Quite another world from the open seascapes and sun-soaked medieval stone towns of the coast, inland Croatia is flatter, damper and infinitely more Central European. Nowhere is the Hapsburgian influence felt so strongly as in Zagreb, the country’s economic, political and cultural capital. Northwest from here, the rolling hills of Zagorje offer woodland, vineyards and rural villages, as well as several proud castles, monuments to the days when local peasants were held in the grip of a harsh feudal system.
North of Zagreb, close to the Hungarian border, Varaždin is noted for its well-preserved baroque old town, while northeast of the capital, the village of Hlebine is home to several galleries displaying the unusual works of Croatia’s so-called Naïve artists.
Moving east, the flat, fertile plains of Slavonia extend all the way to the border with Serbia. The main town here is Osijek, built on the south bank of the River Drava and worth visiting to see Tvrda, a complex of 18th-century buildings erected by the Austrians to defend the region from the Turks. Close by, Kopački Rit Nature Park is a vast wetland supporting protected birds such as storks and herons.South of Zagreb, on the road to Dalmatia, you will pass through Lika. In the past many Serbian families lived here and, having fled during the early 1990s, they are only now beginning to return. The main sight here is Plitvice National Park, a paradise of emerald-green lakes and thundering waterfalls set amid a dense forest, close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.