• Tuesday, October 20, 2020

covid free countries

May 20, 2020
By , Founder

Suggested Stay: 4-10 days, depending on how much of the country you want to see and how in depth you would like to experience the culture, food, scenery and activities

Good for: Families, couples, solo travelers, groups of friends and anyone who likes food

And the First Country in Europe to Declare the End of COVID Is…

We saw this headline, and our interest was piqued. We’ll give you a few hints. 1) Its neighbors are Croatia and Italy. 2) There’s everything from skiing in the Alps to beaches on its own Riviera to rolling hills in wine country (with pretty darned good wine). And 3) last but not least, some of the top-rated restaurants in the world. Yet it’s still not a mainstream, roll-off-the-tip-of-your-tongue destination. If you guessed Slovenia, you’re brilliant and maybe you saw it on our hot list before this whole pandemic even started.

Our visit last year was because we were in the neighborhood in Vienna, and there was a direct flight to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. We didn’t know quite what to expect, but on an excitement level, we thought we were in for a 6, maybe 6 ½. Let us nutshell it for you: Come to Slovenia to eat. It’s a solid 10 on food. How this is not yet on every single gourmand’s radar we don’t know, but that’s why it’s our job to share the wealth. Everything — from the simple barley soup in the ski region to focaccia pizza at the stunning wine estate Kruh in Vino to the 10-course tasting menu at JB Restaurant — were beyond memorable. We’ve recreated the barley soup and focaccia pizza, though there’s no way we could even begin to replicate what we ate at JB. JB is why you go to a restaurant.

Slovenia has three wine-growing regions and 24 gastronomic regions, all doing their own special thing with hyperlocal ingredients. Most foodies worth their salt have heard of Chef Ana Rosa, who was featured in the Netflix documentary Chef’s Table for her groundbreaking restaurant Hiša Franko. Though the statesman of the culinary scene, having mentored many of the country’s up-and-coming chefs, is the national gem Janez Bratovž. They just don’t make gentlemen like him anymore, and especially ones creating such high-level gourmet cuisine. If you have just one meal in Ljubljana, it should be at his restaurant JB.

We gave Calvados Club and Luxury Slovenia the impossible task of showing us the country in three days. They rocked it out, and we discovered places we otherwise would not have found, as the guidebooks have no idea what they’re talking about in this seldom-covered part of the world.

The Highlights:

·      Spend a day and evening in the capital city of Ljubljana, walking around the picturesque food markets, taking a traditional boat ride on the Ljubljanica River and having lunch at a local spot like Monstera by Chef Bine Volčič. The beetroot ravioli was a stunner, though the menu changes daily. Venture up to Ljubljana Castle, the major landmark of the city, to take in the views and to have dessert at Streclec because who doesn’t want to eat in a castle? On your way back before dinner at JB, pop into Rogaška for Slovenian crystal.

·      Dine at JB Restaurant. Or if you can swing it, take a private market tour with Executive Chef Janez Bratovž, sampling everything — local sauerkraut, cheeses and maybe even a live langoustine. Yes, you will want to be adventurous, but it’s so worth it.

·      Do a day trip to Lake Bled, where the castle (see a theme?) and the island in the middle of the lake are the main attractions. The only way to reach the island is by traditional Pletna, an old-fashioned boat rowed by a really ripped Slovenian, since motorboats are prohibited. Arrive at the island early to beat the tourists and get your chance to ring the famed church bell, which is reported to bring you whatever you wish for. Afterward, have a coffee and the local potica cake.

·      Spend a night in the wine region, which borders and is highly influenced by Italy, yet still distinctly Slovenian. There’s something a little more reserved and lighter about Slovenian wines than Italian ones, which kind of describes the difference in their cultural personalities too. The restaurant we mentioned, Kruh in Vino, is set in a villa that is impressive yet farmhouse at the same time. Kruh means bread, which they take very seriously. When you arrive, your server will bring out fresh bread and put on white gloves to tear pieces of the loaves for you to dip into local olive oil and eat with meats, cheeses and other daily treats. We were so inspired by this meal we have been recreating the pizza and shared the recipe for our focaccia pizzettes on Galavante.

·      Whether it’s ski season or hiking season, head to Vogel to take in the Alps. The Slovenians are athletic; the outdoors is part of their culture, and whether or not that’s your thing, the views are stunning. Also, the restaurant at the top of the mountain has the best barley soup. It’s not fine dining, but it represents what a homecooked meal would look like with a local family.

What to Know: At the time of our visit, the Intercontinental was the nicest hotel in the country. There are some boutique hotels, but if you’re looking for full service, modern bathrooms and excellent breakfast with a view, Intercontinental is your spot. Also, this property is on the nicer side of the regular portfolio. We’ll keep you posted on additional hotels, as there were a few in the pipeline for stays in the wine region.