Slovenia has been in the news lately as the birthplace of America’s newest First Lady, Melania Trump. Sadly, many do not know much more about this former Yugoslav nation. This young nation may lack the strong national identity that its European neighbors possess but pastoral landscapes, an emerging food and wine scene, and friendly, hospitable people will have you uttering the tourism motto, “I feel Slovenia”.
In past blogs, I featured the capital city, Ljubljana and day trips to Postojana Cave, Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge. Slovenian wine country was our final stop in Slovenia and arguably the most beautiful.
The history of viticulture in Slovenia dates back to before Roman time, all the way to the 4th and 5th centuries when Celts and Illyrian tribes called this land home. It should be no surprise then that this country is home to the world’s oldest vine, over 400 years old! Today, Slovenia has a vineyard or winery for every 70 people. There are over 28,000 wineries producing 80 million liters of wine annually! Chances are you are not familiar with Slovenian wine because most of the wine produced is consumed domestically. Who can blame the Slovenes!
On our week long trip to Slovenia, we set aside three days to experience wine country. We headed to Goriška Brda, known as “Slovenia’s Tuscany”, which has the highest medals and awards per hectare in all of Slovenia.
The region was not easily accessible by public transport so we arranged for a GoOpti van from Ljubljana to take us directly to our accommodation at Farm stay Šibav B&B in Dobrovo. In our second story room, homegrown grapes and apples were left out on the table for us to snack on and we had a good laugh when our host showed us the ‘first aid kit’ which was a refrigerator filled with a few bottles of their very own, Šibav wine.
Sibav Farm was so close to the border that we could ride our bike to Italy if we wished. This means most residents spoke not only Slovenian but Italian and, lucky for us, many we meet also spoke English as a third language.
On our first full day, we borrowed the mountain bikes that the farm offered and explored the countryside. We started at Klet Brda where we thought we had secured a reservation online but it turns out they hadn’t received the reservation and were not able to accommodate us due to a tour group.
While we didn’t get the full tour and tasting experience we didn’t leave empty handed. We spent some time wandering around the store where many of the wines were selling for less than five euros.
On one wall we spied some spigots where you could bring your own bottle and fill for around two euros per liter.
The store contained a strikingly large assortment of wine because it’s a cooperative of over 400 local growers.
From there, we headed up the hill to Dobrovo Castle where there was a wine shop known as Vinoteka Brda that offers tastings.
The castle is worth visiting for the stunning panoramic view of the region.
The Brda region in Slovenia is most known for a white wine called Rebula, after the Ribolla Gialla grape varietal that is grown in the region. The soil in the region is full of minerals and salts since it was covered by sea millions of years ago. We saw evidence of this at our accommodation where they displayed the shells and fossils they uncovered in the fields over the years.
Rebula is a golden colored wine that inherits the minerals from the soil and is an excellent base for sparkling wine. While white wine production dominates the region, visitors will also find reds such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.
We stopped by the tourist information center located on the castle grounds to get familiar with the region. It was here we learned about the Gradnik Trail that traced the footsteps of beloved Slovene poet Alojz Gradnik. Since the trail ran right along castle property we took a pamphlet detailing the significance of the eleven marked stops and gave it go.
Having no familiarity with the poet, the trail would have never made my short list had I preplanned our activities but these serendipitous moments are the greatest reward to flexible, budget conscious travel. Instead of spending hundreds on a wine tour of the region with other tourists we got to know the heart and soul of the land.
The trail leads through the village of Medana where Gradnik was born, fittingly enough ended with the cemetery which is his final resting place. Marked signs denote each stop along the way and give details of the many Cyprus, Olive and fruit trees that grow in the region.
The trail lead through gently sloping vineyards and serene vantage points of the rolling hills which the region is named after; “Brda” means hill in Slovene. The snow-capped Alps were visible in the distance.
The climate is considered Mediterranean and in late October the chill and colors of autumn were slow to take hold. Trees and plants were still flowering. One fruit that looked like a cross between a tomato and a peach caught our eye, it turned out to be a persimmon. The passion flower was also one we don’t see back home.
If our first day was spent getting taking in the natural beauty and culture of the land, the second was getting to know the hospitality and home cooking of the people.
Back at the farm, we had found a new friend in the family’s oversized German Sheppard named Finn. Finn’s menacing looks did not match his gentle and docile nature.
Our day started with a homemade breakfast of soft boiled farm eggs, homemade bread, pancetta, tomatoes, fresh juice, and tea. The owner sat with us and we conversed about everything from what it was like to live under Josip Tito in Yugoslavia to how to raise chickens.
Saddle sore from the prior day, I crossed dreams of owning a beach cruiser off my list. Bikes and I just don’t get along and I didn’t need more stitches in my chin to remind me. Chris on the other had was reveling his freedom on two wheels and took a ride down the street to get some groceries. I stayed home and researched the next leg of our trip as I sipped an exquisite Sibav wine. In the afternoon our host stopped by our room with a homemade cream cake just like the one we had in Lake Bled.
Our hosts were welcoming a tour group for a wine tasting dinner that evening and graciously invited us to join them.
Dinner started with a hearty peasant soup consisting of beans, sausage and potatoes and the main dish was a delicious white polenta and pancetta.
The tour group didn’t speak English but our most gracious host, kept us company all night, even running to get her Slovenian cookbook to show us the traditional dishes after we gushed over how tasty the dinner was. We finished the night with some prize-winning wine and fire roasted chestnuts.
It turned out that the most memorable part of our trip to Slovenian wine country was not the wine but the hospitality. Sibav Farm Stay ranks in the top five favorite accommodations out of over one hundred we experienced on our trip around the world.
We had a Sound of Music moment each morning when we threw open our wooden shutters to let in the sun and take in the greenery of the vineyards. Home cooked meals and lively conversation provided such authentic and memorable experience that it was sad to part ways.
Serious wine lovers will not be disappointed with the region. Slovenian wine is high quality and low priced, a winning combination. Our lack of transport limited us to a handful of vineyards but there was a large variety of wine offered at each due to the cooperative model. Reservations should be made in advance and you can expand the selection of tastings by effortlessly crossing the border into Italy.
We chose to visit Goriška Brda since it was just over an hour and a half from our next destination, Venice, Italy. Slovenia, however, offers many other wine regions in the east and west of the country. With over twenty wine routes to explore you won’t have to go far to find a great glass of wine or a friendly face in this country.
If you like it, Pin It!