Just north from Nova Gradiška, mere ten minutes drive from the city centre, lies a village Cernik. It is a lot older settlement than Nova Gradiška and boasts with historical and religious monuments. In 1525 the noble family Dežević gets permission to rule the baroque castle Cernik. Just some ten years afterwards the castle together with strongholds of Šag, Gračanica, and Podvrška falls into the Turkish hands.
Turks used the castle for their regional political, military, economy, craftsmanship and religious centre. It returns in the Austrian/Croatian hands in 1691. Later the castle is transformed in a baroque mansion which changed the owners frequently.
But Cernik is far more famous for its Church of Saint Peter and the Franciscan Monastery. The first Franciscans came here in the end of 17th century, when they lived in the wooden constructions. In 1728 the contemporary monastery starts to be built. Three wings of the monastery encircle the inner garden, while the fourth is closed by the Church of Saint Peter, a beautiful masterpiece of the religious architecture built in 1743/1745. The church has many ornamented altars inside.
But the real treasure lies in the monastery’s museum, where many archaeological artefacts from the Biblical lands are on the permanent display. The time spans from the prehistory up to the Turkish period and items are usually tied to the everyday life. There are also many Bibles and the older manuscript replicas on various languages. It also displays the Croatian translation of Biblical texts. The monastery also houses a very valuable cultural-historical library, among which two very rare incunabula, and some five thousand books of religious, artistic, literature, medicine, and natural content.
The rolling hills of Cernik are slopes of the tongue-twisting Psunj Mountain, the highest mountain of Slavonia (Brezovo polje peak is at mere 988 metres above sea level). Although quite low even by the Croatian standards, Psunj is beautiful place for outdoor pleasures, especially in summer when rich woodlands make so necessary shadows from the hot sun. Hiking, camping, cycling, hunting and fishing are among great possibilities of enjoyment on Psunj.
Many head to the Strmac destination, which is situated in a picturesque mountain valley made by the Šumetlica creek. The air is excellent here and very suitable for the modern psychiatric unit of the Saint Raphael Hospital, run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. In Strmac is also a mountain hut of the Strmac Mountaineering Club from Nova Gradiška, founded in 1932. They care for the hiking trails and paths all over Psunj and one of them leads to the Gračanica Fort, a unique bastion from the Middle Ages, possibly built by the mystical Templar Knights.
When one crosses the river Ilova and comes from the Central Croatia to Slavonia everything seems quite wide. On one side there are reach valleys of Sava River, while on the other low mountains dot the horizon. This is the region where Christianity defended itself in history from the Turkish invasions, and many people still regard themselves as border guards (graničari). First bigger city on the way is Nova Gradiška, a cosy town with specific Slavonian charm and beautiful natural surroundings.
Spending two days in Nova Gradiška was barely enough to learn all the potentialities of this micro-region, only 1,5 hours drive from the Croatian capital Zagreb on the Zagreb-Lipovac motorway and Zagreb-Vinkovci railway. There is lots of history here, lots of religious spots, but also beautiful Slavonian food, hearty and pleasing. And it comes with a wide Slavonian soul, of which this eastern Croatian region is especially proud of.
The city itself is rather new for Croatian standards, and is sometimes called the youngest Croatian city. It was founded in 1748 with support of Vojna Krajina, a special militarised cordon sanitaire that kept the border with the Ottoman Empire for centuries. In 1754 the first building made of bricks was made; it was the Church of Saint Theresa, the old court of law and the prison. Later, the Parochial Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfilled the urban core of the town. These form today the city centre with the central park and square of King Tomislav. Unfortunately, the town was heavily destructed in the Homeland War in early nineties, although just a few areas still have the war scars.
The church of Saint Theresa is indeed an architectural jewel of Nova Gradiška and is known as the stone music. It gives a special significance to the town’s vistas but is excellently seen through the glass roof of the Tomislav Hotel’s cafe bar, which is settled just next door. The central park also hosts much larger parish church of Immaculate Conception, celebrated for the artistic masterpieces of Croatian religious painter Celestin Medović. The park also has Main Guard, the complex combining the old court and prison, with outside vaults. Park itself is French-style park with a central fountain.
