Sremič is a hill overlooking Krško. Its green slopes are dotted with vineyards and cellars. In 1874 the family Attems, owners of Brežice Castle, built a large wooden wine press, later declared a cultural monument and probably the biggest press in Slovenia. Some hundred years afterwards a guesthouse emerged around that press and because of the three lights on the terrace, which are seen all the way to Krško, the place was called “Tri Lučke”.
The wine press remains as vital part of this restaurant today and is a testimony to the past times. From 1985 Tri Lučke gained a good reputation among locals for homemade aNd delicious food and in 2016 Igor and Andreja Zorko reopened the establishment bringing it to exquisite place of fine dining. Guests can also rest in apartments, have a wedding or a business meeting, or just enjoy the wine cellar featuring best Slovenian and international wines.
The interior of the place is minimalist and bright, with spectacular views of Sava River and Krško. It is here where owners welcomed us most dearly, with a light lemon tea to warm up before venturing off to the wine cellar for some sparkling wine tastings and innovative meaty snacks.
But the real festival for palate was at the table, just across the big wine press. The chef Dejan Mastnak and his team did excellent job to provide us with a feeling of Tri Lučke cuisine. A refreshing appetizer of red trout fillet, with potato sauce, trout caviar, and parsley oil gives delicate and rich flavours to begin with. Parsley oil is indeed a surprise, and everything goes well with Green Sylvaner 2015 of Rudi Kos from Sremič wine hills. This hard making wine sort is dry and neutral, with beautiful colour and enhances the experience of this meal.
The soup was another pleasant surprise. We got on our plates bits of fresh beef tongue, lightly fried, pieces of apple and small onions before this mix is splashed with parsley root soup cooked in a bit of milk. This mild soup also gives freshness because of the apple and all the ingredients are easily recognisable, which is a sign of very good quality.
Main course consisted of Krško-polje pork belly cooked in vacuum for 18 hours on 74 degrees, together with vegetables. Side dish is bean puree, served in a frankinja-and-pork sauce. Fatty climax of our meal is another praise of this local pork sort and a dedication to the preservation of it for next generations. It blends great with Jernej Žaren Modra Frankovka 2011, champion wine of Dolenjska region in 2015. With high sugars, this natural wine is two years barrique and is pleasant companion to heavy meals.
Our dessert is all about apples! Apple soup, apple sorbet, apple pie, with chutney aside; a rewarding and refreshing end of the gastronomy journey. Another pleasure of it is Janez Živič Laški Riesling 2009, superior quality wine (Prädikatwein) with beautiful gold colour. It surprises with its mild taste of honey and blends just right with the dessert.
Tri Lučke indeed serves as the best culinary achievement of Krško, when fine and slow dining is in demand. The historical background of it and heritage of the wine press that once pressed 30 to 50 hectolitres of must are excellent incentives to a very dedicated team.
Most people think of Krško as a place with nuclear plant. Indeed, this place on the banks of Sava river is famous for its industry and nuclear power plant, which you can also visit in organised tour. But two day visit to Krško, organised by the Club of Tourist Journalists of Croatian Journalist Society and the Tourist Board of Krško, opened our eyes to this beautiful and less known part of Slovenia. From castles and Catholic monks to the pleasures of exquisite gastronomy, Krško is a pleasurable destination to visit.
Situated between Sava Valley and surrounding hills, six municipalities (Krško, Sevnica, Brežice, Bistrica ob Sotli, Kostanjevica na Krki and Radeče) form the Posavje region of Slovenia. The area is rich in history and natural beauty. It has five castles. Sevnica, Podsreda and Rajhenburg are refurbished to their past glory; in Kostanjevica is situated an art museum, while castle Brežice houses the Posavje Museum. Probably the most fascinating story is of the Rajhenburg Castle which we visited on our tour.
Old town Krško is defined by several historical and cultural points of interest. Our hosts guided us to this realm of Slovenian history accentuating local patrons and personalities that lived in Krško. The town has a rich history. In 16th century Krško was an important Protestant centre, place where Lutherans Adam Bohorič and his student Jurij Dalmatin worked. At the end of the 17th century, the famous polyhistorian Janez Vajkard Valvasor passed away in town’s historic centre, in Mencinger House. This house used to be home to the lawyer and writer Janez Mencinger. In the old town one can also find the Valvasor library with a Capuchin monastery, the town park, the parish church of St. John the Evangelist, and the Krško City Museum.
