A Happy New Year at Vila Podvin – Gourmet Food in Gorenjska

This year, I chose to see out the old year and see in the new year at a local venue which can definitely be regarded as being one of Slovenia’s success stories of 2013; somewhere bucking the trend of the recession, daring to be a bit different, and where the owners believe in supporting and co-operating with the local community to offer delicious, locally sourced and creative food served amid a pleasant ambience – Vila Podvin.

Vila Podvin is located in the village of Mošnje, just a couple of kilometres from Radovljica. When I first moved to Slovenia there was another restaurant open here but it closed down some years ago and had since remained shut. I regularly run past the restaurant and had often thought to myself what a shame such a beautiful place, with its adjoining, albeit abandoned, castle, had been abandoned and lain empty for so long. So it was with delight that earlier this year, on another such a run, I noticed work was taking place and the restaurant looked as if it was being given some much needed TLC. On my return home, I immediately set about sending emails to discover what was afoot and was delighted to discover that Vila Podvin was about to re-open and, even better, that its head chef was to be Uroš Štefelin, one of Slovenia’s best known chefs. Uroš (the brawns?!) together with the Director, Marcela, (the brains?!) both previously worked at the prestigious Hotel Triglav in Bled and it was there that they decided they wanted to ‘go it alone’ without the constraints of working for someone else.

Uroš Štefelin is one of the three reknowned ‘Bled Chefs’, the other two being Bine Volčič, who previously headed up the Promenada Restaurant in Bled and Igor Jagodic who now heads up the team at Ljubljana Castle’s prestigious Strelec restaurant. Despite all three chefs being very successful and adding their own twists and specialities to their food, all three now share a compassion for tradition, which is the underpinning story of these times. Here’s me with the great man himself – Chef Uroš!

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So, as you might imagine, I was delighted at the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve with them and sample some of the delicious food I had been hearing about. I will hold my hands up and admit that whilst I love food, and I’m open to trying unusual and exciting new flavours and dishes, I am by no means a gourmet. Thankfully, I didn’t need to be as the menu choices were taken care of. I must also confess that I am not usually at home in posh, stuffy restaurants, where one must mind their ‘p’s and q’s’ and has to hunt around the plate to find the food. Fortunately, again this was far from the case and I was made to feel most welcome; there was a friendly, family, relaxed atmosphere and I certainly didn’t leave hungry; my favourite dish being the excellent curry soup with black risotto (as seen below) and the hemp gnocchi were also a hit! Oh and there was a surprise visitor too! After the meal, the celebrating continued in the old town centre of Radovljica with live music and a few warming schnapps!

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In line with their passion for sourcing local foods and supporting the local community, a market is held in the grounds of Vila Podvin on the first Saturday of each month. In addition to being able to sample and buy products from local suppliers, visitors also have the option of staying for lunch which Uroš rustles up using products available from the day’s market. Personally, I have always enjoyed shopping at markets. Granted, the food may sometime be a little more expensive but it’s fresh and you know its exact origins. Indeed, since moving to Slovenia I have become more aware of such things and endeavour to cook almost all my meals from scratch. These days, when I visit the UK, I look in dismay at the aisles upon aisles of chilled and ambient ready-meals that line the supermarket shelves and it horrifies me to think of purchasing any of them. Not that there isn’t a place for certain ‘off-the-shelf’ products; ready-made pastry is a boon, tinned tomatoes for making pasta sauces etc. too and sometimes of course one simply otherwise doesn’t have time.

If you live in the area, and/or are visiting, and are looking for somewhere for a special meal, for a celebration or even just for a simple ‘lunch for locals’ (offered daily – 3 courses for 15 euros), then Vila Podvin, and the village of Mošnje, makes a good choice. The village itself is also home to the Vila Rustica Archeological Site and there is a short walking trail around the village which takes in its sights. More information can be found here – http://www.radolca.si/en/mosnje-archaeological-trail/

As well as the restaurant, Vila Podvin also offers accommodation and for aspiring little, and big, Uroš’s, Vila Podvin also run cookery workshops. The kids workshops are a particularly great idea since the kids spend a few hours preparing and cooking lunch for their parents, whilst parents can enjoy a well-earned rest then get to enjoy the fruits of their little ones labour. And even better, the workshops are free for children, just the parents lunch must be paid for. Sounds like a win-win to me! More about all this can be found here - http://www.vilapodvin.si/

After all this, I feel as if I’m turning into a restaurant critic – my next career move perhaps?!

So to other news. Well – it’s wet! But the precipitation has been largely in the form of rain rather than snow. It’s also unseasonably warm with temperatures of around +5-10 degrees, whereas usually at this time of year it would be in the minuses. I have read several enquiries from worried visitors about the amount of snow around for skiing so I will endeavour to post a short snow report update each week for the remainder of the season.

Currently, much of the snow beneath the 1500 metres level has been washed away although of course in the high mountains, there is a lot of fresh now, up to 2 metres, and the danger of avalanches is significantly increased. Lower lying ski resorts, such as Kranjska Gora, are looking rather ‘green’ at the moment but the higher resorts such as Krvavec and Vogel, still have plenty of snow.

Therefore I haven’t been able to do much in the way of hiking of late, either because its been raining at lower altitudes or because it would be unsafe and/or unwise of me to go to the higher mountains. This week I did make it to my usual winter haunts of Valvasor (1181m) and also to Smokuski vrh (1122m), both of which were pleasantly snow free, if a little muddy. As I write, I can see blue sky for the first time for a while so here’s hoping I will be out and about in the next few days and be able to post more trip reports and photos of hikes etc. soon.

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