During the 1st century AD, Poetovio, now known as Ptuj, was the largest Roman settlement in the area that is now Slovenia. Much later, in the 13th century, Maribor was founded. Originally given the German name Marchburg, the city took its Slavic name in 1836. For centuries the two towns competed for economic and cultural prominence within the region, and Maribor finally gained the upper hand in 1846, when a new railway line connected the city to Vienna and Trieste. The area between Maribor and Ptuj is a flat, fertile floodplain formed by the Drava River. South of Ptuj lie the hills of Haloze, famous for quality white wines.
Today, the presence of thousands of university students gives Maribor, Slovenia's second-largest city, a youthful vibe. You'll find plenty of pubs and cafés, especially in the Lent district along the Drava River. The Old Town has retained a core of ornate 18th- and 19th-century town houses, typical of imperial Austria, and much of it is off-limits to cars.
Ptuj, built beside the Drava River and crowned by a hilltop castle, hits the national news each year in February with its extraordinary Carnival celebration, known as Kurentovanje. During the 10-day festival the town's boys and men dress in the bizarre Kurent costume: a horned mask decorated with ribbons and flowers, a sheepskin cloak, and a set of heavy bells around the waist. The task of the Kurent is to drive away the winter and welcome in the spring. You can see Kurent figures on 18th-century building facades in the center of Ptuj, on Jadranska ulica 4 and 6. It's a charming place and worth an overnight stay.