We started our tour in the city park. In one part of the park named Gaj zaslužnih občanov (Grove of deserving citizens) we can ‘meet’ the psychologist Mihajl Rostohar, the trained sculptor and medallist Vladimir Štoviček, the educator and grammarian Adam Bohorič, the translator and writer Jurij Dalmatin, the botanist France Vardijan and the patroness Josipina Hočevar. The park was once a graveyard with the church of the Holy Cross. The church still stands, but has not been used for religious purposes since the end of the Second World War. After the renewal in 2003 it was named Dvorana v parku (Park hall) and various cultural and other events are held there. The park also contains the Hočevar mausoleum, an octagonal neo-Gothic chapel with a pyramid roof, where Martin and Josipina Hočevar – the great benefactors of Krško – are buried. They donated their money for various charitable causes. Nearby is the Capuchin monastery holding the Valvasor library of Krško.
Next we visited the Mencinger house. During the years from 1882 to 1912 the cultural worker, politician and jurist Dr. Janez Mencinger lived in this baroque residential building. Janez Mencinger (1838-1912), writer, lawyer and politician, came to Krško in 1882. Five years later he chose two marvelous houses in old part of town to be his home. Mencinger is known as a writer of novels, and was among the founders of the Slovenian Writers’ Association in 1872, two years latter he was also a Mayor of Krško.
Both houses have indoor atrium and a number of interesting elements that bear witness to centuries of life in them. Southern house is particularly famous because today we know that this is the traditional Krško house in which has lived and died a famous polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor. Today this is the site of some furniture memorabilia and also place for indoor gardens. Particularly important are the frescoes of early Slovenian Protestants.
But the real jewel of history and culture is the City Museum Krško. It has its premises in the Valvasor complex, where a permanent exhibition by the sculptor and medallist Vladimir Štoviček is displayed, who donated part of his artworks to the Municipality of Krško to be displayed in the Valvasor house.
There is also an exhibition dedicated to Josipina Hočevar, grand patron of the city, and famous Slovenian psychologist Mihajlo Rostohar. The museum also has a space exhibiting handicraft products of the border area as part of the ‘Path of honey-bread making’ project between Krško and Zagreb.
Indeed, such a cultural wealth is only matched by excellent gastronomy offer, rivers and woodlands with rolling hills that offer many sport activities, and enjoyment in the sacral architecture and heritage.
When you come to Krško, be sure to visits its surroundings. The countryside of Posavje region is the land of pristine flavours, traditional food, and excellent wines. These delights locals call the “River of Flavours” and indeed it is. You will first receive a warm greeting and an amazing hospitality, just as we experienced it in the restaurant Ribnik near Brestanica.
Typical local dishes in Posavje include flat cake with overheated cream (puhla s pregreto smetano), flat cake with cottage cheese (cop na lop), buckwheat cake (bizeljski ajdov kolač), cottage cheese dumplings (pečeni sirovi štruklji), carrot soup (korejevc), Krško-polje pig delicacies, colt, fish… everything cooked with fresh, authentic and local ingredients. Local action group Posavje is very active in raising the value of local products and services, establishing locally based sustainable food supply, and overall development of rural regions.
One such product is Krško-polje pig (krškopoljski prašič), the only autochthonic Slovenian pig sort. It is historically raised in the Dolenjska region, which abounds with valleys, already in 1850ies. This black-and-white pig gives particularly soft and delicious ham and praised lard. Especially pleasing are dried meat products, which go well with cviček.
In place of Raka, the Tourist Association Lovrenc Raka began a project “Best from Raka”, an innovative conception of presenting the autochthon onion sort (čebula, raška č’bula). They try to promote this piece of local agricultural heritage further in local and national restaurants and inns, as unavoidable part of the Slovenian culinary offer.
Raka was once famous for red onion, grown in hard but fertile ground. Almost every household had onions to sell, and the seed was carefully preserved. Raška č’bula was once staple food, used every day in local homes. It is powerful antiseptic which protects from illness and strengthens immunity. It is eaten raw, with sausages, ham, or just with bread. Local folk medicine also used this onion to cure. Today, probably the most famous čebula grower was Mr Učnik, grandfather of Melanija Trump who was born in nearby Sevnica!
