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PREKMURJE: the mysterious land across the Mura River

Even the quickest look at a map betrays a lot about Prekmurje. If ever there was a region of Slovenia that could be described as being ‘other’, Prekmurje is it. A thousand years of Hungarian rule will do that, and a sizeable Hungarian minority thrives here today.

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The history of Prekmurje and its people is intertwined with that of Hungary, and various times of extreme Magyarization as well as isolation from mainstream Slovene culture has resulted in a local dialect that is practically unintelligible to most Slovenes around the country, this isolation has also ensured the survival of many old local traditions. All of this comes together to create one of the most undeniably unique regions in the entire country.

The gateway to the Pannonian plain, Prekmurje is divided between flatlands covered in cornfields and the more hilly Goričko area in the north. Formerly an important center for the potter’s trade, today it is a land of thermal waters, leading sleepy towns and villages to transform into modern spa resorts. White storks patrol many villages, adding extra weight to the individual feel of Prekmurje.

The region on other side of the Mura River truly is a different experience. No bridge crossed the river until 1924. Whilst connections have improved today, Prekmurje still provides something different, something worth savouring.

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VERŽEJ: Pronounced by locals as ‘Ver-ze’, this village and small municipality in north-eastern Slovenia can boast one of only two presently functioning mills on water, a tradition of the Prekmurje region. On the river Mura since the 4th Century, the floating mill allows farmers to produce ground-wheat food products, and the Babič mill in Veržej has become a country-wide known attraction. The Banovci thermal spa center adds to the pull of the Veržej region as a good relaxing destination for couples and families; it has three outdoor thermal pools, slide, nudist camp, sauna center, and the water is certified as naturally healing. With only 900 inhabitants, the football club of Veržej is doing remarkably well, having successfully broken into the Slovene second league in 2013-2014, and you can catch a game if that’s your thing.

Turnišče One of the biggest villages in the region of Prekmurje, the name Turnišče is said to derive from the Greek/roman origin word ‘turen’, meaning tower, alas there is no fortification still standing to speak of. What there is however, is a typical ‘Prekmurska’ thatched house, inside which there is a museum for the locally renowned shoemaking/cobbling trade, where visitors can view old leather machines, tools and accessories. The surroundings, aside from forests and fertile fields, have lots of lakes, hence fishing is a popular pastime among the locals, who are known as being super friendly.

PREKMURSKA GIBANICA: Perhaps the densest dessert ever concocted by man, gibanica – more specifically Prekmurska Gibanica – is also one of the tastiest. Consisting of layer after layer of poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins and cottage cheese fillings separated by flaky dough, the cake has been served on special occasions in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia for centuries, and has long had the status of a national specialty. On 4 March 2010, Prekmurska Gibanica was given Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status by the EU, meaning that anyone wishing to use the TSG label on their gibanica must follow precise specifications when preparing it. If you can’t make it to Prekmurje to sample the most authentic stuff, you can usually find it on the menu at traditional Slovene restaurants around the country.

 

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PUMPKIN: Seed oil Pumpkin seed oil is a key ingredient in Prekmurje cuisine, as it is in many parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, with pumpkins having been grown in the area since at least the 18th century. Indeed, the oil made in this region has special EU status as a protected agricultural product, and is of especially high quality, so a visit is perhaps not complete without sampling a drop at one of the many oil mills to be found here. The oil can be produced by roasting pumpkin seeds and pressing them, which is the traditional process, and the resulting oil is dark green and very aromatic, with a strong, nutty taste. In contrast, with cold-pressing no heat is applied, and the seeds are subjected to no more than simple pressure. The oil produced from this method is lighter, thinner and milder, although with a lower yield. Whichever method is used, pumpkin oil has a range of reputed health benefits and anti-aging properties, as it is rich in unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Most importantly, it is also delicious. As well as its more familiar uses, such as in salad dressing, pumpkinseed oil can also be enjoyed with ice cream or in chocolate, for a unique taste of the region, while a bottle makes an excellent souvenir that can be enjoyed time and again when back home.

VINA GJERKEŠ: Surrounded by the lush green forests of the Goričko Nature Park, the Gjerkeš family estate lies just a few hundred meters from the Austrian border in the northwest corner of Slovenia’s unique Prekmurje region. The vineyard primarily produces a range of excellent award-winning (Decanter, Chardonnay du Monde, AWC Vienna) whites, including Chardonnay, some fresh crisp Reislings and an excellent Yellow Muscat. However, our personal favourite is the copper tinted Pinot Grigio, one of the so-called orange wines that have become quite popular in Slovenia in recent years. The family Gjerkeš supplemented its nearly century-old farmhouse with the construction of modern winery and tasting facilities, which can accommodate both large and small groups for tastings with advanced reservations. A trip to Gjerkeš estate can be easily combined with a long weekend exploring the other sights in Prekmurje region. Info: Fikšinci 49, Rogašovci, +386 (0)41 623 125, www.vina-gjerkes.com.

SONČNA HIŠA: Located 50km east of Maribor on the western edge of the vast Pannonian Plain, Sočna Hiša – or The Sun House – offers what might very well be the most peaceful accommodation anywhere in the country. Billed as Slovenia’s first boutique hotel, five designer suites and several large common areas are tucked into a converted country house on the outskirts of a small village. A separate building houses the hotel’s own spa, where guests have access to relaxing sauna and massage treatments, and the staff can also arrange a variety of activities, including rafting, horseback riding, wine tastings and even a round a golf at a nearby course. Info: Banovci 3c, +386 (0)2588 82 38, +386 (0)040 510 340, info@soncna-hisa.si, www.soncna-hisa.si/en.

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