On my trip to Slovenia in May, I was delighted to visit the charming medieval town of Radovljica, also known as Radol'ca or Radolska.
What a lovely experience. This little town is so full of surprises!
It’s known for:
· Excellent chocolate, with an annual 3-day chocolate festival
· Centuries of beekeeping and a Museum of Apiculture
· An outstanding gourmet restaurant with double Michelin stars for cuisine and sustainability.
· A number of museums, including one for apothecary and alchemy
The many tastes of chocolate
We were greeted at the entrance to town by a group of ladies dressed in chocolate-inspired garments ,with samples of their tasty chocolates, and given a tour of the town.
Escorted first to the Cokoladnica Chocolate shop, we learned about the importance of chocolate to the town, then got to taste chocolates made with a large variety of local honey, fruits, herbs, and liquors. We also had a hands-on experience making chocolates with various toppings to take with us. What a treat enjoying them when I got home.
For such a small town, Radovljica surprises visitors with many preserved houses from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, along with numerous museums, galleries, shops, and restaurants. It also hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
One such shop is the combination Apothecary & Alchemy Museum housed in a restored bourgeois house. The interesting exhibits and displays related to pharmacy, cosmetics, and alchemy were collected for over 40 years from all over the world. Objects include mortars from the 12th century and 30 pharmaceutical books, one of which dates from the 15th century.
The shop contains a wide range of natural cosmetics, fresh herbs, essential oils, teas, lotions and potions, along with souvenirs and games with mythological themes.
The heritage of Slovenian apiculture
The Museum of Apiculture was closed that day, so sadly, we didn’t get to see exhibits about the rich cultural tradition of beekeeping. But I’m fascinated by the story and had to learn more.
Bees are revered in Slovenia, and beekeeping heritage permeates the culture. Slovenians throughout the country have been nurturing the Carniolan grey bee and using its honey for centuries. It is the only protected native bee species in the European Union.
Anton Janša is considered the father of modern apiculture. Janša, a Slovenian, was appointed as the first beekeeping instructor in the beekeeping school started by Maria Theresa, Empress of the Habsburg Empire, in the 18th Century. After three years of lobbying by leaders of the now 8,000-member Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association, the UN proclaimed Janša’s birthday, May 20, as World Bee Day to educate the world about the important contributions of bees to agriculture.
Slovenian beehives, also called apiaries, have been painted for centuries with historical, biblical, and folkloric themes, and with bright colors in modern times. The unique AŽ hives are named for the beekeeper Anton Žnideršič, who invented them. The use of AZ hives has been adopted by beekeepers in many countries, including the US.
Saving the bees to save the planet
While bee colonies in Europe and the US have been on the decline (down 46% in the US), bees in Slovenia are thriving, up 47% in the ten years until 2017. In 2011, when beekeepers saw that bees were dying, they suspected pesticides containing neonicotinoids used by farmers. They convinced the government to ban them that same year.
Seeing positive results, the Ministry of Agriculture convinced the European Commission to ban neonicotinoids across the EU. A 2017 study in Switzerland of honey samples collected worldwide from 2012-2016 found that 75% were contaminated with a cocktail of chemicals. Contamination rates were highest in North America (86%), Asia (80%), and Europe (79%). After reviewing the results of a large field study across three countries in 2017, along with other studies, Prof Dave Goulson, a bee expert at the University of Sussex, UK, said: “Entire landscapes all over the world are now permeated with highly potent neurotoxins, undoubtedly contributing to the global collapse of biodiversity.” The US banned 12 neonicotinoids in 2019, still leaving 47 of them on the market.
Beekeeper Blaž Ambrožič, who has more than 100 colonies on his family farm in Bled, says: " We just love bees…. Here in Slovenia, bees are like pets. Save the bees, and we will save ourselves."
Slovenian beekeeping has been nominated for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status.
The highlight of our day in Radovljica was a fabulous lunch at Hiša Linhart (Linhart House)– an Inn, bistro, and cooking school, owned by Marcela Klofutar and double Michelin-starred chef Uroš Štefelin, who was awarded one culinary star in 2020 and 2021, and a green star for sustainability.
The house is named for Anton Tomaž Linhart, Radovljica's most well-known resident (1756-1795), the first Slovenian playwright and the founder of Slovenian historiography.
The Inn, in the completely renovated 16th Century gothic building, is charming, rustic, and inviting, with a handful of rooms. The house has stone Gothic portals and late Gothic vaulted arcades. Wooden beamed Renaissance ceilings have been preserved in the old granary, and paintings from the 19th century decorate the ground floor. The outside is adorned with frescoes dating from the 17th century.
The bistro serves "nouvelle Slovenian cuisine" using local ingredients, accompanied by natural wines, local gins, craft beer, Illy coffee, and fairtrade hot chocolate. Gluten-free and other dietary requirements are easily accommodated with flair.
Our fabulous five-course lunch, served with local wines, was the best meal I had during my two-week trip. The menu was a contemporary take on regional and traditional foods. One course was an update of a recipe from a 1799 Slovenian cookbook. Everything was so tantalizing and delicious that I forgot to take photos of some of the food!
After the sumptuous meal, I had the pleasure of meeting and thanking chef Uroš and innkeeper Marcela, who gave us a tour of the rooms.
A very nice day in a lovely, interesting, and friendly town.