Easter Snow, Easter Food, and Chocolates Galore at Coko-Hram!

We may not have had a White Christmas, although the first snow of the year arrived on Boxing Day, however, this Easter was marked by abnormally cold and wintery temperatures. In fact, this past few days we’ve really had it all weather-wise; on Friday I was sitting outside a café in the sun drinking tea; on Saturday I was walking in the rain with my umbrella; on Sunday I was gazing out of the window at falling snowflakes and now, as I sit writing this on Monday, there’s another flurry of snow, well almost a blizzard actually combined with gusting winds. Winter certainly had the final say this Easter!

I read an interesting comparison yesterday of the temperature recorded at Kredarica, the mountain hut beneath Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav (2864m), where, on Christmas Day the temperature was +2.9 degrees, whilst on Easter Sunday it was MINUS 12, brrr…….. Thus, any plans for long hikes this weekend were scuppered and therefore my next love – food – was high on the agenda instead!

Food is a big deal in Slovenia at Easter. The most common tradition is for a family breakfast on Easter Sunday, consisting of baked ham with fresh horseradish, pirhi (coloured hard-boiled eggs) and, of course, potica (a rolled filled cake). As I have been asked to write as a guest on an American food blog – what an honour – this year I decided to do some Easter baking of my own and am rather proud of my first attempts at ‘šunka v testu’ – ham baked in a bread crust. Here is a sneek peek photo of my Easter table and I will post the link to the full blog when it is published.

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I already knew that April was going to be an indulgent month, and a heavenly one for a chocoholic like me – what with Easter and the Radovljica Chocolate Festival (see below for more details) both on the agenda. However, it just got even better when, on Friday, I discovered the cutest little café where they produce and sell the most amazing cakes and chocolates. Truly chocolate heaven for me! The place in question is Čoko-Hram in the tiny village of Bohinjska Češnjica near Bohinj lake. Blink and you could miss this place which, from the outside, belies what lies within. It is set just next to the road but a lack of good signage (new signs are being prepared!) means one could easily drive past, as I have done many-a-time, without giving it so much as a second look. But to do so is a crime – seriously – believe me!

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Once I stepped inside I was immediately charmed by the cute little chairs, tables, chalkboard drinks menus, and other homely touches; not to mention the glass chiller cabinet bursting full of delicious cakes and truffles, and the corner where home-produced chocolate, of all flavours, shapes and sizes, is displayed and for sale. So, as you can imagine, I had some serious tasting to do!

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Now, I love strong cheese; stilton, extra-mature cheddar – the stronger the better – but I have always turned my nose up at Mohant, a local cheese from the Bohinj area which has an extremely pungent aroma. So, when I was offered a taster of a truffle filled with mohant, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the prospect, but I tell you, it works! The combination of the sweet white chocolate and the creamy mohant truffle centre is genius – although I can imagine it might be a bit ‘Marmite’ for some people i.e. you either love it or hate it! Another such daring flavour combinations is dark chocolate with zaseka (smoked minced lard no less!), and others flavours and centres including tarragon, yoghurt, raspberry, honey-lemon-ginger, and many more. And then there were the cakes – oh the cakes! Where should I start? Perhaps it would be easiest to say, don’t just take my word for it, go and try them for yourself!

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Čoko Hram is owned and run by the same family who own the four-star Hotel Kristal in Ribčev Laz, just metres from Lake Bohinj. This is, in fact, how I came to visit Čoko Hram, rather than driving past as I would usually have done, since the chocolates are also on sale in the hotel, which I had visited as I had heard great things about their centre for Ayurveda massage and medicine – Calendula Ayurvedic & Medicinal Clinic – and wanted to see it and try it out for myself. I emerged 90 minutes later and, thanks to the healing hands of the Nepalese masseur, blissfully chilled-out and ready for anything- well almost anything! More about the clinic and hotel, which also features a rich collection of paintings from the annual artist colonies held there, can be found here – http://www.hotel-kristal-slovenia.com/index.php

Tourism Rado’l’ca are slowly tempting us details of the programme for this year’s Chocolate Festival which takes place 17-19th April. The full programme will be made available in the next few days on the festival website (I should know – I’m translating it!) and features such events such as:

  • Mini Planica – Jumping in Chocolate with Franci Petek
  • Culinary Shows by Taste Radol’ca restaurants and 3 of Slovenia’s top chefs
  • Chocolate Fortune Telling
  • Chocolate Adventure through Radovljica

….and much more – http://www.festival-cokolade.si

I have a feeling I will be writing a lot more about chocolate in the coming weeks! Hopefully, though, I’ll be offsetting all the indulgence with some hiking too, well if the weather plays ball that is!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Multi-culinary Slovenia

One of the features of Slovenia’s cuisine that makes it so unique is its diversity, which is largely due to the influence from surrounding countries – Austria, Italy, Hungary. These days it is perhaps even more diverse due to the emergence of some world-class chefs who are taking traditional Slovene food and giving it a modern twist, and also due to the increasingly multi-cultural population consisting, in particular, of people from other former-Yugoslav nations.