We learn more about raška č’bula in the Cvičkov hram wine house. This is the centre point of Raka events. Day of St. Lawrence is onion and wine day, and traditional fire-fighter party is being held. People also walk through the Čebula path from Raka to Krakovski gozd and Kostanjevica. We try the specific čebula onion soup with bits of bread soaked in it (čebulova juha). Quite simple and different from the famous French onion soup, it replenishes body and soul. No wonder, as it was usually served after the Sunday church mass. This onion blends well with marinated trout, with mushrooms and salad, as basis for onion jam together with pork roast, or as an onion pie.
Čebula also goes well with cviček, wine classified with recognised traditional name. It has quite unique blend of various reds (modra frankinja, žametna črtnina – 70 per cent) and white varieties (kraljevina, laški rizling, rumeni plavec, zeleni silvanec – 30 per cent). It is a dry wine with low alcohol, up to maximum 10 per cent, and somewhat higher acidity. Cviček enchants with its light red colour and ruby casts; Slovenes are particularly proud of it. It has fresh fruity aromas, with an emphasis on raspberry and cherry. Our hosts claim it also has healing properties!
Cviček is known in this region since 1500’s and mentioned even in the great Slovenian historian Valvasor’s work as Marwein, a jolly wine of Dolenjska. Today, some 20 million litres of cviček is produced in Dolenjska region, and cviček wine maker association numbers more than 200 people. In Raka they gather in Cvičkov hram (the embassy of cviček), which has educative and pleasurable parts. In the basement is a wine cellar that can accommodate up to 70 guests. We enjoyed it with opnion soup and homemade sausages and bacon, while listening to gorgeous Lovrenci male a cappela band. The upper floor is made of oak logs and is a modern version of the 18th century house (gorniki).
Another famous wine of Posavje region is Modra Frankinja (Blue Franconian). It is one of the most favourite red sorts in continental parts of ex-Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Slovenia, Posavje and Podravje (regions characterised by the Sava and Drava rivers) offer a particularly good terroir for this wine. It contains lots of antioxidants, making it perfect wine for meaty and fatty meals, full of cholesterols. Modra frankinja is also part of cviček.
A special treat is to book your accommodation in a vineyard cottage (zidanice). It is a unique trademark of Posavje, where lots of vineyard cottages, wineries, and wine cellars make a heaven for wine tourists. Most wine cottages are not at all small or excessively rustic – they are now real villas in the rural surroundings of Posavje wine hills.
Perched on sixty metres rock above Sava River and village of Brestanica, the Rajhenburg Castle stands as a spectacular historical attraction of Krško. It is also the first medieval castle mentioned in Slovenian texts from 895. The original castle was demolished and later rebuild by Bishop Konrad of Salzburg in early 12th century. Among many owners of this castle, the Trappist monks stand out. They lived here from 1881 until 1941, and gave a specific gastronomic heritage to this castle.
The fort has thick walls and entrance leads to a cobbled square surrounded by white walls of this beautiful castle. The nobility ruled this estate until 1881 when Trappists bought the castle and made a strict monastery. German occupation in 1941 moved the monks out and used the premises for Slovenian refugees. After Second World War, the communist government nationalised Rajhenburg and transformed it into a female political prison. Only in 2004 did Krško Municipality gain the ownership of Rajhenburg and started its renaissance to the present state.
We first got warm with tea and excellent pastry inside the castle cafe, before embarking on a quick one-hour tour of the castle led by knowledgeable Mrs Helena Rožman. Within an hour we were astonished by the development of castle’s architecture, beginning in Romanesque period and travelling through Gothic and Renaissance features until the present day.
Castle is known for its not yet fully explored Romanesque chapel from 12th century and Renaissance chapel from 16th century. Exquisite Renaissance frescos still exist in one room, making Rajhenburg one of the most important Middle Age castle architecture in Slovenia. The scenic position and exemplary interior make the castle ideal for weddings, celebrations, concerts, and cultural events.
