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Tastes of nature below the Jezersko peaks

 

When travelling to Jezersko, at the point where the broad two-lane road narrows into a winding road that crosses coniferous forests and green pastures, you are halfway to the fairy-tale world of the remote corner of Slovenia, nestled among the high peaks and high-mountain farmsteads spread between the Gorenjska and Koroška regions. Here you can find Kokra, the longest Slovenian village stretching for 15 kilometres. Small paths lead into the forests abundant with mushrooms and game, and idyllic lakes reflect the snow-capped peaks that attract hikers and selfie hunters.

It is not difficult to understand why Marjan Batagelj, a successful entrepreneur and the Director of Postojna Cave, chose this region for his luxury Alpine branch, Vila Planinka. It is surrounded by pristine nature, away from the industrial and soulless commercial complexes. The public lighting is switched off at 23:00 and, as locals know very well, when night falls it gets very dark. It seems only natural that the hotel offers late night hikes underneath the stars, where it is possible to observe the Milky Way shining above like diamonds in the sky.

vila planinka slovenia
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

A homage to tradition

In Zgornje Jezersko, the designers of the hotel succeeded in creating an oasis of peace and tranquillity where one quickly forgets the hustle and bustle of the capital, which is still within easy reach for any townie wondering why they do not visit this lakeside paradise more frequently.

The hotel’s interior is decorated with wooden and stone elements, with warm earthy colours and details from animal skins and wool that reflect their surroundings. The design is exceptionally modern while maintaining a link with the past through details such as the old typewriter, traditional milk bottles and potica baking moulds that can be found in the cupboard in the lobby.

Hunting trophies are displayed above the fireplace and an old map of Jezersko can be found on one wall, with worn-out farm tools on the other. Guestrooms are named after the local fauna and flora. All modern electronic appliances are strategically hidden (or non-existent) in the rooms so as not to interfere with the Zen atmosphere that is intensified by the breath-taking views of the mountains and dense forest.

The special feature of the villa with 23 personalised guestrooms is strong energy spots. You will find a sheepskin rug and socks knitted from the wool of the Jezersko-Solčava sheep in the rooms. However, there are no devices or installations that radiate, which would disturb the soothing energy. “We didn’t want to build a technologically perfect hotel, but rather a hotel that would be the most comfortable for living,” explained Batagelj at the opening of the hotel in 2019. “The guests who visit us will find luxury in the pristine nature, peaceful atmosphere and the clear, starry sky.”

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Innate environmental awareness

The local people, who have always lived in harmony with nature and ancient traditions, are born with the sense of environmental awareness. The local community’s policy is directed towards sustainability and dictates the hotel’s holistic concept. The ingredients used by chef Jakob Jerala in the kitchen and the wines served by Marko Koren are thus strictly organic.

There are no industrial products, no Coca-Cola or Heineken. Everything is grown and produced by them, or they carefully select a producer or provider whose working methods are in harmony with theirs. “The energy value of a product is very important, as well how it behaves towards the environment. We are close to biodynamics,” explains Koren, while pouring Organic Anarchy wine from sustainable wine producer, Aci Urbajs, into a biodynamically designed glass.

An abundance of herbs

One of the providers, who has won the hotel’s full trust and has been collaborating with them since the beginning, is Matej Tonejec, who grows raspberries and herbs just a stone’s throw away from the hotel in the foothills of Mt Grintovec. He supplies the hotel with aromatic raspberries, raspberry vinegar and herbs for tea blends. The young herb gatherer collects over 400 different types of herbs from meadow grasses to medicinal mountain plants throughout the season.

Jerala’s dream is to create a menu based solely on herbs. He already serves local lamb with a crust of 36 Jezersko herbs baked in hay. Lamb is a crucial protein here since the area is famous for its indigenous, somewhat wild, but extremely delicious Jezersko-Solčava sheep with a typical black ‘tear’ under their eyes and exceptionally high-quality wool.

Photo safari

Dairy products, developed together with the Podjed dairy farm from Preddvor, are an important part of Planinka’s gastronomic offering. The farm supplies the hotel with yoghurt, milk, smoked cottage cheese, butter and creamy full-fat sour cream, which resembles mascarpone. And with house sourdough bread based on beets or rye, there is really not much to add in order to reach perfection.

Anything the hotel cannot get from the Podjed dairy farm, they find at the Zgornji Virnik organic farm, which boasts a lovely old farmstead with a luxuriant, lively blossoming garden from which you can see the entire valley and flocks of goats grazing on steep slopes.

Jerala has his own butcher for fresh and dried meat products. He ages bull meat himself for six weeks to create the Planinka’s delicious steak tartare. He is also well connected with the local hunters, who had just delivered bear paws, and bear bresaola with carrot cream was on the menu on the day of the visit. He also frequently collaborates with the local butcher, Simon Šemrov, who supplies, for example, venison bresaola and chamois salami.

Game plays an important role in this corner of the world. Not only in gastronomy, but also as an attraction for guests seeking contact with nature. In cooperation with local hunters, the hotel offers photo safaris where it is possible to snap pictures of martens, foxes, deer, capercaillie and ibex.

Chef Jakob Jerala
Chef Jakob Jerala
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Prestige in the local environment

Chef Jerala obtained rich experience abroad and the hotel allows him to be as creative as he wishes. He is working to debunk the myth about generic hotel food and combine traditions and local ingredients with a cosmopolitan touch. He thus marinades deer in cacao and coffee and serves it with a Teran wine reduction and dehydrated carrot soufflé.

Irrespective of the fact that Vila Planinka targets prestigious guests, they will not be served caviar if they can be served Arctic char roe. They will not be presented with lobster soup if umami mushroom consommé with pickled porcini mushrooms and honey fungus can be just as exceptional. Corks of Keltis’ Mario sparkling wine will be popping instead of Champagne and an Alpine white soup with yoghurt, garlic and cucumber will be served instead of gazpacho. Instead of an aperitif of imported distillates, Marko will hand you a stemmed glass filled with home-made elderflower gin.

In the wine segment, the guests, particularly foreign guests, are in for a treat as they will expand their horizons with natural wines and heavy unfiltered macerations of wild wines from Štajerska and the Karst. “This is many people’s first encounter with biodynamic wines,” says Marko. He adds that the response has surprised them and they can now more easily build the hotel offering on these wines.

jezersko mineral water
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Jezersko mineral water for body and mind

It is not only the offering of alcoholic beverages that reflects the Slovenian attachment to nature and foraging in Planinka. The hotel also offers non-alcoholic juices and syrups pressed according to the season, fermented and cooked from elderflower, berries, mint, lemon balm, other herbs, apricots and apples.

A giant glass canister filled with Jezersko mineral water, which springs near Planinka at an elevation of 1,240 metres, has a special place in the hotel dining room. Due to its beneficial and healing properties, the water was praised by Janez Vajkard Valvasor, a Slovenian polymath, in his writings in the 17th century. The hotel guests can take a walk to the spring and quench their thirst directly from the flowing water.

“In Jezersko, among the high snowy peaks where the Kokra River springs, namely at the border of Carniola and Carinthia, there are several mineral water sources to be found, one of which I have tried. I drank it several times and considered it to be quite good,” reports Valvasor in The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola.

A lot of water has flowed from that spring since then. But when you walk along the freshly mowed mountain pastures among the flocks of sheep and cattle against the idyllic backdrop of church bell towers and take in the mountain scenery, it feels as if time has turned back to when Valvasor was here.

jezersko gore
Foto: Suzan Gabrijan

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