waterways and floodplains create new habitats and restore existing ones. Subsequently, this is an area of immense biodiversity.
Two of the colorful residents in the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve, captured by © Goran Šafarek
The Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve is 1000 hectares that are specially protected to preserve this biodiversity. Its wetlands and running waters are home to beavers, ducks, coots, waterfowl and reed warblers. In winter, wild geese (spotted goose and hawthorn goose) stay here in large numbers. The deer who wander the surrounding forest are also protected, so long as they stay in Veliki Pažut. You can catch sight of this wildlife and photograph it from the new, specially designated solar-powered boat.
In warmer months, people bring their picnics and barbecues down here to the water’s edge. There’s a famous beach at the old Legrad-Halasz Csarda resort and nearby a new children’s playground.
Another two residents in the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve, captured by © Goran Šafarek
You can read more about the visitor offer in Legrad and at the Veliki Pažut Special Zoological Reserve here.
Cycling the Drava river routes
Cycling by the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County © Podravinaprigorjebike.com
The Drava route is the oldest and most famous bicycle path in Podravina. As its name suggests, it largely follows the course of the Drava river. Although, it veers away from the riverside to take in some of the must-see sights of the county.
On the 84 kilometre route, you pass through a diverse landscape – fields of golden agriculture, the neat rows of gently descending vineyards and forests that filter the sunlight. From the confluence of the Mura and Drava in Legrad, you drop down past Šoderica lake, before taking in the remarkable village of Hlebine, world-renowned as the centre of an art movement.
It’s not the only historic settlement you meet. The grand city of Koprivnica sits on the route. Its town centre holds several monuments to cycling, so appreciated is the pastime here. Thereafter, traditional rural villages like Podravske Sesvete and Ferdinandovac give a timeless sense of life next to this great river.
Of course, this epic bike path is not the only one in Koprivnica Križevci County (you can see all of the specially designated ones here). Nor is it the only one to pass by the county’s special waters.
Deer climbing the banks of the Drava, captured by © Goran Šafarek
At 394 kilometres in length, the D7 bicycle route is incomparable. Starting on the Adriatic sea and ending on Lake Balaton in Hungary, it takes in some of Croatia’s greatest water features, including Plitvice Lakes National Park, Lonjsko polje Nature Park and the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County. Other highlights it passes in the county are the medieval town of Đurđevac and the village of Gola. From Gola, an alternative bicycle route takes you back along the Drava, then across the river and on to Šoderica lake. The lake is surrounded by new recreational paths perfect for walking, cycling and skating.
Fishing on the Drava river in Koprivnica Križevci County
In autumn. Fishing on the Drava is enjoyed all year. © Željko Car
Boasting a massive 831,43 hectares of fishing waters, Koprivnica Križevci County is a fisherman’s paradise. Carp, catfish, common bream, trout and pike are among the most commonly encountered here. These waters include not only the Drava and the Mura rivers but also more than 20 designated fishing lakes. They’re managed by ZŠRK Koprivnica (here), who can also issue permits to any visitors drawn to fish in the spectacular county waters.
Peaceful seclusion on the Drava © Mato Zeman
Camping by the Drava and Šoderica lake
On a summer day, Šoderica lake © Marc Rowlands
Often, the best way to connect with nature is to get up close and stay awhile. Camping by the Drava is great for relaxing and enjoying the surroundings. The Aqua Terra campsite (here) at Šoderica lake is just a couple of hundred metres from the river. There, you’re only a few steps from the recreational lake, which is fed underground by the Drava itself.
Summer fun on the beach at Šoderica lake © Aqua Terra
You’re not alone on the lakeshore. Since before the 1960s, this has been a favourite place to come. Weekend houses sit back from the shoreline promenade. In warmer months, children’s voices carry across the water while they’re swimming in Šoderica. In the evenings, young adults congregate at popular bars on the edge of the lake. Music concerts, sports tournaments fill the lake’s social calendar.
Cyclists take a break from the sun at Šoderica lake © Marc Rowlands
The camp itself is spread across 20,000 square meters and includes an activities park – with rope bridges through the treetops – and a beach bar. You can find out more about the events and activities on Šoderica lake here.
Hunting in the forests of the Drava
The river in winter © Mato Zeman
The forests that thickly line the banks of the Drava are filled with wildlife. Roe deer, red deer, boar, rabbits and pheasants are just some of the inhabitants. The region’s hunters play a vital role in maintaining the habitat of these animals and in keeping track of population numbers. Visitors from several European countries are regularly welcomed to join their activities. Koprivnica-Križevci County Hunting Association can be contacted via local tourist board offices. Alternatively, there are private hunting grounds run by tourism experts KTC (here), who also offer hunting lodge accommodation (here).
