Over the last 5 years I have connected with amazing people from all over the globe on my Facebook page and I am proud to call them friends. I wanted to hear stories about their hometown. We as travelers go to experience new cultures, foods and festivals while on the road. It would take a lifetime, if not longer to experience every location and everything that destination has to offer. This prompted me to start a series called “Where The Locals Go.”
To start off this series, I interviewed my friend Marinel who lives in Virovitica, Croatia. Virovitica is a small town located on the northern slopes of the Bilogora Mountain near the Croatian-Hungarian border. Virovitica is a transit hub for tourists due to the intersection of several roadways and a railway that can take travelers north to Hungary, Northwest into Slovenia, further south into Croatia and Boznia-Herzegovina and east into Serbia. What can travelers experience while in Virovitica, Croatia?
TWT: Every destination has a local hotspot. What is the local hot spot in your area and would you please describe the atmosphere? Why do locals go there?
MS: Here in Virovitica, we love drinking coffee. We don’t have one single coffee hotspot, but all coffee houses are where the locals go. Friends and couples go to to coffee houses to talk about everything and anything. These are great places to exchange information and vibrations. The atmosphere is friendly and down to earth.
TWT: Your friend is flying into town for the first time and wants to experience the local food scene, where would you take him/her? What are some of the dishes you would recommend? How is the ambiance?
MS: I would drive them to the countryside where we would go to a small village with gardens. Almost every farm house has a garden in these small villages and we would pick organic food to prepare our meal. Organic vegetables, chicken and eggs are popular and we can make a quality meal from these gardens. There is no specific dish, we would experiment.
TWT: Travelers enjoy learning about the local art scene when they arrive in new locations. Are there local artists (musicians, painters, poetry writers, etc.) in your area that perform or feature their work? Where can travelers go for these experiences?
MS: Yes. I have friends who are artists and they can display their artwork in castle Pejacevic. Castle Pejacevic is owned by members of the Pejacevic noble family. You can go there to experience the castle and see art from the locals. It is also a museum from the 11th century. Travelers who visit will be able to experience local art and gain a sense of our history.
TWT: What are some of the more popular festivals in town? Are they held annually, several times a year, once a month? What time of the year do they take place? Where can travelers go to find out more information?
MS: In August, Virovitica celebrates to mark the founding of our city. We have a celebration with music, food and singers in town. We’ve had jugglers from Macedonia come to town to perform for the celebration along with other performers from around Europe. It is a fun way for travelers to experience our local pride and culture.
TWT: If travelers want to experience recreational activities during their stay, what can they do and where can they go?
MS: Fishing is big in our area. We have carp in our lakes but you need a license to fish. You can go with someone who has a license and watch them fish. If you fish without a license and catch something, you have to throw it back. We have jogging and walking paths where we can walk/run for exercise. Locals enjoy going to Drava River. You can swim but be careful because some places are fast. We have picnics, cookouts and BBQ’s around the river and lakes. This is always a good time for everyone, especially being in the outdoors.
TWT: Many travelers pick destinations that offer voluntourism / eco-tourism / activism / volunteer opportunities. What types of opportunities exist in your area?
MS: We are a small town of 20,000 people so we don’t have a big opportunity for this. However, If someone is traveling through town and stays for a day or two and wanted to help out, he/she can volunteer in the local gardens in the small villages. Ask first before you do so. If you are staying with a family or in a hotel, you can always ask around to see who would like some volunteer work. Check out the Mozart hotel in the forest, it is a beautiful place.
TWT: I know travelers like certain forms of transportation. Some like to walk and/or bike while others prefer to get around at a quicker pace. What is the best way for travelers to get around town?
MS: By foot and car. Everything in our town is accessible by foot. We have two major roadways that intersect in our town. This is a good way for people to get here. Once they are here, park your car, walk around and enjoy our little community.
TWT: For those who want to get away for a day for some peace and quiet, yet still take in the scenery, where are some areas that travelers can go to “get away from it all” and still enjoy the outdoors?
MS: There is a place called “Brana” near Virovitica in a place called Špišić Bukovica. It is a 20 minute bike ride from Virovitica. There is a beautiful forest, a park and a place to fish. There is also a park all around castle Pejačević here in town. All of these places are good for relaxing and enjoying the outdoors.
TWT: Travelers can get a sense of culture by observing their surroundings and people watch. Where can travelers go in your area to engage in this popular activity?
MS: You can sit on a bench and observe people walking by, but the best way to get to know our culture is go to a coffee shop. Sit and listen then start engaging with the locals. We like engaging in conversations so if you come to one of our coffee shops, you will get to know us better while enjoying a nice cup of coffee.
If you are traveling in the Balkan countries and are close to the Croatian-Hungarian border needing a place to stay for the night or rest for a few days, Virovitica is a small quiet community for any traveler to rest and recharge their energy. Depending on where you are headed next after resting, you can easily access the major roadways that intersect through town to experience the rest of Croatia or the surrounding Balkan countries.
You can contact Tony Toto a.k.a. The Walking Traveler at firstname.lastname@example.org