City focus Maribor
SLOVENIA’S second city may be home to less than 140,000 inhabitants, but this fiercely proud mountain hideaway on the Drava river is not content to settle for second best. With a vibrant student community,great skiing (day and night) on the edge of the city, some top-notch wines and an old town awash with welcoming bars and restaurants, historic Maribor punches well above its weight, as our roving European city reporter Robin McKelvie discovers.
Central Square Photo by Walter Bibikow MARIBOR is not the most obvious holiday destination, but everyone who’s been knows one thing for certain — it sure is pretty. Pictured here is the Glavni Trg (main square), with the rotovz or (town hall) in the foreground to the right and the Plague Memorial in the background on the left. The latter was sculpted by one Jozef Straub and erected in 1743. It features the Virgin Mary surrounded by the saints invoked against the dreaded plague which ravaged Maribor’s population in 1680. Shown here are St Francis of Assisi, St Bostjan, St Jacob the Elder, St Anton Padovanski, St Rok, and St Francis Xavier. The impressive town hall was originally built in 1515 and has undergone numerous renovations since — but still retains the renaissance façade and Venetian renaissance balcony added in 1565. Exciting!City days Skiers would be crazy to miss out on Slovenia’s slopes, and in the historic town itself there’s loads to see, from museums to cool cafés and restaurants
WITH ski slopes tempting right on the city’s fringes, keen skiers will want to make a beeline for the pistes. Maribor is a skier’s dream, with myriad slopes to choose from nearby and the city itself on hand for some après ski. Mariborsko Pohorje (www.maribor-pohorje.si) is just a city bus ride away, with over 60km of slopes — the majority of them geared towards beginners and intermediates, although World Cup events have also been held here. Pohorje is also home to Europe’s largest night run. Another option is to make the half-hour road trip to Rogla (www.rogla.si), with its 12km of ski and snowboard runs.
In the warmer months when the snow is gone, the Pohorje is opened up through a web of hiking and mountain bike trails, with mountain huts on hand for you to eat at, or stay, along the way. There is also a network of wine routes in the region, best explored using a car with someone else doing the driving.
Back in the city, the old town is the place to be. Start on Grajski Trg (trg means square in Slovene) where you will find Maribor Castle, which is home to an impressive museum. It covers the city’s history in detail, including the days when huge rafts ferried cargo around the Drava river. Even if folk costumes are not your thing, wade through them to see the old military uniform once worn by former Yugoslav leader Tito.
Gosposka Ulica, with its sprinkling of shops and cafés, down to Glavni Trg, another charming square. Adolf Hitler is once said to have chillingly made a speech on the balcony of the grand Town Hall that hangs over the square. The hall is now home to a posh restaurant, Toti Rotovz, which offers wellcooked Slovenian classics. Look out too for the Plague Memorial, a testament to the “black death” that once devastated Maribor.
If you’re in the mood for a coffee, nip around the western corner of Glavni to Postna Ulica. Pozor Huda Kava is a great café with friendly service and funky decor that does a mean bela kava (a lovely milky coffee). They have heat lamps for smoking-ban-defying punters.
Whatever the season, a stroll along the Lent waterfront is nigh on obligatory. Check out the oldest vine in the world, Stare Trte, which has been producing wine for over 400 years, and today still manages to conjure up 35 litres a year. Only important visitors like the Pope and royalty seem to be able to snare a bottle, so don’t get your hopes up. There is now a visitor centre at the site telling you all you need to know about the hallowed vine.
If you are feeling energetic, break west along the river and cross the funky new pedestrian bridge. Then turn left back along the water for a great view of the city and its rumble of bridges. If you are peckish you can have lunch at Orient, which boasts sweeping views from its terrace and smokes up gorgeous grilled meats and fish on warmer days on their barbecue.