Slovenia\'s capital city, Ljubljana

Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana Getty Images

It's that time of year for planning city breaks and gourmet travels and F&W travel writer Nadia El Ferdaoussi has discovered a gem in central Europe that will make you want to pack your bags, and expandable pants, immediately.

Slovenia isn’t a destination I knew much about before I arrived. Other than the plethora of Lake Bled photos on Instagram, it seemed pretty mysterious to me. The lack of Irish tourists visiting could be down to the fact that you can’t fly direct, but like all good things, make the effort and you will be rewarded. It’s straightforward enough to get to Ljubljana, the capital, though. You can fly from Ireland connecting in Paris, Frankfurt, London and loads of other European cities, or fly into Trieste, in Italy and hire a car, or take a shuttle, which is what I did.

Once you look at Slovenia on a map and see the countries it’s surrounded by, things start to make a little more sense. As well as Italy, it shares borders with Croatia, Austria and Hungary, with a coastline at the Gulf of Trieste which connects with the Adriatic. Sounds like a recipe for amazing gastronomy, if you ask me.

The others are much more familiar to us, in terms of city breaks, so why not Slovenia? I’d go out on a limb to say that’s going to change over the next few years, although I secretly hope it doesn’t, making this feature slightly counterintuitive. I really shouldn’t keep such a gem to myself and I just can’t stop sharing the wonderful stories.

Gastilna naGradu in Ljublijana Castle

Gastilna naGradu in Ljublijana Castle

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This is FOOD&WINE though, so let’s get to the good stuff. Did you know that Slovenia has the world’s oldest living vine? It’s over 400 years old and still bears grapes! You can visit (part of) it in Ljubljana Castle, where I also recommend you book in for dinner. The recessed wine cellar built into the old stone walls is a sight to behold in itself and one of the local delicacies, beef tongue, is something to try at least once. It was here I took my first sip of Slovenian wine, a sparkling one at that. Going back to the geography of the country, it’s not hard to see why it’s the perfect location for premium winemaking.

As you make your way around Slovenia – it’s about three times smaller than Ireland – you’ll notice the influencing factors change, from coastal seafood to more hearty cuisine inland, with Hungarian and Austrian influence. The perfect example would be meat soup in the mountains, more specifically, at the panoramic café at the Mount Vogel Ski Centre. Try a bowl of steaming hot goulash-style stew overlooking Lake Bohinj from 1500m and try some local schnapps to warm you up while you’re at it. Another favourite is the lighter beef noodle soup, traditionally served as a starter for Sunday dinner.

Ronk winery

Ronk winery

If you want to learn a little more about the history and try wine directly from the source, Vipava or Goriška Brda are the regions you need to visit, where wine tourism is on the rise. I was welcomed with open arms into a family winery, Ronk, while I was in town. The estate produces wines from indigenous and international varieties – their Chardonnay from premium Selectus range was a favourite – with as little enological intervention as possible. Buy a couple of bottles to bring back, you won’t find this at home!

Want to try something a little more outdoorsy? Look up Saksida wine and camping resort, a match made in vineyard heaven.

Base yourself in Ljubljana and hire a car, it’s easy to see a lot in a few short days. Vinoteka Movia, wine bar and shop, right in the centre of town at City Hall, is one of the best places to taste Slovenian wines and learn a thing or two from the extremely knowledgable staff.

If you can, coincide your visit with St. Martin’s Day (a bit like Beaujolais) and celebrate the new wine with the locals. Slovenians are bursting with pride to show off their country, culture, food and drink and the festival provides the perfect backdrop for them to do just that. Also in November, Taste Radol’ca, an event in Radovljica promoting local cuisine. The picturesque Alpine town hosts the annual festival with local eateries providing set menus at amazing prices.

No matter what part of the country you visit, there’s something different to sample, from the famous Lake Bled cream cake to local grape varieties Rebula and Zelen, I recommend packing a pair of elasticated pants.

Lake Bled in winter

Lake Bled in winter

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Author: Nadia El Ferdaoussi 

Dublin native, Nadia is a freelance travel writer whose plan is to wander the globe until the novelty wears off (if that ever happens). Despite travelling to exotic locations the world over, her favourite country is Ireland, “when the sun shines, there’s no better place.” Her dream job would be mystery shopping in hotels, since she has a keen eye for detail and already spends most of her time living out of a suitcase. Nadia has a new found passion for wine and is quickly moving up through the ranks in terms of wine education. Her bucket list destination? Antarctica. 

Follow Nadia on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and read her blog The Daily S'elf