All about Slovenia’s oldest town.
Ptuj is a small town located in the neck of our Slovenian chicken, which has the honour of being Slovenia’s oldest documented town and also the town my grandmother was originally from. It can demonstrate unbroken settlement continuity since the Roman times, although the area has been inhabited as far back as the 3000 B.C., so it’s the place to be for history buffs.
It is situated on the banks of the wide Drava river, at the crossroads of several historical merchant roads. The Celts lived there in the late Iron Age, but Ptuj first made it on to the world map with the arrival of the Romans. Poetovio, as it was known, had about 30.000 people and was one of the most important Roman army camps at the time, similar to Emona (today’s Ljubljana). After the fall of the Roman empire it was settled by the Slavs and regained it’s importance as a trade town in the Middle Ages.
Some of Ptuj’s most important buildings date back to that time, as the Church of St. George, the Dominican and the Minorite monasteries, which are now open for visits and host events, were built in the 13th century. The town also got its city rights soon after. Due to its location, Ptuj was at the forefront of defence against the Turks during the time of the Ottoman empire and lost some of its former splendour to fires and fighting. However, it bounced back by the 19th century when the first tourism efforts began: Ptuj was known for its rich, particularly Roman history, as well as good wine and baths in the Drava river (Terme Ptuj is still a popular spa resort today).
Impressions of Ptuj
Today Ptuj is a small, quaint and surprisingly interesting town with a huge ethnographic attraction: the annual Carnival festival called Kurentovanje. Kurentovanje is the local Carnival (or Pust as it is known in Slovenia) celebration and it’s one of the best and biggest in Slovenia. It is named after Kurent, the traditional Pust character, which is essentially a giant sheepskin wearing demon mask. Kurents always appear in groups for the added dramatic effect and jump around ringing their bells loudly enough to scare away winter and bring spring into the lands, which is exactly the point of Pust.
The entire town is decorated during the festival and they host different cultural events for a month, so the whole thing is pretty crazy. My friends and I went for a road trip to attend one of those events in 2020 and you can read my post about Kurentovanje and all its cultural heritage value here. In fact, the festival is so important that it made it on to the UNESCO list, and so crazy that it was named as one of the 10 best Carnivals to attend in the world by Lonely planet, so the people of Ptuj really aren’t messing around. Also, in the summer Ptuj transforms back into Poetovio for a few days with Roman games and related events.
The details of Ptuj
As for the general Ptuj attractions, all you need to do is walk through the old city centre, it’s an experience in itself. You’ll see plenty of historically important buildings and monuments: the town hall is super Vienna old school, the Church of St. George and the monasteries I mentioned earlier, Drava tower, an old defence tower in the city wall and home to an art gallery, and Ptuj castle, which houses a local history museum. You can also learn more about Kurents and their associated cultural heritage at the local tourist information centre.
The old part of the Ptuj city centre with its red-tiled roofs is beautiful and full of small art shops and cafes. The town is surprisingly alive compared to other small Slovenian towns and it was nice to see that the prices are still a bit cheaper than in Ljubljana and other large towns, even though we were there during Carnival time. We treated ourselves to a coffee in the cafe of Ptuj’s fancy hotel Mitra, where they roast their own coffee and they even have a couple of old Roman stones associated with Mithraism, the Roman mystery cult of the god Mithra (Ptuj has 2 preserved shrines – Mithraeums).
Other notable food places would be the Lük bistro with its amazing chef and custom dishes, gostlina Ribič where we tried the Restaurant week menu in 2023 and the Amadeus restaurant with rolled dumplings (štruklji) and a friendly cat. At the very least of local food from this part of Slovenia you need to try some špricer (white wine with sparkling water), zaseka (pork fat) with Ptuj lük red onion and salami on bread and ocvirkovka (a pizza-ish flatbread with pork cracklings).
Food and DRINKS
Naturally, Ptuj and the whole Haloze area are still well known for its viticulture and wine cellars, so here’s an official list of culinary and wine spots, since I’m not a wine lover myself. However, I have been to the Ptuj castle wine cellar during a family trip in 2023 and the tour was quite interesting even if you aren’t really into wine. The highlights included a short history of wine making in the region, complete with a cannon from the 1800s that they used to shoot at clouds to prevent hail (it didn’t work, surprisingly), a 40.000 litre wine barrel and of course, ocvirkovka and wine tasting.
The tour guide was very friendly and also a member of the local historical society Kastali, so we got a tour of their historical printing press as well. The print shop is located in a small house under the castle and they also do printing and book binding workshops for kids. The kids we had with us for the trip loved making their own books and hearing about the history and techniques of printing from Gutenberg onwards was fascinating. Did you know that printers were allowed to carry swords and that the old printing ink was made from a very greasy mix of resins and pigments that dries and absorbs into the paper immediately, but doesn’t dry out on glass for up to a month?
The Ptuj castle wine cellar and print house
Ptuj is pretty small, so unless you’re planning to check out every museum, a one day visit is sufficient to see most of it. However, it does have a lot of charm, so if you have time to stay for longer you can also visit the nearby decrepit Turnišče castle, lake Ptuj (Slovenia’s largest lake and home to tons of birds), the Dornava manor or hike up to Ptujska gora.
Ptujska gora is located about a 20 minute drive from Ptuj and is known for its 15th century Basilica of the Virgin Mary the Protector and the adjoining monastery. The church contains a 15th-century carved relief of the caped Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, which is one of Slovenia’s important religious treasures.