November 27, 2020

Travelogue: Šmarje-Virštanj Wine Road

For quality wine and gastronomy, set upon beautiful landscapes with rich cultural heritage, look no further than Šmarje-Virštanj wine road. In each of the distinct wine-growing areas that make up this wine road, you will find an abundance of options for incredible food and some of the best wine in Europe! To help you make the most of your experience, we have put together a list of things to taste, sip and see while visiting. 

Wine Growing Areas

Along the wine route there are three wine-growing areas that extend from the slops of pre-Alpine hills, through sun covered mountain ridges onto the hills of the Croatian Zagorje.  

Within each of these areas, you will also find distinct wine-growing regions. With unique soil composition, location, and grape growing conditions, the same varietal (a type of grape) will taste slightly different in each area. We recommend tasting the same varietal, e.g. Blue Franconian (“Modra frankinja“), at each stop along the route as it will give you a greater appreciation for the unique terroir of each area, region and winery!

The first area is found below Boč. From Dolga gora across Sladka gora, Pečica, Gabrnik towards Rogaška Slatina, you will drive along a paved 9.8 km road, surrounded by lush vineyards on either side. A designated wine route road will take your through the Rogaška Slatina Municipality, found east of regional road Podplat – Poljčane. 

The second area offers breathtaking views and landscapes as you travel through the valleys of Zibiški and Tinski potok. The northern tip of the region reaches the ridge of Sedovac to Vinski vrh and extends all the way down to Rudnica. It runs East to West from the Mestinjščica stream, and to the valley of Drobinski potok. As you can imagine, there is a lot to see and taste in this region! When traveling the wine route, you will begin in Koretno and then travel across Konuška to Vršna vas, through Brezje, Tinska gora, Orehovec, Tinski vrh and Roginska gorca until you reach the Mestinjščica valley.

The third, and largest wine-growing area, extends along the edge of the Sotla valley to Bistrica ob Sotli, and through Lastnič, Vrenska gorca, Drenška rebra and Pristava at Lesično. Although spread over a large area, you’ll find that the majority of vineyards are concentrated in Virštanj, Buče and Lastnič. When exploring this third region, you will start your scenic drive in Imeno and then travel across Imenska gorca and Kristan Vrh to Virštanj. From here, you will drive towards Buče, Polje ob Sotli, over Lastnič and Hrastje to Bistrica ob Sotli.

A stunning drive through the countryside offers so much more than great views. We were also able to experience a vast array of dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, pick up fresh produce, and even chat with local winemakers. While we were there, we sipped Laški Riesling, Modra Frankinja, Sauvignon, Rumeni muškat and Virštanjčan and it was amazing!

Our Recommendations

Our favourite views points from our trip were Sv. Rok above Šmarje pri Jelšah, Tinsko, Škofije, and Virštanj. In these spots you will find quaint accommodations located on farms and vineyards, delicious restaurants, and an extensive selection of premium vineyards. When you wish to take a break from all the food and wine, there are a number of cultural, natural, and historical attractions to visit. 

Gastronomy

There are certain dishes that are a must when visiting the area. These traditional gastronomic specialities feature locally grown and harvested ingredients and provide a needed sustenance after a few wine tastings! Here are a few of the dishes we recommend trying:

  • Korejevec – this is a hearty vegetable stew made from root vegetables like turnips, parsnips and carrots.
  • Kozjansko pockets / ajdov parjek / kozjanski krapi – served as either a main or side dish, these are yummy pockets of buckwheat dough filled with millet porridge, cottage cheese and dressed with cream. 

As you drive through the wine route you will find a number of wineries and local restaurants serving up some of the most delicious food. You can’t go wrong when traveling the Šmarje-Virštanj wine road, however here are a couple of notable restaurants.

