Shoemakers Bridge was looking particularly pretty in its Christmas party dress as I began exploring Slovenia. All lit up and sending out fine festive feelings to the folk in Ljubljana Slovenia.. Remarkably different from its former role as the location for dunking misbehaving bakers into the cold murky Ljubljana river back in the middle ages. It seems in those days, the bread makers had a habit of creaming a little extra profit in hard times, and since bread was so important as a staple diet, it didn’t go down too well with the locals.
These days, times are hard once again, and though the bread makers are doing well, the casino owners bar one, have all shut up shop which says it all really. Still, no one cares much about hard up casinos thankfully, as Ljubljana has a lot more to offer the festive seasonal visitor. The Christmas market stalls were going great guns along the river bank under the watchful gaze of the old castle high up on the hill, the restaurants were doing good business and the gluhwein was flowing freely.
Ljubljana has a lot of students, almost 25% of the population and consequently the night life and value opportunities are in plentiful supply. So far so good then.
Ana Ros is something of a celebrity chef in these parts Owner of Gostilna na Gradu a wonderful restaurant up in the castle grounds, she brings a modern twist to traditional slo cook Slovenian recipes and frankly, her roast beef with lemon, olive oil and pepper was an absolute triumph. Having said that, the restaurant at Ljubljana’s luxury hotel Cubo is certainly not shabby either transforming food into culinary art on a plate.
Away from Ljubljana’s bright lights, the real Slovenia comes alive. A land full of passionate people who create things quite magical; whether it is the alpine Styrian influenced north east, the Italianesque western border, the rugged Karst region or its Mediterranean province, you’ll find a diverse mix of culture and cuisine that is fascinating to experience.
Maribor, Slovenia’s second city just a few miles from Graz, There’s a sense of anticipation and pride emanating out of every pore and rightfully so as it’s in a region with a lot to offer.Its most famous resident is the 400 year old vine that still bears fruit each year although I’m reliably informed the wine from it is not quite as robust.
These days it is only given to visiting dignitaries to be admired in the bottle rather than drunk. Maribor does have a fine tradition of wine making however and the old house behind the vine will provide some excellent examples of local vintages for you to try.
Other notable attractions are the Puppet Theatre; enjoying its new home in a converted monastery the theatre embraces the long traditions of puppetry (there’s even a small museum ) and is one of the finest in Europe. The 14th century synagogue is the second oldest in Europe and a snapshot of a time gone by when the city’s Jewish population flourished.
The Vipava Valley
Away across to the west close to the Italian border, the Vipava Valley is a stunning sub-Mediterranean region where the legendary Bora wind, affecter of battles and architecture has in turn created the perfect weather system for making delicious wines and cheeses across its fertile plains and valleys. At times the Bora is strong enough to rip off roofs so you’ll only find narrow streets in the villages to reduce its effect, and all doors and windows face away from it.
Vipava itself is a remarkable small town, right at the source of the Vipava River, the water gushes directly out of from the rock face creating the water carved canals that gave it its Little Venice moniker. There are rich Roman remains to be found around here, particularly at Ajdovscina where some of the remains are integrated into the walls of buildings. Master chef Matej Tomazio has spent 12 years creating his restaurant dream and today Majerija is a stunning testament to his dedication. This is a wondrous place where locally sourced and home grown produce is transformed into delicious dishes that are contemporary twists on traditional Slovenian recipes.
I can’t leave this wonderful area without mentioning of the wonderful local wine cooperative; small independent but highly passionate wine producers of the lower Vipava Valley that combine to create the kind of memorable wines that would give any French or New World producer a run for their money. Winemakers such as MatejLavrenčič , once a qualified geologist who after studying grape chemistry, created Vinosa, his own vineyard from scratch.
A hugely ambitious project that has since spawned a succession of excellent wines from his ancient cellar. Matej together with his winemaker colleagues hold regular tastings in their cellars so travel the wine road of the Lower Vipava yourself and say hello to Matej for me.
Slovenia has had a turbulent past; she’s been pushed and pulled by suitors from all directions, but despite all that she’s developed into something a little bit special. You won’t be disappointed.