The museum inside the castle features the destiny of Slovene deportees and the time when various correctional institutions operated in the castle. Visitors can also see the castle furniture from the collection of the National Museum of Slovenia. Postcards show Brestanica from the end of the 19th century and motifs from the social life in this small and picturesque village that hosts one of the biggest churches in Slovenia, the Basilica of the Mary of Lourdes. The castle also includes exhibited medals from the Olympic games and world championships won by Primož Kozmus, the most famous athlete from Brestanica.
In the home of Silent Monks
The main attraction is, of course, the Trappists. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.) is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monasticrs who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. They are branch of the Order of Cistercians and one of the strictest orders in Catholicism. “Silent monks”, as they are sometimes called, came to Rajhenburg from Trappist monastery of Dumb near Lyon and dedicated it to the Mary the Rescuer.
At first only French monks were present, but over time Slovenian brothers entered the monastery. In Rajhenburg they worked for 17 hours a day, of which six hours they spent in prayer and meditation. They were strictly forbidden to talk or even communicate with the body language. Those who have taken the vows were no longer allowed eating meat, fish, and eggs, and they only made Trappist cheese. It was possible to eat this cheese at non-fasting days, making it the only food of animal origin on the monastery’s dining table.
Extensive farmlands in the area were the basis of Trappists’ survival. The monks were breeding cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, whose meat they sold. They cultivated the land, had vineyards and orchards. In 1929 Trappists bought the first tractor in Posavje region and they planted first vine in Sremič, now known as top wine area. In 1896 monks also built first hydroelectric power plant in the area.
One heritage that lasts is chocolate. The Trappists were first producers of chocolate and liqueurs in Slovenia. They imported the necessary machinery from France in 1896, and used the hydro energy of Brestanica brook to produce first chocolate dragees. The Viennese Imperial Court was especially pleased of its quality, so they bought regularly chocolate bars from the monastery. In fact, Emperor and King Franz Joseph gave the honorary title of Imperial, which soon became their brand name. The Imperial chocolate was sold all over Europe. They also produced Cocoa, Trapistin and the Grand liqueur, three kinds of liqueurs, of which some became basis for modern day chocolate wine.
We tried the famous chocolates and chocolate wine in Rajhenburg itself, presented by Lojze Kunej. The family tradition of wine making in Kunej family goes back to the end of the 19th century. In 2013, the production of vines and wine is joined by production of chocolate.
The Kunej family partnered with the City museum of Krško and Rajhenburg Castle in the project entitled “The influence of Trappist order on the Posavje countryside, acronym Trapistin” and began producing chocolate products inspired by the Trappist heritage. The chocolate products are produced in the House of Mozer in the direct vicinity of the renovated Rajhenburg Castle.
Kunej’s major product, Chocolat Impérial, is a new beverage based on dark red wine from unique grape variety selection, which can be combined with its gentle tannin with dark chocolate. This is a harmonious fusion, which takes us into the world of sensual pleasure and comfort. It can be enjoyed by itself as an aperitif or with selected snacks or deserts, dark chocolate, truffles, forest berries, nuts, berries and selected gourmet food. The wine is not as sweet as one might expect, mostly because of the high-quality Ecuadorian 76 per cent dark chocolate used to produce it. The wine itself is cuvee of dornfelder, acolon, cabernet cubin, and cabernet dorsa.
But real treat is a newly made wine with white chocolate, Chocolat Imperial Blanc. This unique dessert wine is based on chardonnay, sauvignon, and Laški Riesling, with addition of aromatic white chocolate. The complex aroma gives the feelings and tastes of white chocolate, sherry, vanilla, coffee. Indeed, it is a perfect, romantic, pleasurable dessert drink that goes well with soft and mild chocolates.
The best chocolates for these wines can also be found at Kunej’s manufactory. These are again based on Trappists’ tradition, and you can choose from handmade chocolate candies, chocolate bars, and chocolate round bars. The most difficult part is to try all combinations with a drop of excellent wine.
HOUSE OF VINES, WINE AND CHOCOLATE KUNEJ
Kunej Ales s.p.
Cesta prvih borcev 40
8280 Brestanica, Slovenia
Phone: 00386 (0)7 49 73 330
GSM: 00386 (0)31 337 526
Fax: 00386 (0) 599 54 671