The central walking area is the Ulica Slavonskih graničara – the Slavonian border guards’ street. It boasts secession-style buildings but also it is the best place to look at everyday life in the city and behaviour of its citizens. Just south of it is the Square of dr. Franjo Tuđman, Croatian first president, with several statues and monuments dedicated to the Croatian defenders and independence.
Every season brings new joys in Nova Gradiška, and given its surroundings and closeness to the capital, it is the great introduction to the southern Slavonia, land of bohemian people (known as bećar or lola), whose best representative may be famed Croatian poet Matija Antun Relković.
Nova Gradiška is also a very good place to savour excellent Slavonian foods. Specific cuisine of eastern Croatian region is heavily influenced by the Hungarian and Turkish cooking, and as such it is spicier than anywhere else in Croatia. Slavonians like to use paprika and garlic, and they are known for a table where cooking is plentiful, meals hearty and meaty, and always followed by excellent white wines such as Graševina and Traminac, and also red Frankovka.
Rich homemade dry meat products are among the most recognisable features in Nova Gradiška. This includes kulen (kulin), the paprika-flavoured sausage, often served with cottage cheese and pickles, and its sub-variation kulenova seka (literally Kulen’s sister) which is basically the same thing but with different shape and size. Every kind of sausages, but also cracklings and bacon are added to it. All of these you may try to find in local specialised markets in Nova Gradiška, such as the family run Tworek store.
In a more pronounced way you can eat it in the several Nova Gradiška’s restaurants as well as in the agritourisms and family homesteads around the town itself. We have visited the Dukat Restaurant, but very interesting menus may be found in the Slavonski biser restaurant and hotel, very close to the railway and bus station, and in the Tomislav Hotel on the main square.
Going out of the town, the Opođe homestead in Cernik, Slavonski sokak in Novi Varoš, as well as the Eco-Ethno Village in Kapela and Matin and Anin stan (which is part of the Dukat experience) are all cherished as places of homemade food, rural architecture, welcoming hosts, and grandma style accommodation. It is Slavonia on your doorstep!
Tourist Board of Nova Gradiška
Ulica Slavonskih graničara 7
Tel/fax: (035) 361 494
Photos by: TZ Nova Gradiška & Taste of Adriatic
When you come to Krško, be sure to visits its surroundings. The countryside of Posavje region is the land of pristine flavours, traditional food, and excellent wines. These delights locals call the “River of Flavours” and indeed it is. You will first receive a warm greeting and an amazing hospitality, just as we experienced it in the restaurant Ribnik near Brestanica.
Typical local dishes in Posavje include flat cake with overheated cream (puhla s pregreto smetano), flat cake with cottage cheese (cop na lop), buckwheat cake (bizeljski ajdov kolač), cottage cheese dumplings (pečeni sirovi štruklji), carrot soup (korejevc), Krško-polje pig delicacies, colt, fish… everything cooked with fresh, authentic and local ingredients. Local action group Posavje is very active in raising the value of local products and services, establishing locally based sustainable food supply, and overall development of rural regions.
One such product is Krško-polje pig (krškopoljski prašič), the only autochthonic Slovenian pig sort. It is historically raised in the Dolenjska region, which abounds with valleys, already in 1850ies. This black-and-white pig gives particularly soft and delicious ham and praised lard. Especially pleasing are dried meat products, which go well with cviček.
In place of Raka, the Tourist Association Lovrenc Raka began a project “Best from Raka”, an innovative conception of presenting the autochthon onion sort (čebula, raška č’bula). They try to promote this piece of local agricultural heritage further in local and national restaurants and inns, as unavoidable part of the Slovenian culinary offer.
Raka was once famous for red onion, grown in hard but fertile ground. Almost every household had onions to sell, and the seed was carefully preserved. Raška č’bula was once staple food, used every day in local homes. It is powerful antiseptic which protects from illness and strengthens immunity. It is eaten raw, with sausages, ham, or just with bread. Local folk medicine also used this onion to cure. Today, probably the most famous čebula grower was Mr Učnik, grandfather of Melanija Trump who was born in nearby Sevnica!
