For a tiddly wee country that contains a little bit of everything you might expect to find in Europe in one small package, you should not be surprised for one second that Green Slovenia also has a Jeruzalem.. and a very pretty one too!
Slovenia's Jeruzalem is one of the unmissablle highlights of the north east part of the country. If you look at a map of Slovenia the shape looks like a big chicken and we are talking here about the chicken's head!
But Slovenia's Jeruzalem is nothing like the real Jerusalem, not a city and not in the least bit sandy and dusty!
It is hardly even a village.. best to think of it as a mini wine region, where the central point is on top of a picturesque hill with a TIC, (Tourist Info Centre), next to a nice little church and a restaurant just along the narrow road.
There are rolling green hills in every direction stuffed with vines and tight curvy roads drawn all over them like the scribble of a spider. More churches and tiny villages pop out from the trees to make this all a very pretty picture and you are never exactly sure where it all starts and where it ends!
This is all very lovely, but how on earth did this place get it's name?! There are two theories..
Firstly, during the time of the Crusades, returning Knights, desperate and thirsty for the greeness of home were bewitched by the beauty of this wine region.. so they named this place Jeruzalem.
Secondly there is a very old painting thought to have been brought directly from the original Jerusalem and it hangs in the pretty little church at the top of that hill..
Jeruzalem Wine.. C'est Bonne!
Jeruzalem is a heavenly place for sure and is in one of Slovenia's seven unique wine regions, with 2 unique local wines of it's own!
Most vistors will be offered the local white Sipon that the French crusaders loved so much, they called it "c'est bonne"!
But there is another unique wine made here more for local consumption called Ranfol. Ask for it and locals may turn their nose up at you, as it is often seen as inferior quality!
But we found a local winery called Kos, (Blackbird in English) that has turned the process around for making Ranfol, using only the best grapes! So they sell a very nice version of Ranfol indeed!
There are lots of little wine producers scattered all over the hills here, so keep your eyes open for an opportunity to stop and have a chat!
So how do I visit Jeruzalem?
The best way to "do" Jeruzalem is to either drive, hike or bike around it and just suck it all in! Even try to get a bit lost around here and use the main church with TIC as your central focus point.
If you wanted to hike or bike then get to the TIC & church and there are marked routes from there through the vineyrads and up & down those pretty tracks.
The main restaurant is just along the little road from the church in the middle of it's own vineyard with fab views over the hills and a great place for lunch and to try some of the local wine.
You get to sit outside under terraces with floppy vines and bulging grapes hanging over your head.. It is idyllic, but can be busy as the only place to eat around here that we know, so this will be the same for every new visitor too..
This is why on our next trip to Jeruzalem, part of our mission will be to find an alternative place for lunch as well.. (or you could eat in some of the other local towns we will mention below).
Other places to see during your day trip to the Chicken's Head..
Another very lovely place to visit in the east is Slovenia's oldest town and very difficult to pronounce, Ptuj. It would be a fab choice to combine a visit to the castle and old town in Ptuj with some lunch and then hop on to cruise around the hills of Jeruzalem.. wow what a day!
On this particular trip we decided to have a look at some other places in the area, so we had a pop stop on the way and did the straight 2 hour motorway drive to Ptuj, taking another 20 mins or so to travel down to the little town of Ormoz.
The cute country road from Ptuj fills you with more excitement the closer you get to Jeruzalem.. A little like pilgrims, you buzz through little villages, but we just had to stop when we spotted a huge castle perched on top of a hill in the village of Velika Nedelija, otherwsie known as Big Sunday!!
We snapped photos and found out later that this castle was given to the Knights Templar to stop them scrapping with the owners of the Ormoz castle!
Ormoz is part of the Jeruzalem fairy tale and directly on the Croatian river border. We found a modern winery there selling Jeruzalem wines, so couldn't resisit getting a few bottles and then we popped into the town centre to have a look around the main castle.
This castle is one of those at the heart of the local community with integrated council offfices, town centre car park and a local TIC, (Tourist Info Office) in the ground floor.. this is a great way to use and bring a castle back to life.
We got some extra maps for Jeruzalem and also found out from the lovely lady at the Tourist info that there was a series of ponds abandoned by an old sugar factory, not far from the border and close to the Ormoz winery where we had just been.. these have been converted into a nature park and now a herd of water buffalo live there.. how about that!
After spotting a clue on a map in the TIC and after a bit of friendly interrogation, we also finally found out from the lovely lady that the castle we had seen earlier in "Big Sunday" village was once owned by the serious deadly dudes of the Knights Templar.. this is serious tourist gold dust!
So the water buffaloes and a visit INSIDE the Big Sunday castle are on our list for the next tript.. we wanted to still see a bit of this castle, so we went up the creaky stairs and explored the first floor, which has been converted into the most interesting coffee shop selling bric a brac and antiques, all donated by the public..
You buy the cup not the coffee!
