Ah, December. Holiday season is in full swing – are you itching to get out of it for just a bit? If so, why not try Slovenia?
I love-love-loved Trieste, but as my friend and I boarded a bus to the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I’d heard of the country had been good, it’s just that I hadn’t heard that much.
Accordingly, there were some gluten-free Italian goodies stashed away in my bag, just in case.
I didn’t need them at all.
Slovenia rarely gets top billing when we think of a grand European adventure; maybe it’s because Ljubljana is just so hard to spell and pronounce. It’s a lovely country to spend some time, though. Well-organized and friendly, it offers a little bit of everything for those of us traveling gluten-free and not.
Although the country’s traditional food does involve a lot of wheat, only the most fastidiously old-school of restaurants won’t have something gluten-free for you to eat (we found one place that only offered meat and dumplings).
In fact, everywhere I went in Ljubljana I found signs saying “brez glutena” (note: the standard demarcation line in Slovenia is 20 ppm, as it generally is in the US). And, because of the country’s geography, I saw a variety of gluten-free products from Germany, Italy and Austria on the shelves. An added benefit of the geography and history: most menus were written in multiple languages, making it easy to vet potentially safe choices. The staff will be able to work off of your dining cards in English, Italian or German to guarantee the rest.
In Ljubljana, we stayed at the Hostel Celica. Thusly named because it was formerly a prison and many of the rooms were formerly jail cells – not as a lazy anagram for “celiac” – the hostel earns its reputation as one of the world’s hippest. It was also particularly celiac-friendly, thanks to:
- a small guest kitchen for cooking food you find in the markets. We made a mean GF pasta with fresh mushrooms and sage one night, and got to meet some of our hostel-mates in the process.
- buffet breakfast, included in the cost, had an unusually large selection of gluten-free options. Yogurt, scrambled eggs, trays of cheese, etc – I brought some rice cakes and happily chowed down.
- a small restaurant on-premise, staffed with people who are aware of celiac disease.
- all staff spoke good English and were happy to help me locate supermarkets and health food stores.
*Of note, if you aren’t used to hostels: double rooms are available, but you’ll be sharing a bathroom with others.
On our side trip out to Bled, it was equally easy to be gluten-free. The town is teeny, and the supermarket reflects it, but I was able to assemble a safe meal from the Mercator to eat while drinking in the beautiful scenery.
Our most memorable Bled meal was at a charmingly surly restaurant just outside of the entrance to Vintner Gorge. I don’t know the name, but you won’t have trouble finding it: there’s no other restaurant for at least 2 kilometers. Almost everything on the menu was prepared simply and from scratch, so they were very able to accommodate a gluten-free traveler. Our brown trout, pulled from the river just outside the door and cooked with plum sauce, wasn’t at all photogenic. It was, however, delicious. OK, so the fried potatoes and cabbage salad we ordered with it were bland; they were safe, and that trout made up for it.
If you’re going to Slovenia, you might want to get in touch with the Slovene Celiac Society (or post to their Facebook page). Not the most informative site, but there are a few restaurant recommendations and I imagine that many of their Facebook fans speak English and would happily offer advice.
There’s also a slightly outdated, but still useful list of gluten-free grocery stores and restaurants from the Coeliac Youth of Europe.
Have you traveled to Slovenia? If so, what did you eat?