Holidays in Slovenia
Wine Tour (Bronze): Sampling Slovenia's wines on a budget
Quietly, in the very centre of Europe, wine makers have been producing wines that will make you wonder why you haven't heard of them before... well, you will after this... and so will your friends, family, colleagues (nobody who travels with us has a 'co-worker') and anybody who stands still long enough for you to bend their ear.
Use the buttons for a glimpse of your wine tour of Slovenia...
- San Martin
- Gostilna na Gradu
One of Goriška Brda's most respected wine makers, Štekar makes a perfect base from which to investigate the region's wines. Situated to the east of Brda, it's quite easy to get to from the main road leading up into the Soča Valley, and from there it's wineries all the way to the Italian border... and then it's wineries again.
The pretty house is a typically Slovene/Italian design, with creamy-yellow walls and sky blue woody bits. The garden leads straight on to the vines, and during the summer months meals are served al fresco, so that you can take in the views across the region.
The menu at Belica changes almost daily, as the chef insists on using local ingredients (many of which are grown on the property) that are good on that day. The cuisine is that gorgeous blend of Slovene and Italian which is indigenous to the area: pastas and risottos are simple and all the better for it, as you get to taste (truffles, when we last visited) the ingredients in their glory; fish is sourced the same day from the Adriatic; oh, and Zlatko makes excellent cured meats: his salamis and pršut (prosciutto) are some of the best we've tasted anywhere.
Belica's wines have come a long way since we first visited, so be sure to get a good tasting - and they also make some very nice spirits and grappas.
We've been drinking Ščurek wines for some years now, and always regarded them as being unique yet classical: each wine being a distillation (if I can use that word!) of the region, its weather, terrain and the wine maker's character.
At last, early in 2014, we took the opportunity to visit and 'get down and dirty' with some of our favourite wines and their charming humans. Now it's your turn.
The latest addition (2013) to Goriška Brda's burgeoning tourist industry, Hotel San Martin manages to stand out as a shining example of modern architecture, while blending in perfectly with its surroundings. The owner, Vesna Valentinčič, hails from the vicinity and always had a dream of building something special to celebrate all that is good about the region. When she found that a local school had fallen into disuse and had become available, she snapped it up and proceeded to transform it into one of Goriška Brda's finest hotels.
With one of the finest wine cellars.
And a restaurant to match.
Our latest 'favourite' wine maker is Zanut, where you'll be introduced to some rather fine wines by the lovely Marcela and/or her husband Borut. You'll also get to see around the vineyards and the wine making facilities.
Slamič is a family-owned boutique hotel in the very heart of Ljubljana. On a practical level it's just about perfect: off-street parking, breakfast room and terrace, coffee shop, very high quality mattresses and bedding and easy access to the best of the city.
But it's the human level that is most telling: the family has artistic leanings (daughter Mojca plays in the city's symphony orchestra, for instance) and this comes across in how they treat their guests and staff. No, not as forelock-tugging acolytes, provided as virtual slaves in order that the great creators can fulfill their artistic potential - as warm, caring and helpful people, concerned that their guests are comfortable. Silly.
Until a few years back, the dining options at Ljubljana castle were not great (please note the typical English understatement here).
Then three of Slovenia's greatest restaurateurs - Ana Roš and Valter Kramer of Hiša Franko, and Svetozar Raspopović of Gostilna As - took on the task of making a restaurant the city could be proud of. Between them they trained a team of young chefs to prepare and cook local, organic, seasonal produce, to a standard that befits a city's castle. Best of all, this is no tourist trap, and they're not into airs and graces: Gostilna na Gradu is now the main reason for visiting the castle!
Tucked beside the town hall in the old town, Movia's quaint little wine bar is a cornucopia of Slovenia's ever-increasing wines. As an introduction to the breadth of Slovenia's wines, this is a fine place to start.
Gujžina is a natural extension of one of our favourite Ljubljana eateries, Mencigar Nobile - a place that was damned by its location (slightly outside the touristy bit) and its name (how do you pronounce it?).
Having addressed one problem in locating this gem of a restaurant in the middle of the old town, they compounded the other by using letters in its name that are not even a part of the Slovenian alphabet. So, in order to help get you there, here is how you pronounce it: Goozheena (the 'zh' as in 'pleasure').
The food: the speciality is from the north eastern region of Prekmurje, so there is a lot of Hungarian influence: plenty of pumpkin seeds, prime porky-worky, goose and goulash. The most famous main dish is Bograč, a piquant stew featuring plenty of game and a few potatoes. And the most famous dessert is what we call the Cake of Champions: Gibanica (pron. Gibanitsa), a cake layered with poppy seeds, apple, cheese, nuts, honey and other cakey things. Eat both of these and you'll be replete indeed. Or stuffed, as we say.
It is also worth noting that the wines from the region are also quite exceptional, including Marof and Dveri Pax.
This is Gašper Čarman, who's mum and dad own and Slovenia's nicest restaurants, Pri Danilu. While still helping at the restaurant, he developed an interest in wine... developed a relationship with wine makers... developed his own wine distribution company... developed his own wine bar and shop. Hopefully he's stopped developing for a while, so we can all catch up.
When you get back home you can order Slovenian wines online from e-vino, but while you're here you should spend some time imbibing some of Slovenia's best at Gašper's wine bar.
Hlebec is primarily a vineyard and wine producer, presided over by the charming Milan Hlebec, and his son, Milan Hlebec. It is set by the side of a road in the village of Kog - although it's less like a village and more like a road with some houses beside it... and all surrounded by vineyards. Locally you will find some very serious wines indeed, not least those of Čurin, just down the road.
The welcome you will receive here is second to none: the minute you walk in to when you sadly leave, you'll feel that everyone cares for your comfort and happiness - and that you have enough wine in your glass.
Since the dark days of Yugoslavia, Janez Istenič has been producing sparkling wine by the traditional method (méthode champenoise) - indeed he was for a time the first and only producer in the region to do so.
He has since won many awards around the world for all of his wines, his Prestige Extra Brut being one of our favourites.
One of Slovenia's newer wineries, Marof has very quickly established itself as one of the best. A drive through the winding roads and vineyards north of Murska Sobota rewards you with one of the most stunning wine cellars you'll ever see.
First is the chateau, which the company uses for presentations, seminars and the like. Nice, but the real killer is the building that houses the tasting room and cellar: a sleek yet plain looking large shed belies an ultra-modern interior, featuring a beautifully constructed wooden tasting table that snakes its way towards the bar... and past the huge glass wall that looks out over the vineyards.
A perfect venue for tasting some of the region's finer wines.
What you get...
- 10 nights in three family-owned hotels
- Five traditional dinners
- Six wine tastings
- Price per person (based on two sharing)
Prices are the best estimate, depending on availability, season, exchange rate and personal preferences.
Does not include flights or car hire.