Epicurean Slovenia makes its mark
Beyond the capital, rugged Alpine mountains rise to the north and west, the Pannonian plains stretch off towards Hungary in the east and the the Adriatic Sea lies to the south. Slovenia has been eulogised as "Europe in Miniature", and thanks to the slick motorway network that was built over the last decade, you can ski the Alps in the morning and swim in the Adriatic that afternoon. You can also dine on Austrian, Italian, Hungarian and Balkan cuisine, all crucial influences in what can loosely be described as Slovenian cuisine.
In the Soča Valley lies perhaps Slovenia’s most famous restaurant town, Kobarid – a favourite of Italians who nip across the nearby border to dine here. Around 120km southwest of Ljubljana, this pretty town reclines in a fold of forest-shrouded hills. The pick of its restaurants is Topli Val, where the star attraction is fish, both from the country’s compact 47km-long coast and from the bountiful local rivers and lakes. Signature dishes include tagliatelle with Adriatic lobster and škampi buzara (langoustines in a thick tomato broth).
The coast lies around 140km south of Kobarid. The town of Piran is the star, with its vaulting Venetian-era belltower, orange tiled roofs and spectacular setting on a peninsula overlooking the Adriatic. As the sun sets over the flurry of waterfront grill restaurants, locals and a growing number of tourists feast on giant seafood platters and drink malvazija, a wine grown here since pre-Roman times. Traditional trattoria Ivo (Gregorčičeva 31; 386-5673-2233) is the pick of the waterfront bunch, with grilled fresh seafood available for a third of the price in London or Paris.
In Slovenia, it is hard not to think of other places – of other culinary influences – and this is especially true in Piran when you are dining with the lights of the Italian city of Trieste blinking back to the north and Croatia’s Istria mirrored just across the water.