Ed Leahy samples the 2012 European Capital of Culture.

The Lent festival was well into its second week on arriving into Maribor and despite the fasting and abstinence associated with the word, the town was in celebratory mode as the mid-summer celebrations were in full swing.

And with, what appeared to be, the entire town in party mode, the settling in period at the hotel was put on hold as I took the short ramble downhill to the riverside for a quick introduction to the 2012 European Capital of Culture.

A taste of Maribor was exactly what was waiting along the banks of the Drava River, as the main marquee was hosting a culinary introduction to Slovenia's second city.

Head chefs from the region's most recognised restaurants were on hand to introduce their creations, served with the warmest of welcomes and washed down with wines specifically chosen to accompany each dish.

The concept was to create alternative and original dishes to compete with the traditional fare for sale throughout the festival stalls and judging by the excellent range of sweet and savoury dishes on offer, the mouths of the Maribor folk will be well served for the foreseeable future.

The Lent festival runs throughout June and JulyThe Lent festival runs throughout June and July every year in Maribor and is considered to be one of the top 50 such events in Europe with more than 400 performances and half a million visitors. Lent is the biggest Slovenian festival and the largest open-air event in south-eastern Europe.

Sitting pretty in the middle of all the madness is Maribor's most famous tourist attraction, the Old Vine.

A wine-tasting exhibition was in full flow outside The Old Vine House, where this oldest vine in the world is still growing above the door and along the width of the whitewashed exterior.

With an age of over 400 years, it is registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vine in the world and is the oldest living specimen of a noble vine that still bears grapes.

Wine was to become a bit of a theme throughout my stay in Maribor, and it was no surprise to find out that over one per cent of Slovenia's territory is covered by vineyards.

The wine was excellent but as the night progressed and the Folk Dancing show started, I was introduced to another famous son of Slovenia, and one that was to remain a constant companion for the remainder of my visit.

Lasko beer is as good as any lager that I have tasted and comes from a small town with the same name just east of Maribor. The town of Lasko is one of many spa towns throughout Slovenia and the renowned quality of water in the country must have something to do with the very palatable brew.

The main event of the night was a very memorable affair with folk dancers from Russia, the South Seas, Croatia, and of course the obligatory Irish troupe telling tales through traditional dance and lively tunes.

Up early the following morning and out to explore the streets of Maribor. The stroll around the old town's core took me through some lively streets and squares where an interesting blend of history and tradition remains.

Grajski square Lent, the oldest part of the town, runs along the banks of the river and I again got to appreciate the Old Vine - this time by daylight - which sits between fascinating medieval towers and the remains of the city walls.

Other attractions include Grajski square with the castle and museum, Glavni square and Bishop Slomšek's cathedral, with its viewing tower and the Jewish synagogue.

The city streets all lead to a beautiful town park, with relaxing cafés and picnic areas, while some amazing views are available by taking the nearby climb up Piramida and Kalvarija, the town's wine-growing hills.

The town tour is a walker or cyclist's dream and was enjoyed at a very leisurely pace well before lunchtime, leaving me free to explore what sits either side of Maribor's compact town centre.

PohorjeLooming large across the river on one side of Maribor sits the mountain resort of Pohorje, where hikers, cyclists, paragliders and adrenaline seekers can enjoy year-round adventure amidst the hills and forests of the neighbouring town.

Pohorje is home to one of the best mountain-bike racing tracks in Europe, where enthusiasts of all levels will enjoy the great outdoors, and is located less than 10 minutes from Maribor's town centre.

Ski lifts take you high into the mountains and walking tracks and alternative bike trails, also ideal for families, make for a very enjoyable afternoon's activity.

A local guide brought me down the mountain – slowly – on a big wheeled scooter-style contraption, before sending me back up the hill to the adrenaline park where more great views of the area were experienced, albeit on the end of a reverse bungee-type swing.

The trip back down to base was a very enjoyable luge run, which, I'd imagine, was designed for kids but enjoyed by adults.

In winter, Pohorje turns into one of the most attractive ski centres in Slovenia, while wellness is another of the area's major selling points with plenty of spa hotels and resorts on offer.

While the streets of Maribor can be explored in a matter of hours, you could easily – and enjoyably – spend weeks discovering the many picturesque wine roads that crisscross their way over Pohorje's slopes all the way to the Austrian border and beyond.

A treat to the sensesTo drive the meandering roads throughout the region beyond Maribor is a treat to the senses as an ever-present vibrant green dominates the scenery, with the ubiquitous summer sun and clear blue skies providing the perfect backdrop.

With only a day to enjoy the very accessible wine roads, the vineyard of choice was the award-winning Dveri Pax, located just north of Maribor, surrounded by the rolling hills of Jarenina.

The wines of Dveri Pax were produced in the castle cellar of Jarenina Manor by the Benedictine monks as early as 1139 and tours and wine-tastings will make for a very enjoyable tour of the vineyard. Equally impressive was the basket of locally baked bread that proved the perfect partner for the wide range of wines on offer, as my stay in Maribor came to a very enjoyable end.

Where to Stay: I stayed at the three-star Hotel Orel, located right in the centre of Maribor, within walking distance to all the town's main attractions.

Getting to Maribor: Maribor is well-connected with the airports of Ljubljana, Graz and Zagreb – all within an hour's drive. Alternatively, you can reach Maribor by car from Vienna or Venice in less than three hours, or you can take a direct train from Vienna, which will also take you about three hours.

For more information on Maribor, visit: www.slovenia.info.

Ed Leahy

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