Some reviews from our frequent day trips to the picturesque town of Ptuj, Slovenia's oldest settlement and a must visit place
by fizzytom on May 19, 2009
Ptuj is has the distinction of being the oldest settlement in Slovenia and it's a popular choice for day trips with tourists staying all over the country as its central location makes it accessible within a couple of hours from anywhere in the country. It's main attraction is the castle which I have also reviewed in this journal but there are enough other attractions - as well as just the enjoyment of strolling the quaint streets - to justify a visit and you can quite nicely occupy a whole day, even two or three if you take in nearby sights such as the monasteries. First things first - it's pronounced Puh-too-ee (its German name is Pettau) or something approximating that - the locals are quite tolerant of weak attempts, just don't pronounce the j. If you are coming by car there is plenty of parking on the edge of town and, if you use public transport, the bus and train stations are close to each other and a five minute walk from the town centre. The castle is perched on the hill overlooking the town and you should have no problems finding it as several paths lead to the top of the hill. The town stands to the north of the River Drava, to the south is mainly open fields and this makes for stunning views when you are at the summit of the castle hill. Before we embark on a brief walking tour of Ptuj I need to make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. The pavements are quite narrow in the old town and you often have to step onto the road and back again. In spite of the narrow streets and the historic nature of this part of town cars are permitted (though somewhat restricted) and you should take care if walking on the road (- it's easy to forget that a car could come around one of the tight bends). There are some cobbled streets too which can be tough going on feet and calves but the town is small and you won't be on your feet all day. In the town itself there are lots of things to look at but not so much to make you stop for any amount of time. One of the most important sights in town is the statue of St Florian. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in particular, Ptuj was ravaged by a series of fires. The citizens of Ptuj appealed to St Florian to save them and this statue was built to honour him. At the feet of St Florian (whi is depicted in a miltary uniform) is a little putto (a boy angel) who is pouring a bucket of water onto a church. Another important monument is the Orpheus Monument which was originally a Roman tombstone erected in the 2nd centruy AD. It got its name from the mythological figures carved in relief onto the stone which is Pohorje marble ( we know Pohorje well as it is the region we live in in Slovenia). In the Middle Ages the stone was used as a pillory. A popular attraction is Ptujski Klet - the wine cellars; you can simply go into the shop and browse, but it is more fun (and more interesting) to have a guided tour and watch an interactive presentation that tells you all about where the wine comes from and how it is produced. The wines sold here are from the Halze and Slovenske Gorice hills areas. Ptuj has a great rivalry with Maribor over which area produces the best wines (as a Mariborcan I am biased!). Unfortunately the cellars are not open every day so you should contact them in advance if you wish to be sure of reserving a place on a tour because they are very popular. My favourite thing in Ptuj is a collection of simple metal sculptures displayed in different parts of town; if you come with children I am sure they'll enjoy hunting for the sculptures as some of them are nestled away behind towers or partly shaded by trees. There's a man with a bicycle, some children playing, someone struggling with an umbrella... Ptuj is generally an arty sort of place with lost of statues and sculptures, independent galleries and boutique-y shops selling handmade jewellery and other gifts. Although shops don't usually open in Slovenia on Sundays, some of the shops in Ptuj do because of the high number of tourists. The are a small number of high street type stores as you come in from the bus and train stations but the majority are situated in an out of town Mercator Centre. I like this arrangement as it reduces the amount of traffic in the town centre and leaves the units available for more interesting shops. Like all Slovenian towns there are plenty of places to get a drink and lots of them have outdoor seating. In the cooler months they have cosy fleeces on the backs of the chairs so you can out one over your knees and stay outside and watch life pass by. The variety of bars is immense from arty coffee shops selling rich aromatic coffees and extravagant chocolates to the sort of places where old men make a beer last all afternoon and sit in companionable silence. A short walk from the centre is Ptujska Gora where you will find the Church of the Virgin Mary. The church is thought to date from the 1490s but, unusually, there are no documents giving a definitive answer. The church is perched on steep ramparts which were erected slightly after the church was built in order to keep out the invading Turks. It's an important pilgrimage church, known throughout Slovenia and, indeed, central