• Written By Richard Alsop

A Meal With Mother Nature

This was the second time I had visited Lake Bled (Slovenia), the last time I visited I was there to partake in some white water rafting. Now you would think it would be hard to top that experience with a culinary one, but I will let you be the judge of that in ten or so minutes time.

We arrived at Garden Village - Tourist Green Resort Bled around 14.00pm. We had driven direct from Natterer See (Austria) were we stayed the previous night. For people who have driven that route before, you will know exactly what I mean when I say it was simply “stunning”. The journey south to Slovenia from Austria is exactly what you would expect, travelling through The Alps and then into the rolling hills of Slovenia.

When we arrived at our destination the weather was a glorious 27 degrees, the perfect

temperature to bask outdoors or should I say eat al fresco style.

We were already covered in sun cream and the dust had freely gathered between our sandal bound feet so we were also dressed in the correct attire for the experience laid ahead.

Our choice of accommodation was a self contained Eco-resort with a restaurant on site. We did a little research before arriving and in the description it did boast that they served up locally sourced food from local cheesemongers and wine makers alike.

Freshly sourced rainbow trout caught from the stream that ran through the accommodation was also on the menu. I can only assume line caught but unfortunately I never asked. There is also an area which can only be described as a large allotment, where a lot of the vegetables from the dishes are grown, picked, washed, sliced then cooked to accompany the dishes the restaurant offered. Upon inspection we acknowledged that the vegetable patch was based just behind our bell tent and it was also home to an old school alarm clock otherwise known as a few chickens…

it was quite a bit to process to say the least on first impressions.

Upon arriving at our bell tent we could see it was raised on thick wooden poles with floating planks that connected the five or six bell tents in the complex. The cluster of tents were all erected neatly on the rivers bank on raised platforms. As you looked down underneath the tents base you could see rainbow and common trout lazily swimming around. This place was so tranquil, hidden away on the South Side of Lake Bled, it was so quiet all we could hear was the fresh water running past our feet, perfect for cleaning off the dust between our toes that was now starting to itch a bit.

We dumped our basic belongings that we had gathered up from the back of our van and started wandering around the Eco-village simply soaking it all up.

The first thing we did was have a play in the stream, it was just too hard resist! The inner 13 year old locked away in my body could not be contained any longer. Bursting out of my 37 year old adult body kind of like Hulk did from the reluctant body of Bruce Banner.

After lots of giggling and what could only be described as some pre-pubescent scene from an 80s nostalgic movie we decided to carry on our exploration of the grounds that hosted the restaurant we would be eating at that later that evening.

Next area of study was the allotment situated directly behind our tent. Lots of different varieties of vegetables were scattered across the patch, some I didn’t recognise and unfortunately none of them were labelled except from one lonesome sign that simply said Drobnjak Chive. The allotment seemed to be made up of vegetables that would be commonly used in the restaurant like lettuce, tomatoes and onions. While we were observing the range of vegetables we noticed a man chopping down the overgrown area next to the allotment, with the intentions I guess to expand the plot. This can mean only one thing, that the restaurant must be doing well or he was trying to take the batteries out of the alarm clocks!

Moseying along further more, we then came to a small break in the river just past the tents where there was two big treehouses that towered above us, almost disappearing into the green tree tops that also acted as a shade for the tents. Nobody was staying in the treehouses but they looked fantastic, great for a group of friends or families looking for something a little different or just for people who wish to get back in touch with nature. Before you think it, no I am not on commission the place really does deserve a mention.

Continuing to explore the grounds, we were eventually greeted by a small yet fast moving waterfall. The inner child once again making another cameo appearance, willingly climbed only for me to be slightly disappointed when reaching the summit as it was just thick woodland from then on. Sadly at this point the adult version of me decided to sensibly take over again, weighing up the dangers I decided that it just wasn’t worth the risk to carry on romping, so we decided to go back to our tent get togged up and finally venture out to try the delights that were to be on offer in this magical place.