We learn more about raška č’bula in the Cvičkov hram wine house. This is the centre point of Raka events. Day of St. Lawrence is onion and wine day, and traditional fire-fighter party is being held. People also walk through the Čebula path from Raka to Krakovski gozd and Kostanjevica. We try the specific čebula onion soup with bits of bread soaked in it (čebulova juha). Quite simple and different from the famous French onion soup, it replenishes body and soul. No wonder, as it was usually served after the Sunday church mass. This onion blends well with marinated trout, with mushrooms and salad, as basis for onion jam together with pork roast, or as an onion pie.
Čebula also goes well with cviček, wine classified with recognised traditional name. It has quite unique blend of various reds (modra frankinja, žametna črtnina – 70 per cent) and white varieties (kraljevina, laški rizling, rumeni plavec, zeleni silvanec – 30 per cent). It is a dry wine with low alcohol, up to maximum 10 per cent, and somewhat higher acidity. Cviček enchants with its light red colour and ruby casts; Slovenes are particularly proud of it. It has fresh fruity aromas, with an emphasis on raspberry and cherry. Our hosts claim it also has healing properties!
Cviček is known in this region since 1500’s and mentioned even in the great Slovenian historian Valvasor’s work as Marwein, a jolly wine of Dolenjska. Today, some 20 million litres of cviček is produced in Dolenjska region, and cviček wine maker association numbers more than 200 people. In Raka they gather in Cvičkov hram (the embassy of cviček), which has educative and pleasurable parts. In the basement is a wine cellar that can accommodate up to 70 guests. We enjoyed it with opnion soup and homemade sausages and bacon, while listening to gorgeous Lovrenci male a cappela band. The upper floor is made of oak logs and is a modern version of the 18th century house (gorniki).
Another famous wine of Posavje region is Modra Frankinja (Blue Franconian). It is one of the most favourite red sorts in continental parts of ex-Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Slovenia, Posavje and Podravje (regions characterised by the Sava and Drava rivers) offer a particularly good terroir for this wine. It contains lots of antioxidants, making it perfect wine for meaty and fatty meals, full of cholesterols. Modra frankinja is also part of cviček.
A special treat is to book your accommodation in a vineyard cottage (zidanice). It is a unique trademark of Posavje, where lots of vineyard cottages, wineries, and wine cellars make a heaven for wine tourists. Most wine cottages are not at all small or excessively rustic – they are now real villas in the rural surroundings of Posavje wine hills.
Perched on sixty metres rock above Sava River and village of Brestanica, the Rajhenburg Castle stands as a spectacular historical attraction of Krško. It is also the first medieval castle mentioned in Slovenian texts from 895. The original castle was demolished and later rebuild by Bishop Konrad of Salzburg in early 12th century. Among many owners of this castle, the Trappist monks stand out. They lived here from 1881 until 1941, and gave a specific gastronomic heritage to this castle.
The fort has thick walls and entrance leads to a cobbled square surrounded by white walls of this beautiful castle. The nobility ruled this estate until 1881 when Trappists bought the castle and made a strict monastery. German occupation in 1941 moved the monks out and used the premises for Slovenian refugees. After Second World War, the communist government nationalised Rajhenburg and transformed it into a female political prison. Only in 2004 did Krško Municipality gain the ownership of Rajhenburg and started its renaissance to the present state.
We first got warm with tea and excellent pastry inside the castle cafe, before embarking on a quick one-hour tour of the castle led by knowledgeable Mrs Helena Rožman. Within an hour we were astonished by the development of castle’s architecture, beginning in Romanesque period and travelling through Gothic and Renaissance features until the present day.
Castle is known for its not yet fully explored Romanesque chapel from 12th century and Renaissance chapel from 16th century. Exquisite Renaissance frescos still exist in one room, making Rajhenburg one of the most important Middle Age castle architecture in Slovenia. The scenic position and exemplary interior make the castle ideal for weddings, celebrations, concerts, and cultural events.