Wine

Whether you prefer red or white, you will find a selection of quality wine displaying the unique terroir of the Šmarje-Virštanj hills. There are varietals that are quite pronounced in this area that you will likely find produced at all the wineries you visit. Here are a few of the types of wines we recommend tasting:

  • Riesling – You will find two different types of Riesling here. Laški Riesling translates to ‘Italian Riesling’ and is made from the Welschriesling grape varietal used in Rieslings grown around the world. It is crisp with notes of lemon and can be dry or off dry depending on the winemakers technique. You will also find another type of Riesling here called ‘Rhine Riesling’. The Rhine Riesling grape is used to Slovenia and produces a medium-dry wine. These grapes are used to make wine throughout Central Europe but originated in Eastern Slovenia. If you can, we recommend tasting both from the same winery to compare. 
  • Virštanjčan – this is another varietal unique to Slovenia. The sun-soaked, hillside grapes produce fruity notes of apricot, yellow apple and lemon zest which is complemented through a subtle minerality and acidity. If you want an authentic Šmarje-Virštanj experience, you need to try this!

There are simply too many incredible wineries to list them all, but we listed a few standout locations worth checking out here.

Cultural, Natural & Historical Attractions

One of our favorite things about traveling the wine route, is that you see things along the way. Although you have a destination in mind, you may stumble upon a historic church, or monument in your travels. Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to be a little spontaneous. If you do hope to schedule a few cultural attractions, here are our favorite places:

Olimje Monastery – This stunning, well-known monastery lies in the small village of Olimje. It’s a former splendid castle but nowadays prides itself with a beautiful chapel (very opulent) in the magnificent Church of the Assumption, one of our country’s most beautiful baroque buildings, and an apothecary manned by monks selling remedies made from herbs grown in their garden.

Rogaška Slatina – Priding itself with a 10,000 m2 of a magnificent park with promenade where the Grand hotel Rogaška sits as a perfect example of timeless architectural class, it’s a real delightful sight.

Rogaška Slatina is known as a place of glass production. It has one of the largest world’s glass factories – Rogaška Glassworks (“Steklarna Rogaška“). As a matter of fact, you should not skip the Tourist Trail which allows you to see the production of premium crystal glass. All production stages are carried out in line with a firmly set workflow (raw materials, glass-blowing, processing and packaging), and the tour is set up accordingly. The tour can be held in different languages: English, German and Croatian.

Rogatec Open Air Museum – This is the largest open air museum in Slovenia and if you get the chance, we highly recommend stopping by. It is a truly authentic experience, seeing the buildings and hay-racks from 19th -mid 20th century. You can see how simple farmers lived around this area. There are also various workshops organized, so if you are interested, you can even take part in baking bread in a black kitchen, weaving, making a candle out of beeswax or just observe numerous craft masters at work.

Podsreda Castle – A so called “Slovenia’s most royal castle”, nestled into the rolling hills of regional park of Kozjansko, is wonderfully preserved and rich with cultural activities. The castle houses several exhibitions; France Slana paintings, glassworks, local historical artworks, and a history of the castle. Or, if you’re looking for a stay inspired by romance and history, look no further – you can spend a night here!

Calvary Šmarje pri Jelšah – This historic church is considered one of the seven wonders of Slovenia and a monument of Baroque art. Stop by here and then go to Muzej baroka where you can marvel at the 43 original wooden sculpture from the church that are over 260 years old. Unlike other museum you can feel the history and touch the sculptures. 

Don’t forget to visit Šmarje wine cellar (“Šmarska vinska klet”) while here, to really can enjoy the wines from the local wine-growing regions.

Traveling the Šmarje-Virštanj Wine Road is the ideal travel adventure. For us, great food and wine make the trip, add gorgeous scenery and rich culture and it gets even better!

If you want to check out more about the Obsotelje & Kozjansko region click here for inspiration.

Disclaimer: The activity is part of the In Cultura Veritas project, co-financed in the Interreg V-A Slovenia-Croatia program. As always, we’ll never recommend a destination/service that we don’t love ourselves.

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