Check Out Allan Karl WorldRider On His Appearance On The Top-Rated Slovenian Travel Show About His Experience in Slovenia and Bela Krajina at the end of this article.
After over two months on the road, I find Bela Krajina the perfect place to slow my pace and take in nature and enjoy the fruits, food, history, and spirit of this rural community. This morning I watched the fog as I enjoyed another basket of breakfast goodies here at Big Berry Kolpa River. On one side of my tiny house, the fog hovers and tracks the flow of the river, on the other side in suspended slow motion grazing cattle emerge from the mist.
The breeze shuffles the trees, the rhythm of water flowing by the riverbank, and the faint giggles of children in a house upriver make for a delightful soundtrack to my breakfast. Today the host from the leading travel show on Slovenian television will visit from Ljubljana and film happenings in Bela Krajina and here at Big Berry.
After an incredible jam-packed day yesterday, I’m happy to take time, enjoy these surroundings and reflect. I’ve decided to spend one night and a day in Ljubljana, Slovenian’s capital before heading to Serbia.
I sit on my porch tackling the digital deeds of downloading all the photos, video and audio content from the past two days. I watch the film crew from the Slovenian travel show interview Big Berry team members, then a large group of kayakers float by, and after a couple of hours, the entire crew and team take a lunch break in one of the community relaxing shelters here at Big Berry. Food is provided by the jubilant, bubbly, and funny Andreja Veselič, the chef-owner of Gostišče Veselič, the country restaurant where Tjasa and I enjoyed lunch on my first day here. With fiery red hair and intoxicating smile, anyone within a few meters falls under the spell of her infectious energy.
After lunch, Marjana Grcman, the host of TVS’ number one travel show interviews me for the show. I share my thoughts on Slovenia, Bela Krajina, and my around the world exploration my motorcycle. That’s when I meet a kindred spirit, Peter Crnic, the director of the Bela Krajina Development Information Centre. He’s also a fellow world traveler and has connections all over this part of the world—he’ll connect me with people in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Moldova.
After a quick interview with Marjana outside my Big Berry tiny house with my bike Doc, I join Tjasa and Peter as they take Marjana on a tour of Bela Krajina. First, we head to Suklje Vineyards where we meet winemaker Matija and taste his crisp 2016 Sauvignon before cruising over dirt roads to a steep hillside vineyard where he grows Blaufrankisch among others. We try the 2015 current release of the Blaufrankisch, a deep, dark, vibrant, tannic red with layers of flavors and good structure.
After the hillside tasting, we drive to the scenic town of Črnomelj where we meet the local fire chief and several of his volunteer firefighters. Throughout Slovenia volunteer, fire departments are essential hubs for the community. They estimate there are over 150,000 volunteer firefighters throughout Slovenia, making it the largest volunteer organization in the country. The tradition of volunteer fire brigades dates back almost one hundred fifty years. They undergo rigorous training every year and act as an essential and important social hub in the communities they serve.
Like churches in many communities, fire departments create a social fabric rich in tradition where volunteers build and gain a sense of belonging to the community which recognizes and respects them for the work they do. For the volunteers, they gain a sense of worth. Participating in group drills, the volunteers work with students and young people, and encourage healthy competition and promote community events. Beyond protecting property and fighting fires, they also aid the community in times of natural disasters such as floods, avalanches, often helping and rebuilding communities, roads, and shelter throughout the small country.
To share and give tourist and visitors to the region of the importance and a sense of belonging, the Črnomelj fire department is testing an entirely new tourist concept where visitors can take part in training, drills, and fire safety education in a fun and interactive way. Today, the film crew will capture the new tourist idea on for Slovenian television.
Before I can snap a few pictures, the chief tells me to suit up, find a coat, boots, and helmet. I say to the chief that as a high school kid in Connecticut I joined the volunteer fire department where my dad served as chief and fire marshall. “Good, then you’ll be one step ahead.”
Brave firefighters in training. I’d trust them!
It’s fun, and amusing watching Marjana and Tjasa suit up. The fireman time us—egging us on and pushing us to go faster. This is the pressure and training all volunteers undergo to become official department members. We all have an opportunity to ride the aerial lift some thirty meters high in the sky. But perhaps the best part of the volunteer firefighter training and indoctrination was the high-pressure hose test. Fitted with full face shields, tall boots, and heavy fire jackets, the firefighters showed just how much water pressure comes from the tanker and hose.
