Podravina Adventure, a Dynamic Tourism Product for Continental Croatia

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Continental Croatia is a mysterious place to most tourists, which is a pity, as there are so many interesting things to discover there, which often go overlooked in favour of the coast. Ask a Croat in Zagreb or on the coast to explain in detail what is out there east of Zagreb, and you may well encounter some confusion. Having lived in continental Croatia for 5 years now, I am constantly surprised at how little local people know about the Croatia east of Zagreb.


Or what treasures await when you finally decide to visit. 

There are additional difficulties in trying to promote tourism here, particularly with branding. Where does Slavonia start and end? What happens if you try to promote a natural region which crosses the boundaries of Croatia’s artificial regional borders? 


And then there is the problem of scale. There are SO many incredible things to experience in this very undervisited region, but how can one eco-farm effectively promote itself to its target audience, for example?

But sometimes, and sadly too rarely, a new initiative is born which overcomes all these barriers, brings together all the stakeholders, and presents an outstanding and polished product to showcase the very best in the region. Meet Podravina Adventure, a great new tourist product produced by key stakeholders Koprivnica-Krizevci Tourist Board, Djurdjevac and Drava Sands tourist boards. 

The region of Podravina does not fit into the traditional Croatian regional map. It is the Slavic name for the Drava river basin which runs along northern Croatia into Slovenia, and its brand is being used in this new initiative which showcases a region of Croatian tourism which totally surprised me, both in the quality and diversity of its tourism offer. 


The heart of the Podravina Adventure concept lies in Koprivnica-Krizevci County, a beautiful natural paradise of rivers, forest, the Kalnik and Bilagora mountains. But it is also a land of art, culture, gastronomy, heritage and advenure tourism, with some rather surprising things to explore. Where else can you find a desert in Croatia, or a section of the country connected only by bridge, or some of the best rafting in the country. Did we mention the unique Sand Museum?

Let’s begin our journey!

And where better than one of the most unusual towns in all Croatia, with arguably the smallest and quaintest old town of them all – Djurdjevac. 

The first unusual thing you will notice when coming to the old town of Djurdjevac is the sight of camels lazily walking around the Hrvatska Sahara mini-zoo close to the old town. Camels in northern Croatia?!? Yes indeed. 


The presence of the camels, who arrived several years ago from a German zoo (and who recently produced the town’s first baby camel), is thanks to something one would not expect to find in continental Croaita – the only desert in the country. The Croatian Sahara, or Djurdjevac Sands, is a naturally occurring phenomenon due to the region’s geological conditions, and you can take a walk through the desert a short drive from the town. The desert is not as big as it once was, but one can clearly get a feel of life in the sand.


The camels are not the only initiative being used to promote Croatia’s only desert. One of the most interesting museums I have come across in recent years makes its debut in the town this summer, the Djurdjevac Sands Museum opens its doors to take visitors of all ages on a fascinating tour of the sands and deserts of the world, as well as offering some excellent 3D experiences. 


One might think that the camels were the most famous animals in town, but nothing quite beats the rooster in Djudjevac, and the historic old town’s finest hour is celebrated at the Picokijada each June, celebrating the valiant defenders’ success in repealing the Ottoman siege by firing a live rooster by cannon at the Turkish camp. It was the last food in the town, but the Turks took it as a sign that the town was full of food and the siege would take months. They promptly gave up and departed. 


A look up from morning coffee from inside the tiny old town gives an indication of the next phase of the Podravina Adventure – adventure tourism. The demonstration paraglider certainly got our attention with his display, a spectacular introduction to the region’s attractions for the adventure tourist. 

Podravina Adventure is a public-private partnership of local stakeholders, with the adventure tourism sector represented by Rafting klub Koprivnica (098 171 6640), Draft Pitomača (091 613 9616), Nippy Adventures (098 767 266), and Udruga Podravina i Prigorje Adventure (095 913 8148).


The Podravina region is a cycling paradise. Add a little local knowledge of the best routes and tours, and a magnficent experience awaits. Local specialist Nippy Adventures has a range of tours which combine the beauty of the region with its cultural and gourmet treasures. If you are looking to discover Croatia totally off the beaten path on two wheels, it would be hard to beat this region.  


The wilder adventure tourism offer contrasts with the gentle and serene nature which are typical of the region, and things get wildest on the river after which the project takes its name – the Drava river. Nippy Adventures even have a tour for the river – Bike and Boat Podravina (see video above).


Raise your adrenaline levels with some wild rafting on the Drava with Rafting Klub Koprivnica, who are the local experts in guiding tourists down the Croatian Amazon, as the Drava is sometimes known. 


The level of the Drava varies according to the season and the weather, and no two experiences are the same, but it is safe to say that a wild ride awaits. Ideal for teambuilding and then reliving the exeprience over a glass of excellent local wine after the event. 


A fantastic addition to to the Podravina Adventure offer, and to the local tourism scene is the new river cruise Galija from the eco-restaurant Karlovcan (we will come to the food shortly. New for 2021, Galija offers an alternative and more relaxed way to enjoy this majestic river and the idyllic nature on both sides. 


The Drava is very wide in parts, and maybe that comparison with the Amazon is not so far off the mark… Food and drink are served on board, and one hardly feels one is in Croatia, more cruising down some exotic distant river. 

