June 18, 2023 – Each trip to eastern Croatia brings a new surprise – meet the delightful and deceptively interesting town of Pleternica and surroundings.
After 20 years of living in Croatia, I have very much learned to go with the flow. When friends suggest things that don’t immediately sound promising, I have decided to go with their suggestions. Croatia is a land of surprises – especially inland – and some of my most interesting discoveries have been made on trips to seemingly the most uninspiring places. Several of which I had never heard of previously.
The best example of this was the village of Dalj a couple of years ago, during our great Eastern Slavonia tour. A place I had never heard of but which was home to the incredible wines of Jasna Antunovic, as well as one of the most fascinating and least-visited museums in the country (just 3,000 people a year) – the birthplace of Milutin Malinkovic, who was named one of the top 15 scientists of all time by NASA.
So when my colleague Katarina from Vukovar sent me a message suggesting a team building few days in a place called Pleternica, I didn’t dismiss the idea immediately. With a polite but firm determination, she explained that there was a lot to see, and that the local administration was keen to show us around.
And so it was that Lauren, the TCN editor, and I found ourselves on the motorway east, heading for a place we were not quite sure how to locate.
It turned out to be a great decision.
I have said before that one of the differences between Dalmatia and Slavonia is that I have never heard of anyone leaving Slavonia as a tourist who has been disappointed. This is the hospitality capital of the region (perhaps even further), and I was already preparing myself for the inevitable rakija marination.
It is also a region not blessed with a sea (at least not these days) and one whose tourism is powered by individuals with their own passion and vision. And, over the three days of our visit, we got to see so many fabulous visions from individuals, whose collective efforts are building a quite marvellous tourism product just two hours from Zagreb.
As one would expect, it all started with a rakija or three. The welcoming committee at our very charming accommodation in the centre of town at OPG Blaskovic was full of smiles and warm words. And we were soon very full of rakija.
“We will try three types of rakija, and then you will speak Croatian, and we will start.” And sure enough…
After losing at billiards playing by Pleternica rules, it was time to leave the charming accommodation and surrender to the plans of Domagoj, the Deputy Mayor. It turned out to be quite a tour.
First stop out of town was the fantastic rural tourism business, Ranc Condic, which seemed to offer everything from hearty Slavonian fare washed down with (you guessed it…), as well as an array of outdoor pursuits from horse-riding to fishing. And with accommodation on site, a perfect family break for those looking to get into nature and let the kids acquaint themselves with a selection of animals. We opted to adopt a very friendly goat after feeding her carrots.
Pleternica’s own tourism story has developed dramatically in the last few years with the efficient use of EU funds to finance two excellent (and very educational) additions to its tourism story, both of which celebrate important parts of the region’s past and present.
Slavonians may look with envy at the Dalmatian coast, but there was once such a thing there as well, albeit rather a long time ago. Opened in 2020, Terra Panonica takes its visitors back 24 million years to the time of the Panonnian Sea, when giant whales and sharks were all the rage. The modern interpretation centre and its VR glasses will take you into an era where Slavonia was VERY different. Terrra Panonica was once the old cinema, but it has been beautifully repurposed, complete with its own conference room. In addition to the VR show, there is also an excellent multimedia exhibition on the flora and fauna of the region. It has already become a hit with school groups. The centre also has its own motorised train (of which more later).
Even more impressive (and definitely one of the more fun things I have seen in Croatian museums) is the Museum of Becarac, which Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic opened earlier this year, about which Katarina wrote this fabulous article a few weeks ago. As Katarina notes:
Part of Croatian cultural heritage, becarac is known as a form of humorous folk song that originates from Slavonia. It usually involves male singers dropping lascivious lines in front of a tipsy audience that roars from laughter at every rhyme – it’s clever, sassy, and always a bit inappropriate. In 2011, bećarac was officially inscribed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
There were certainly some saucy sections (with guidelines of 16+), as well as lots of fun and interactive things for the kids. Above all, however, the museum was an OUTSTANDING introduction to the world of Slavonia, its traditions and way of life. I learned a lot and could certainly have lingered longer.
