My Favorite Things in and around Kamnik
I’ve lived in many countries (Italy, France, Spain, the US, England, the Netherlands) and many major cities (London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence, Madrid), but in the end, I’ve chosen to call Kamnik home. Whenever friends, local or foreign, ask me why I love Kamnik, I always describe is as the sort of town American painter Norman Rockwell would depict, if he had grown up in Gorenjska instead of New England. It is tiny, cozy, warm, beautiful, clean and safe, but surprisingly lively, with many festivals and events to keep you busy—idyllic for a young family, like mine. But having lived here for several years, one of the things I like most about it is that it is so small that I can’t walk down the street without seeing friends, and I’ve become buddies with many of the locals at my favorite establishments here. What follows is my entirely subjective list of favorite places in Kamnik, and the surrounding area.
Best Café: Gostilna Korobac
My home away from home is Kamnik’s new hipster café, and the place you’re most likely to run into me, it features great music, all four of Kamnik’s excellent microbrewery beers, large sharing platters and Kava Korobač, a giant white coffee spiked with spicy cinnamon schnapps.
Best Restaurant: Orient
I love cevapcici and eat them everywhere I go. Orient has the best cevapcici I’ve ever had, as well as a welcoming, family atmosphere and crazy low prices (2.90 for cevapi v lepinje—are you kidding?) When my parents come to visit from abroad, this is the place they want to go. Nowhere better to sit beside the river and eat, and waitress Mirjana even humors my strange, foreign requests, like having the onions fried instead of raw.
Best Takeout: 7 Burger
Thank goodness 7 Burger opened, bringing the late-blooming Slovene craze for really good, giant burgers to the Kamnik area. I’ve eaten burgers the world over (including at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, my hometown, which historians say invented the hamburger), and these are up there. Try an Overindulgence burger, if you dare, along with one of a dozen local craft beers available. The place might not be atmospheric (a shack in a parking lot), but they know what they’re doing.
Best Donuts: Slascicarna Sutna
Unfortunately, they only make donuts in February, so I usually get one every day of the month. They are as good, if not better, than the famous Trojane krofi, and perhaps taste even sweeter because they have a short season.
Best Ice Cream: Kep’ca
Unlike most places in town, Kep’ca makes their own gelato-style ice cream, but the best of all are the generous sadne kupe, which make for a meal. Plus waiter Elfi will be happy to entertain you with stories and jokes, and makes everyone feel at home.
Best Local Beer: Mali Grad Pale Ale and Maister Vega
A tie to the two local microbrews, one made in the center of town (Mali Grad), the other made by Janez Skok, proprietor of Pri Maistru. Both are world class, and it’s always best to support local products of quality.
Best Hotel: Pri Cesarju
Whenever we have guests, they stay here and enjoy the warm hospitality of Franci and Frenk Sedmak. If you need any evidence: some elderly friends were staying and had to wake early to be picked up at 5am on a Sunday, to head to the airport. Frenk did not have to come to work that day, but was there at 5, just to help them carry their suitcases down the stairs and wish them farewell. That’s amazing service.
Best Butcher: Oliver Kajtna
Whenever I see a marinated meat in Oliver’s vitrine, I buy it, and I’m always impressed: chicken skewers, ground lamb kebabs, stuffed peppers, it’s all surprisingly good. And he’s got some sort of magical, happy chickens that taste so much better than the packaged stuff you find at supermarkets that you’ll think you’re eating a different animal altogether.
Best Grocer: Tropik
Three generations of the family work behind the counter, and offer my daughter a banana each time we come in. But what really sold me, aside from the quality of their produce, is their honesty: they’ll tell me if something I’ve asked for is not as fresh as they’d like, and that it’s better to wait for the new delivery. A rare trait among vendors.
Best Store: Zlata Pticka
Featuring all local gourmet food and drink, this store is heavenly. I get all my coffee here (Escobar, roasted in Vrhnika), my beer (Mali Grad), juices, yogurt, muesli—everything I’ve tried is top quality, offered with kind and knowledgeable service, and it feels good to support local food producers and a local market.
