The old adage “It’s not what you know but WHO you know” certainly rang true when I visited Bled in Slovenia recently. I’d arranged to meet Andrew Villone from Roads Less Traveled Tours and Savor The Experience tours and he’d promised to show my husband and I a bit of Slovenia away from the standard tourist trail - and he certainly did.
Andrew has been running tours to Slovenia and Croatia for a number of years now and has recently relocated his family to Slovenia. It’s given him the chance to focus more deeply on the culinary delights of the two countries and it was a local ‘foodie’ experience that he’d recently discovered which surprised and impressed us.
Just five minutes from the centre of Bled is the home of a remarkable family - one we were privileged to spend an afternoon with. Adult daughter Monika, who worked in the hotel business for more than twenty years, decided on a career change and now provides visitors to Bled a unique, culinary and historical experience.
The family have a long farming history and Monika has turned their traditional barn into a fascinating museum. Full to the brim with farming and household equipment from days gone by, and collected by Monika’s mother over many years, there’s something to interest everyone.
But perhaps even more impressive is the needlework that Monika’s mother has produced over the years and the nativity scenes that are on display - many of which have been made by Monika and her daughters.
Monica is truly passionate about the museum and we could have stayed in there for hours browsing at all the interesting pieces and learning of their history but lunch beckoned - and what a lunch it was!
Before tucking in, though, Monika invited us into the family home to see the black kitchen. A black kitchen consists of a huge wood-fired oven and because smoke is often let out of the oven in order to smoke meats, the walls of the kitchen turn black.
Monika’s family use the oven almost every day and they believe theirs is the only one in Slovenia that is still in regular use.
Lunch was served in a purpose-built ‘cafe’ next to the house and was delicious. Absolutely everything we ate and drank had been home made by Monika. There was bread, salamis, cheeses, cakes and biscuits accompanied by the most divine pear juice (made with pears from the family’s pear trees), wine and beer - yes, all made by Monika.
We were also offered schnapps - which came in numerous flavours - but as we were driving to Ljubljana when we bade our farewells, we didn’t partake.
One of things that I enjoyed so much about the visit to Monika’s farm (apart from the food, of course!) was the fact that she is so passionate about preserving her Slovenian heritage through both the museum and her ‘cafe’.
Her eyes lit up as she explained the methods used to make the various foods and drinks she served us and her delight in seeing us enjoying her offerings was wonderful.
These are the sort of experiences that can really make a holiday special and it’s often only local knowledge that allows you to enjoy them. Andrew includes visits like this one on many of his tours, with particular emphasis placed on food and wine visits on his Savor The Experience tours.