Doable in a day from Zagreb, the unspoiled treasures of Kopački rit make the effort to reach the locale worthwhile. A nature park close to Osijek, Kopački rit attracts flocks of migrating birds to its expansive wetlands – and flocks of visitors to observe them. This can be done by boat or via a series of boardwalks, allowing you to spot beech martens, catfish and dice snakes, plus rare plant life such as Siberian cattails and pale yellow irises.
Samobor is a natural day trip from Zagreb, historic and pretty as a picture postcard. The haunt of writers and composers in the Habsburg days – Franz Liszt once visited – Samobor welcomes many from the capital at weekends. Some come here to hike around the nearby hills, others to sample the seasonal game served in the many decent restaurants, but few will leave without enjoying the famous local cream cake, samoborska kremšnita.
In truth, there is little reason to visit Vinkovci. A modest town in Slavonia, it offers the same as most modest towns in Slavonia: spicy fish soup, a city museum and a bar or two. But Vinkovci has something unique. It was here that Agatha Christie set her most famous crime story, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Recently made into yet another film version, this legendary tale ensures that the equally modest station at Vinkovci unwittingly welcomes railway enthusiasts to mill around and snap photos in the vain hope of finding any sign acknowledging the Christie connection.
Croatia’s most popular national park, Plitvice is two-and-a-half hours from Zagreb. Excluding the coast and islands, the 16 cascading lakes and greenish-blueish waters of Plitvice are Croatia’s most picturesque and iconic natural attraction. There are also hiking trails leading through verdant surroundings where wild cats, lynx and brown bears lurk.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia, +385 53 751 015
Sljeme is the green getaway on Zagreb’s doorstep, the upper slopes of the hilly national park of Medvednica. In winter, Sljeme is white rather than green, the top-class ski centre open for both international competition and for locals of all ages and levels to use. Year-round, Sljeme is frequented by families who picnic amid nature or patronise the many chalets converted into cosy local restaurants.
Attractive Varaždin, capital of Croatia only 250 years ago, still has a sense of grandeur even though modern-day geopolitics have given it a somewhat isolated location where the Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian borders meet. The ornate architectural style prevalent in its palaces, churches and cultural landmarks augments its historic status. The city has a big annual music festival, Varaždin Baroque Evenings; it helps showcase the many castles in the surrounding countryside.