Jeruzalem, Slovenia, and the Celebration of St Martin’s Day

According to legend, Jeruzalem was given its name by crusaders who stopped here along their journey to the Holy Land. When arriving in Jeruzalem they claimed they had already found a piece of heaven on Earth. Jeruzalem is a small settlement among rolling hills with endless vineyards and breathtaking panoramic views that will take your breath away. It’s located in northeastern Slovenia, about thirty minutes southeast of Maribor and just over the hills from Croatia. The famous wine region is part of Prlekija county, with Ormož as its central town.

Jeruzalem prides itself on unforgettable scenery, scenic vineyards, warm and welcoming people, delicious local cuisine, and wine tasting. Being far away from large and crowded tourist attractions, it is an authentic, hidden gem, inviting you to explore its treasures and enjoy the serenity of the natural surroundings.

Even though this region is wonderful to explore in any season, there is something magical about Jeruzalem in autumn. The grape harvests span from September to October and are one of the most authentic experiences to enjoy while visiting Jeruzalem. The small towns in the region come alive during the harvest season, culminating in the celebration of St Martin’s Day on the 11th of November. Martinovanje, or The Celebration of St Martin’s Day, lasts for a whole week. Legend claims that this is the day when grape must (the pre-wine juice which consists of seeds, skins, and stems of the fruit) turns into wine. The Slovenian word for must is mošt, pronounced mosht.

The roots of St Martin’s Day celebrations supposedly arise from a Celtic holiday that paid tribute to the fruitfulness of the autumn in the fields and vineyards. St Martin, a bishop from Tours in France with Hungarian roots, seemed like the most appropriate successor of the pagan holiday and Christian patron of this important time.

St Martin’s Day is the most significant local holiday, linked with the tradition of winegrowing and winemaking, but also a holiday of bountiful autumn produce, a cause for giving thanks and celebrating another successful harvest with friends and family. In the past, this was the day when the harvest was officially completed, the previous year’s accounts settled, and new goals were set. These days, the celebration of St Martin’s Day is an opportunity for socializing and entertainment.

Traditions related to this holiday are still preserved in Jeruzalem where the must is blessed by a man dressed up as a bishop. Farmers make rounds in vineyards and perform rituals. In some regions, they lay an apple spiked with herbs, most commonly cloves and cinnamon, on a barrel. If the apple dries up, the harvest will be good, and if it rots, it will be poor.

Every municipality also chooses its Wine Queen, who becomes the ambassador of local wines for a year and ceremonially tastes the new wine after it’s been blessed. The celebration of St Martin’s Day also showcases smaller wineries and wine cellars that host food and wine tastings featuring delicious cold cuts and their signature Muscat Blanc, Traminec, Šipon, and Pinot Gris, among many others.

Of course, you’ll not go hungry around St Martin’s Day in Jeruzalem either, since – just as with any other celebration or holiday in Slovenia – the tables are full of typical, traditional dishes prepared with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

We had our traditional dinner at Taverna Kupljen Jeruzalem, it’s a delicious restaurant with amazing views and a cozy dining room heated by a massive fireplace. The restaurant has a three-course meal with soup, duck, and an apple dessert. Live music fills the air and wines from their winery fill the glasses.

The traditional Slovenian St Martin’s Day meal consists of a succulent roasted goose or duck, shredded cooked flatbread called mlinci, and a red cabbage side dish cooked in a sauce of red wine, apples, cloves, and cinnamon. The goose or duck is slow-roasted and repeatedly basted with the juices from the roasting tin. The stuffing is made of dried bread with apples, dried apricots, or raisins, and herbs and spices (marjoram, cinnamon, and nutmeg) for seasoning. Mlinci are thinly shredded pieces of dried flatbread made from flour, salt, and water, cooked in water, and dressed with a rich sauce.

The goose is typically and traditionally served because it’s connected to the legend of St Martin. Legend has it that St Martin was hiding from the residence of Tours, now France, because they were trying to force him to become their bishop. He hid in a barn, only wanting to help the poor and lead a simple, devout life. The geese cackling in the barn gave him away, so a goose must pay for its betrayal of St Martin every year with its life.

For those of you with a sweet tooth, you could go for some potica. This is a traditional festive cake that resembles the British spiral roly-poly pudding. It is the staple festive desert that can’t be absent from any home, public celebration, or holiday. The most prevalent version is the one with a walnut and raisin filling. Other versions contain poppyseed, cottage cheese, hazelnut, chocolate, and tarragon fillings.

Whether you are a wine lover or a cultural or local heritage enthusiast, Jeruzalem in autumn around the St Martin’s Day celebration will be a treat. Let yourself be charmed by the natural surroundings, fine wine, rich food, and some of Slovenia’s best and most welcoming people.

Join them in next year’s celebration and discover the rural fairytale in the heart of the vineyards. Subscribe for more Slovenian travels, plan your trip and meet Slovenia. Have a lovely day.