For some unfathomable reason, despite having touched it more than once, Slovenia had never entered our travel plans before. So when we hypothesized, so on the spot, a tour on the occasion of the “Salon Sauvignon” in Styria, we were caught by some indecision and perplexity. Unjustified, because instead, we discovered that practically around the corner of the house there is a green land, second only to Finland for the wooded area, hospitable, rich in history, which is worth knowing.
We enter Slovenia after a long transfer to Gorizia, being part of the EU there are no formalities to carry out at the border, in practice, we realize that we have entered foreign territory from advertisements on the signs and from the numerous casinos that we meet. And, let’s face it, from the extreme general cleanliness that strikes us immediately and that will be a pleasant constant throughout the journey. Well-maintained roads, no landfill on the edge, quiet towns with their small and somewhat reassuring cemetery, efficient bike sharing points adjacent to the exchangeable car parks, signs of a more Teutonic organization than a Latin one.
We take the beautiful road 103 that climbs north along the Isonzo river, the first appointment is for the evening in Santa Lucia (but we like to call it with the corresponding Slovenian name Most na Soči ) with our friend Gorazd, who not only there hosts for the night, but we also need a dinner based on a very good Balkan goulash that makes us understand from the beginning that from the gastronomic point of view there will be something to enjoy.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to say the weather situation, in the morning we leave again at dawn under a pouring rain that will accompany us up to Maribor, and then again in the following days of our stay.
After having traveled the road 102, slowed down by the wet asphalt and by numerous alternate one-way sections due to work, we decide to accelerate the pace by entering the motorway. We, therefore, equip ourselves with the “vignette”, the particular sticker to be applied to the vehicle that at a flat rate allows you to travel on any stretch of motorway. You buy at all the service stations and also in the tobacconist’s: for motorcycles it costs 7.50 euros for a week, 30 euros for 6 months, and 55 euros for the whole year. It is a practical and simple system, and I would say also economic, borrowed from the system that has always been in force in Switzerland. Excellent maintenance, no tolls, and related queues, discreet checks; only note, serious, is that the asphalt is not draining, and overcoming the rows of trucks in a water cloud with reduced visibility to zero virgola was a source of considerable stress. Maximum concentration, therefore, and certain attention to the locals who tend to travel rather fast, especially on secondary roads. Another “Swiss” aspect to keep in mind is that in the service stations at the entrance to the toilets there are turnstiles, and to enter, you need 50 cents. If you run away from pee, have the foresight to have small change on hand. On the other hand, here too the cleaning is a reference.
We too adapt to Swissness and arrive punctually at the appointment in Maribor (or Marburg in Italian), a renowned ski resort. In reality, the city, second only to the capital Ljubljana, lies on the banks of the Drava river, but towards the Austrian border, we are told there are mountains and slopes around 1500 m. slm, only it’s all gray and you can’t see anything. And it also does a cold beak. Not bad, the real tour is about to begin, we leave the luggage and climb on a shuttle that will take us to visit a winery that boasts the oldest vine in the world.
It is also certified in the Guinness Book of Records, it seems to be over 400 years old, and very few and precious bottles are still produced from its grapes which are not sold (they would not have price), but given away to particular personalities, the last to the Queen of England and to the Emperor of Japan, to say.
Slovenia land of vineyards
The particular friability of the rocks, which favors the penetration of the roots, and the specific arrangement of the vineyards on the verticality of the high hills so as to make the most of the aeration and insolation, make this part of Styria a place of absolute excellence in production of white wine , dry or sweet, with or without bubbles. Left the bike strictly in the garage (in addition to the license we care about our safety), accompanied by local guides and accompanied by expert sommeliers, we let ourselves be transported gladly from one cellar to another where we taste Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer, even Moscato, but above all Sauvignon, the star of the place. For us, who although coming from Tuscany, we usually catalog a wine with “I like this”, “this no” , it was an instructive and fascinating experience to see wrist movements not to give gas but to rotate glasses to favor the oxygenation, eyes focused on scrutinizing backlit colors, noses to search for hidden fragrances, so palates to taste in small sips, and finally … spit everything in the special bowl! Yes, because in fact, this is how it should be done if only to avoid getting drunk. Except that it seemed frankly a waste, and then seeing that the accompanying appetizers were definitely pleasing to the taste (read: slurp!) And that so much we didn’t have to drive ourselves… Here we are in the course of the tour we found myself not completely talking about chocolate, but at least rather cheerful from 10 am onwards.
A special dinner at the Mak
After a short walk in the center and a visit to a very strange and beautiful museum of antique furniture housed in a disused cinema hall, and after a great lunch at the Gaube company from which we get up at 4 pm, we have dinner at the restaurant MAK. At 18.30.
More than a dinner, it is an experience, starting with the head chef sommelier David, who remembers Jack’s “Torrance” Nicholson from Shining in a slightly disturbing way. We expect a written REDRUM on the kitchen door and a list of the menu made only of “Morning has gold in the mouth”, and instead the quality of the food and the paired wines is excellent, in spite of a presentation sometimes a bit too alternative if not kitsch. For an example of the unidentified meatballs offered on a deer horn (!) or a scoop of ice cream served directly in your hand. Only the tasting of a particular type of red wine, moreover poured from a mega bottle inserted in a strange contraption, has puzzled the experts: “It is a Pinot Noir that tries to be a Merlot” they have ruled. Which is a bit like certain gigantic super tourers or certain two-cylinder made in the USA struggling with the Stelvio hairpin bends with the pretense of keeping up with some agile supermotards?
Always accompanied by weather that encourages everything except traveling – but luckily the destination is a few dozen kilometers away – the next day we move to Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia. Founded by the Romans under the name of Poetovio it saw the coronation of the emperor Vespasian, then over the centuries, it underwent various dominations from the Huns to the Austro-Hungarians, until the German occupation of the second world war. Annexed to the Yugoslav regime, after its fall and with the independence of 1991 the expropriated lands were returned to the old owners, and a careful valorization work has allowed the area to become a fundamental crossroads between Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, basing its economy on the ubiquitous vineyards, until it hosts the most important wine festival in the country, the Salon Sauvignon, every year.
Housed within the old Benedictine monastery, all the major winegrowers offered their products to the joys of the palate, all they had to do was hand them the glass to start the dances in an intoxicating loop, while in the inner courtyard some of the most renowned chefs of the place showed off of their culinary art.
Ptuj is dominated by a castle, home to an important museum that we soberly visit the next day. In the interior, there are very interesting areas dedicated to weapons, to the masks of the traditional carnival that takes place in these parts, and to the musical instruments. In particular, faithful to the motto that eternal children bikers want, we had fun fiddling on a contraption with which, by operating appropriate keys, it was possible to reproduce the various stamps of a pipe organ. The nightlife is less fun: pubs and restaurants close at 7.30 pm, and one evening we had to fall back on Hamburger Hill, the only place we found open on time compatible with the Italian dinner. On the other hand, the burgers were excellent, as big as an LP, and they were served by Otto Luciano (the parents were a bit confused in choosing the name), a passionate fan of Valentino Rossi, owner of an MV Brutale, and fan of Al Bano and Romina. Ok nobody’s perfect.