virtuoso global September 2019 Slovenia: Sustainable Food Experiences Worth Traveling For

Slovenia: Sustainable Food Experiences Worth Traveling For

In Slovenia’s bucolic Goriska Brda wine region, organic and sustainable vineyard practices are one in the same.
In Slovenia’s bucolic Goriska Brda wine region, organic and sustainable vineyard practices are one in the same.
From small organic wineries to world-lauded celebrity chefs, Slovenia’s sustainability practices in the fields and on the table taste amazing. 
When it comes to sustainability, Slovenia stands out. Belying its tiny size – Slovenia is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey – this European country is a big presence on lists of the world’s greenest countries, for practices that protect the environment, reduce waste, and limit its population’s carbon footprint. In 2019 alone, Slovenia was included on the Good Country Index and the Green Destination list. Among other benefits, this sustainability means travelers can expect a strong farm-to-table tradition that has them heading to the country for iconic plates of Carniolan sausage, strukelj dumplings, and potica cake. “What excites me about the food scene in Slovenia is that its emphasis on sustainability is not a trend,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Rob Stein. “This is simply the way Slovenes have always approached food.” This culinary heritage makes sense in a place known for its majestic natural attractions, such as postcard-perfect Lake Bled, the Soca Valley’s stunning turquoise rivers, and the snowy peaks of the Julian Alps.

Below, a sampling of our favorite Slovenian restaurants and wineries that combine the ideals of “do good” and “eat well” in effortless fashion – plus, a sustainable, family-run apiary where the honey is not just tasty, but also used in health treatments.
Traditional Slovenian potica cake typically includes ground walnuts and cinnamon, but ingredients such as poppyseed, tarragon, and honey are also popular. 
Traditional Slovenian potica cake typically includes ground walnuts and cinnamon, but ingredients such as poppyseed, tarragon, and honey are also popular. 

Traditional-Style Restaurants Serving Eco-Friendly Appetites

It’s impossible to talk about Slovenian dining without mentioning Hisa Franko, a restaurant located in the Slovenian Alps in the northwest region of Kobarid, a two-hour drive from the capital of Ljubljana (or, if you drive the other way, just a two-hour drive from Venice). With self-taught chef Ana Ros at the helm, alongside her husband, head sommelier Valter Kramar, Hisa Franko might be the country’s best-known restaurant (thanks in part to its appearance in the Netflix documentary Chef’s Table).
Self-taught chef Ana Ros dabbled in competitive alpine skiing and a career in diplomacy before managing Hisa Franko.
Self-taught chef Ana Ros dabbled in competitive alpine skiing and a career in diplomacy before managing Hisa Franko.
Photo by Dean Dubokovic
Ros and her team are at the forefront of sustainability, foraging mushrooms and herbs from nearby woods and marshes, pulling marble trout from the Soca River, and sourcing meat, dairy, and produce from mountain pastures, neighboring farms, and an on-site garden (Kramar ages the local Tolminc cow’s milk cheese in an extension of his wine cellar). Almost nothing goes to waste here, so diners might see some unusual ingredients on the 11-course menu, such as leftover apple peels, fermented and ground into homemade sourdough bread.
Sommelier Valter Kramar ages the local Tolminc cheese for up to five years in the Hisa Franko cellar. 
Sommelier Valter Kramar ages the local Tolminc cheese for up to five years in the Hisa Franko cellar. 
Photo by Dean Dubokovic
While Hisa Franko shines as a sustainable-gastronomy success story, it’s far from the only one. Travelers to Slovenia don’t even need to leave Ljubljana to experience sophisticated and creative interpretations of farm-to-table dining. Try JB Restaurant, a proud supporter of the city’s farmers’ markets. “I had the pleasure of going to chef Janez Bratovz’s restaurant, JB,” says Virtuoso advisor Amy Siegal. “He was classically trained, and the simplicity of his dishes relies heavily on the superior quality of the ingredients. Bratovz is clearly an expert in bringing together Slovenia’s bountiful resources, with the most beautiful and delicious results.” One of his signature dishes is an artfully displayed homemade cottage cheese and pistachio ravioli, served with a delicate meat and cream sauce. It’s traditional, yet refined in taste and presentation. 
Chef Janez Bratovz designs avant-garde dishes based on the four earthly elements: earth, water, air, and fire.
Chef Janez Bratovz designs avant-garde dishes based on the four earthly elements: earth, water, air, and fire.
In this small country, most destinations are just an hour or two from the capital. Near the Italian border, another renowned Slovenian chef/restaurateur, Tomaz Kavcic, presides at Pri Lojzetu, inside the seventeenth-century Zemono Manor, originally used as a hunting lodge, and surrounded by the Vipava Valley’s vineyards. While Kavcic playfully admits on his restaurant’s website that he was “seduced by the trendy molecular cuisine” earlier in his career, he’s since turned to the slow food movement, respect for culinary tradition, and innovation to tie it together. At Pri Lojzetu, he sources ingredients from local producers and prepares them in ways that allow their natural flavors to shine, then dazzles with presentation, as in his appetizer of anchovies marinated in orange oil and an entrée of wild duck with apple and red cabbage.  
 
Perhaps the best thing about eating in Slovenia, though, is that you don’t need to seek out big-name chefs or well-known restaurants. Stop at a farmhouse restaurant in the countryside, and no doubt you’ll be in for a gastronomic treat, starring local and seasonal ingredients. 


Organic Wineries with Natural Taste

Considering Slovenia’s roughly 28,000 wineries and a winemaking tradition that dates back to pre-Roman times, it’s no exaggeration to say that, wherever you are in the country, grapes are being ripened, harvested, sorted, and bottled nearby. 
In Slovenia’s wine-producing Goriska Brda region, family and friends help hand-harvest the grapes. 
In Slovenia’s wine-producing Goriska Brda region, family and friends help hand-harvest the grapes. 
Close to the Italian border, the Primorska wine region is home to the Goriska Brda subregion, perhaps Slovenia’s best-known wine area. It’s a great place to try the region’s flagship white grape variety, rebula (travelers may recognize the grape by its Italian name, ribolla gialla). There are a number of quality biodynamic and organic producers here, such as Marjan Simcic, whose great-grandfather first began producing wine in 1860. Today, the family’s vineyards – all hand-harvested and often picked late to ensure full flavor – extend across 44 acres of varied microclimates. Simcic uses only natural methods in vine cultivation, eschewing artificial fertilizers or pesticides. There’s no man-made irrigation system either, which makes the vines heartier. 
 
Moving diagonally across Slovenia to the northeastern Podravje region, travelers can try the country’s finest white rieslings, dry and sweet furmints, and bright sparkling wines. Head to Suman Winery for a holistic approach to biodynamic winemaking. Here, local wildlife and farm animals have free rein to roam the vineyards, which helps build a healthier, more resilient ecosystem – and cuts the cost of mechanical vine trimming and grape harvesting. In this bucolic atmosphere, the winery produces wines such as a dry, unfiltered pinot noir, a rich, golden riesling, and a late-harvest orange wine (appropriately named “Sun Drops”). 


Beneficial Beehives with Health-Giving Honey

In rural Slovenia, colorfully painted beehives often host honey-centric therapies such as massage and saunas.
In rural Slovenia, colorfully painted beehives often host honey-centric therapies such as massage and saunas.
In Slovenia, sustainability extends beyond food and wine to alternative therapies as well. Apiculture, or beekeeping, has a long tradition in the country – the United Nations appointed May 20th as “World Bee Day” to coincide with the birthday of Slovenian Anton Jansa, a leader of modern apiary practices in the eighteenth century. Many beekeepers believe that apitherapy treatments, such as inhaling the warm honey-scented air at an apiary, can provide respiratory and other health benefits, and colorfully painted hives are a common sight in rural areas. At apiaries such as Kralov Med near Lake Bled, visitors can learn about the practice of beekeeping, then retreat for a relaxing hour of apitherapy treatments, which can include massages, baths, and even saunas – all with a healthy dose of honey.

Popular Articles

You may also like...