I should mention at this point that when I say get “togged up” you would normally conjure imagery linked to a household bathroom or a shower with optional power for your luxury items such as hairdryers and electrical shavers. Well, you couldn’t be further away from the reality. Central to the wooded Eco-village perched a huge wooden block containing sustainable showers, toilets and basic grooming facilities like mirror and a sink. The facilities were absolutely immaculate, not out of line with anything we had seen up to this point. The twist to it all being that we were basically outdoors, semi naked, stood shoulder to shoulder pampering ourselves while listening to the birds tweet and the water bubbling away in the peripheral. It wasn’t the cold air, meeting our wet hair, that took your breathe away, it was the very imagery you found yourself positioned within. It was like a scene from an Enid Blyton novel with a sprinkle of surrealism brought together in the most organic of ways.

To add to the strangeness, we were not the only people getting ready at that point in the evening. Two couples stood there side by side in a bank of four, all acting like we had done this many times before, yet I am pretty sure none of us had. The situation was totally taken into our stride like it was something we do all the time and thats just it, it did feel extremely normal for us all. Lined up getting ready outside in the woods next to a river, after vacating our cosy elevated bell tents, propped above the water where wild rainbow trout swam just felt so normal to us and we had only been there about 4 hours in total. It was like my soul had entered into a graceful foxtrot with mother nature herself. There was something very primal about the whole experience so far. It got me pondering about what food this was putting me in the mood for. A hog roast springs to mind or something of more epic scale from the most neanderthal of menus.

Dressed and groomed we finally arrived at our destination. First thing we noticed was a natural pool right by the entrance to the restaurant, which I am sure you would be ok to swim in but it probably wasn’t the right time to waste to much energy thinking about it as the night had drawn in. Another hint was that nobody else was swimming in the pool, now being an extremely polite Brit who loves the concept of queuing, I must admit that unless there were somebody around to lead by example and jump in the pool, I would have been patiently stood there thinking about it forever.

Anyway, once inside the building we could clearly see the woodland/natural theme had continued on throughout the restaurant.

I cant remember the name of our designated waiter, but he was a very smiley guy about mid 30s with bright white hair, blue eyes and a pail complexion, which wasn’t a common appearance amongst the locals if I dare say so from being there only a small amount of time.

As we were shown to our table you could really smell the mixed aromas that circulated the air, a delightful mixture of fresh herbs, very similar to what you would expect to find in a typical English country garden, but this was simply a sensory guess. What I am trying to describe are smells that are not too dissimilar to our own native cuisines. It was great to see the vast amount of bums on seats inside this wonderful looking restaurant and it wasn’t only people staying at the Eco-village. Acknowledging this added to my already warm cosy feeling that I was feeling inside.

The table we were seated at was a table for two central to the restaurant. Very typical in shape and once again made of sturdy wood. However, this table was unique.

Added to the centre of our table was a square of natural grass. Now try to Imagine a square football pitch with a square running track hugging the outside of the pitch but the size of a dining table, and that should offer the ratio I am trying to capture.

This was no fake grass by the way, like we are seeing more and more in pub beer gardens, oh no! This was the real deal and it came with the soil it was grown in as well… Amazing!Now believe me when I say this, being half Italian it wont be hard for you to imagine that I have hugged the side of many a dining table, but never have I sat at a table quite like this before.

Forgive me for getting carried away but the hospitality doesn’t end here. Underneath our feet is what can only be described as running water, similar to a stream but replace soil and dirt for ceramic tiles.

By this point my mind had started to run away with itself, had I fallen through a tiny door only to wake in the Slovenian version of the mad hatters tea party?…

After admiring the stream for quite some time while chatting to the waiter, he confirmed that when building the restaurant instead of moving the natural stream they deiced to incorporate it into the flooring as a feature. I did bring up the chances of potential flooding but the waiter reassured me that to date there had not been any problems which put my mind at ease.

Such novelty that punters could dine with their feet in the water directly underneath their table, an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss out on. Sensory overload or what!

My partner would have done exactly the same but she is bit shorter than me so her feet couldn’t quite reach the water as easy as mine and frankly speaking any other approach than a subtle dip, would have looked weird to the other guests, so she sadly had to sit this one out.

After yet another intriguing conversation with the waiter, consisting of him explaining how people in Croatia don’t understand coffee culture and Slovenias coffee culture is far more developed than theirs, we deiced to order the wine.

