On the banks of the Drava River, Slovenia’s second-largest city cuts a handsome dash. A riot of colour, the medieval, red-roofed houses and turquoise church spires of Maribor stand against a forested backdrop of the Pohorje Mountains. As the seasons change, so too does the landscape, shifting from green to orange to brown and then snowy white.
The city itself is no stranger to transformations, either. After decades of war and occupation, Maribor has been revitalised. It’s no clearer than in the car-free centre, where restored baroque buildings are now home to fine dining restaurants and boho cafes serving speciality coffee and vegan ice cream. With six of its restaurants receiving Michelin stars for the first time in 2020 and now the 2021 European Region of Gastronomy, Slovenia is enjoying its culinary moment in the sun — palpably so in Maribor, where the streets smell of freshly baked rye bread and tarragon-filled dumplings, and restaurants serve buckwheat stews, and Slovenian ales are sipped kerbside on candle-lit Poštna Street.
The country’s largest wine region is right on the doorstep, too. Here, family-run vineyards age their wines just as the Romans did, with the finest bottles appearing on tables across the city.
DAY ONE OLD TOWN & OLD VINES
Glavni Trg, Maribor’s main square, in the old town, was once a marketplace. Second World War bombing badly damaged many of its pastel-coloured, 14th-century buildings, but most have now been restored to their former glory, and there are plans to reintroduce a farmers’ market — a tradition dating back to medieval times.
Take it all in from the terrace of Nana, a cafe serving brunches made using local ingredients such as pumpkin seeds and honey. Afterwards, head to Gosposka Ulica and Cesta, the main shopping streets, to browse Idrija lace in Slovenski Zakladi or handmade souvenirs at ARTmijeMAR. Refuel with homemade vegan ice cream at Ilich, a cafe dating back to 1909.
It would be remiss to visit Maribor without experiencing its wine culture. A five-minute walk from Glavni Trg is Vinag Wine Cellar, one of Slovenia’s largest and oldest underground wineries. Walking through dimly lit tunnels lined with bottles and barrels is an adventure in itself, but the wine-tasting, which takes place inside a room-sized concrete tank and involves squeezing feet-first through a metal hatch, is quite the experience, too. For an extra fee, you can enjoy local cheeses with more wine, all by candlelight.
Afterwards, cross the river to the Lent area to visit the Old Vine House. Home to the world’s oldest productive vine (at the ripe old age of 400), this small museum tells the story of Slovenian winemaking and offers tastings and purchases.
There was a time when the neighbourhood of Lent didn’t have a great deal to tempt visitors, but the growing number of wine and cocktail bars are slowly pumping life back into this historic riverside hangout. Vinoteka Maribor, housed in a former 16th-century fortress known as the Water Tower, has an extensive list of ecological wines from the Podravje region, plus views over the Drava.
A few minutes’ walk away, the recently revamped Piranha Cocktail Bureau serves some of the city’s best cocktails from a menu of 277 spirits, while Kavarnica Rokaj, a bar where posters of Queen and AC/DC grace the walls, is the place for Slovenian craftales with a generous side of rock ’n’ roll.
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