Ask any Slovenian beekeeper why the country’s honey is so good, and they’ll tell you about the indigenous Carniolan honeybees. (Fun fact: Slovenian apiarists lobbied the UN to commemorate World Bee Day, which was officially established in 2017.) Walk into a wine bar in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, and you’ll likely learn that orange (aka macerated) wine, now uber-popular worldwide, has been produced in Slovenia for thousands of years.
Slovenia is a green country situated in the heart of Europe, with diverse geography and a long, rich history. It’s still considered an undiscovered destination in many parts of the world, and has earned a new important title: The International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts, and Tourism named Slovenia Europe’s Official Region of Gastronomy for 2021.
“The country isn’t very big, so everything you eat is local,” Virtuoso advisor Shelley Sistek says. “The geography creates opportunities to have access to world-renowned gourmet ingredients, such as fresh seafood, truffles, wine and fruit from gorgeous growing regions, and sea salt from ancient salt pans.”
Slovenia’s culinary heritage draws from a diverse topography that ranges from the Mediterranean coastline to the European Alps. The small country has an impressive 24 gastronomic areas, plus three wine-growing regions. While chef Ana Roš of the award-winning Hiša Franko restaurant in Kobarid may be the country’s poster child for cuisine (the restaurant secured the country’s first Michelin stars in June), there are plenty of other amazing chefs who devote their lives to Slovenia’s culinary culture.
“Hiša Franko was a wonderful experience,” Virtuoso advisor Rob Stein says. “The dishes were creative and undoubtedly Slovenian, but what left the greatest impression was the humility of a local family restaurant – which it still is at its core. Valter, Roš’ husband, is a warm and extremely talented guy who makes his own cheese.”
Here are four more places where you can get a true taste of Slovenia:
In the northwest alpine region of Gorenjska, chef Uroš Štefelin scours local pastures and valleys for the ingredients he uses at Vila Podvin. Local dairy – including a homemade, spicy mohant cheese – is popular, and hearty kranjska klobasa sausage, often served with Štefelin’s favorite variety of sweet tepka pear, feature prominently on the menu. Pears also go into an invigorating after-dinner brandy, made from other local fruits and herbs.
Gostilna pri Lojzetu
In Slovenian, “gostilna” means “inn” – a modest name for chef Tomaz Kavcic’s award-winning restaurant in the city of Vipava, a 45-minute drive from Trieste, Italy. Kavcic uses local ingredients such as persimmon, chestnut, and wild asparagus to create dishes once considered rural and “rustic.” Try the traditional jota, a hotpot of beans, potatoes, bacon, and turnips, and pair it with a glass of white zelen or red teran – both local varieties sourced from vines that grow within view of the dining room.
Slovenia is the world’s fifth-largest hops producer. In Lasko, its brewing capital, travelers can dine on creative, beer-infused dishes refined by chef Marko Pavcnik at Pavus, which is housed inside a medieval castle. A dark, heavy stout infuses the menu’s bear ragout, a lighter beer appears as a marinade on a local trout dish, and even the chocolate pralines for dessert showcase hints of hop-y bitterness.
Chef Luka Kosir loves to ferment, hunt, and forage just outside of Ljublana. Wild game is popular in this part of central Slovenia, and at Brunarica Gric, diners can order venison plated with wild herbs, mosses, lichen, and seasonal fermented vegetables. Kosir sources traditional produce from nearby farms. For adventurous eaters: Dried ants have been known to make occasional menu appearances.
This article is sponsored by the Slovenian Tourist Board.
Images courtesy of the Slovenian Tourist Board unless otherwise noted.