Let’s be clear: Slavonia is not the part of Croatia most people visit. There is no sea here, which has always meant fewer tourists. What it offers instead is something increasingly rare: unspoiled culture and undiscovered treasures. There are art galleries in Osijek, centuries-old wine cellars in Ilok, baroque towns, natural parks, hot springs and rural festivals. As the breadbasket of Croatia,
it has miles of cornfields, vineyards, and, in the right season, towering sunflowers in bloom. There are even sandy beaches along the Danube. One thing is certain: Slavonia will not stay undiscovered for long. But for now, it’s all yours. Welcome to the green heart of Croatia.
The sweeping agricultural plain of eastern Croatia shares a border with Hungary to the north, Serbia to the east, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south. Long a vital transport route, particularly between Zagreb and Belgrade, Slavonia today is still recovering from the aftermath of the Yugoslav war of the early 1990s. Most infamously, the baroque town of Vukovar, whose siege and utter destruction in 1991 was viewed on televisions around the world. Despite some remaining hurdles and the unalterable fact that the coast is far away (along with most tourists), much of Slavonia today looks and feels almost as rejuvenated as the rest of Croatia. The region's sleepy towns and rural surroundings—from cornfields to forest-covered hills—have a distinctive low-key charm that can only be called Slavonian.
Slavonia has been inhabited since ancient times, and the Romans had a settlement called Mursa on the outskirts of present-day Osijek. Though its flatness is broken in places—by the Papuk Hills in the center and around the celebrated wine region of Ilok in the east—the region's largely lowland terrain has been inhabited and traversed through the ages by more ethnicities than practically any other region of Croatia: Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, Germans, Ottomans, and others. First settled by Slavic tribes in the 7th century and later an integral part of the Hungarian-Croat kingdom, Slavonia experienced a major change of culture with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's march toward Hungary and Austria in 1526. For almost 150 years much of the region became an Ottoman stronghold. Osijek and Požega flourished not as part of Christian Europe, but rather as full-fledged, mosque-filled Turkish towns. The Turkish retreat in the late 17th century ushered in an era of Austrian influence, with Osijek, now with a vastly different look, the region's economic, administrative, and cultural capital. North of Osijek is the Baranja, a marshy, particularly fertile corner of northeastern Slavonia that straddles the gentle, vineyard-rich hills of southern Hungary to the north.