Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Today I leave Ljubljana for a day tour entitled “Wine Road” and includes a visit of Maribor and Ptuj, as well as a wine tasting in Jeruzalem (yes, you’ve read right). I am using again the services of Roundabout, specialized in tours and excursions in Slovenia and currently #1 on TripAdvisor. Let’s hit the road!

Ptuj Castle

It is with a very charming couple along with your driver and guide that we leave Ljubljana early in the morning. We begin this day of discovery by the city of Ptuj, the oldest city of Slovenia situated in the heart of the region of Lower Drava. Indeed, many monuments and buildings speard within the city can demonstrate of its cultural wealth, not to mention the history of the area dating back to the early Stone Age. Today, Ptuj is an important commercial center and market town with a rich and recognized gastronomy, many wineries and spas whose reputation is well established.

Our discovery of the place begins with a tour of the castle, located on a hill already populated in prehistoric and Roman times because of its strategic position. This is where the castle was built between the 9th and 10th century, of which only a tower still remains today on the western forecourt. In the first half of the 12th century, as the building had already fell to the winds of time, Archbishop Konrad of Salzburg, then Ptuj feudal Lord, ordered the construction of a new castle. Reconstructions and major renovations that took place during the Renaissance and Baroque periods left a strong imprint on the building, now a museum on three floors and our next visit.

Our driver left us in good care of a local guide for the time of the visit. On the ground floor, we can admire various collections of art and musical instruments used at the time by the nobles and wealthy citizens of Ptuj. Different furnished rooms and restored workshops make us relive the musical past of the place, all under some sound recordings of the most beautiful effect that add to the charm of the exhibition.

We climb out now to the first floor, where the most beautiful rooms of the castle are located. Here, a large amount of antique furniture in excellent condition, very realistic tapestries, paintings with bright colors and various objects of everyday life dating mostly from the second half of the 16th century to the second half of 19th century can be admired. Each room of the floor is like a small museum and it is with a great pleasure that I go around.

On the second floor, we find an impressive collection of traditional costumes and carnival masks. Here, Slovenian names are everywhere and in addition to being incomprehensible, they are virtually unpronounceable by me. I note however that some of these costumes are worn during the Kurentovanje carnival of Ptuj, one of the great events of the Slovenian folklore.

This carnival features the Korent (or Kurent), a character dressed in a sheepskin wearing a hat topped with beef horns, symbols of the quarters of the moon. Its eyes are ringed with red, with a long white nose, hanging tongue, exposed teeth, and it bears many bells on his belt. For several days, those scary Korenti (or Kurenti) go from house to house with, as legends say, the power to cast away winter and its demons, and bring wealth with their hideous masks.

The carnival opens on a Saturday with a parade and once in the evening, the whole town vibrates to the rhythm of street performances. The costumes are handmade according to old traditions and I am certain that attending the carnival should be quite a unique experience, very different from the carnivals of Rio de Janeiro or Venice. Their only common point is the month of February – the time of year when carnivals are held.

After visiting the castle, we descend to the heart of the city and begin a brief tour of the city center. There are many people today because it is market day. However, unlike other regions or countries, the market here is not only centralized on the traditional town hall square, but in almost every side street around it! It is therefore difficult to move around and to admire the few old buildings, including the town hall on Mestni Trg square, and the Church of St. George and the old town hall on Slovenski Trg square. We finally hit the road again after about an hour there.

Wine road of Jeruzalem

Jerusalem is the name given to this region by the Crusaders in the 13th century when they were seeking the road to city said to be “thrice holy”. Here passes one of the most famous “Wine road” where prospers white and red wines of incomparable quality, which vineyard stretch out of sight on splendid hills said to be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It is in a tourist farm that we stop for our lunch, in addition to participate in a tasting of several excellent local wines. I should point out that I’ve never really appreciated white wine at its true value before, but this tasting has had the opportunity of making me change my mind.

Thus comfortably in the shade of a terrace, we admire the beautiful natural surroundings which adorned the most beautiful colors whatever the season. The local hospitality has to be mentioned, as is the quality and variety of raw products on these green hills. For our tasting we have a huge selection at our disposal: Šipon, riesling Laško and Riesling Rhine, chardonnay, sauvignon, white, gray and black pinot, Gewurztraminer, Muscat with small white grains and Muscat Ottonel, rizvanec, Kerner and ranina.

Frankly, this is a true “white” symphony and if I had a grudge against this type of wine before, it is no longer the case. Our tasting continues accompanied by several homemade appetizers trays until mid afternoon. The advantage of being part of a small group of 3 people like ours is that we can “adjust” our day according to our desires. We finally had a great time here, and both lively discussions and wines literally “cast afloat!” The downside will be a relatively short visit to Maribor, but we’ll deal with it.

Maribor, number two of Slovenia

Maribor is the capital of a vineyard and mountainous area. Very close to Austria, it is a link between the Austrian and Balkan cultures. The heart of the old town bears witness of the flourishing past of Maribor, today both a modern shopping and a major tourist center. We start our visit along the Drava River by nothing less than the oldest vine in the world walk, about 450 years old! It is a true symbol of Maribor and it still produces about 35-55 kilos of grapes per harvest.

Its wine is then packaged in a hundred of small bottles which are sold or used by the municipality of Maribor as ceremonial gifts. No surprise here, as we are in the most important wine region of Slovenia. The bottles are accompanied by a certificate of authenticity with a serial number and vintage, and a copy with the name of the honored person is kept in the municipal archives. Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton are among the lucky owners of such bottle.

We participate again in a small tasting on site, but I must confess that my vision is getting blurb slowly but surely. Yes, I know: during a wine tasting, we are not supposed to swallow the wine, but to spit it discreetly into a small towel. As it is aasting, our glasses were never completely filled and this is all right. However, it goes much faster than we may think : a glass, then two. Three. Fo… Four, hic! Fee… Fuu… Fiiiiiiive !

Okay, back to being serious. Maribor is a beautiful city full of activities to do, even if you’re not a big fan of wine cellars. As we’re on the weekend, the town is very quiet and walking within the old streets and alleys is a real pleasure. Our guide takes us past the castle and to Cathedral of the John the Baptist of Maribor. The latter is located in the heart of the medieval city, right on Slomšek square and is quite a beautiful building, both from an architectural point of view as well as the furniture included inside.

Our tour eventually ends when the sun starts to go down and it is finally with some regret that we leave Maribor. The visit was quite short, but that was expected given the time spent in Jeruzalem. This is an opportunity for me to return there one day to spend a little more time, as the city seems magical and exudes a charming atmosphere!