Ptuj Castle & Carnival
Ptuj is one of those little dots on the Slovenian map you might well see, but have little chance of saying correctly! It is our top town tip for the East of this cute little country and could be part of a totally fab Eastern daytrip out from the Lodge!
You say it "Ptooey".. a bit like the "Phooey" in "Hong Kong Phooey" and it is the oldest town in Slovenia, so a very good choice indeed for a stroll around an Altstadt that might very well look a lot like what you imagined and dreamt a Slovenian medieval town would look like!
This is Slovenia, so of course there is a river (Drava) and a castle overlooking the cobbled streets, knackered red roofs and colourful buildings of the old town. Like most places with the grand title of "city" in Slovenia, you will have villages at home bigger.. so the point is you can expect to wander around this pretty town and have a nice bite to eat in half a day, no probs..
So what is there to see in Ptuj?
When you look at a map, you might be surprised it takes just 2 hours on the super swift, quiet Slovenian motorway to get directly from the Lodge to Ptuj and this allows you to put together a special "East round trip LOOP" with a big choice of other stops to create a delicious menu for your day!
Castle & Museum..
Once you have trudged up the cobble stone hill to the castle, admired the view below over the medieval skyline, taken your photo at the impressive gates and finally gotten your breathe back, you are in for a treat, as this castle is one of the best in Green Slovenia!
Slovenia is in the centre of Europe, so it's castles have been attacked, raided and used as headquarters by so many different overlords and occupiers.. Many valuable Slovenian "souvenirs" were sent home by raiders over histroy and then lost to Slovenia for ever.. but the owners of Ptuj castle were very successful over the ages at hiding the castle's treasures away during turbulent times.. so the thing that really stands Ptuj apart from most other Slovenian castles is it is still absolutely packed with original items.
The renaiscence style fortress sits high above the town and this grand castle is really stuffed full of original antiques, with carpets on the walls, grandfather clocks and giant swords that really belong here!
There are many long stone corridors with wonderful arches to look down onto the courtyard and as you walk around a really great show develops.. with a huge collection of hand made musical instruments, a collection of Hapsburg portraits and some unique Ottoman Turkish portraits too.
After marching up the steep hill you certainly deserve at least an ice cream and there is a cafe in the fantastic cobbled courtyard, shielded by the huge horseshoe shape of the castle walls and those fantastic arches and corridors.. It is a nice place to sit and slurp your cappucino, high above the town below..
The finale exhibit is a big armoury room with lots of medieval weapons and the chance to hold a double sized sword and have your photo taken! The sword is so big, King Arthur would have struggled to lift it, so work on your triceps and biceps before coming here or face family ridicule when you try to lift it!!
And there is another bit of the castle museum that you MUST NOT MISS.. Whatever you do after visiting the main castle, do not just go back down the hill.. first pop around the corner where there is a giant horse statue and a really fantastic view over the town. There is a very special mini museum here housed in the old castle stable, but it needs a bit of explaining first so you know what you will be looking at!
This museum has an uberfantastic collection of Ptuj carnival characters and for most visitors to Slovenia it will be your only chance to have any glimpse of the colour, splendour and tradition of the Slovenian carnival. Ptuj holds the largest carnival in Slovenia each year, with thousands of visitors flooding the streets to see these marvellous costumes dancing around.
Carnival takes place 4 weeks before Easter every year, so the date is always changing and if we can give you an extra special tip for your annual Spring weekend getaway.. come to Slovenia to see a carnival!
It took a period of years seeing different carnivals in different towns before we actually realised how special carnival is here in Slovenia.. (don't forget we are just a couple of hours away from the Venice carnival here).
It was as if a penny dropped when we finally realised that every town in Slovenia does carnival a little bit differently and that the elaborate costumes worn to scare away the winter spirits are part of local culture and tell local stories & legends!
So the costumes you will see in the Ptuj carnival museum are used time and again by specific local villages and groups to tell specific stories.. and you are only going to find this out if you watch a carnival with a local person who can explain what each set of characters are doing and meaning as they dance past you!
Assuming you will never be lucky enough to be present at a Slovenian carnival then this is your big chance at Ptuj castle to see the amazing costumes and imagine the flair of it all. Unfortunately there is not much English explanation, which is a shame and most of the characters names are tricky to translate anyway.. but for example, you wouldnt learn much by seeing a bear costume and then reading "bear" as the translation.. it just doesnt tell you about the function of the bear in the whole pantomine of the carnival.
He has a role to play and a performance to make.. as does every character in this massive street play..
Often the main characters in a Slovenian carnival are the Kurent, which for Britsh people of a certain age will look like enormous wombles, but for the rest of you they are big furry creatures, full of colour and noisy bells and their main job is to make a lot of noise and scare away the winter spirits.. the more you get explained and the more you know, the more fascinating it all gets!
SO.. the last thing to do here in the carnival museum is just wander around and look blankly at the costumes.. try to get chatting with a local person.. it's not difficult they are all friendly.. and maybe they will explain a few extra nuggets about the carnival to you that can bring these characters alive.
So you probably know about the masks of the Venice carnival and the masks here in Slovenia are much bigger and heavier, especially for the Kurent! These Kurent troops also perform at different locations at other carnivals around the country and this is how we know the masks are so huge as after a particularly energtic dance and bell ringing session at the Postojna carnival, we saw a troop of these furry monsters take their massive masks off for air and were shocked to see not just big men, but ladies and younger teenagers..
This is when we also realised that the whole village will get together to train for a carnival together and the cultural knowledge is passed down through generations.. absolutely fantastic and unique!
So when you have that brochure in your lap for Tenerife next Spring, just check when shrove Tuesday is and have a serious think about coming to Green Slovenia and experiencing the culture, colour and chaos of carnival here for at least one time in your life! We have stood watching dragons and witches and furry wombles dancing around in towns you have never heard of and been 100% sure we were the ONLY foreigners there to experience it all.. why don't YOU be that lucky foreigner!
Altstadt by the river..
Ptuj old town creates a perfect venue for a carnival.. as you would expect in Slovenia's oldest town, the narrow streets are cobbled, some buildings have gone a bit wonky and there are little side streets to explore off the main high street.
There is also a lovely little market place in the very centre and not far along from this by the river is the Gostilna Ribic restaurant. Of course there are other eateries in Ptuj, but we had such a great meal at this place sitting next to the river trying local food that we are highly recommending eating here. "Ribe" means fish in Slovene, but you can get all sorts and we just loved everything about this place.
And the last but not least thing you should know about Ptuj, is that the river has been shaped into a large watersports+relax lake just a short drive outside the old town with a few decked bars by the waterfront. It is a very nice place to hang around by the water, not just for the townspeople, but also for visitors.. Just drive out of the town a bit by the second bridge and you will find it.
So the lake could extend your time in Ptuj, but there are lots of other sensational secret place options close by or on the way from the Lodge to make your day trip to the "East of Green Slovenia" one to remember..
Our favourite day out trip tip would be to start the day in the wine hills of nearby Jerusalem for a hike and some unique local wine, then come to Ptuj in the afternoon for the castle, old town and a lovely meal by the river.. (with either another small stop off at somewhere lovely on the way out here or on the way back to the Lodge), wow, what a day!