Somewhere beyond the sea, there is a region called Slavonia. And it's a place you didn't think still existed in Europe. There is no coastline 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.
One of the four historical regions of Croatia, the sweeping agricultural plain of Slavonia has been inhabited since ancient times, when 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 have all left their mark on its culture. 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.
Long a vital transport route, particularly between Zagreb and Belgrade, Slavonia was badly affected during the war in the 1990s and has spent the past couple of decades recovering. Despite some remaining hurdles, 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.