Ljutomer's history of trailblazing
Set in the heart of the Prlekija region, the town of Ljutomer is most known for three things, namely harness racing, film and wine. »Lotmerk«, as locals call it, boasts rich cultural heritage and some trailblazing events. Some of them that will go down as the most significant in the country's history took place in this very town. The first mass rally (»tabor«) in support of a United Slovenia that was held in Ljutomer in 1868, the first motion-picture films in Slovenia were made here, the first dedicated harness racing club in the country was formed in Ljutomer, and last but not least, the first Slovenian self-serve grocery store of a kind was opened downtown some 60 odd years ago.
Many significant figures hailing from the region left their mark on the pages of history both locally and abroad, including men of letters such as Franc Miklošič and Cvetko Golar, filmmaking pioneer, Dr. Karol Grossman, academic painter, Ante Trstenjak, and many more.
Quite some of the top attractions are well worth visiting here, among them a local pottery, a family-run operation that spans generations, or the church of St John the Baptist perched just a bit above the Town Hall that is home to The Ante Trstenjak Art Gallery and The Ljutomer Museum with three permanent collections on display. Not far away from the center you will find couple more museums, namely the Trotter Museum and the Ljutomer Puch Museum. In summer you can dip in one of the pools at the swimming pool area, while in winter there is a lot of fun waiting for you downtown as you glide on your skates at the ice rink. For sports enthusiasts many indoor and outdoor activities with recreation facilities are available, such as tennis courts, playgrounds for children, and the cutting edge ŠIC sports hall with a variety of sports and recreational facilities on hand, such as fitness center, professional climbing wall, basketball court, and more.
Ribniki – Jeruzalemske gorice landscape park
The iconic village of Jeruzalem is by default a gem of the region, which goes hand in hand with the reviews about the place considered one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. The tradition of viticulture in this area goes back as far as 2,400 years to the younger Tertiary which is to the times even before the Romans arrived in these parts.
The small picturesque village of Jeruzalem is more or less accrued around the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, a hilltop shrine that stewards the vast Ljutomersko-Ormoške gorice vineyards. The area around the church commands breathtaking vistas and unparalleled scenery everywhere you turn to look. Legend has it that the crusaders from medieval times on their way to today's Palestinian and Israeli Jerusalem felt the power of the place and were so impressed by its beauty and the hospitality of the locals that they felt prompted to bestow it with a Biblical name.
Local winemakers are known for their supremely delicate whites, so wine experts and enthusiasts can count on sampling the very best of whites and reds in the region. With such a variety of predominant whites, the experience could be dubbed »the symphony in white«.
Regardelss if you choose to get around the Jeruzalem Wine Road on foot, by bike, car or bus, these hillside terraces planted to vine, impressive poplars flanking the winding back roads that run between vineyards, stunning views and the loveliness of landscapes will remain etched in your memory for good.
The landscape park set within 1,345 hectares (3,323 acres) of the Jeruzalemske gorice vineyard hills is also made up of a complex of six circular ponds in a beautiful peaceful natural environment. You will find it at the village of Podgradje near Ljutomer. The ponds with a rich ecosystem are home to many animal species and provide a magnificent opportunity to walking and exploring nature in the most pleasant company of birds singing and fluttering above and around, elegant swans gliding by, all too easily scared ducks, and other inhabitants.
Harness racing and the Ljutomer trotter
Sunday afternoon harness racing events at the Ljutomer track are a tradition and an experience not to miss out on. The Ljutomer area can be described as the cradle of equestrian sports in Slovenia, so it is quite expected for the first harness races to have taken place here, and this indeed happened back in 1874, with the town having kept the tradition going strong ever since.
You can have a look at the history of local horse breeding in the Ljutomer Trotter Museum on the premises of the Ljutomer Trotting Club. There are stables there as well as a standing invitation to take a tour of the hippodrome and meet some of these beautiful and noble animals from up close. Younger generations will be entertained by a short film telling the story that features a playful foal Jona. She will walk the kids through the history of harness racing, the Ljutomer trotter horse breeding, and explain how horses were a crucial component of life and culture in the area. With a bit of luck, you may also see some trotters training.
In case you want to try horseback riding at the nearby Vrbnjak tourist farm stay, children and adults alike are welcome to do so, or you can opt for a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride around the place.
The Žuman family pottery business dates back five generations, with the beginnings in 1874. Their products are made in the traditional way, by hand on a potter's wheel and are burned in a traditional wood-fired kiln. Their handmade and vintage items, masterful kitchenware, bakeware, handmade pottery dishes, custom home decor gifts, and more are each one-of-the-kind piece.
They dig up the clay by hand and let it sit outdoors through winter, then process it for use in their pottery studio. Their family museum collection spanning several generation of masterful skill features the family heirloom of their carefully made pottery wares. The museum, shop, and a hands-on workshop to help you hone your pottery skills are open for business every day, yet visits of large groups are encouraged to be booked in advance.
Once there, not only an empty beautiful plate will be showcased to you, but – by prior arrangement – your hosts will produce a plate with a local delicacy, called Prleška gibanica, on it. What's more, they have been awarded a certificate for making this unique traditional pastry using a clay pot. This year their recipe won second place in a national competition with their »Prleška gibanica« pastry, which is quite a success by any standards.
If you want to sightsee on two wheels, you will get your money's worth hopping in your bike to enjoy nooks and crannies of the Prlekija. It features a network of dedicated trails, comprising 135 km (83 miles) of bike paths for all levels of technical skill. Each route is well signed and mapped with highlights and stops for food and wine.
The 20-km (12.4-mile) Wine Bike Trail, running along the Jeruzalem Wine Tourist Road, is a major destination for bike enthusiasts.
If a two-wheeled jaunt through scenic landscapes is your idea of a good time, pick Vard's path that, naturally, runs past Vard castle. You are in for an unforgettable visual experience of the stunning Prlekija plain to the east and the stupendous views of the vineyards virtually in every other direction.
The 31-km (19-mile) »Štrkova pot« trail, running along the banks of the Mura River isn't a ride for newbies, and as the original name suggests, storks are part-and-parcel of the ride.
The longest, the 41-km (25.4-mile) Grossmann trail makes for an awe-inspiring ride that will take you past such attractions as »Gajševsko jezero« lake, several mills, and the Bioterme spa resort at Mala Nedelja.
It’s a good idea to act surprised though if a friendly local you run into enroute invites you in for refreshments.
The trails taking you through the beautiful landscapes of the much unspoiled Prlekija region will be those you don’t soon forget.
A detailed description of each route can be found here.