I feel love

Slovenia has it nailed. It’s taken the LOVE in its name and turned it into a complete marketing campaign that makes efforts by the Hungarian Tourism Board look half-arsed at best. Many years ago, I was in a car with three generations of Slovenian males. All spoke excellent English and I just assumed that they’d each spent time abroad. But no. None of them had ever lived anywhere else. And why would they, they asked, somewhat incredulously, when Slovenia has it all.

They say that when God was creating the world, he gave each country something special, be it lakes, mountains, volcanoes, whatever. He must have gotten a little fed up with all this creating because when it came to Slovenia, he gave it everything: mountains, seas, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, great wine … and the list goes on.

We were en route to Lake Bled when, as often happens on road trips, a sign took my fancy. Ptuj. How would you even begin to pronounce that one, I wondered. (I asked: it’s p-too-ey). Himself had a vague notion that it was the oldest town in the country, so we detoured.

And he was right. As is his wont.

We went to the bank to change some money and were laughed out of it. Despite being neighbours, they’d no interest in Hungarian forints. I was a little taken aback but hey – their call. We found a less discriminating ATM and armed with euro went for a coffee, the first of many mediocre brews we’d have over the next few days (this despite the Coffee Stories fest the town hosts each year). Slovenia might have it all in terms of natural beauty but it has yet to master the brew. The loos in this place were quite something (and it was a nice place), with some unusual wall art going on. You had to pass through the gents to get to the ladies where the picture of a women baring her bits over the urinal might have tempted a weaker man to linger. Interesting to say the least. But these two strikes were it. It was all up from there.

Inhabited since the Stone Age, the town has retained its charm and has capitalised on its history. The juxtaposition of old and new was amusing: ancient Roman tombstones forming a backdrop for motorbikes and camper vans. Love it. We did climb up to the twelfth-century Ptuj Castle but didn’t go in – the view was worth it. And had the old, narrow cobblestone streets been able to speak, they could have told a story or three.

A visit to the Tourist Information Office had us pencilling February 11, 2018 into the diary as the town has its Kurentovanje festival – something similar to the Hairy Man festival at Mohács in Hungary. Definitely one for the books, if we can find accommodation. Apparently it attracts close to 100 000 visitors each years. Nothing like having to plan ahead. And when I go back, the country’s oldest wine cellar is also on my list of things to see. It has a wine that dates back to 1917.

The town is also home to good wine. And apparently produces a Sauvignon Blanc that rated first among lesser equals earlier this year. Another note to self for 2018.

Salon Sauvignon 2017 took place in Ptuj on 20th of May. Dominican Monastery hosted 64 Winemakers from Slovenia (far the most), Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, France and New Zealand, who offered a chance to explore, evaluate and enjoy 120 samples of Sauvignon Blanc. 

The church was impressive and yet, over the course of the next few days, it would lose a lot of its impressiveness when compared to a chorus of others that thread through the country. The countryside is rife with religious houses and places of worship. It could give Malta a run for its money when it comes to roadside niches. That said, this one comes with its own guitar-playing, football-loving singing priest. That’s hard to beat.

As a reminder of how things are in Slovenia (it’d been a while for me), the stop-off at Ptuj was a great start. The people are lovely – very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. They realise the importance of tourism to their livelihoods and know how to work their service accordingly. English is widely spoken, too, and there’s plenty of information available in multiple languages on what’s going on.

Speed limits vary according to the type of motorway – it’s there’s a shoulder, you can do 130 km/h. If not, then the two-lane highways are 110 and country roads are 70. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be hearing from the authorities. Don’t forget to get your toll pass before you cross the border – €15 for a week – as the fines for not having one are pretty steep. And do wander off the motorway. There’s no telling what you’ll find.