The name of both the town and the lush, hilly and mountainous region it governs, the history of Slovenska Bistrica dates back centuries, although its modern period begins with a written document from March 12, 1311 (some records note the year as 1313) when the town received its original city rights.
A predominantly German-speaking region until a century or so ago, Slovenska Bistrica sits in the north-eastern part of Slovenia just south of Maribor and is noted for its large manufacturing industry and a wealth of forests, vineyards and fruit groves. As a contemporary tourist attraction, Slovenska Bistrica has got a lot going for itself, combining some of the best urban and rural sights and sensations the region has to offer. As well as claiming over 20 historical churches as well as some wonderful natural sights including the fabulous Bistrica Gorge and mysterious sounding Black Lake, visitors will also find various military undercurrents including forts, castles and even a battlefield. With a population of about 7,500, the town itself is worth exploring to the point of thinking about staying for a night or two, with a good choice of modern and affordable hotels and guesthouses on offer. For those with less time on their hands, Slovenska Bistrica is a pleasant 30-minute drive from Maribor and can also be reached from Ljubljana in just over an hour. www.tic-sb.si.
SLOVENSKA BISTRICA: Founded on the ruins of a Roman settlement known as Civitas Negotiana, the small but rather charming town of Slovenska Bistrica is one of Slovenia’s oldest and, for a place that possesses such a small population, is surprisingly generous in what it has to offer visitors. Repeatedly damaged over the centuries by various marauding invaders due to its sensitive geopolitical location, today’s town provides an interesting ensemble of architecture and other sights representing the rich variety of cultures that have all influenced its development. Most tourists find themselves gravitating to the old town, a pleasant area dominated by a Renaissance-Baroque castle whose origins date back to at least the 13th century but that owes its current look to a huge makeover some 400 years later. The castle is open to visitors and is home to the only museum in town. Other sights not to be missed include the predominantly Baroque Church of St. Bartholomew, arguably the town’s finest and the larger 15th-century Church of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows and the 18th-century Church of Saint Joseph. There are also several good places to eat in town, many serving local dishes accompanied by the many wines of the region, and, if you really do find yourself falling for this little gem, you’ll be pleased to learn there are several decent places to spend the night of which we personally recommend the sprawling, rural-themed Gostišče Iršič (www.gostisce-irsic.com) immediately south of the town or the very central, family-run Hotel Leonardo (www.h-leonardo.com).
WINE: Everybody knows fruit’s good for you, including the wine-makers of Slovenska Bistrica who do such a good job turning the grapes they grow into various types of wine. At least 12 vineyards are located in the region, most of them visitor-friendly including the excellent Wine Frešer (www.freser.si), a family-run affair that’s been in business since 1832. As with many other businesses of its type hereabouts, Wine Frešer also specializes in good regional food. In fact, a visit to Slovenska Bistrica just to sample the various cheese, honey, wine and other locally produced delicacies is reason enough to plan a trip here.
WAR: Everyone from the Turks to the Nazis have rampaged their way through the region over the previous millennia, a long and often protracted narrative of woe that’s left a permanent mark on Slovenska Bistrica in the form of various military-associated sights scattered all over the area. Most famously (and most recently) is the battleground of and memorial complex to the Pohorje Battalion, a small group of 69 partisans established on September 11, 1942 who after successfully conducting over 100 guerrilla operations camped out for the winter high up in the Pohorje Mountains. On January 8, 1943 the soldiers were discovered by some 2,000 German who set about killing the entire battalion of men and women fighters, an event that became part of Yugoslavian legend and that continues to be remembered to this day. Opened in 1961, an exhibition remembering the battle and the Yugoslav partisan war in general is located at the place where the Pohorje Battalion was wiped out. Located high up in a densely forested part of the region, find it approximately 25km west of Slovenska Bistrica on the narrow and twisting forested the road that leads to Lukanja.
More: If blood and wine aren’t your thing, Slovenska Bistrica has plenty of other magnificent places to experience and explore, with the local hills and mountains in particular providing countless opportunities for getting away from the stresses and strains of everyday life. The following are two of our particular favourites. The Bistrica Gorge is a popular attraction up in the mountains, a beautiful valley with the fast-running river racing through the middle with waterfalls and natural sights galore. A great place for long walks and relaxed picnics, the gorge stretches for several kilometers north-west of Slovenska Bistrica and is one of the highlights of any visit to the region. The Black Lake, named so because of the rich peat deposits that settle on the bottom and absorb all the light, is a beautiful artificial lake created over 100 years ago to help with the local logging industry that can be found just off the same road that leads to the Pohorje Battalion Museum. Rich in unspoilt nature, the immediate area around the lake provides some wonderful opportunities for hiking and other healthy outdoor pursuits.