I’d been to Slovenia twice prior this summer’s trip. The first was two very enjoyable weeks that Niall and I spent on our big trip in 2001. In was there, in fact, that we discovered that the 9/11 attacks had taken place, thanks to the BBC World Service which was a bit of a lifeline on that journey.
My second time was two years later, when Kieran, Peat and I were on our as-you-read-in-my-first-book trip to Albania and stopped for a few hours’ rest at one of the highlights of my previous trip, the picture-perfect Lake Bled.
Over a decade later, I was excited to have the prospect of a return trip. The country would undoubtedly have changed, given it was now in the European Union (and euro) and had another decade or so of independence under its belt.
Staying just over the border in Austria, a day trip to Slovenia was something to look forward to, as it involved two things: one, a visit to Maribor, a city I’d not been previously, and secondly, as I mentioned in my previous post there was going to be lots of wine.
First, Maribor. As luck would have it, Slovenia’s second city was celebrating European Capital of Culture, so in the few hours we spent there we saw a city that was nicely spruced up, boasting some proud notices about its status amongst the pretty buildings, quiet streets and neat if slightly underwhelming riverside.
We had a nice time in Maribor, exploring, eating (yet more fabulous food and drink), and taking in the novelty of a different language that none of us spoke.
And we all remarked on the strangeness of going just a few miles and crossing a linguistic, cultural and political border.
Yes it was only an internal EU border but one that was fresh with the detritus of when borders used to mean something in customs terms, old signs for passport controls and currency exchange now lying dormant as memorials to what Europe used to be like (and, of course, some of it still is).
And now for all that wine. Our real reason for heading over the border was to visit a winery. Many of our Austrian friends live in the picturesque mountain town of Admont, which is home to a beautiful, centuries-old monastery. I’ll write more about the town and monastery in my next post (here’s a bit from two years ago if you just can’t wait), but long story short the monastery’s historic winery is over the border in Slovenia.
It would all have been the same Austro-Hungarian empire back in the day, but of course international politics is a fickle thing, and the break up of Austria-Hungary, not to mention Communism, removed the winery from the monastery’s hands until after Slovenian independence in the 1990s when it was able to be reclaimed.
Knowing the Admont monastery, it was nice to see where its wine came from. The buildings themselves (left) were beautiful, and the wine even more so. We were given a guided tour by a friendly local employee who after showing us round led us to a room and began force-feeding us wine.
Mostly whites – with on the whole lovely light, fragrant, flowery tones – but with a few lovely rich reds, they were all absolutely delicious, and many were award winners. After about the eighth taste we had to stop our guide and head off, though not before buying some bottles.
It was a shame to leave, as I was really getting into the tasting, and after a couple of weeks’ practice on French wine (not to mention a fair few whisky tastings I’ve been to) I began more than ever before to understand the different flavours and aromas wines could give. Previously, I could barely tell a red from a white, and while I might not be good at grape types I could at least tell a fruity one, for instance, from a vanilla or caramel one.
The guide was mildly impressed and offered me a job – he spoke pretty good German and slightly less good English, and said they didn’t have enough fluent English speakers.
So maybe there’s a job for me, once I tick “learn Slovenian” off my “to do” list.
I must return to Slovenia one day, visit the lovely Lake Bled again, and see more parts that are new to me. For such a small country, Slovenia really packs a lot in.
See all my other photos from my day in Slovenia.