The museum inside the castle features the destiny of Slovene deportees and the time when various correctional institutions operated in the castle. Visitors can also see the castle furniture from the collection of the National Museum of Slovenia. Postcards show Brestanica from the end of the 19th century and motifs from the social life in this small and picturesque village that hosts one of the biggest churches in Slovenia, the Basilica of the Mary of Lourdes. The castle also includes exhibited medals from the Olympic games and world championships won by Primož Kozmus, the most famous athlete from Brestanica.
In the home of Silent Monks
The main attraction is, of course, the Trappists. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.) is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monasticrs who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. They are branch of the Order of Cistercians and one of the strictest orders in Catholicism. “Silent monks”, as they are sometimes called, came to Rajhenburg from Trappist monastery of Dumb near Lyon and dedicated it to the Mary the Rescuer.
At first only French monks were present, but over time Slovenian brothers entered the monastery. In Rajhenburg they worked for 17 hours a day, of which six hours they spent in prayer and meditation. They were strictly forbidden to talk or even communicate with the body language. Those who have taken the vows were no longer allowed eating meat, fish, and eggs, and they only made Trappist cheese. It was possible to eat this cheese at non-fasting days, making it the only food of animal origin on the monastery’s dining table.
Extensive farmlands in the area were the basis of Trappists’ survival. The monks were breeding cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, whose meat they sold. They cultivated the land, had vineyards and orchards. In 1929 Trappists bought the first tractor in Posavje region and they planted first vine in Sremič, now known as top wine area. In 1896 monks also built first hydroelectric power plant in the area.
One heritage that lasts is chocolate. The Trappists were first producers of chocolate and liqueurs in Slovenia. They imported the necessary machinery from France in 1896, and used the hydro energy of Brestanica brook to produce first chocolate dragees. The Viennese Imperial Court was especially pleased of its quality, so they bought regularly chocolate bars from the monastery. In fact, Emperor and King Franz Joseph gave the honorary title of Imperial, which soon became their brand name. The Imperial chocolate was sold all over Europe. They also produced Cocoa, Trapistin and the Grand liqueur, three kinds of liqueurs, of which some became basis for modern day chocolate wine.
We tried the famous chocolates and chocolate wine in Rajhenburg itself, presented by Lojze Kunej. The family tradition of wine making in Kunej family goes back to the end of the 19th century. In 2013, the production of vines and wine is joined by production of chocolate.
The Kunej family partnered with the City museum of Krško and Rajhenburg Castle in the project entitled “The influence of Trappist order on the Posavje countryside, acronym Trapistin” and began producing chocolate products inspired by the Trappist heritage. The chocolate products are produced in the House of Mozer in the direct vicinity of the renovated Rajhenburg Castle.
Kunej’s major product, Chocolat Impérial, is a new beverage based on dark red wine from unique grape variety selection, which can be combined with its gentle tannin with dark chocolate. This is a harmonious fusion, which takes us into the world of sensual pleasure and comfort. It can be enjoyed by itself as an aperitif or with selected snacks or deserts, dark chocolate, truffles, forest berries, nuts, berries and selected gourmet food. The wine is not as sweet as one might expect, mostly because of the high-quality Ecuadorian 76 per cent dark chocolate used to produce it. The wine itself is cuvee of dornfelder, acolon, cabernet cubin, and cabernet dorsa.
But real treat is a newly made wine with white chocolate, Chocolat Imperial Blanc. This unique dessert wine is based on chardonnay, sauvignon, and Laški Riesling, with addition of aromatic white chocolate. The complex aroma gives the feelings and tastes of white chocolate, sherry, vanilla, coffee. Indeed, it is a perfect, romantic, pleasurable dessert drink that goes well with soft and mild chocolates.
The best chocolates for these wines can also be found at Kunej’s manufactory. These are again based on Trappists’ tradition, and you can choose from handmade chocolate candies, chocolate bars, and chocolate round bars. The most difficult part is to try all combinations with a drop of excellent wine.