But we hadn’t had a rakija for an hour, and this is Slavonia…
(Photo by Damir Fabijanic)
I also really liked the outside concert hall by the museum, stylishly down, with the different colours from the air representing the fertile fields of Slavonia.
And there was even time for a favourite past-time of mine – Bench Tourism, Slavonian style.
But we hadn’t eaten in at least an hour, and so on to our next port of call and a very cool place – yet one more individual vision and passion.
We didn’t see the 20 rooms on offer, but if they were of the quality of the rest of the offer, a very nice place to stay. There was an excellent vinoteka and a great selection of Slavonian wines to try, accompanied of course by a platter of the finest local kulen, salami and cheese (and an interesting addition, the so-called Slavonian Nutella, a spread from pig fat). There was an impressive array of cured meets hanging from the ceiling – some less hairy that the one in the photoshoot above.
And there was food.
Dinner for seven, Slavonian style. Delicious, but our doggy bag fed three villages for a week.
After coffee at the local market (completely modernised and working very effectively) on the morning of Day 2, it was time for something different – the Terra Panonica train ride. At just 3 euro per person (you have to book the train), here was a rather fun change of pace to start our only full day in Pleternica.
Within a couple of minutes we were out of the town and into the hills. Lush hills, filled with perfectly tended vineyards. The expanse of Slavonia and its natural beauty just minutes from the town.
And if the 20-minute train ride into the hills was refreshing, the final destination was even more so – a delightful picnic spot constructed by the Pleternica winery, Markota. The plan had been to have a tasting and lunch there, but with the weather uncertain, we settled for a quick visit instead.
Roses and vines in harmony. A truly spectacular spot and one you can arrange lunch and wine tasting with train transfer. Heartily recommended.
And I can certainly vouch for the quality of the lunch and the Markota wines – a name I had not come across before, which was certainly my error. The Markota wines were superb, and I very much enjoyed his Bordeaux-style reds. But the clear winner – and we all agreed on this – was the rose. Probably the best rose I have had in Croatia. You can find Markota on Facebook.
I learned to my cost many years ago that it is not clever to mix your drinks. This is not a rule that applies in Slavonia. With the whole trip sliding along with an undercurrent of rakija, the least sensible thing you could do after a generous wine tasting would be to go and drink some craft beer, followed by some craft gin.
So they took us to drink some craft beer followed by some craft gin.
My most random Pleternica discovery of the trip was the fact that the main roundabout in town was the first in Croatia to have a fountain in the middle (talk about niche info), and one of my favourite discoveries was the local craft beer in the town, where we stopped off for a quick tour and tasting.
Franz and I became good friends – an excellent brew.
I had not investigated the itinerary too thoroughly prior to our arrival, but I was mildly bemused by the last stop of the day, and certainly intrigued to see where it would take us:
17:00 Kaptol (wine, gin, hamburgers and other contents)
All quality things I heartily approve of, but not ones I would normally have put into a combination.
But as I have learned to go with the flow, I knew that it would be an experience. And that it most certainly was. At the heart of it, as usual, private passion and vision – and an evening of truly exceptional gin, superb and innovative food, and a snapshot of three high-quality tourism businesses working in tandem to produce a sensational offer.
Iva and Mihovil are a lovely young couple who had dream jobs in marketing and law in Zagreb, but who decided to give it all up to follow their dream in their small village of Kaptol, not far from Pleternica, to make craft gin. The neighbours thought they were nuts, and so did everyone else, but they have enjoyed huge success with their high-quality products – Katarina did a great interview with them earlier where you can learn more about their story and products.
Iva and Mihovil were not alone. Two other businesses were on hand to talk, and together, they make quite a team.