An example of this was the event ‘Multikulinarika‘ event which took place last Friday in Jesenice. Held in the Kolpern Hall at the Stara sava area (which I wrote more about in last week’s blog), the event is designed to showcase food from various nations and unite them all under one roof. There were 21 different countries represented at this year’s events including; Macedonia, India, Mexico, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belarus, Spain, Kosovo and of course Slovenia!

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Taking the lead from Radovljica’s Chocolate Festival – more about that below – tasting takes place through the purchase of tasting coupons. As you can see from the photo below, I bought some and began to work my way through the cuisine of various countries!  The only problem was that there were so many different things on offer, and it was so busy, with the stands so tightly packed together, that I lost track of what I was eating and from which country! I was hoping to have a chance to chat with the stall holders, to find out more about what they had on offer, their country specialities etc., however, the crowds and the lack of space made it almost impossible. So, in the end I just headed to the stalls that were most reachable and managed to come away with plates laden with various types of burek, breads, potica, cakes, baklava and more!

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I can see this event going from strength-to-strength, however, the organisers really need to find a larger venue which allows more space for the exhibitors, the visitors and the accompanying programme. Here are a couple more pictures of the various dishes on offer, more can be seen on my Pinterest page!

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I have been fortunate to be privy to some of the as-yet closely under wraps, and still being finalised, details of this year’s Radovljica Chocolate Festival. The festival takes place over 3 days from 17-19th April and, in addition to the regular programme of chocolate tastings, sales and entertainment, the programme this year has quite a number of exciting new features too including; an extended festival area including a Chocolate Avenue and Chocolate Kitchen; an exclusive children’s entertainment area; a marquee where the chefs from the Taste Radol’ca restaurants will be cooking up special dishes; a Chocolate Party and other evening entertainment. You can also follow the latest news about the festival on the festival website – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/en/ and on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/events/341095372765995/

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the new route being launched by Adria airlines, Slovenia’s national carrier, offering flights 3-times per week from Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, to Southend-on-Sea in the UK. I’m definitely a supporter of more flight connections to/from Slovenia, especially if they are reasonably priced. The Adria flights went on sale yesterday with prices from 69 euros return and, unlike the so-called ‘low-cost’ airlines, these flights include 23kg of luggage, plus hand-luggage at no extra cost. Additionally, as an opening offer, they are throwing in a free return train ticket to London. What’s not to like! Click on the link on the right-hand-side of my blog to get booking those bargain flights!

Still on the theme of transport, I read this week about a new daily bus route from Vienna to Trieste in Italy, via Ljubljana. This also has to be another useful addition as many tourists visiting Slovenia from further afield, fly into one of the surrounding airports, such as Vienna or Trieste and this offers another choice of ways to reach Slovenia. More information here (in Slovene)  – http://www.javniprevoz.si/prevozi/avtobusni-prevozniki-slovenija/nova-vsakodnevna-avtobusna-povezava-dunaj-ljubljana-trst/

This article, published in The Guardian newspaper yesterday, about 10 of Europe’s best national parks, lists Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park, at number 2. Just another reason to come and visit! http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/mar/30/10-europe-best-national-parks-italy-france-spain

Finally, I wish you all a very HAPPY EASTER!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Slovenian Woodenware (suha roba)

I was pleased to read this week that Adria, Slovenia’s national airline, is launching new flights from Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city and 2nd largest airport, to Southend in the east of the UK. It’s not terribly helpful for me as my friends and family are scattered far from Southend, though, if the price is right it might be an option and hopefully for some – both in Slovenia and the UK – it will be a boon.