Europe. The splendid Gothic interior is magnificent and worth the short walk and climb. Other nearby sights (but one requiring a drive unless you are a serious walker) of interest are the Mithras shrines found in the villages of Mitrej and Spodnja Hajdina. Mithras is a Persian religion but cme to this area with the Roman soldiers who were stationed here. In order to protect them, buildings have been erected over the excavated tombs and there is plenty of information available in different languages to guide through what you're seeing. Many of the items found when the tombs were excavated are on display at the regional museum at Ptuj Castle. Domincan and Minorite monasteries a short drive from Ptuj are also worth seeing and there are a number of attractive manor houses and homesteads (more ordinary houses presented with original furnishings, etc) in the area around Ptuj that can be visited. (I intend to review some of these in detail in the future). Ptuj is an attractive and interesting town with an eclectic range of sights and activities. It's a good place for walkers but the centre is compact enough to get around easily and a day would be enough to get a feel of the place and see at least a couple of attractions. The statues and sculptures as well as the well-presented and cared for buildings give the impression of a town with real civic pride and you soon start to feel at home here. It's a working town which gives it some vitality but it's also one of Slovenia's must-visit towns and if you are planning a trip of more than a couple of days to Slovenia I would urge you to visit Ptuj. In British terms I would describe it as a mini York, perhaps, but less commercial and obviously touristy and less crowded. I think there re prettier places in Slovenia but the combination of looks, location and interesting sights make Ptuj a great choice for a day trip
by fizzytom on July 7, 2009
Ptujska Gora is the tiny hamlet that has grown around the hilltop (352 metres) Church of the Mantled Virgin Mary near the Slovenian town of Ptuj (in fact the name translates as Ptuj’s Mountain). The imposing Gothic church can be seen from miles around and is situated about fifteen minutes drive from Ptuj on the Ptuj to Majsperk Road. It’s also possible to take a bus from Ptuj which stops about two thirds of the way up the hill and you must walk the rest of the way yourself. Although I was aware that the church contains some important treasures, part of my wanting to visit was the challenge of hiking up the hill. I was disappointed, then, when the bus driver, knowing I was going to Ptujska Gora, ignored my request to alight at the very bottom of the hill and thought he was being helpful by dropping us nearer the top. However, it being about 30 Celsius, it was probably wise just to walk the remaining section rather than go back to the bottom to make a point. In this respect I was more fortunate than some of the thousands of pilgrims who have come to Ptujska Gora over the centuries who didn’t have the luxury of a ride almost to the summit but I will likely go back there in September to do the job properly. If you are coming by car, follow the signs for the parking area. From here it’s a five minute walk to the church and the incline is not too strenuous because of the way it winds. Wheelchair users (and indeed any visitors with mobility problems) are fortunate in that a small number of cars can park in the hamlet itself in front of the church and, if you go round to the left hand side of the church, a small elevator, big enough for one wheelchair user and assistant, will take you up to the main entrance of the church. As parking here may be very limited at weekends and for special events, it may be necessary for wheelchair users (who are accompanied) to be dropped at the lift and the car parked at the main car-park until after the visit. The entrance to the church is at the top of a flight of stone steps if you approach by way of the hamlet, and from one side if you walk up from the car park. I was torn between going straight into the church or walking around the walls that circle the church, to take in the magnificent views of the surrounding hills. A notice at the door reminds you of all the things you are not permitted to do. It wasn’t until we were on the bus from Ptuj and almost at Ptujska gora that I remembered that neither of us were really appropriately dressed to visit such a building. Fortunately my trousers were long and I had a light cotton shirt in the rucksack to wear over my vest top. Himself, however, was wearing walking shorts which, although still knee length, were not suitable for visiting a church. In what made me laugh for about five minutes he pulled down his shorts so that the waistband just met his shirt and almost met the top of his boots (I don’t know who he thought he was kidding). Still, the two nuns who were busily cleaning the church didn’t make any objections to his bizarre attire so he got away with it. While I fully understand and respect the reasons for certain standards of dress in places like this, Slovenia in general (and this destination in particular) are popular destination for walkers and I think that, so long as they are not really short, they could allow shorts. The alternative would be to wear trousers that zip on/off at the knee in hot weather so that the lower