Introducing Slovenia: home of Europe’s 2012 cultural capital

Date Posted: 20/03/2012

Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor, takes on the joint crown of European Capital of Culture for 2012. Charles Taylor takes a look at the celebrations planned for the year ahead, and explores what this eastern European gem has in store for group travellers.

Slovenia remains a hidden gem of alpine European holiday destinations, and presents a great deal of variety for group holidays, from hiking to wineries, skiing, live music and history. This year, Slovenia is jointly hosting the European City of Culture, and there has never been a better time to organise a group trip, which can comprise a general focus on the eastern city of Maribor alongside exploring the wonders of the rest of the country.

Meet Slovenia

Emerging from behind the Iron Curtain with its declaration of independence in 1991 from Yugoslavia, Slovenia benefited from having the most westward-oriented population in the former Eastern Bloc. The country’s independence saw a smooth-transition towards peace and stability, finally leading to EU membership in 2004 and the adoption of the euro in 2007.

Friendly and outgoing, Slovenia is a fantastic group destination, that is ever-so-slightly off the beaten track without playing to the historical ex-communist chic found in other parts of eastern Europe.

Cultural Capital celebrations

This year the city of Maribor is sharing the mantle of European City of Culture with Portugal’s Guimarães. In 2013, the city will again become a centre of European culture, as it becomes the European Youth Capital.

Away from the renowned and picturesque tourist hotspots of Lake Bled and the Adriatic coast, Maribor has much to offer groups seeking something new, different and relaxing.

Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, is located in the north-east of the country on the banks of the Drava river near the borders of Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It presents a great base for exploring eastern Slovenia, or as a stop-off point for those transiting through. Despite its city status, it doesn’t have the same hemmed-in feeling that some of its counterparts in Italy and France do, but retains some of the provincial charm. Having been bombed heavily in World War Two, and suffering the effects of mass-migration throughout the 1940s, Maribor has rebounded into a vibrant and cosmopolitan centre for the arts, food, wine and skiing.

Celebrations are scheduled to take place throughout the year, and group travel organisers can coincide a visit with the city’s programme of concerts, art exhibitions, street performances and festivals. August in particular will see jazz festivals and Roman games being held in the nearby towns of Novo Mesto and Ptuj, which are supporting Maribor’s celebrations.

‘Cultural embassies’ from 23 different countries - ranging from Israel and Brazil to Turkey and Finland - will also add an international flavour to the year. These ‘embassies’ will provide a host of extra activities for groups to enjoy, as they bring art, orchestras, film, dancing and international food flavour to Maribor. The city’s annual Lent Festival, taking place each June in Maribor’s Lent (Port) district, will see jazz, rock, and classical performances, and everything in-between, along with comedians, street artists and plays. Those organising group travel should note that it’s also the place to relax al fresco with a beer or glass of local wine on the warm evenings, watching the river where rafts used to stop before drifting down to the Danube and Black Sea.

Gastronomic delights

Without a doubt, Slovenia offers a variety of fantastic flavours to tantalise any taste - all of them something new. Influences of other countries are evident, but the Slovene twist makes them truly memorable.

In Slovenia’s west, Italian influences are evident in the Karst region’s version of prosciutto, Istria’s pasta and minestrone. In the east, the sweets for which Austrian coffee houses are famed can be found with Slovene additions such as poppy seeds and apples.

Sauerkraut and sausages also feature heavily in Slovene fare. Jota is a specialty dish which groups can sample throughout the country, with each region putting its own particular mark on it. A soup consisting of sauerkraut and beans, additions to the mix include potatoes or sausage.

Throughout the year, food will be a central pillar of Maribor’s celebrations, as the cultural embassies bring the flavours of their countries to the city alongside special demonstrations of Slovenian fare.

New Europe’s wines

Located in the heart of Slovenia’s eastern wine region, Maribor boasts the world’s oldest vine, which still bears fruit each year. Wine has long been a part of Slovenia, coming with the Romans and growing in the Middle Ages. The town of Jeruzalem, near Maribor, is said to have been given its name by visiting Crusaders, with some choosing to stay in the area to tend to the vines.

With the country’s wines and liqueurs only just beginning to make their way onto the shelves of UK supermarkets, Slovenia offers a host of opportunities for ‘cutting-edge’ wine tasting, which can be included in a group travel itinerary.

Sensational ski

Slovenia also offers new skiing challenges for active groups looking for a change from the traditional alpine resorts in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Planica, near the north-western resort of Kranjska Gora, is home to the world’s largest ski jump and site of the world’s longest jump. Other resorts are dotted along Slovenia’s northern border, and Maribor is no exception. Every January, the women’s World Cup ‘Golden Fox’ slalom race is held on the slopes outside Maribor, demonstrating the fantastic calibre of the skiing.

For groups keen on winter sports activities, the slopes remain artificially lit until around 9pm or 10pm, allowing longer days on the slopes.

Useful information

Group travel organisers planning a trip to Maribor can find further details of the city’s 2012 cultural celebrations here. Maribor is located about an hour’s drive from Ljubljana Airport, or 45-minutes from Austria’s Graz.

Useful contact:
Slovenian Tourist Board:
0870-225 5305
www.slovenia.info

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