Something About Slovenia
A few months ago, when there were still leaves on the trees and the temperatures hadn’t yet dipped below the freezing mark, my friend Susanne joined me on a research dig around the often overlooked country of Slovenia. Together we spent ten days roaming the land and trying to absorb as much as possible. While we had both travelled there before, we were struck once again with the country’s immense natural beauty, friendly locals and high-quality culinary offerings.
Upon leaving Ljubljana, on the train to Munich, we gazed out of the window and reminisced about our time. Here is our exchange (or rather a translation thereof, from German into English).
Claudia: What stood out to you about the people we met along the way?
Susanne: I loved just how welcome everyone made us feel, how friendly, accommodating and open people were towards us. Slovenians are so proud of their small country and rich cultural heritage. They really seemed to care about one another and the environment, living a farm-to-table life without needing a label for it. Just a way of life that comes natural. I also enjoyed how the people are level-headed in a Germanic kind of way.
C: It’s fun to find out about the various influences from neighbouring countries too. As you drive across the land and its winding roads you dip in and out of Italy, Austria, Croatia… and back into Slovenia. I also love how you could hike in the Julian Alps in the morning and swim in the Adriatic in the afternoon. That’s pretty cool.
S: To me, the most impressive road was the one around Kolovrat. Imagine, as you’re driving your car or riding your bike across the mountain range, you have Italy at your feet, and Slovenia on the other side. You could even see out to the sea all the way to Venice! And never mind the WWI open air fortifications. In a place of such great nature and serenity, it’s hard to imagine the ferocious fighting that took place in the very same spot. Yeah, the Erholungsfaktor* is really high with all the green forests, farmers fields, snow-covered mountain peaks, vineyard-clad hillsides… Eye candy no matter where you look.
C: Where did you have the best night’s sleep?
S: Chalets Nebesa, hands down. Best mattress of the trip.
C: I’d have to agree on that. I also loved the general vibe and setting of that place. The sharing culture and open kitchen is a nice change from a traditional hotel experience. Never mind the readily-available DYI charcuterie and cheese boards and free-flowing house wine on tap. Speaking of which, what do you think of Slovenian wines?
S: I find it fascinating that pretty much any wine is so special that you always consciously drink it, you taste the different terroir and the love that goes into making it. Natural wines and local grapes are much more popular and advertised here than at home too. It’s a great place for wine discovery really. For such a small country it sure is super diverse from a wine standpoint. I loved visiting the local producers and being at the pulse of where the magic happens. Overall, I’m happy to pay a premium for the quality that’s on offer here.
C: And what about the food, what were your favourite dinners?
S: The surprise menu and wine pairing at Villa Planinka was very special. I loved how the sommelier matched the chef’s creations with ease. It gave him so much joy seeing us experiment with the flavour combinations and asking him to see the wine cellar he is so incredibly proud of.
C: We did end up buying several bottles to ship home that one evening, didn’t we?
S: That’s right… And remember meeting the natural wine shop owner at Ljubjana’s Open Kitchen event? That was a ton of fun. I mean, the whole experience of trying all these different foods under an open sky is just wonderful.
C: You’re right. Enjoying a bite and sampling wine by the glass, people-watching from the makeshift wooden benches was a lovely way to spend our last night.
S: We were so lucky with the weather, sitting outside on a warm late October evening like that. And how quiet and peaceful even the touristy sites like Lake Bled were this time around.
C: True that. Out of all the exploring we did, what were some of your highlights?
S: Our hike of Goli Vrh with guide Primož was a bit of an upward struggle but so so worth it once we got to the top. I’m so glad we did that. The views were incredible, and we had the place to ourselves. I also enjoyed our cooking class with Niko and his wife Petra in their Bled home. What a generous couple and fun way to learn about the local way of life through food. Visiting the secret rooms at Hotel Jama introduced me to a part of the country’s history that I hadn’t yet given much thought. It was eye-opening and makes me want to dig deeper.
C: Is there something you would have changed about our trip?
S: I know we had to return to the city (Ljubljana) mostly due to logistics around the rental car, but I’d gotten used to the slow pace of life, natural setting and nighttime silence during our week in the countryside. It felt a little overwhelming to be back in an urban environment and in an ideal world, I’d prefer to stick around the countryside instead. Having said this, I also appreciated it because we got to experience Open Kitchen again. And Ljubljana is such an adorable city too.
C: Speaking of Ljubljana, spending one more night there at the end did give us an opportunity to re-visit the incredible farmers market earlier this morning before skipping town. What purchase are you most happy about?
S: The dried porcini mushrooms we bought from that charming elderly lady. I am already looking forward to creating a mushroom risotto that brings back memories of Slovenia!
*the rate at which an urban dweller recovers from daily distractions with a little help of Mother Nature