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Raduha House – under a roof of larches, mountain peaks and the stars

 

The hardest decision in the Raduha House is which type of accommodation to choose. A hay loft, a tree house, an old barn? Each has its own charm, its own enticement, its own character. Nothing at Raduha is generic, and even the parts that are obviously the well-thought-out architectural solution of a trendy Ljubljana firm have, in one way or another, a very personal stamp that distinguishes them from just another Alpine-Nordic-inspired boutique hotel.

The house that feels like a family project, the project of generations of strong Luče women who have been the driving force behind Raduha for the fourth generation. Each generation more ambitious than the previous one. Today, Raduha House is the result and accumulation of all this, a collection of units that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to form one impressive whole, but which is permeated at every level with a feeling of intimate familiarity and warmth.

dining hall
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The renovation was also about recreating the feel and style of the homesteads as they once were. The walls are adorned with felts of Jazersko-Solčava sheep from Knez farm, the floor and the border of the well in the lobby are paved with stones from Savinja River and the walnut details are the work of painter Matej Bizovičar (there are many links with artists here), the wooden sculptures and vessels are from Šlanger craft workshop on the edge of the village, a beautiful old studio that looks like another village shed from the outside and a design studio from the inside that could be placed in one of the world’s elite locations.

Jože Strmčnik – Šlanger, who carves from local and scrap wood on a machine that is almost 100 years old and the oldest in Upper Savinja Valley, describes himself as “self-made and self-taught”. He has been working with Martina Breznik since the beginning, and his vision of “living” products fits well with the philosophy of Raduha, which is interspersed with Šlanger’s works, a tribute to these unique places.

woodworking products
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The tree house seems to be made for a romantic nest, with a floor-to-ceiling windows and a double bed from which you can look straight out onto the steep wooded hillside rising above the left bank of Savinja River. The shingles on the roof are made of high-mountain larch, which acquires the characteristic greyish patina of the alpine pasture cabins above the three valleys that make up Upper Savinja Valley – Robanov kot, Logar Valley and Matkov kot.

The tree terrace is just the right size for a table for two at one end and a hot tub at the other, from which you can see the blue Savinja River gurgling below you at just the right angle. The river that defines Luče, that defines the valley and that, together with the 2,062-metre-high Raduha above it, defines Raduha House.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Even before it grew into one of the most beautiful boutique establishments in the country, even before the restaurant under the direction of Martina Breznik joined the elite international gastronomic association JRE (Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe/Young Restaurateurs of Europe), the house that Martina’s grandfather bought in 1875 was a popular guesthouse and restaurant frequented by guests from all over Yugoslavia.

Those were different times, and Luče was then considered a kind of Alpine Mecca of the former Yugoslavia, where the village was advertised as one of the most beautiful and the valley as a paradise for everyone who wanted to breathe the fresh mountain air and experience a true Alpine fairy tale.

the landscape near Raduha
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

It is no coincidence that at the entrance to Logar valley, probably the most recognisable Yugoslav tourist advertisement to date, “Slovenia, my country”, was filmed, with the linden leaf next to the linden tree, overlooking the breath-taking postcard-like view in front of you. The unspoilt green valley, dotted with just a handful of farms and cottages, the Rinka waterfall with the imposing backdrop of the awe-inspiring walls of Grintavec, Skuta and Ojstrica.

Buses from Zagreb and Belgrade arrived twice a day, carrying bourgeois ladies who spent up to a month there, swimming in Savinja River while their husbands were at work.

At the peak of tourism Luče had three restaurants and guests slept in private accommodation with locals who stayed there for the season. The first tourist farm in Slovenia could also be found here. The war changed all that and lulled Logar Valley and Luče to sleep. Tourism is far from extinct, but even in the middle of the high summer season visitors are spread out over three valleys and mountain farms, so the infrastructure is never bursting at the seams and you can still get away from civilisation.

the garden
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

And for many, Raduha House is exactly that – the perfect Alpine idyll for those who want peace and quiet, a break from urban life, a reconnection with nature. “We are not as developed and touristy as, say, Posočje, but maybe we are even more interesting to some people because everything is wilder here,” explains Martina’s daughter Kristina, who is an architect by profession.

Her parents refused to let the changing socio-political climate kill their business, so they ambitiously turned to new markets and, after the Balkan wars, started visiting trade fairs in France. Particularly those aimed at fishing tourism, which for a long time made fishermen, an ever-appreciative target group, their regular guests. Some of those fishermen have been coming to the Breznik family for 30 years.

serving a meal
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The whole family is involved in the business – Kristina’s brother Filip works as a sommelier, Jaka is in charge of the carpentry work around the house, the kitchen remains the domain of Martina and her husband Matjaž, and Martina’s mother Emika is also active and is in charge of rolling pasta and ironing snow-white starched lace napkins that so beautifully decorate the wooden tables of the central dining room.

Martina Breznik, Selišnik Emilija, Jezernik Emilija, XX. Four signatures engraved in silver on the kitchen island. Four generations of cooks in Raduha. The oldest one from the time when they signed their name with two xs.