It is also a birdwatchers paradise. See if you can spot the local winged celebrities, the bregunica bird, named Croatian bird of the year in 2016. 

But this is Croatia and there were more surprises to come. Did you know that there is a small part of Croatia which is separated from the rest of the country by the Drava, enclosed on all other sides by Hungary, and connected to the Croatian mainland by bridge?


No, neither did I, but what a lovely discovery in Kriznica, a small community separated by the Drava, with a couple of restaurants. It had a very ordered feel and is a popular route for those cyclists, having carried their bikes over the bridge. After 18 years livingin this beautiful country, there is always something new to discover. 

No tour of the region would be complete without sampling the excellent light local wines and traditional Podravina dishes, and one of the most authentic experiences can be found at Ethno restaurant Karlovcan, close to Ferdinandovac. One of the most beautiful examples of traditional housing that I have seen in Croatia, this wonderful complex had an excellent array of well-preserved buildings in different styles, as well as the most complete range of benches (in all shapes and sizes) that I have seen in Croatia.


It was the obvious location for the launch of Podravina Adventure back in May, an event attended by various dignitaries, including Secretary of State for Tourism and Sports, Sandra Herman, who was clearly impressed at the cooperation between all involved:

”This is an excellent good practice example of joint ventures and why they are important. We already feel and can experience that joint ventures regarding such projects have a future. Here, the result can already be seen, congratulations. Now we have to further promote your efforts and put it on the tourist market”, she said, emphasizing that Koprivnica-Križevci County will get its place in the Discover Rural Croatia campaign by the end of the year. You can catch the atmosphere of the launch in May in the video above.

After years of seeing tourist boards being very territorial and seeing their neighbours as competition, things seem to be finally changing. All over the country, I am seeing great partnerships emerging. Zagreb City and County with the excellent Around Zagreb project, Dubrovnik, Zagreb and others moving together to progress the digital nomad potential of the country. 


But something about the Podravina Adventure experience really touched me. Here were a group of hard-working and progressive people who individually had something to offer, but only with limited reach. Collectively, however, they are building something quite outstanding. And in these COVID times, as people crave more outdoor activities away from the crowds, as well as authentic experiences they cannot find at home, initiatives such as Podravina Adenture are only going to grow in popularity. Collaboration, not competition, support from the ministry in Zagreb, and the good times will soon be coming to great initiatives like this. 


And the encouraging thing is that an eco-system is slowly being built. Initiatives such as Podravina Adventure will bring others on board, stimulate similar initiatives in other parts of the region, and then those true hidden gems that tourists would love to see, but often struggle to find, would be much more accessible. 

As I was about to find out. 

I mean, how else will people find out about Robinson tourism on the banks of the Drava, complete with Art Centre Jeskovo, and the Lao’s Arc Education Centre, a delightful rustic affair which last year saw almost 1250 visits from schoolchildren.


The complex, housed on the estate of local dreamer, Dragutin Ciglar, is an extraordinary and very ramshackle collection of buildings, art and other joys, the culmination of his 21-year dream. The very rustic accommodation is a throwback to a different era, and there are excellent workshops on things such as art and ceramics. A very unusual project in Prekodravlje, and you can learn more (as well as see some photos which really capture its essence here).

”We wanted to show that our county is rich in tourist offer that is not sufficiently recognized. The coronavirus pandemic showed that outdoor activities are the future and an opportunity to develop continental tourism,” said Kristina Socev, Director of the Koprivnica-Krizevci County Tourist Board. 

”We did it in order to show a different side of Podravina because it is adorned with gentleness, and we see in it the wild side that is also beautiful to show. We have a wealth of tangible and intangible cultural heritage and while we put it all on a pile Podravina really has a lot to show ” said Mario Fucek of the Djurdjevac Tourist Board.

At the end of my first in-depth region which I have hitherto ignored, blissfully unaware of the gems that lay therein, I would have to say – Mission Accomplished. At the start of the day, I had very few expectations, but was curious to see the quality of the tourism offer which Podravina Adventure. 

I left with a much deeper understanding of a region which wowed me with its beauty, diversity and hospitality, while at the same time showing the rest of Croatia how to develop  a sustainable, healthy tourism product for the current climate. What I liked particularly with the considerable Podravina offer was that there was something for everyone, and each is free to go at the pace he or she chooses. 

I have written before that I believe Croatia should market itself under the slogan, Croatia, Your Safe, Authentic Lifestyle Destination.There are few better examples of this than Podravina Adventure, which brings together the rich potential of this hidden region properly for the first time. 

Congratulations to all those involved in developing this excellent initiative. The key stakeholders are the County tourist boards of Koprivnicko-krizevacke and Viroviticko-podravske, the local tourist boards of Bjurdjevac, Drava Sands, Pitomaca and Legrad. From the private sector, Rafting Club Koprivnica,Draft Pitomaca, Nippy Adventures, Udruga Podravina i Prigorje Adventure, Etno kuće Karlovčan, and  Art centar Ješkovo.

Heroes All. You can find more information on the Koprivnica-Krizevacke Tourist Board website and also on the Podravina and Prigorje website.


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