HOUSE OF VINES, WINE AND CHOCOLATE KUNEJ
Kunej Ales s.p.
Cesta prvih borcev 40
8280 Brestanica, Slovenia
Phone: 00386 (0)7 49 73 330
GSM: 00386 (0)31 337 526
Fax: 00386 (0) 599 54 671
The wearing of masks, with which man performs fertility rites, drives away evil spirits and marks the passage of winter into spring, has been present in almost all civilizations and all parts of the world since times long past. This custom has particularly taken deep roots in the localities of the North Croatian Littoral, namely its backcountry – Kastavština.
In the course of the historical context of emergence of carnival customs in our region, various bell – ringer groups (zvončari) appeared. They became an inevitable part of the carnival ritual, not only in the Kvarner area, but wider. The bell-ringers mark the very beginning of the Carnival – hence the first bell-ringer bells make themselves heard in Mune and Žejane on Epiphany (6th January), and in the other localities on the Saint Anthony holiday (17th January).
Today we differentiate the bell-ringer groups of Rukavac, Zvoneće, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići, Žejane, Mune and Halubje. The distinctions between these groups are in pieces of garments they dress in, or in the characteristic bell-ringers’ gait and the additional elements they wear. However, they all wear white trousers (some with a red or blue stripe, though some wear jute trousers with sewn on ribbons) and sailor’s striped jerseys, sheepskins around the neck or waist, three bells or a single one respectively, head scarf or bandanna.
The bell-ringers of Rukavac, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići and Zvoneće wear hats with colorful crepe paper flower decorations, while the bell-ringers of Mune and Žejane wear hats with varicolored strips from the top of the hat to the ground. Only the Halubian bell-ringers wear large beast-like masks instead of hats. All the bell-ringer groups wore such masks until the beginning of the Italian occupation, when they were prohibited.
Mune and Žejane are quite specific in whole region not only because its inhabitants are descendants of Romanian Vlach population, but also of carnival traditions. When bell ringers come in a village, their leader first enters a home to greet the owner and only then all other bell ringers enter. They gather in their baskets eggs and money and on long sticks bits of bacon. Eggs and bacon are used for big omellette. Main difference between Žejanski zvončari and Munski zvončari is in the colours and styles of strips and hats. Žejane is also specific for using sour beet instead of sauerkraut, in a classic winter dish consisting of beans, dried meat, bacon, and garlic (Huverova repa). Fritule, which is fabourite winter dessert in the Adriatic, is made with yoghurt, which is again very unique.
Place of Rukavac has its special bell ringers’ association, Rukavački zvončari. They are known for their elaborate outfit, similar to Halubje bell ringers but without animal mask. Two places, Rukavac and Zvoneća have same bell ringers who are followed by partenjaki, boys and girls who walk around asking for gifts.
There is also a little devil, all in black but with red horns. You may try to run away from him, but he will find a way to make two black strips on your cheeks! In every time of year you can also see the Bell ringers’ Museum in Rukavac, but be sure to check with the Tourist Board if it is open.
All the restaurants, inns and taverns in the area offer something from our wide range of traditional dishes: turnip, pork loin, sauerkraut, home-made bread, sausages, pršut dry-cured ham, various sweets (supice, presnac, grašnjaki) and much more. The choice is yours, but we have visited the famed Stancija Kovačići:
Another very old bell ringers’ association is Brežanski zvončari from place of Bregi, high above Opatija. They have similar features to the Rukavački zvončari, but add with a very specific dish – olita or sweet blood sausage. The recipe is family heritage for more than 150 years, it is traditionally made only for the carnival season, although it is already rare to find. This blood sausage has addition of sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and raisins. It is indeed a very special thing to try!