part could be zipped for entering the church. Assuming you have i) managed to get to the summit and ii) have not been turned away for wearing hot pants, you may now explore the church. The main body of the church is a basilica style design and from the exterior the building looks quite modest. It is, however, filled with treasures such as frescoes and sculptures that are not only very beautiful but whose beauty is intensified by the fact that they are here on this fairly remote hill. In an area of extreme natural beauty, coming across these wonderful manmade artefacts is quite an odd experience. Entering on a sunny day our eyes were first drawn not to the intricate carvings or the varied architecture but to the colurful stained glass windows which were a much more recent addition to the church, being installed in the 1980s. Each one is made from a limited palette of shades of one or two colours only and leaded in a simple abstract design. In the main altar is the celebrated Virgin Protectress with Mantle thought to be carved around 1400. The church was given its name because it is said that Holy Mary protected the church from Turkish invaders by putting a dark cloud around it so that the Turks could not see it. From then locals called the village "Montenegro", a name that stuck until the late 1930s. In the sculpture local people and nobles like are depicted sheltering under Mary’s cloak. In the south apse stands a stone Gothic altar, which is carved with plant ornamentation and bears the coats-of-arms of the Counts of Celje (the three stars that can be seen on Slovenia’s flag represent the Counts of Celje who governed central Slovenia for several centuries). A guided tour (which is free of charge) can be taken around the church but a guidebook can be bought and there is also a useful numbered diagram and accompanying information about the key features of the church on the wall. I must admit to only a limited interest in ecclesiastical architecture and design so I was happy enough to enjoy the visual impact with no particular desire to learn much so the information on the wall was sufficient for me. It wasn’t until I’d absorbed the impact of the windows and the carvings that I took in the variety of architecture of the building itself; I was especially impressed that there were three styles of vaulting, perhaps because the somewhat austere exterior of the church suggests a modest interior too.As we had not approached the church from the front, we did not see the entrance steps until after we had been inside the church. They are decorated with baroque figures including one depiction of St Florian, a saint you find frequent references to in Slovenia. These sculptures were made by Jožef Straub who was also responsible for the highly ornate plague column in Glavni Trg in the centre of Maribor. The enclosing circular wall on Ptujska Gora was built between 1471 and 1493 just after the Turks had invaded the then quite important market settlement and plundered it. The wall was almost completely torn down in the 19th century but a small part of it still exists today and can be seen at the bottom of the steps. Now only a small cluster of houses exists on Ptujska Gora; two at the foot of the steps are used as a small gallery and a tourism office respectively. There are also two gostilnas (like an inn serving local food) almost side by side, an ice cream kiosk and a souvenir stall. We arrived around 1.00pm and the souvenir stall was being packed up at that time. Only because it was now very hot, we stopped at one of the gostilnas and ordered a couple of cold beers. As we sat outside, a steady stream of locals arrived and every person said "Dober dan" (Hello) as they came past and made us feel very welcome. I would certainly recommend a visit to Ptujska Gora to anyone visiting this part of Slovenia, in particular people spending time in Ptuj as it is only a short drive away. It doesn’t take long to see the interior of the church but the surrounding area is very scenic and should appeal to walkers and cyclists. The church is open daily from 7.00am until 7.00pm.To reach Ptujska Gora by public transport, take the Majsperk bus from Ptuj bus station. Buses are not that frequent but you should be able to manage - we took the 12.20 from Ptuj and returned on the 2.55 which was plenty of time to look around and drink cold beers.
Spend more than a few minutes strolling around Ptuj's charming centre and you'll notice these oxidised iron sculptures. Some are quite prominently displayed, others hide behind old stone towers or are in quieter streets. You would think that it would be easy to find more information about such lovely pieces but even the tourist office could tell me only that the creator is Eduardo Carmona Vergara, a Colombian artist.A little digging after my first visit unearthed some more details. There are eight sculptures in all and they were installed in 2007 to celebrate Slovenia's National Day. Each one measures over two metres tall. Do you need to know anything more about them? They really speak for themselves - simple, charming and fun. Men and women in everyday situations yet very stylishly depicted. Children will love them, get them to see if they can "collect" them all.These are the ones I have snapped so far - I have seen seven but didn't have my camera at hand for all of them.