There was not enough time to check out some of the excellent adventure tours on offer with Thrillseeker Croatia (you can check them out here), but we sampled more than enough of the innovative range of Funky Food to give this very cool business the thumbs up.
The hamburgers in the itinerary turned out to be a delicious Slavonian dish with a twist.
Čobi 22 – čobanac for the 22nd century.
Čobanac in a bun. Reduced pork stew with local herbs and spices, shredded cabbage at the bottom to soak up the extra juice, topped with diced bell peppers.
Totally, totally awesome, and a really special evening chatting to people who appreciated what they had in life and just wanted to do cool stuff. And that Castrum gin…
After another lavish breakfat of homemade delicacies at OPG Blaskovic, it was time to visit the neighbours on Day 3. Time was sadly against us with so much to fit in, but there was certainly enough of a taster of our quick tour of Pozega, Velika and Kutjevo to leave us wanting to return for more.
Pozega was a major surprise, and the little I saw of it I really liked. The architecture in the centre of the town is absolutely stunning, and is testament to its importance over the centuries in the region. People once called it the Athens of Slavonia.
There was a LOT of history to take in on our short walking tour, and the buildings were truly spectacular, as were the churches.
Pozega has chosen a modern approach to showcasing its heritage and tourism offer, and the Pozega House is an essential part of a tourism visit to the town. Here you can learn all about the rich history and traditions of the town, as well as its famous sons and daughters, legends… and 100-year chocolate-making tradition.
There are lots of different and interactive ways to learn and explore, and I enjoyed cycling the streets of the town and its surroundings with video tours of the streets responding to my pedalling.
I even managed to win my first-ever duel, pulling and firing my pistol just in time to hear my hologram admit defeat while telling us more about the wars of yesteryear. A cool concept for all.
I would have liked to linger a little more in Pozega, but will have to return next time, for we hadn’t eaten in an hour, and this is Slavonia… And lunch was rather a surprise.
The restaurant was also something of a surprise in Velika, the latest private vision and passion to transform a region. Not having looked closely at the itinerary, I was somewhat taken aback when we arrived in Velika to find not only a working aquapark, but one with a thriving restaurant and 4-star hotel in the plan.
The Shhhuma Aquapark is fab, starting with the name. Suma (pronounced shuma) means forest in Croatia, and coupled with Shhh – silence in the forest.
It is an idyllic spot and not somewhere one would expect to find Asian food on the menu, but having opted for a very non-Slavonian gyoza starter, followed by a Nepalese masala, I was even more satisfied. The Asian connection started with two Nepalese staff, who missed their native food, but were not good enough cooks to prepare it. By chance, a local chef, who had once worked for Kempinski in Thailand, joined the Shhhuma team. And so it came to be that you can enjoy rather good Asian food in the forest in Slavonia.
This is a really great project, and I look forward to seeing it grow when the hotel opens. Shhhuma is already such as important part of the community, that the annual Advent in Velika is organised there by the owners.
The region is known as the Golden Valley and is one of Croatia’s most important wine regions. It was time to visit the winemaking town of Kutjevo, one of the most important in Croatian wine, for a final drink before bringing an end to this incredible 48-hour visit.
The modern and the traditional. In the distance, the oldest winery in Croatia, Kutjevo dd – whose 800-year history you can learn in pictures on six barrels in the magnificent cellars. And on the left, one of the most stylish additions to the Croatian wine scene, Galic. And with Krauthaker just around the corner, we had definitely come to the right place.
The Galic winery was sleek, stylish, chic – the first winery I have visited with sofas in the tasting room. And I loved the way the wall disappeared in the private tasting room when prompted by remote control to reveal the VAST private wine collection cellar of the owner.
It was a superb and fitting end to a whirlwind 48 hours of nature, culture, wine, food, wine, rakija, a little more rakija, but also the limitless hospitality that is the true jewel of Slavonian tourism.
I will be back.