After visiting Slovenia five years ago by train, I’d hoped to return and drive through the countryside with the freedom that only a car can provide. That opportunity came last November, when I visited friends in Varazdin, Croatia. With the Slovene border so close, why not take a day and explore? I had just read about the “World’s Oldest Vine” in Maribor, and that seemed like the perfect destination.
My sweet friend, Zrinka, arranged for a rental car, which proved more difficult than usual. It seems that tourism in Varazdin has also been affected by the world economy, and several car rental agencies had closed. She found a car that was available at a car repair shop, and was assured by the gentleman on the other end of the line that the car would be waiting in the morning. “No, there is no need for a credit card to hold it, just give me her name and it will be here.” What? Cool.
The next morning Alen insisted on driving me to the car shop. Grateful not only because I probably couldn’t have found it, but also because not an ounce of English was spoken. Important considering there are varying regulations when driving through each country. Tags must be purchased and displayed on the windshield of all cars moving through Slovenia. Was my tag up-to-date? Where to purchase one? With questions out of the way, and keys in hand I was off to Maribor!
The drive over the back roads to Maribor had a picture-postcard feel. Snow draped on rural houses and farms, with the occasional intrepid soul walking along the roadside. Stopping at what appeared to be firstly, a place that was open…and secondly, a place that served COFFEE, I walked in to the vacant stares of the few patrons eating breakfast, as this out-of-context American plopped down at a table. I attempted with my best sign language and the universal word “cafe” to order a coffee. “Yes, an Americano (how predictable) and “Yes, with more water. Hvala!” While each person in this little diner had an intense curiosity about me, they went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and comfortable……smiles all around.
More snow covered hills, and before long I arrived in Maribor, a friendly college town with the River Drava running through. Another coffee and I set off with directions to the “Old Vine.” Walking along the River Drava for at least 10 minutes, it occurred to me that perhaps my trekking skills were lacking, and I had passed it. A question to a gentleman along the walkway confirmed my suspicions, and with new directions retraced my steps – and there it was!
Spanning the entire front of what is now called the Old Vine House, the grapevine was trellised and healthy. Planted over 400 years ago, it has been authenticated by genetic experts and verified in paintings of Maribor dating from 1657. In 2004 the Old Vine was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vintage grapevine in the world. The grape, Modra Kavcina, is a rare example of an autochthon Slovene vine. It survived the epidemic grape phylloxera in the second half of the 19th century, which destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards. New vineyards were planted with rootstocks imported from North America, but the Old Vine still stands proudly on its own roots.
Each year the Festival of the Old Vine is celebrated, and draws thousands from around the world. This ceremonial grape harvest provides enough wine to fill approximately 100 small bottles. These specially designed bottles usually remain with the city of Maribor, and are given as gifts to dignitaries……Japanese Emporer Akihito, American President Bill Clinton, and Pope John Paul II to mention a few.
Next trek is to the capital of Slovenia….Ljubljana! Cheers!