What do you do when you have a fifteen minute wait at a Slovenian bus station when it’s too cold and wet to wait outside for the bus to come? Why, you head indoors for a drink of course! Every Slovenian train and bus station has a bar, sometimes on a Sunday it might be the only one open in the area. There are some that are so nice I’d go there for a night out!Ptuj is no exception to this rule though I’d perhaps not recommend this bar for a night out. However the bus station bar in Ptuj really must be seen as it is a fantastic relic from the old days – the Communist days that is. If you didn’t know better you might think it was a retro theme bar. This place gives the impression that it must be very popular though I’ve never seen more than two people in there at once – one being a staff member. The member of staff on duty when we visited must have panicked at the thought of a rush when the two of use walked in. But with two identical big curved wooden bars you’d certainly believe they think this place is buzzing. The chrome tubing seats and the chrome tubes that give the impression the shelf over the bars is suspended are a real 80s touch and the bar shelves against the wall certainly hark back to bleak days of shortages, not so much experienced in Slovenia but certainly other places behind the iron curtain. There was no food to be had, but the smell of the giant pizza being eaten by the middle-aged staff member was tempting. We made do with drinks – a Lasko beer for him, a coffee for me. It’s cheap – don’t ask me how much, just cheap. Maybe a Euro for a coffee and 2 Euro for a beer. There were some soft drinks on display behind the counter. Lasko was the only beer. The radio blared Balkan pop music, somehow it didn’t seem like the choice of the staff, perhaps the tuner was jammed? With the bus due any minute I asked to be directed to the toilets and she pointed down some dark stairs. I couldn’t find a light and when I turned to ask where the switch was she had gone. I don’t know why I was so desperate for a light – the gradually building toilet smell led the way. I fumbled my way to the bottom of the stairs and found the toilets – there were two doors, one was open – that to a mens’ urinal stinking of urine to high heaven. The neighbouring cubicle was horrendous too – I decided I could wait forty minutes end endure the bus ride back to Maribor and go at home. So it’s not the sort of place you’d make a point of visiting but it’s worth a peek for the retro interior and it is cheap if you need somewhere to take a seat while waiting for the bus. If it’s a sunny day though, do yourself a favour and sit outside – they do have seating in the summer – and while you have a drink treat yourself to one of the delicious ice creams available from the kiosk just beside the bar. One final advantage - the big pictures windows mean you can't fail to notice your bus pulling in to the station so you've no excuse for missing it!
by fizzytom on November 17, 2008
The highlight of a visit to Ptuj is the impressive castle that guards over the town from a position on a high flat plateau. Travelling to or from the far north east of Slovenia by train gives you the best overall view of the castle, in my opinion Slovenia's most attractive.Feudal lords built a castle here around the tenth century of which one tower still stands today. In the twelfth century Archbishop Konrad of Salzburg, the then feudal lord of Ptuj, ordered the construction of a new fortress; only the Leslijev wing of that construction can be seen today. The bulk of what visitors see today are the renaissance and baroque additions to the castle and the outward appearance of the castle is very much in the renaissance style seen throughout central Europe which British people tend to think of as more "grand house" than castle.Today Ptuj Castle is a museum and is part of the wider "Pokranjinski Muzej Ptuj". There are some excellent permanent collections but the superb quality of the temporary exhibitions means that there is always something worth making a return visit for.The castle is easy to spot and so you can navigate a route up the hill without any trouble. The route is well-signposted, however, so there is no excuse for getting lost.Most people seem to take the hillside walk but if you are a wheelchair user or have children in pushchairs you might find it easier to take the road which is less steep. If you take the path and need a rest there are plenty of benches along the way and, besides, this path gives some picturesque views of the red rooftops of the old town. What's especially nice is that with each new level the picture changes a little and, once you are right at the top, you also get to enjoy a view of the Drava river behind the town and beyond to the green countryside.When you get to the actual castle buildings at the top, you need to walk across the courtyard right over to the far corner to get to the ticket office. If you just want to wander around the complex but not go into any