With its time-warp historical centre, fabulous architecture, excellent museums and enormous castle looming over the picturesque Savinja River, Celje might appear to have won the tourism sweepstakes. But for some reason it gets perennially overlooked in favour of Maribor and Ptuj – so making it here can feel like a bit of a discovery.
Rising gently above a wide valley, Ptuj (in English sounding not unlike someone spitting) forms a symphony of red-tile roofs best viewed from across the Drava River. One of the oldest towns in Slovenia, Ptuj equals Ljubljana in terms of historical importance but the compact medieval core, with its castle, museums, monasteries and churches, can easily be seen in a day.
Rogaška Slatina is Slovenia’s oldest and largest spa town, a veritable ‘cure factory’ with almost a dozen hotels and treatments and therapies. It’s an attractive place set among scattered forests in the foothills of the Macelj range. Hiking and cycling in the area is particularly good.
Most people make their way to this village, on a little bump of land extending into Croatia, to relax at the Terme Olimia thermal spa. Looming overhead are the remains of a castle originally built in the 11th century and an important fortification during the wars with the Hungarians 300 years later.
Maribor’s green lung and central playground, the eastern edge of the Pohorje Massif is known in these parts as the Maribor Pohorje (Mariborsko Pohorje). It's in easy reach of the city and has countless activities on offer – from skiing and hiking, to horse riding and mountain biking.
Upper Savinja Valley
The beautiful Upper Savinja Valley (Zgornja Savinjska Dolina) is bound by forests, ancient churches, traditional farmhouses and high Alpine peaks.There are activities here to suit every taste and inclination – from hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing to fishing, kayaking and swimming in the Savinja. The valley has been exploited for its timber since the Middle Ages.
Kozjansko Regional Park
Established in 1999, the 20,760-hectare Kozjansko Regional Park stretches along the Sotla River, from the border with Dolenjska and Bizeljsko in the south to Podčetrtek in the north. The forests and dry meadows of the park harbour a wealth of flora and fauna, notably butterflies, reptiles and birds, including corncrakes, kingfishers and storks.
Ptuj is within easy striking distance of two important wine-growing areas: the Haloze district and the Jeruzalem-Ljutomer district. The Haloze Hills extend from Makole, 18km southwest of Ptuj, to Goričak on the border with Croatia. The footpath taking in this land of gentle hills, vines, corn and sunflowers is called the Haloze Highlands Trail (Haloška Planina Pot).
Some 12km west of Celje, Šempeter is the site of a reconstructed Roman necropolis. The burial ground contains four complete tombs and scores of columns, stellae and fragments carved with portraits, mythological creatures and scenes from daily life. They have been divided into about two dozen groups linked by footpaths.