Wandering off the map in Slovenia

06/22/2014 12:00 AM

06/18/2014 9:24 PM

The subject was the Bora – the ferocious northern wind that wreaks seasonal havoc on the western Slovenian region known as the Vipava Valley, where we had just arrived – and my friend expressed disappointment that we had missed out on the chance to experience it.

“Trust me - after a minute or two, you don’t want any part of it,” said our dining companion, Primoz Lavrencic, a local winemaker who had agreed to guide us through our first day in the area. “The wind speeds can be close to 200 kilometers. You can’t walk, and it’s not a good idea to drive.”

We were having lunch at Majerija, one of Slovenia’s foremost gastronomic temples, in a 300-year-old restored stone farmhouse on the outskirts of a wisp of a village called Slap. The chef and owner, Matej Tomazic, is a locavore – breads are baked, produce is grown, pigs are raised, and cheeses are pasteurized on or near the premises.

The savory white wine accompanying this meal was Lavrencic’s, from his winery, which is called Burja, the Slovenian term for the great indigenous wind.

Though a mere hour’s drive from both Trieste and Ljubljana, the slender and sunny 30-mile-long rift wedged between three plateaus has the appearance of a forgotten territory. Burja and several other Vipava wineries justly command a cult following.

But the main draw is the region’s dream-stricken ethos. The Vipava Valley is a natural haven for low-intensity pleasure seeking. Unless you came here between December and February, you would have no reason to believe that this place doubles as a seasonal punching bag.

The stone villages of the Vipava Valley are gleaming testaments to resiliency, laid out with narrow streets to help resist the gusts. The region’s produce – tomatoes, zucchini and other Mediterranean staples – is similarly tough, and restaurateurs like Tomazic maintain that the Bora imparts them with a particular fragrance.

In the 500-year-old village of Crnice, we stayed at a rustic farmhouse, Arkade Cigoj, whose friendly proprietress, Silva Cigoj, proudly gave us a tour of the meat locker. Hanging there were dozens of hams that had been cured largely by the northerly wind.

That evening we tried her prosciutto (called prsut here), made from the Cigoj farm’s curly furred Mangalitsa pigs. Textured and aromatic, the meat rivaled the best Friulian prosciutto I’ve encountered.

It doesn’t take much trekking before you feel as if you’ve fallen off the map.

At least we had been tipped off about Goce, a 17th-century hamlet perched on a hill. Goce had long been prosperous, a haven for priests and, reputedly, others who wished to avoid military service.

We wandered down the slender Bora-conscious streets, and a gentleman came out to greet us. He happened to be a winemaker. Would we like to visit his 550-year-old farmhouse, see his underground cellar and try his wine and perhaps a little wind-cured prsut?

My friend and I looked at each other and tacitly agreed: We were in absolutely no hurry, and so, of course, lead the way.

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