Raft on the Drava © Mato Zeman
Wild swimming in Koprivnica Križevci County
Jumping into the Drava © Mato Zeman
In summer and early autumn, the Drava warms before reaching the county. In some stretches, where the water is deep enough, yet protected from the always strong currents, you can swim in the river. Children jump from rope swings, then plunge into the cooling waters. The river feeds two lakes which are also popular places for summer swimming; Šoderica near Legrad and Đelekovec and the Čingi lingi lake, which lies between the villages of Repaš and Molve.
From above, Čingi lingi lake © Goran Šafarek
Rafting, kayaking, canoeing and boat trips on the Drava river
This giant river is full and wide, even in summer © Željko Car
Many of Croatia’s rivers are too dry in summer to support activities. Not the Drava. This giant flows thick and fast even during peak summertime. A great way to enjoy the natural surroundings is from atop the water itself. A whole new perspective of the riverside banks and forests opens up from a canoe or kayak. Gliding silently through the landscape allows it to unfold. For a more thrilling experience, take to the Drava by motorboat or wild rafting.
Canoeing through an epic landscape © Željko Car
You can go rafting with Rafting Club Koprivnica (here) or with Etno Kuce Karlovcan (here). Karlovcan also offer motorboat excursions and accommodate larger parties on river tours. You can find out more from the Tourist Board of Dravski Peski (link below).
Food and drink from the Drava river and its fields
Frying fish at Fišijada Ferdinandovac © Marc Rowlands
At the annual outdoor cook-off Fišijada Ferdinandovac, you could well imagine being further down the Drava in the region of Slavonia. The fried fish and the deep red, paprika-rich fish stews here are classics of Slavonia. And they’re favourites here too. The carp and catfish are pulled from the same river, the paprika a long embraced influence from Hungary on the other side.
Making gulash in competition at Rokovo in Kozarevac © Marc Rowlands
But, you’d be wrong to think that Podravina cuisine is an exact match of Slavonia’s. Koprivnica-Križevci County has its own distinct recipes, ingredients and flavours. Wild mushrooms, plucked from the forests and fields by the Drava, can be found alongside barley in a classic local soup. It’s delicious.
The all-organic vines of Vinarija Šipek in Kloštar Podravski, Koprivnica-Križevci County © Marc Rowlands
Koprivnica-Križevci County also has exemplary wines. You’ll find superb whites like Riesling, Chardonnay, Grasevina, Sauvignon blanc and more here. They thrive in sandy soil. It has been deposited in the fields here over millennia by the Drava. Vinarija Šipek in Kloštar Podravski (here) run an all-organic winery with excellent wines and heritage grapes. Vinarija Kostanjevec in Lukovec (here) are decorated internationally. In 2020, their Premium Riesling won Silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards. But, there are many more great winemakers all across the county.
Food preparation and football from ŠNK Bušpan at Rokovo in Kozarevac © Marc Rowlands
In this part of Podravina, celebrating the fine local food and drink is a regular part of the culture. Every village has at least one notable event. Often held outdoors, they are great social occasions and a good excuse to visit a neighbouring place. More often than not, a sports match, music concert or a funfair runs in tandem. If you want to try the river fish dishes of Podravina, restaurant Ribička hiža near Đurđevac (here) serves these specialities year-round.
Selection of award-winning cheeses, fresh from the farm shop at Family Farm Imbrišić (here) in Kozarevac, Kloštar Podravski © Marc Rowlands
Staying by the Drava river
From above, Dravski raj on the Drava River in Koprivnica Križevci County © Toni Fereža/FT STUDIO
You can find great traditional accommodation across all of Koprivnica-Križevci County. And, if you want to stay right next to the Drava, there are some super options.
Ornamental gardens at Dravski raj © Marc Rowlands
Dravski raj (here) is a delightful renovated farm complex that backs onto the Drava. Inside traditional buildings, you’ll find modern bedrooms, a games room, hot tub and free bicycles for exploring the surrounding nature. You can draw your own water from the well to drink – or just take it from the tap, of course.
Perfect for events and relaxing, the sprawling grounds of Etno kuce Karlovcan © Marc Rowlands
Etno kuce Karlovcan (here) is a large plot containing artefacts of regional agriculture and life from the last few hundred years. Longstanding stakeholders in tourism on the Drava, they offer food, accommodation, boat rides, rafting and horse riding too.
From the water, Country House Ivančan © Domagoj Krznarić
Art centar Ješkovo have robinson accommodation near Ješkovo. Also, Country House Ivančan (here) is perfect for a riverside getaway. The family enterprise is also famed for the food they prepare.
This article was produced with the co-operation of Koprivnica-Križevci County Tourist Board. Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to sincerely thank Željko Car, Mato Zeman and Goran Šafarek for the kind permission to use their photography here.
If you would like more information about any of the mentioned events, activities or county cycle routes, you can contact Koprivnica-Križevci County’s tourist boards on these links.