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Slovenia — Two of the Best

Hotel TriglavFor those looking
  for a ‘special’ break,
  Slovenia might not
  immediately spring
  to mind, but this little
  country has all the
  charm and eccentricity
  of a Don Camillo tale

TAKE THE HIGHWAYS IF YOU ARE IN A HURRY but better still follow the quiet, small roads wending their way through the mountains. That way you can enjoy the vistas: meadows carpeted with a cornucopia of wild flowers and dotted with grazing sheep and a few unspoilt alpine farmhouses. It is just about as good as it could possibly get. Never have we seen such a myriad of flowers ranging from deep blue columbines to the yellow and gold of buttercups and cowslips.

Slovenia has character and individuality: its small capital Ljubljana has it in bucket loads; Radovlijica village has it too, as does Kropa… we could go on and on. They do not do bland and they can surprise too. We were looking for some special hotels rather than the usual 'beige' in colour and character hotel chains. Our search was well rewarded: in one we found the aim is to create 'the best in Bled' (they have everything needed to achieve that aspiration) whilst the other is a rare gem indeed. First then, to Lake Bled...

Lake Bled Rediscovered

SET AGAINST A BREATHTAKING BACKDROP of snow-dusted mountains in a peaceful location with uninterrupted views across the legendary Lake Bled stands the newly-renovated Hotel Triglav. This art nouveau building (1906) with twenty-two en-suite rooms is reportedly the first hotel opened in Bled. After being grabbed by the former socialist state and run down into a near ruin, it was returned six years ago to the original family. The owner has spent the last year lovingly restoring at a cost of over £2m and furnishing the building with antiques collected over many years, but taking the opportunity of adding all the modern touches such as an indoor swimming pool and spa.

From the hotel there is an uninterrupted view of the iconic islet with its church whilst the rather less than elegant hotels at the other end of the lake are shielded by the mountains. Encompassing the entire lake is a well maintained path that is perfect for a leisurely amble, but should you wish to be driven to Bled's small town centre the hotel can provide a complimentary courtesy car.

Managing Director Marcela and her enthusiastic young team have put together many impressive packages to cater for just about every taste ranging from horse riding, steam train excursions (on the picturesque Bohinj railway), wine tasting, weddings, cookery classes or just Wellness relaxation programmes. This, together with some of the very best of Slovene food eaten in the almost 'ocean liner' atmospheric restaurant with picture postcard views across the sparkling lake, is indeed unforgettable.

We both admit to enjoying a glass or two of wine and here we could indulge ourselves as all the wines are local — and excellent. Imagine our delight at discovering what is probably the best rosé that we have every tasted: Pinky Chick. Marketed as the sexiest wine in Slovenia, Pinky Chick's aromas and taste were crammed full of the fruits of the summer leaving a gentle tingle on the tongue and we are pretty sure many would dearly love to be able to buy it here in Britain.

The hotel is at present still completing the landscaping of its gardens and a few additional small touches. This, however, does not affect the enjoyment of staying there and provides the opportunity to be one of the 'first' to sample its many delights including those fantastic lake views from your bedroom balcony. We have all probably read the lists of the top ten 'best hotel views' — look out for a new addition from Bled's lakeside.

Kendov Dvorec Hotel

WE'VE WAXED LYRICALLY about the beauty and character of Slovenia for many years, but only this spring did we find something which, if not unique, then so rare it should be ranked in a global league the Kendov Dvorec hotel.

We were exploring the little populated western side of Slovenia a mere thirty miles or so north of Trieste where there are few roads, some farming, lace making and little traffic in these enchanting forested and meadowed foothills. Here in this tranquil, idyllic setting surrounded by old apple trees, sits an old manor house now the hotel Kendov Dvorec.

The manor is surrounded by a small well tended garden of hydrangeas giving way to a meadow of blue and yellow wild flowers with magnificent views across the village of Spodrja Idrija and the surrounding mountain peaks. Its history dates back to 1377 when the first owners ran a large estate supplying the local mercury mines (long since gone) with wood.

Obviously this is no ordinary eleven-bedroomed hotel and is run with a combination of informality and friendly professionalism hard to match. The resulting relaxed atmosphere creates the impression that you are a visitor in a private, grand house of a bygone time — which indeed you are. In fact, this beautiful manor is primarily run for VIP guests of the company that owns it.

Luxury and elegance combine with homeliness in the individual nineteenth century furnishing of the rooms. Small personal touches — such as the delicate decanter with cherry brandy liqueur set on an exquisite lace mat in our bedroom, linens edged with handmade lace and vases brimming with simple and uncomplicated local flowers — were not only charming, but made us feel very welcome and special.

The team, headed up by the delightful Gregor Kosmac, was so discreet that you hardly noticed and dinner was an absolute revelation. All the dishes are made with locally sourced ingredients based on traditional Slovene dishes but with a deceptive simplicity, lightness and skill. There is no menu and the sublime food matched with local high-quality wines (two of which were produced by the owner of the hotel) provided us with a meal we will remember for many years.

Only a truly skilled chef could have produced such delicious, tender smoked lamb and feather-light flat bread: called bati, it had been allowed to rise just slightly. Our intensely flavoured wild mushrooms were accompanied by a small ball of meltingly-creamy polenta, quite unlike any other we have tasted. A truly inspirational dinner.

In the summer meals may be taken out on the shaded garden terrace surrounded by wisteria and roses, but we ate in the elegant dining room. There are two more rooms downstairs set aside for entertaining, weddings and other occasions. In one of these rooms, originally the house's granary, there is a fresco of the Tree of Life supposedly depicting the last family members of the Kenda family to live in the house. Again, the little touches of complimentary drinks in the small sitting room add to the exclusive feel.

You are quite likely to find that fellow guests have been before and if you can live without the modern trappings of a spa and swimming pool, the Kendov Dvorec has everything anyone could really wish for. It is certainly one of the most romantic and magical places we have experienced. — Tim and Bonnie Stevens