Southend might seem something of an odd choice – the airport is named ‘London Southend’ but a quick look at the map will reveal that it isn’t actually ‘London and isn’t actually even that close, being in the county of Essex. However, Central London can be reached in less than an hour and it will at least hopefully bring some much needed regeneration to Maribor and the Štajerska region as a whole. It also offers an alternative to the so-called ‘low cost’ airlines which, apart from the few months a year over the summer that Adria fly to Gatwick and Manchester, are currently the only choice to/from the UK. It looks the prices should be competitive too, which is even better. You can read more here (in Slovene)  -https://www.adria.si/sl/novice/2015/nova-redna-letalska-povezava-adrie-airways-iz-maribora-v-london/

On Saturday I visited the Stara Sava area of Jesenice, 20 mins by car from Radovljica or just a few stops on the train, to look around the museum area and the St. Jožef’s Fair, held annually to celebrate the municipal holiday and the patron saint. Granted, from the outside Jesenice really doesn’t appear to have much going for it, dominated as it is by the chimneys and pluming smoke from the Akroni steel factory, however, the town is surrounded by some wonderful nature and the Stara sava area in particular has been nicely restored and exhibits the technical heritage of the area. The area comprises the 16th century Ruard Manor, the 17th century Church of St. Mary’s Assumption and typical worker’s houses from the 18th century, as well as being the museum, cultural and tourist centre of the town.

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There was a small market selling a range of typical Slovene goods including ‘suha roba’, meaning ‘woodenware’, which are traditional handmade wooden products, originally made in Ribnica in the southeast of Slovenia, where the tradition dates back as far as the 14th century. These days suha roba products can be found on sale from mobile vans, stalls, and even hawkers who walk around selling the various products hanging from their every limb, at many markets and other larger events throughout the country. If you are looking for a gift to take home for friends or family, you will surely find something; kitchen implements, garden tools, toys, small items of furniture, and myriad other useful household objects.

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It’s now only 24 days until the 4th Radovljica Chocolate Festival – not that I’m counting or anything! If you share my love of all-things chocolate, take a look at this short video of last year’s event to see why its become so popular. Hope to see you there – but you’d better get there quick before I eat ALL the chocolate! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHheIefC_-g

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Spring in Slovenia; cycling, flowers, chocolate and more!

In last week’s blog I wrote about the St. Gregory’s Day celebrations which take place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day, in this case, last Wednesday 11th March, in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica. I was a little disappointed that due to work commitments I was unable to go this year, however, as luck would have it one of the locals from Kamna Gorica, put together this short video so I, and now you, can have a glimpse into the custom and see the colourful creations made by local children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGRQ79oC7k&feature=youtu.be

What struck me initially on watching it is that it was still daylight, whereas last year when I attended on the same day and date -11th March 2014 – it was already dark. This year spring seems to have come early, and with it, longer and warmer days, and the forests are now carpeted with beautiful spring flowers. Ok, I know its a bit early to be celebrating spring ‘proper’, after all it could, and probably will, still snow. However, after last year’s washout of a spring and summer, this dry, mild(ish) period is much appreciated.

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So, with spring in the air, my thoughts have started turning to cycling and I began dusting off my bike this weekend. After month’s of not cycling, and with a nip still in the air, the first rides of the year are always gentle ones, on flat, easy surfaces, such as from Radovljica via Lesce and Hraše to join the 12km-long Imperial Road (cesarska cesta), a gravel road that leads towards Žirovnicahttp://en.zirovnica.eu/experiences/active-breaks/cycling/family-cycling-trips/along-the-imperial-road/

Another such flat(ish) and easy(ish), as well as being particularly scenic and traffic-free, cycle path is that from Bohinjska Bistrica to Bohinj Lake then onwards towards the villages of Stara Fužina, Studor and Srednja vas. The cycle path is well-marked and the views of the Julian Alps and the surrounding villages and lake certainly take your mind off the couple of short, but very steep, inclines. This section, seen below, leads from Srednja vas towards Studor. with the imposing Baroque St. Martin’s church on a small hill directly above the village.

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It’s worth making the short detour to see the church, which contains paintings by well-known Slovene artists, and also nearby is the Ribnica waterfall and the Bohinj Cheese Dairy (Bohinjska sirarna) where one can stop off to buy locally produced cheese (open weekdays 7am – 2pm).

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Preparations are now in full flow for this year’s Radovljica Chocolate Festival. This event just keeps growing and growing in popularity, and this year it will be even bigger and better. The Festival will take place over 3 days (instead of the previous 2) from Friday 17 to Sunday 19 April and will also be extended to take place not only in the historic old town centre and the Radovljica Manor (grascina), but also in the Town Park. Read more about the Festival here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festival-of-chocolate/83/309/

I can’t wait!!!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015