of the halls, then there is no charge.The standard admission price for adults is just 4 Euro which, given the extent of what's there to be seen is pretty good value. Children are admitted for just 2 Euro 50 making this a cheap day out so far. That gets you into all the collections; if you know in advance you just want to see, say, the musical instrument gallery, then you only pay 2 Euro. A joint ticket for all the sites belonging to the Regional Museum costs just 9 Euro so if you want to see several places in one day or are in town for a few days then this is incredible value. Guided tours are available and cost an extra 10 Euro per person (with a maximum of up to ten people in each tour) but really aren't necessary as this museum is well captioned in both Slovene and English. Tours can be taken in English, German, Italian and Slovene.In the 11th century the town of Ptuj was governed by the Archdiocese of Salzburg who, in turn, rented out the castle to the Lords of Ptuj. In the three centuries that the Lords ruled, they established notable monasteries nearby as well as a pilgrimage church at Ptujska Gora (Ptuj Mountain). The Leslie family occupied the castle between 1656 and 1802 and its final inhabitants were the Herberstein family who lived there until the castle was taken over by the government to be nationalised in 1945.With each new "owner" the look and design of the building has altered tremendously. The biggest change came in the 16th century when vast modifications were made in response to the threat from the Turks. The result is a galleried, three storey horseshoe-shaped building, with large halls on the lower floors and smaller, more personal residential quarters on the upper ones.While there are plenty of interesting things to see here, the types of collection are fairly typical of regional museums across Europe. There is one exhibition that is a collection of arms and armoury, another of ceramics, another which gives an overview of the region since feudal times. While these are interesting, they aren't especially original and if you travel a lot and visit a lot of these types of museum then you will find lots that you have seen before. If that sounds like a negative view then I am being unfair as there is lots that may interest some people but, to me, one set of Roman coins looks pretty much like any other.However, there are a few collections that are really quite special. In particular the Collection of Musical Instruments is worth a look and, with its interactive elements, this might appeal to children as you can press buttons on the panels next to various instruments and here what they sound like. There are military, ecclesiastic and orchestral/domestic instruments on display but the highlight is a selection of exquisite keyboard instruments made by esteemed instrument makers from the likes of Vienna and Prague. These are works of art so much as musical instruments and are constructed from beautiful fruit woods of wonderful hues.Another interesting collection with particular local relevance is the collection of glass painting. This type of painting was a traditional folk craft and the themes were almost entirely religious. These paintings would be found in peoples' homes from the 18th to the early twentieth century. While the paintings show some damage, the colours are, on the whole, still vibrant and the naive style is quite lovely.I loved the paintings in the "Representative Hall"; I could have spent a whole afternoon in this room enjoying these wonderful 17th century portraits of notable Turkish and European military commanders, Ottoman ladies in their fine robes and elegant headwear and people from exotic countries in traditional dress. There is also a striking portrait of Siegmund Herberstein wearing an embroidered silk coat that was given to him by Suleyman the Magnificent.Best of all is the "Kurent" exhibition. The Kurent festival takes place in an around Ptuj every February and people travel from all over the country to watch the parades and to see the wonderful costumes. The festival is a rural one and although the exact origins are not known, academics believe that it has Celtic and Illyrian connections. To be honest the figure of Kurent is quite fearsome, a big hairy creature with a deeply unpleasant face. It's meant to bring good luck and good crops; the idea is that they chase away the winter and welcome in the spring. If I was winter and confronted with one of these yetis, I'd be on me toes too! There are other costumes including one worn by a man that looks like he's carrying a woman and one worn by a woman that looks like she's carrying a man on her back.This exhibition displays and explains the wide variety of Kurent masks, they all make an appearance at the festival not just the local ones and they all have different stories behind them. This excellent collection is a brilliant explanation of the festival and the traditions behind it with lots of original costumes and photographs of participants in