Matulji Tourism Office:
Address: Trg maršala Tita 3, 51211 Matulji, County of Primorje-Gorski kotar, Croatia
VAT ID (OIB): 60986406974
Telephone: +385 (0)51 276 789
Fax: +385 (0)51 276 221
Viškovo is a place situated north of Rijeka, effectively Rijeka’s suburb, but retains its special status as a town and proud itself for a long tradition of mask festivals. The area is known as Halubje, so the carnival is called Halubajski karnival, which has very longstanding tradition with Halubje bell ringers (Halubajski zvončari). Many tend to associate Rijeka carnival with Halubajski zvončari, who are indeed kings of carnival festivities.
Horrific animal mask on head, big bell on backs, seaman shirt, white trousers with red stripe, black shoes, white sheep skin, everything is part of Halubje bell ringer. The ringer must be a strong man, able to carry a heavy bell around his waist. Some 400 men are today proud part of this tradition, which begins for St Anthony the Great (Antonja, January 17th). The ringers walk through traditional routes in Viškovo and regularly visit all the other places in vicinity. Everything starts in front of the St. Mathew Church, where Pust is hanged.
Once, these strong men carried five to six small bells around their waists. Then, it fell to three, while today they ring with one big and one small bell. Some even carry just one, but it is five kilos heavy. Ringing is indeed a very tiresome and heavy job! That is why they should be fed well and with a traditional winter food from Viškovo.
We found it in celebrated Mladenka restaurant in the very heart of town.
Apart from Mladenka, Viškovo boasts other places with traditional cuisine. Among these are Restaurant Ronjgi, widely recognised for its wild meat specialties; Restaurant Nono Frane, with its exquisite barbecue and homemade pasta; Tavern Maretina, famous for its fish specialties; and homemade Viškovo meals in Tavern Kume in place Kosi, and Šmrika in Marčelji.
In all these places, you may find traditional winter foods of Viškovo. Fish lovers will enjoy the cod brodetto, one of the characteristic Adriatic comfort food in winter. Simple mix of cod, potatoes, garlic, tomato paste, parsley and olive oil is combined with polenta or bread for a very satisfying meal. Staple for winter days is certainly sauerkraut. Old way to make good sauerkraut is to drown it into the water, in order to lessen the sourness. Fatty bacon is mixed with garlic (mix is called zapešt) and is added to sauerkraut together with few bay leaves. Usually, smoked ham is made with the sauerkraut.
A bit south of Viškovo, already within the Rijeka town boundaries, is neighbourhood Pehlin, home of Pehinarski feštari and Pehinarska gospoda, two carnival groups with long historical background. Dark uniform, beret cap with peacock or pheasant feather, with yellow tie and sign of cock (symbol of Pehlin, which has its name because of it – peteh) – this is official dress of Pehinarski feštari.
The group came to be in 1953, with some 50 members today, and they begin their carnival walk on St. Anthony the Great from the Pehlin school, where Pust is being hanged. The Pust is traditionally called Mate, who changes his surname every year according to the happenings in country and the world. The reason for his name comes from local proverb: „Mate puste kvragu šal, se si žepi obašal“, which pointed to the wrong habit of spending scarce money for carnival escapades.
Their counterpart in Pehlin are Pehinarska gospoda (Pehlin bourgeois). In 1920ies some young men took their finest garb, bowler hats, walking stick, and walked around Pehlin with accordion and drum music. A bit later ladies also joined, wearing the urban dress from the beginning of 20th century.
The ladies also inherited cherished knowledge of their grandmas about the carnival foods. Most famous one in Pehlin is cauliflower with salted fish (broskva i slane ribi), an easy dish to make. A specific cauliflower from the northern Adriatic region is cooked in salted water. Also potatoes are cooked in another pot. Cooked cauliflower is then mixed with garlic fried on olive oil, with addition of pepper and salt. Salted fish should be then fried for a minute or two in olive oil and added to cauliflower. Cooked potatoe is a side dish and is eaten with white wine.
Another cherished gastronomy tradition is Pehinarski presnac and Presnac z Kuta. Main difference between these two cakes is in additional cocoa or chocolate, as well as apple, cinnamon, and clove in Pehinarski presnac. Basis for both is practically the same, consisting of dough (Presnac z Kuta adds rum inside), and filling is based on rice and raisins.
For more information visit the Tourist Board of Viškovo: