A taste of Luxury Slovenia
Updated: Nov 15
I am quite excited to experience a new country adding to my collection as I continue to explore this beautiful planet. This week I was able to visit the charming and somewhat lesser known
European country of Slovenia.
My journey stated in Vancouver, Canada as I jetted across the Atlantic on Air France business class, AF379 their older 777-200. The service team was great and before I knew it I was landing in Paris, Charles de Gaulle International airport. I was able to enjoy a fillet of beef: thin truffle shavings, sautéed kale and artichoke, roast carrots, cherry tomato confit. To finish off the lunch Air France served a trio of dessert miniatures. I had a glass or two of the 2017 Saint-Estephe Chateau Lilian Ladouys - a Bordeaux blend: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, petit verdot, cabernet franc.
My short 4-hour connection to Ljubljana, Slovenia on Air France's Hop was effortless and easy. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the French border services now allow for ePassports for Canada and USA to use their express lane making arriving into France or connecting that much easier. In no time I was in the Air France SkyTeam Lounge. Enjoyed a shower and freshened up, had a light breakfast and then off to Slovenia.
Upon arrival at the Ljubljana International airport (small regional European airport) bags came out quick and outside of the baggage hall my Luxury Slovenia driver was waiting for me to whisk me away to start my "taste of Slovenia."
From the airport we drove into town to pick up my colleague, Vincent Jones of Citizen Jones Travel (another LGBTQ travel advisor with Ensemble Travel based in West Hollywood, CA.) together we would start our luxury gourmet adventure of Castles, Wine, and Michelin rated hotels and restaurants. Though we will only have three-nights in Slovenia, we can already tell this adventure is really more of a tease and we will be yearning to discover so much more!
Check in at Hotel Castle Otočec Relais & Chateaux
Upon arrival to the Relais Chateaux Otočec Castle***** we were treated to a glass of Slovenian sparkling wine as our luggage was sent up to our room. There is something special about being able to sleep in a castle. My imagination runs wild thinking of what stories the walls must hold.
Otočec Castle is the country's only castle completely surrounded by water. Home to the de Werde noblemen in the 13th century, who were also known as the Knights of Otočec, this castle is the only one in Slovenia that sits on a river island. The magnificent castle on the river Krka was for centuries both a stronghold and a gracious home to numerous noble families. Its most prominent inhabitants, apart from the Knights of Otočec, were the Villanders nobles of Tyrol, captain of Žumberak Uskoks Ivan Lenkovič, and the noble Janez Sonce, who is also the central character in a narrative by Ivan Tavčar. Before World War II the castle was owned by the House of Marghieri de Commadona.
Nowadays the castle is converted to the Relais Chateaux 5 star hotel property. The Castle Hotel also has a gourmet fine dinning restaurant. The castle restaurant is a member of the oldest, largest and most prominent international association Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which works to promote and develop the art of cooking, the culture of wine drinking and socializing at the dinner table while showing appreciation of a region’s ethnological characteristics.
Welcome dinner - Gourmet Dinner at Castle Otočec - The Plate Michelin
Housed in a medieval castle with a long and tumultuous history, this beautiful restaurant has a tranquil feel. Seasonal ingredients take pride of place in generous dishes which are full of flavour and prepared with imagination by the chefs in the kitchen.
Soon we unpacked, refreshed and were off to the Michelin Plated hotel bar and restaurant to meet our hosts at Luxury Slovenia. A pre-dinner cocktail, Negroni for me and Vincent had his Negroni Sbagliato with Prosecco and shared a few laughs with "House of the Dragon." After all we are staying in a castle!
We had an amazing gourmet wine paired dinner. The chef prepared some incredible dishes including: Fennel, broccoli and trout salad to start. Venison tartar, truffles and aged cow cheese; Porcini mushrooms with goat cheese; Pork, cauliflower, carrots with porridge (bread); followed by some amazing desserts!
Castle Restaurant was awarded with "The Michelin plate". The Plate Michelin, an award that inspectors bestowed on 37 restaurants including the Otočec Castle restaurant and its young chef Nejc Ban, highlights fresh ingredients, carefully prepared and good meals. They were impressed by the focus on local specialities and ingredients, the seasonal offer of vegetables, berries and herbs from the castle’s organic garden, as well as the restaurant itself. They recognized it as one of the most wonderful interiors and rated it with three covers represented by the knife and fork symbol. The Plate Michelin, which also means that the Otočec Castle restaurant, in one of Slovenia’s most beautiful tourist destinations, is deemed visit-worthy, and I totally agree. It was amazing.
The next day we were off to Lake Bled to visit another castle. The stunning location of Lake Bled, surrounded by the Alps, has attracted visitors throughout the centuries.
The mighty Bled Castle offers the finest views of Bled island, the town of Bled and the wider countryside of Upper Carniola region. We got a glimpse Bled's history, culture and people with a visit to the Bled Castle Museum. We became familiar with the traditional manual technological procedures of printing in the castle’s printing shop learning where the term "Upper Case, and Lower Case" in typing came from.
Private “Pletna” Boat Ride to Bled Island
After our castle overview we took a trip across the lake in the traditional Pletna boat and breathe in the crisp mountain air. Our private boat ride to the island of Bled was quite magical. Just Vincent and I along with our guide and the oarsman taking in the calmness and tranquility all around.
What is a “Pletna” boat? It is a traditional boat made by the locals which is found only in Bled. The origins of the Pletna boat go back to 1590. The Pletna boat is a wooden flat-bottom boat with a pointed bow and the stern widened with a step to enable passengers to enter. The Pletna boat is operated by the Pletna oarsman. This profession is highly respected as it cannot be performed just by anyone. The title of the Pletna oarsman was handed down from generation to generation. This is a must-try.
Visit Bled Island, the Church, the Wishing Bell and the Tower – Bled Island
The most recognizable symbol of the lake is this island and the Church of the Assumption with its long and diverse history. What is more, the lush greenery also hides other interesting island buildings, like the bell-tower, the church, the chaplain's house, the provost's house and some mysterious legends. Naturally we needed to climb the bell-tower to take in the awesome views and ring the famed wishing bell. Pull the cord three times and make a wish.
After exploring the Bled island we head to the enchanting villa that was once the summer home of President Tito. The villa has since been opened to the public where you can stay at the Vila Bled with a fantastic restaurant overlooking the lake views of Bled castle in the distance. Here we had gourmet lunch which included: Wild rice cracker, cottage cheese and black truffles; Cauliflower soup with shrimp, herb oil, cauliflower cream, micro herbs and a drizzle of pumpkin oil; the main was an aged roast beef, dark demi-glace sauce, cheese dumpling, shallots in honey, fresh garden vegetables in butter. And to end was the famous Bled Cream Cake.
Taste the Famous Bled Cream Cake
The original Bled cream cake is a recognizable feature of Bled that we had try. The famed cream cake consists of a golden crispy crust made from butter dough, a delicious vanilla cream of exactly the right consistency so that it does not collapse after cutting and to make the perfect taste, topped with whipped cream and a crispy layer of butter dough and finally, last but not least, a good dusting of icing sugar. This dish has been awarded the certificate of national origin and more than 12 million pieces of this dessert have been sold in Lake Bled so far. I am sure everything about this iconic dessert is all about the water, and local ingredients that make it so special.
After lunch we headed off through the scenic countryside to the city of Ljubljana.
Check in at InterContinental Ljubljana
We were greeted by the hotel's sales direct as we took in the hotel's contemporary elegance at the InterContinental Ljubljana. The hotel located in the central business district was also a great location to explore the authentic Slovenian Capital. It is a short walk to the Ljubljanica river, Tivoli Park, the fish and farmers market, Ljubljana Castle, and of course steps away from great shopping and restaurants.
The hotel also has some of the best views of the city, the Castle, Tivoli Park and the Alpes. Especially from their roof top restaurant and bar on the 20th floor, Michelin rated B-Restaurant or on the 18th floor health club with a lap pool, whirl pool; coed cedar sauna, and infrared sauna - all with unobstructed views of the city. The health club also has a coed steam room, and several treatment rooms for massage and other spa services.
We stayed in one of the hotel's standard rooms - but really there was nothing standard about it. The Hypnos signature bed literally was heaven on earth. One of the best sleeps I had despite the jet-leg. Perhaps one of my favourite features of the guest room was the massive bathroom with the separate walk-in shower with push button on demand water at the perfect temperature (no knobs to fiddle with!), massive soaker tub, separate water closet (toilet) and a thoughtfully designed suitcase shelf so you could pull items from your luggage with easy without having to unpack everything - if you choose to do so. Did I mention the views?
Overall the stay was amazing.
Gourmet Dinner at Slovenska Hiša Figovec
Later that night we met up with the Matej, Mattej (the founders and owners of Luxury Slovenia) and their friend for an authentic Slovenian dinner at one of their favourite local restaurants - Hiša Figovec a short walk from the hotel.
The next day we were off on a walking tour of Ljubljana with our private guide.
The Best of Ljubljana Old Town Walk
Our guide explained Ljubljana's history and showed us some of the nicest corners of Slovenia's capital: The Town Hall, a walking tour of Plečnik's architectural masterpieces, Križanke open-air theatre, the Napoleon monument, Central Food market, Prešeren square, Congress Square, the Triple Bridge, the Dragon Bridge and the many plazas and squares pointing out where to find some of the best pizza, and authentic Slovenian meals. One thing is for certain, the old city centre of Ljubljana is remarkable for its unique architecture designed by Baroque and Art Nouveau masters and, above all, the architect Jože Plečnik.
Funicular ride to Ljubljana Castle
Funicular Railway The idea, the desire and the need to build a funicular railway to connect the Ljubljana Castle with the old town centre date back more than a century. The modern and unobtrusively designed funicular, which complements the traditional cultural identity of the Ljubljana Castle, is popular with both domestic and foreign visitors. The funicular's design preserves the natural environment in the wider area of the Castle Hill while providing a fast, efficient and accessible mode of transit to the Castle grounds.
Designers Miha Kerin and Majda Kregar of the Ambient design studio were awarded a Gold Medal for the design of the funicular railway in the category of best achievement in industrial design at the 21st Ljubljana Biennial of Industrial Design (BIO 21) in 2008.
Visit to Ljubljana Castle
Our tour continued to take in one of Ljubljana's most prominent landmarks, the Ljubljana Castle via the funicular ride ascending to the castle grounds. The has undergone numerous changes over its rich and dynamic history. We climbed the dramatic staircase to the Outlook Tower taking in the magnificent panoramic views of the city and its surroundings. We could tell we could have spent a lot more time exploring all the rich history and exhibits but alas we were on a schedule.
Boat Ride on Ljubljanica River
Next up was to experience a water-based tour, and the handmade wooden boat operated by the young team at Laker Craft on the Ljubljanica river. The ride lasted just under an hour and covered the majority of the old town's major sights from a unique vantage point. The 10m flat-bottomed vessel is constructed of solid larch and oak wood.
Gourmet Dinner at PEN Klub Restaurant by Chef Moimir Siftar
Our final night in Ljubljana was a wonderful treat. We had an extraordinary wine paired dinner in a private room at the famed PEN Klub restaurant. Our tasting menu included:
Whipped butter with Slovenian sea salt; lamb pâté with caramelized onion
Pumpkin seed, black truffle, roasted chestnut amuse-bouche
pork amuse-bouche paired with Sivi Pinot Selekcija 2021 Brajda Cru
Prawn tartar with algae, fresh kumquats and pickles paired with Chardonnay 2020 Brda
Ginger sorbet, cointreau crème fraîchee, candied orange, and black pepper
The main: Turbot filet with pork crackling, celery cream with wild herbs and buerre blanc sauce paired with Letnik 2020 Kokovostono Vino Zgo
and dessert: Corn ice cream with chestnuts and white chocolate, sour buckwheat, parsnip chips
It was quite the dinner!
For our final day in Slovenia, we went off to explore the most western part of Slovenia - the Goriška Brda Wine Region also known as the Tuscany of Slovenia rich with wines, olives and fruit. Wow, it was so beautiful and did not realize how close we were to Italy. The region is rich with many opportunities for wine tasting and local gastronomy experiences. Wide range of high-quality wines, tempting flavours of Mediterranean cuisine, healthy, fresh and home-made Brda food, high-quality olive oil and fruit, the Brda region also offers numerous opportunities to spend active leisure time in the nature.
Farm to Table Lunch - Local Lunch in Goriška Brda at Belica Restaurant
We had a real taste of country living with a stop at a local farm to table restaurant. Truly, I felt like I was in Tuscany. We experienced some of the local, seasonal and homemade food including locally cured meats and a pumpkin lasagna.
Private Wine Tasting at Boutique Wine Producer at Marjan Simčič
Our final stop on our "taste of Slovenia" took us to a boutique winery. Here we were able to learn about the region and their unique climatic zone making some extraordinary wines. The region produces primarily white wines 70% and about 30% reds. Na zdravje!
One thing is for certain, there is so much to discover in Slovenia and this 3-day trip only scratched the surface. Looking forward to discovering even more on my next visit.
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