the festival from the nineteenth century to the present day.We spent a good half day on our first to the museum and really enjoyed it. Now we don't always go in but do like to at least make the climb if we are in Ptuj. It's a good way of working up an appetite for lunch!There is an excellent variety of exhibits and the specialist rooms are worth seeing. The exhibits are brilliantly explained and many of the attendants speak English and are happy to answer questions regardless of whether you're on a guided tour. To see and really appreciate everything could take the best part of a day and if you want to do so you could have a picnic on the grass, go down one level to the ramparts and visit the cafe or go into town and eat there and come back and see more. A small gift shop/education centre shares premises with the ticket office and has a nice selection of souvenirs including some handmade models of Kurent masks. It also serves as a small tourist information office with plenty of leaflets on other local attractions.This is an excellent museum that I would recommend to anyone visiting Ptuj and the immediate area but do be sure to leave enough time to enjoy it properly.Opening hoursOctober 15 - May 1 9 .00 - 17.00 May 1 - October 15 9.00 - 18.00 Saturdays and Sundays in July and August 9.00 - 20.00
by fizzytom on March 31, 2009
Slovenians love pizza, who doesn't? There aren't many places now where you can't get a pizza and with the proximity to Italy it's should come as no surprise that pizza appears on nearly every menu.We regularly go to Ptuj on Sunday mornings, it's one of the only places we can get to by bus on a Sunday from Maribor. Having exhausted most of the possibilities we decided to give Pizzeria Pivnica Zlatorog a try. Judging by the number of people already there and who followed us in it seemed popular. Some people came in and had a drink at the bar then left again, but most people were eating. We chose a table in the bar area and were given a menu in Slovene but as we are learning it was no problem to us, combined with the fact that the Italian pizza names are largely used. Not wanting a huge lunch we chose a medium pizza with ham and mushrooms and a salad to share. The salad was great and doused in just the right amount of pumpkin seed oil which is common in this part of the country. The pizza was less good and used a mixture of cheeses which over-powered the other flavours. the base was also overdone. We found that while the waitress was quick to take our order, once our food came it was almost impossible to order more drinks. She was busy but not so busy she couldn't have been looking out for her customers. The interior is cosy; exposed brick arches and booth styles tables, homely and simple but could do with a bit of a spruce up. As the name suggests only Zlatorog (Lasko) beer is served as well as a range of soft drinks and juices. Other dishes such as grills are available and from what I could see on the plactes of other customers that looks the way to go; I would come back but definitely not for pizza.If you do decide to give it a try, do push the door even if the place looks closed. From the exterior one might think the place has closed down but it's definitely open for business.Beers, pizza and salad came in at around 12 Euro
by fizzytom on March 1, 2009
One of things I fell in love with on my first trip to Slovenia was the gostilna - the cosy restaurant, often with interjoining dining rooms, that serves good value traditional food. Every town has one and we make a point of seeking them out because they are usually the cheapest place to eat.This one - Gostilna Rozika - is situated just off the market place in the heart of Ptuj. It's very unassuming from the outside but walk in and you'll be plunged into typical Slovenian cosiness. It was a cold November day when we visited and it felt very welcoming.At Sunday lunch time the place was moderately busy but we had no problem finding a table. The menu is in Slovene only and the staff member who served us didn't speak English but she understood when we asked for five minutes to use our phrasebook to translate the menu. (Thankfully we no longer have to do this as we know enough to read the menu and order!)We wanted to eat light but we could have chosen from schinitzel plates, chicken dishes and sausage dishes with sauerkraut and other accompaniments. They also do a few different pizzas. We chose a small portion of homemade goulash (3 Euro 60) and a beef soup (1 Euro 45). Both were delicious hearty dishes and came with a basket of warm crusty bread for which there was no charge.At just 1 Euro 60 a large Lasko was great value and an orange juice costs 65 Euro cents a time.Rozika is a simple gostilna with no frills but it is cosy, clean and comfortable. The food is honest and the portions are generous. Ptuj centre has relatively few dining options - especially on a wintery Sunday lunchtime but Rozika is a good option.
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