Without the teeming crowds of summer, Croatia has a more local feel in the autumn. Festivals celebrate rural traditions, such as the new wine and domestic cuisine, while the main cultural venues spring to life with their big-hitting seasonal agendas. Golden colours dominate the landscapes of Istria and northern Croatia, making days out hiking and cycling particularly memorable.
Mirogoj, All Saints’ Day
Mirogoj is not only Zagreb’s main cemetery but the resting place for Croatia’s most renowned writers, politicians and sportsmen. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, official delegations from state organisations gather here to pay their respects to former colleagues, joining the many friends and relatives who leave flowers and candles, filling Mirogoj with light and colour.
Mirogoj, Aleja Hermanna Bollea 27, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 4696 700
Walks on Medvednica
A short drive north of Zagreb, easily accessed by public transport, the forested slopes of Mount Medvednica are the capital’s green getaway, ideal for hiking in the autumn. Dotted with picnic benches, ‘Bear Mountain’ also contains any number of chalets where hearty cuisine typically consists of mlinci, a type of pasta usually served with turkey, and bean soup.
St Martin’s Day
Falling on November 11, Martinje is more than just a stand-out saint’s day in the Croatian calendar. In the run-up to it, restaurants offer special seasonal menus with goose as the focus. Martinje is also the time of new wine, so areas such as Istria go big on traditional festivities, with cellar tastings and ritual ceremonies. The day itself usually sees concerts and dances held across the region, and in the bigger cities of the north such as Zagreb.
Zagreb Film Festival
Now held in November, the nine-day Zagreb Film Festival celebrates its 15th running in 2017. Screenings take place at cinemas such as Europa and Tuškanac, with prizes awarded for Best Feature, Best Short and starting in 2017, for Together Again, to a filmmaker whose earliest work was showcased at the ZFF. Previous first-time directors here include Steve McQueen and Jeff Nicols. All in all, more than 100 films are screened, with talks and special events taking place throughout the programme.
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Autumn is the perfect time to visit Kopački rit, a nature park spread out around the confluence of the Drava and Danube filled with birds on their migration routes. Just outside the main city of Osijek, these wetlands can be explored by rowing boat, an English-speaking guide pointing out the spoonbills, purple herons and wild geese, as well as more exotic birds who set up camp here before their long journey south for the winter.
Zoom Festival Rijeka
Held over six days in early October, Zoom brings some of Europe’s most radical performance artists to the edgy port city of Rijeka. The main acts to appear in 2017 are London-based Ursula Martinez, a hit at The Barbican and Edinburgh, and David Hoyle, who has performed at the Soho Theatre and Tate Britain.
Istrian truffle festivals
September and October are when communities across Istria celebrate the product for which this region is most famous: the truffle. On the main square in Buzet, they make a huge communal truffle omelette with as many eggs as numbers in the year. In Livade, where the world’s largest white truffle was found, weekends between mid September and mid November are designated Zigante Truffle Days, after the man who discovered it and opened a restaurant in his own name. In nearby Motovun, the Teran & Truffle Festival also focuses on the fine red wine for which Istria is equally renowned.
Silent film lives on thanks to PSSST!, perhaps the world’s only festival that focuses on this long-lost art. Staged at and by the Trešnjevka Cultural Centre in Zagreb, this annual November event screens both contemporary and vintage classic works over the course of three days. The best film wins the Brčko Grand Prize, named after the main character in Croatia’s first feature produced in 1917.
Dubrovnik Good Food Festival
Running for the fourth time in October 2017, the Dubrovnik Good Food Festival is a four-day event that culminates in a 300-metre long showcase for chefs, pastry makers and caterers to exhibit their wares along the whole length of Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street. In the run-up, hotels, restaurants and wine bars stage workshops and presentations, accompanied by occasional musical performances.
Concert season at the Lisinski
Opened in 2017 with a performance by pianist Anastasya Terenkova accompanied by live narration from Hollywood’s John Malkovich, the autumn concert programme at the Lisinski Theatre in Zagreb always offers something different. Highlight of the 2017 season is a one-off show by the Red Army choir, orchestra and ballet in November, and you’ll also find traditional Gypsy music by Odjila, a cult play from Sarajevo and Russian folk tunes from Voronezh.
Lisinski Theatre, Trg Stjepana Radića 4, Zagreb, Croatia, +385 1 6121 111
For a challenging yet satisfying cycle ride, surrounded by gorgeous autumn colours, Istria’s Parenzana is hard to beat. Following part of the route of the narrow-gauge rail of the same name that ran between Poreč and Trieste in the early 1900s, the Parenzana ride may take in Grožnjan, Buje, Motovun and Višnjan. Several international races are staged along it during the year, such as the MTB Parenzana Cube in late September.
Contemporary dance is not a cultural medium you immediately associate with Croatia, but an October event in the northern city of Varaždin is doing its best to change all that. KLIKER runs across the second week of the month, with performances, workshops, lessons and outdoor happenings mostly aimed at a younger audience.
Ston Wall Marathon
Held on the third Sunday of September, the Ston Wall Marathon is unique. Whereas most 42-kilometre runs are street races across a given city, be it London, Berlin or Paris, Ston’s follows the longest wall in Europe, panoramic views making up for the punishing climbs and descents. There are also less challenging 4km and 15km events. For onlookers, many heading up from nearby Dubrovnik, the Ston Marathon provides a suitable excuse to visit and sample the famous oysters and fine wines of adjoining Pelješac.