Best Ethnic Food: Tsnim
My neighbor is the lovely Rami, a Syrian immigrant living more than ten years in Slovenia, with three children born here. He recently opened an excellent, simple Syrian restaurant in the Duplica section of Kamnik. A good person who makes good food.
This botanical garden, a five minute drive from Kamnik, is a step inside a magical Eden. Its size and grandeur will surprise you. It is enormous, and features a wide variety of garden styles, from French Neo-Classical to a wild forest, from a hedgerow maze to a manicured rose garden. There are tropical orchid displays, a butterfly sanctuary, and a dizzyingly wonderful array of children’s jungle gyms: slides and pirate ships and ziplines and trampolines, not to mention the frequent display of moving full-scale dinosaur models peppered throughout. There’s even a lovely café in the middle, so you can quite literally spend the day there, and multiple visits will disclose new treats (a hidden lounge chair here, a pond full of what look like mutant, man-eating carp there). Absolutely heavenly for children.
Perched atop a mountain is an enormous plateau or rolling meadow, where centuries of cowherds have grazed their cattle. But this is no ordinary mountaintop. It has its own cultural ecosystem, with a unique traditional costume for the cowherds (it looks part Middle Earth, part Hawaiian, with long strands of dried grass acting as a rain and wind barrier), as well as specialty foods. Kislo mleko, sour milk that tastes much better than it sounds, is a delicacy, as are Trnic hard cheeses, shaped like decorative boobies (that’s one version of the story at least)—it tastes a bit like Parmesan, and is shaved over food. Enhancing the Icelandic saga-meets-Tolkein atmosphere are low-slung wooden houses that dot the landscape. Once the seasonal home of the cowherds, you can now rent them for short holidays, without electricity but with loads of charm and authenticity. There are a handful of chalets serving excellent food and local schnapps to warm you up, and be sure to find your way to the gorgeous, teacup-sized wooden church, Saint Mary of the Snow. It’s a tradition to come to midnight mass here on a snowy Christmas Eve, which I’ve never managed to do, though I’m sure it’s lovely. I was once up there with a Swiss friend when fog locked down, and I felt like I was in the midst of a horror movie. We could see only a few meters ahead of us, and could hear only wind and cow bells. Every now and then a figure (or cow) would emerge from the mist, only to be swallowed up again. Velika Planina is a wonderland, and feels a world away. Don’t miss it.
Just up the road from Kamnik is a small pond and cooling stream that will fill with eager swimmers on a hot summer day. There isn’t much to do here, but that’s sort of the point. Beautiful forest paths, a country inn, a magical pool—all you really need for a short outing in the mountains.
Church of Saint Ana, Tunjice
The church in the village of Tunjice is where I got married, but I recommend it without prejudice. One of the finest late Baroque churches in Slovenia, it has a ridiculously picturesque location, perched like an owl on a hilltop, framed by the Alps, with sweeping views all around and some impressive gilded statuary inside. If you’re feeling New Age-y, you can also swing by the Zdravilni Gaj just down the street, visited by folks from around the world, and purported to be a place with healing vibes and “live water” that they sell in bottles as far away as China.
Gostilna Narobe, Trzin
It’s easy to blink and miss this old country inn on the busy road between Ljubljana and Kamnik, as you pass by Trzin. But Narobe is a time warp when you walk inside. With the dark, heavy, but warm and welcoming atmosphere of an inn from centuries past, it boasts excellent, homemade food, from the bread to dessert. I once drove this road on one of my first trips to visit my future wife, and the landscape was locked in with fog. I could barely see a few meters ahead of me despite my fog lights, and I remember the dim moth of the lantern outside this inn like a beacon in the mist. Cozy in my car in the 21st century, I imagined what it must have been like for weary, wary travelers on horseback, foot or coach, having to pass through the fog, nervous of bandits or wolves, hearing only their footfalls and fast breath. And then they see the thin, warm light of a lantern outside a country inn, perhaps even this very one. How that must have provided a sense of relief and comfort. It still does.
This is an excerpt from Slovenology the book. Check it out for much more!