The cafe is run by an organisation that employs and helps local people get back into work and they have a great concept here..
So you have to choose the antique cup you want for your coffee and the coffee is free, you actually buy the cup, not the coffee!
Slovenians drink a lot of coffee, so there are a lot of antique cups on offer here stored in the antique sideboards and display shelves and we even found some old GDR (East German) cups for our coffee! (You can have an espresso in one of these cups when you get to the Lodge if you like)!
The coffee here is made Turkish style in a silver pot sat on a bed of heated sand, if you haven't had Turkish coffee before, then be prepared for a bit of a meal, as it gets stuck in your teeth and you need to almost chew it, but is delicious!
Needless to say, we loved this cafe and recommend you at least drop in to support the concept and buy a cup.. maybe you will find something else that takes your fancy on the shelves too!
This is the main market town on the other side of Jeruzalem from Ormoz, so we stopped off here for a coffee and an ice cream in the grand town square after visiting Jeruzalem..
They also have some of these wooden airplane thingys on top of poles displayed around the place and we found out these were used to scare the birds away from the crops..
But in the same love - hate relationship you probably have in your own country with the regions and the capital city, we were told that these devices were discontinued when Ljubljana folk came here for the weekends and complained about the noise!
There is another fantastic thing you can do near Ljutomer that we have done before, but didn't do this time, where the MUR river runs past the northern outskirts of the town and if you do get time, try very hard to get out to the river and find one of the BROD NA MURI..
These are wooden river ferries a bit more like rafts that you can hop on, even with a car, to cross the river.. Even if you just go over and back again it will be fun crossing this beautiful river and travelling back into the last century.. 19th not 20th!
Lendava Vinarium Tower..
Our mission for this particular daytrip was to proove we could get all the way to the far tip of Slovenia at Lendava in a day, with lunch in Jeruzalem and coffees in Ormoz and Ljutomer.. and we did!
There are so many different towers in Green Slovenia from different centuries, in all different shapes, sizes and locations that we decided we just had to do a "Towers" section in our website and the highest observational tower in Slovenia is the Vinarium at Lendava, so we also just had to visit!
So from Ljutomer we drove on to the Lendava, the last town in Slovenia's East and thought we would just rock up and spot the enormous 54m high tower easily on the skyline.
Oh no you don't! Lendava is a very long town and we drove up and down it trying desperately to see the tower or at least a helpful road sign to guide us.
We recently did a blog on useful vocab for foreigners and actually did not include STOLP in the list, but you will need to know this word if you want to have any chance of finding this tower!
Luckily we knew that "Stolp" means "tower" and we spotted a small brown sign for the stolp on our second journey through the town which directed us up a steep hill, past a castle and onto narrow little roads to the top off a forested hill.
When you finally get to the tower it is a very impressive structure indeed, looking like an enourmous kids' spirograph construction, with a big car park and a few stalls to give a bit of a fairground idea at the base.
We do have to tell you that in our humble opinion the ticket price is too much for what you actually get.. a lift ride up the tower and 360 degree view of lovely green scenery and lots of other little green dots, with signs in Slovenian telling you what you can't really make out in the distance, but seriously, you could have also written New York, London or Venus on these signs and you wouldn't have been able to see these either!
By the way, Predjama castle and the Postojna cave are the hottest and most expensive tickets in town, but THEY ARE WORTH EVERY PENNY and priced correctly as world class attractions.. they would probably cost more to see in your country.. most other attractions here are underpriced, considering how world class they are too, but the Lendava tower is sadly a little overpriced..
We only found out now when googling to check the height of the tower for this article that you are supposed to be able to see 4 countries from the tower.. (Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia).. when we were actually up the tower we had no clue about this fact!
The staff were underwhelming and despite the relatively high ticket price, there was NO incentive included to help you choose to maybe buy something in the cafe below.. so we didn't!
So we get the feeling that building this undoubtedley beautiful tower in an undoubtedley stunning green area was a bit of a "putting lipstick on the pig exercise", where lots of European money has been thrown at an undervisited area with not a lot of thought about what foreign visitors actually want and need.. decent signs, fair prices, other stuff to do and good service.
We had heard there is a local gulasch made specially here in Lendava called "Bograc", but there was no sign of it in the cafe or the empty stalls outside the tower, so we pretty much gave up and turned for home! This was a real shame..
In our humble opinion, this is still just a tower for local people to visit until the local tourist head honchos become more serious about understanding how hard they need to work to get your vote of confidence and attract foreign visitors to Lendava, giving us a great experience and then we will go up the tower!
Until then, don't worry, here is another photo above of the uberamazing Jeruzalem and there are PLENTY of other fantastic secret places to visit in Green Slovenia and other towers to go up, maybe give this tower a miss for now and when you do go out East for a daytrip, keep the holiday magic alive with an amazing combo of Ptuj, Jeruzalem and Ormoz instead!