Wigan Athletic last night played NK Maribor at the Ljudski Vrt. Nothing especially unusual about that, except you might arguably attest that it was the last time the Latics will competitively play in Europe. I digress.

The match did though again get me thinking about the possibilities of basing oneself in the Maribor/Pohorje region, the difficulty in doing so and the vast open-goal that Lakes & Mountains tour-operators are missing out on in not ‘taking the plunge’ by grasping the chance to take tourists to this at best overlooked area, at worst completely unknown.

Having heard the wholly positive tales of Wigan fans who enjoyed a quick flight into the gleaming and modern Edvard Rusjan Airport(http://www.maribor-airport.si/), wonderful views of the Alps during the journey, local hospitality and cheap beer, I fail to see why Maribor should only be visited by ‘football tourists’ who rarely have the chance to stay in their opponents town/city for more for than a day. Ryanair, for all its critics, showed admirably pioneering-spirit when they put on a London to Maribor service which sadly didn’t last. Whilst I am not privy to the reasons why the route was scrapped, I would suggest it was more the fault of Slovenia’s under-performing tourist board for painfully underselling Maribor’s attributes and the terrific hiking in nearby Pohorje.

Should you though wish to indulge in a little bit of your own football tourism, NK (Nogomet Klub) Maribor is Slovenia’s most successful club having once played in the group-stages of the Champion League and who hold the record for the highest club attendance in the whole country. The Viola, as they are known in homage to Fiorentina, are well worthy of some respect; a weekend just taking in a game at the Ljudski and an evening at the Trust nightclub would tick many a twentysomethings’ boxes.

Getting to Maribor is the hard-part; leaving it equally so. The time in between though will in many ways showcase Slovenia in miniature:

  • Sympathetically-preserved architecture
  • Challenging but rewarding hiking and skiing at the nearby Pohorje Massif
  • Pleasant walks by the River Drava, as well as sailing on a Dravska Vila cruise
  • A thriving cultural and jazz scene, including the annual Lent festival
  • A surprising array of accommodation
  • The oldest vine in the world, still producing more than 100 bottles of wine annually.
  • Euro Park shopping-centre.
Getting there directly from the UK is seemingly impossible, unless, like the Wigan Athletic fans you have the benefit of a charter-jet to use from Manchester Airport. So, unless you can bankroll your local football club to attain the requisite success to qualify for Europe and hope for a draw against NK, you will have to fly to Ljubljana like the rest of us and schlepp across the country by car or train. Not the worst journey, I grant you, but if time is short you ideally want to get from point A to B in the briefest feasible time. Once though you do arrive, any difficulties in reaching the Podravska region will soon be forgotten.
If you know of a quicker way to get there from the north-west of England, I would very much like to hear from you!

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