The main town of the Slavonia and Baranja region, Osijek is set on the right bank of the Drava, near its mouth into the Danube. Tree-lined avenues of pastel Secessionist mansions meld incongruously with a young weekend party scene, anchored by the cobblestone fortress of Tvrdja. Filled with cafés, nightclubs, top-notch restaurants and university students, Osijek is a welcome surprise for those here to explore the nearby castles and the Kopački rit Nature Park. As more businessmen and tourists arrive – a budget air link with the UK via Germany has been in place since 2009 – new places are opening and old ones expanding. Long-time hotel favourite Waldinger has opened a high-end restaurant; at Tvrdja, Kod Ruže is a relatively recent arrival with classic trappings of traditional rustic Slavonia but a menu that’ll make any city slicker smile.
About The Town
Slavonia’s regional hub was founded on the ruins of the Roman town of Mursa – strategically located on the right bank of the river Drava, close to its confluence with the Danube. The town thrived in medieval times, but was sacked and destroyed by Ottoman soldiers in 1526. During a century and a half of Turkish rule, the city was remodelled in an oriental style, and famously had an 8km (five-mile) long wooden bridge out into the marshes, celebrated as one of the wonders of the world, but was burned down by Croatian noble Nikola Zrinski in 1664. In 1687 the city was occupied by the Habsburgs, who built a mighty fortress and erased all architectural remains of the Ottoman period. The Tvrdja complex combined administrative and military functions, and was the heart of the town during its 18th-century revival. Its Holy Trinity Square was bounded on the north by an imposing Military Command, on the west by the building of the Main Guard, and on the east by the Magistrates’ Office, now the Museum of Slavonia (Trg svetog trojstva 6, 031 250 730; 8am-2pm Tue-Fri, 10am-1pm Sat, Sun; 15kn), housing an assorted collection of local oddities.
In 1809, Osijek was granted the title of Free Royal City and this city became a thriving multi-cultural metropolis with trade and cultural links to Budapest. Europska avenija is a broad tree-lined boulevard in Habsburg style and contains well preserved art-nouveau townhouses – particularly Nos.12 and 22. Opposite is Osijek Art Gallery (Galerija likovnih umjetnosti; Europska avenija 9, 031 251 280; 10am-6pm Tue-Fri, 10am-1pm Sat, Sun; 10kn), with works by Adolf Waldinger (1843-1904), who died poor but is rated one of Slavonia’s great landscape painters.
The centre of the Upper Town is Trg Ante Starčevića, a nice square criss-crossed by tram lines, full of shops and cafés, and marked by the 90-metre tower of the Church of Sts Peter & Paul (known as the Cathedral). Other architectural sites include the Moorish-style Croatian National Theatre, founded in 1907, and the Baroque Church of St James (1727) on Kapućinska, a street also notable for its busts of historical personalities. There’s a riverside promenade that leads to the Tvrdja citadel, and a dramatic pedestrian suspension bridge over the Drava. On the other side of the river are the city zoo and the recreational centre Copacabana, with swimming pools and a nice sandy beach.
During the Yugoslav war, Osijek avoided heavy destruction despite being on the frontline. Just over the river minefields are marked with yellow signs. De-mining is slow, dangerous and unfortunately never 100 per cent sure.
The Nature Park of Kopački rit, a few kilometres north-east of Osijek, comprises wetlands that are home to 260 species of birds.