The list boasted locally sourced wine from across the region. Red and white was available but we opted for red. A young wine from the region which I had not tried before, but the waiter reassured us “its one the better ones”. It was very sweet in taste which you expect with it being a young wine but palatable in moderation. Not that wine is ever a session drink but this definitely wasn’t. It wasn’t like drinking wine from a more popular wine producing country like France or Spain.

However, the fantastic thing is you knew exactly where it had come from which offered a

sentimental value. Knowing the wine had only travelled a short distance from just down the road before being poured into our glasses, was something to savour within itself.

We could feel a sense of pride oozing from the waiter when explaining the background of the wine and rightly so! Locally grown grapes, locally mashed by local people and then locally sold to people visiting from around the world bringing new money into the local economy.

Ermmm, “if only” a voice in my head says…

Glancing at the menu once more, there was a full range of cuisine on offer. Rainbow trout was recommended and it was very tempting. After conferring for several minutes about the days experience we had exploring the grounds and this combined with talking to a very passionate waiter about locally sourced produce. It felt respectful for us to stick with the concept that seemed to ripple throughout the place and within the people that worked here.

So taking all this into consideration, we decided to shrug off the neanderthal roasts and go with the only food that made sense, a massive platter of the most locally sourced cheeses and meats they had on their menu… Off course with a side salad, fresh from the allotment just behind our tent. We were thinking the more locally sourced the better.

None of that rubbish from over the boarder in Italy!

The waiter asked the chef and he was more than happy to do this for us.

Seems like we are making a few friends while on our culinary journey and it would be rude not to indulge in it. Although, lets see when the bill comes as a few things they mentioned wasn’t on the restaurants menu.

Not long after ordering, the food came out on thick wooden blocks which is now becoming an obvious thing for me to say but it really didn’t get cliche or boring.

There were five cheeses and four meats in total that were on offer for our tasting enjoyment. All the cheeses were hard cheeses except one and like the meats came in a range of different shades of the same colour.

The wine by this point had started to really flow and we had already started our second bottle. So you can ignore what I said earlier about it not being a session wine.

Now unfortunately, I cant remember the names of all cheeses or the meats for reasons that deceive me, or maybe, just maybe it was the wine.

The waiter did say he would write the names down before we left but that never happened, not because he didn’t care but as the night unfolded the place become more and more busy

From of the selection of cheeses and meats, the ones I can remember are Bled Cheese which is a semi-hard cheese quite milky in taste, made locally from cows milk. The other cheese being Trnic which is a soft cheese which comes locally from the Bohinj area which is also made from cows milk. Those two cheeses in particular was very nice as I do prefer the more subtle cheeses. One of the other local cheeses I have forgotten was also quite nice, more nutty than milky.

Regarding the meats, the only ones I can remember are unfortunately the obvious ones. As the waiter described them, a Slovenian version of prosciutto which was also cured locally. The meat was as usual typically red in colour, just like you get in Italy but the meat did seem less cured and less salty than normal. The other was a smoked variation of the same cut also cured locally, which was dark red almost black in colour.

All of them washed down perfectly with the local wine… local, local, local, local, local!

Maybe you are thinking the dishes I have chosen to write about are not the most exciting but to me food isn’t just a taste its the experience that comes with it. If experiences are what enhances the food then this will be a dish that will live forever more in my memory.

From start to finish the whole experience just kept evolving organically and by the end it became what I can only describe as the culinary equivalent of a Salvador Dali painting.

The people there were so proud of the food and the way it was grown, sourced, cooked and enjoyed and so they should be.

I cannot emphasise how passionate the waiter and chef were towards their locally sourced food which served as the perfect pudding, leaving a sweet taste in your mouth before leaving the restaurant and the experience behind you.

As the night drew to a close and we started thinking about our planned bike ride around Lake Bled in the morning, we politely asked our new friends for the bill and to our surprise the total of the meal came to under 30 euros, so upon leaving we still remained friends…

To show our gratitude and appreciation we purchased another bottle of wine. This one we took back to our tent with us to savour in the twinkle of the moonlight, which was peering its sleepy head every now again between the leaves of the overhanging tree tops. Waving above our very own sleepy heads.

Written by Richard Antonio Alsop


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