Croatia is a country that is known for the beauty of its thousand islands but they are only part of the picture. Through the strange twists and turns of fate that dictate our lives, I have ended up living in the very north of Croatia, in Međimurje County, a region unknown to many. This small triangular shaped county borders Slovenia in the north-west and Hungary in the east and is only about 30 km away from Austria.
On the two longer sides of the Međimurje triangle flow the rivers Mura and Drava, as they both proceed down from Austria via Slovenia. The confluence of these two beautiful watercourses is near the small town of Legrad, at the very tip of Međimurje. It is a very special place where these two great rivers join to continue their journey as one, flowing down the border with Hungary to eventually meet up with the Danube near Osijek.
These forceful rivers have played crucial roles in history with the Danube being the long-standing frontier of the Roman Empire and today this river runs through the largest number of countries in the world, passing through four capital cities, whilst a further six lie in the Danube’s mighty basin.
Back in Međimurje, there are vine covered slopes of Alpine foothills in the north-west and these gently slope down to where the south-eastern part touches the flat Pannonian Plain. Connecting this region with that history of invasion by Huns, Romans, Ottomans and Habsburgs.
Here in this now peaceful place, history and geography intertwine leaving a legacy that is unique and palpable. Just over the border of the River Drava in Varażdin County is an even more ancient legacy, still visible today. You can visit the Vindija caves that were inhabited by the Neanderthal people over 40,000 years ago. Close by you can find the remains of Celtic rituals and ceremonies in the Altar Stones hidden in the depths of a forest.
Trees cover this northern part of Croatia, blessing it with the shades of green that changes with the spring, summer, autumn and winter. This is a place of rivers and forests, surrounding small villages and towns with their fields of maize, sunflowers and of course pumpkins. This is the region that is famous for its pumpkin oil, there are even ‘Bučino ulje’ vending machines, just in case you run out of this essential Međimurje culinary ingredient! We are too far north for olive groves.
So this is the place that I now live, in a lovely little house that was made from the foundations of a garden’s summer kitchen, on the former floodplain of the River Drava. And these are the woods that I now walk in, revelling in the magnificence of the beech trees and the wisdom of the oak trees. I also walk under trees that I do not know the names of, they are old and ancient and I feel their connection with Mother Earth as I walk with deference in their shade…..
…. and if you would like come walk with me, I will show you secret places where the forests and the rivers hold you in their magic, where the trees guide you and the sounds and the scents of nature heal you.