Martina Breznik
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Times have changed, of course, but with each generation, the Raduha House grows. If once traditional dishes were served here, hearty dishes prepared in the households of shepherds, foresters and farmers after a day of hard work, dishes made from whatever they had on hand that day, Breznik, one of the pioneers of the Slow Food movement in our country, has refined the cuisine at Raduha, adapting it to the habits and needs of the guest from the 21st century. She has elevated it and shaped it into daily changing tasting menus that, despite global influences, retain the character of the place.

A carp blackened with cuttlefish ink is served with trout, crispy trout skin and fennel, thick yellow pepper soup is topped with a cheese biscuit, goat’s curd, rosemary and honey, the menu also includes snails with spelt and buttermilk and “obrnjenik”, made according to an old, unchanged family recipe with buckwheat flour, spelt and sweet cream.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

There are a lot of dairy products and a lot of emphasis on forest harvesting. For proteins they stick to local fish, especially trout, venison and the wonderful Jezersko-Solčava lamb, but meat from local farmers also finds a place in the kitchen, from veal to Krško Polje pork, which was served that evening with calvados, buckwheat, carrots and kale.

Most of the vegetables come from the garden behind the house and the Brezniks’ fields at the end of the village, where kohlrabi and courgettes are intertwined with the viola flowers of borage, and lettuce with the vivid orange of nasturtium and marigolds.

picking plants
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Everything else is strictly local and traceable – rarely will you find such a clear list of suppliers at the beginning of the menu – goat dairy products from Matk Farm in Matkov Kot, turkey from the organic Puran farm in Nova Štifta, lamb from Knez farm in Robanov kot, eggs from Modrak farm in Luče, herbs grown by Maja and Amanda from Babava Herbal Village in Gornji Grad, cereal products from Brineč farm mill in Rečica ob Savinji and even gin from Logar Valley, from Na razpotju Eco House.

“On the menu is what we get in the area. What’s in the garden at the moment. Or what one of the growers, pickers and farmers brings to the house that day,” explains Kristina.

a dish at Hiša Raduha
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The Brezniks have always been a little ahead of their time, blazing the trail when it came to the slightly more luxurious boutique tourism in this country, which they started more than 15 years ago, before the glamping boom that followed. In 2007, they set out a plan and started to fast-track its implementation, with each unit boasting a special story. In 2010, the renovated hay loft was opened, which is probably the most sought-after accommodation among guests.

The 150-year-old hay loft was from Rečica pri Savinji and they wanted to cut it up for firewood, but in 2000 Matjaž Breznik prevented this and offered to take it. It was dismantled and transported in pieces to Luče, where it stood for a few years without any particular purpose before being converted into a really attractive sleeping hay loft, complete with a hammock and a bathtub in front of it.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The idea for the tree house, which grew almost simultaneously, came from a tree house that the Breznik children had on the other bank of Savinja River, where they spent their childhood. The old barn was used by Kristina’s grandfather for wood storage and in 2012 it gained the new, refreshed look and joined the tree house and the hay loft in “Goat Street”, as the street is popularly called, which winds past the Raduha main building and its riverside lawn.

Goats and goat farming are a major part of the identity of this region. The ‘cottagers’, who did not own enough land to graze their livestock and provide them with quality fodder for the winter, kept goats (‘poor farmers’ cows’). Every spring, the Luče shepherds would take the goats out of the village stables, their route winding from the upper to the lower village, the narrow road in the lower village being called the Goat Street by the Luče people.

goats
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Today, you can get a better insight into goat farming from a slightly higher perspective if you follow one of the zigzagging narrow roads up from the valley, past the high mountain farms from where Raduha gets its cheese and yoghurt and Savinja stomachs, past pastures with goats and sheep, past panoramic points marked by statues of eagles and breath-taking views of all three valleys. Time really does stand still here, especially in winter, when housewives knit and embroider woollen products from the Solčava sheep by the fireplaces.

We stop at Matk farm, the largest farm in Matkov kot, which owns the whole valley, 700 hectares of forest and pasture land, the whole world, in fact. Here the Solčava goats mix with the black, even wilder Drežnica goats, a whole herd of them, leaping and darting up the steep slope. Grandfather Matk brings freshly wiped wheels of cheese and Savinja stomachs from the cellar, cut into the earth, for the tourists who stop here for a slice, herbal brandy, a view and, now, ice cream.

goat cheese
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

During the quiet pandemic period, the Matks came up with the idea of making ice cream from goat’s milk, delicious, creamy, and natural, with flavours of Logar Valley, the mountains and the local farmhouses. They sell the pots ice cream in a neat wooden granary, past which a cockerel occasionally comes by. Tarragon, grandma’s strudel, walnut, aniseed curved cookie, pear, hazelnut … The summer hit of Matkov kot.

hay loft
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The next morning, we wake up to chirping of birds and the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hay loft. The old carved wooden table under the bedroom is set and decorated with a vase of giant cherry blossoms and Kristina places homemade biscuits, curd cheese, goat’s yoghurt, eggs, homemade spelt bread with yeast, jam, butter, cheeses and meat products from the farms in the high mountains on it.

The white hammock sways in the late summer breeze, moving almost in synchrony with the canopy of pine, maple and apple trees in the garden. Ljubljana, just an hour’s drive away, seems to be so far away.

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