After we completed several hours of training, the chief orders, us to return the gear to the proper place in the firehouse when I slip on my real shoes a high piercing tone emits from several radios and walkie talkies of the fireman.
“It’s a fire alarm. There’s a house fire!” The chief orders us to suit up again as other fireman show up and join us. There’s panic in the air; I fail to get my boots on—one seems stuck. I find it challenging to fit the snaps on my fire suit.
I hear the loud blast of a diesel horn. The chief is frantically waving his arms. “Get in the truck, get in the truck,” with half my jacket flapping in the breeze, I jump in the back. Marjana sits opposite me, and the camera crew crams inside the cab with us.
We race down the road, full lights and siren. Cars pull over. We fly up and slam back down to our seats as the truck speeds over a rise in the road.
Then the truck slows, pulls into a side road. The chief turns around. “Sorry, there is no fire. This is a drill.” I’m stunned. They played this perfectly and straight-faced. Yet this is how they train. Back at the station, the chief lectures us on how critical timing and training is for firefighters. There’s no doubt in my mind, these guys work hard, and though we only had a few hours of training, I get a sense of just how critical it is to be quick, ready, and confident.
Before removing our gear, we take a group photo—kind of like a graduation picture. So fun, yet so real.
We bid the crew and Marjana farewell as they head to Ljubljana so they can edit the show which will air later in the week. Peter, Tjasa and I take a drive through vineyards, and stop at the Sturm wine bar in Metlika, then to a local pub for a cheers, na zdravje and živeli with a glass of rakija.
I stick around one more day in my new found love region of Bela Krajina. Peter suggests we have lunch at one of the rising culinary destinations in the area, Gostisce Kapusin in nearby Gradac. Though I say rising, to be honest, Kapusin has led the region in elevating local culinary favorites since 1989. Chef Ana Kapusin and her husband Ramon go out of their way to give diners an experience in their cozy restaurant. Ordinarily, it would be difficult to secure a table on the same day, however they closed the restaurant for renovations this past week so we got lucky and secured a table the first day they reopened.
Kapusin specializes in local Bela Krajina cuisine and paired with local wines, and they treated us to many Bela Krajina favorites included lamb carpaccio served with agent goat cheese and arugula, homemade pogaca bread, beetroot ravioli and roasted lamb with rosemary, roasted potatoes, and butter carrots. The five or six course lunch teased and tantalized our taste buds and with each dish, our server, the daughter and pastry chef of the owner, offered local wines with an excellent explanation of the flavors and history of the wine and winemaker. While nothing could compare to the lunch, I experienced just last week at Hisa Franko. I am surprised and excited to see this local restaurant pushing the limits and providing an experience that should inspire locals with the possibilities of local cuisine.
Not only does the restaurant offer a banquet room that can accommodate over 150 guests, but it also provides comfortable accommodations with seven double rooms and two triple rooms at its cozy guest house. There’s no question this is a must-visit for anyone interested in food and culture in Bela Krajina.
After lunch, I meet our server’s father and passionate chef of Kapusin—perhaps the best in Bela Krajina. We take the ubiquitous photos and bid farewell thanking them for excellent food and service.
Bela Krajina Slovenia
+386 (7) 369 91 50,
We are just starting the day. Peter is a wealth of knowledge about the local vineyards, area, and towns. So we take a cruise to explore vineyards, then to an amazing wine tasting salon for Sturm wines, and then top it off with a round of rakija at a local tavern. Peter is a wealth of knowledge. He tells me that the two biggest obstacles for the area to achieve higher visibility and visitors to the area are hotels and roads. There are no major hotel chains in Bela Krajina.
Trg svobode 4, SI 8330 Metlika
+386 7 305 89 99
Plus, there are no highways. Absent of these two critical infrastructure elements, Bela Krajina will remain sleep and off the beaten track. I kinda like that, though. Yet, I wish the best for the locals I’ve met and the business they’re building. There needs to be a balance. And I hope Peter, Tjasa, and others focus on what makes Bela Krajina endearing and wonderful.
If you’re headed to this part of Europe, carve out a few days and head down the back roads and discover the wonders of Bela Krajina and other towns here that are far off the beaten track.
The next morning I pack up Doc and bid my new friends —The Big Berry Team—farewell.
It takes just over an hour to get to Ljubljana—but something isn’t right…