Food and wine tasting in Slovenia’s Goriška Brda wine region, followed by an overnight stay at Hiša Marica in the picturesque, historical village of Šmartno.
It was a pleasure to attend the BRDA & VINO Wine and Culinary Festival again after my last visit in 2019. This spring event takes place annually in the picturesque medieval village of Šmartno in Slovenia’s Goriška Brda wine region. It didn’t take place for the past two years due to COVID and it was sadly missed by myself and many other regular visitors to the event, who come from all over Europe and beyond. Happily enough, we had the pleasure of experiencing it again on April 23.
BRDA & VINO is popular for many reasons, among them: the variety of dishes and wines on offer, the lovely atmosphere brought on by the many entertainers and the visitors themselves, the setting and surrounding views. All who attend are in a happy mood, heightened by the festive live music performances.
Check out my video from BRDA & VINO 2019 here.
The idyllic location, the tiny village of Šmartno, is bang in the centre of Slovenia’s most coveted wine-producing region—Goriška Brda, which has often been dubbed Slovenia’s Tuscany. One will see why when admiring the rolling hills and vineyards from one of the many hilltops. Šmartno itself is perched on a hill and offers amazing views of the entire Brda region, extending over to the Italian Collio winemaking region and beyond.
The great thing about attending the BRDA & VINO festival is that you can make a mini holiday out of it. In a couple of days, you can visit the pretty villages and wineries, and enjoy a peaceful walk among the vineyards.
Šmartno, an Idyllic Historical Location
Šmartno’s historical setting makes it a perfect backdrop for a high-level event such as BRDA & VINO. Due to the village’s small size (1.42 km2), tickets to the event are limited and therefore sold-out way in advance, hence the exclusivity of the event.
The tiny village (around 200 inhabitants) is a pretty arrangement of well-preserved medieval buildings surrounded by fortified walls and five preserved towers. Its narrow streets are just wide enough to allow for the movement of soldiers that once defended it.
BRDA & VINO: Springtime Wine and Culinary Festival
BRDA & VINO has a long tradition, starting off as a wine event for wine producers to promote their wines. In 2013, Hiša Marica and Hotel San Martin took over as organisers and turned it into one of the most important wine and culinary events in Slovenia.
This year, it brought together over 25 selected restaurants from around Slovenia and over 40 winemakers from Brda. Every year, the rich gastronomic offer is further enriched by displays of boutique products such as homemade jams and liqueurs, olive oil, lavender products, and other artisanal produce.
Rich Culinary Offer
Slovenian cuisine has become ever so sophisticated over recent years. Traditional staples have been transformed into more complex, flavour-rich, and eye-catching dishes. What I really appreciate is that chefs here take exceptional care in using local and seasonal produce, and the dishes I tasted at BRDA & VINO reflected this.
Some most memorable dishes were wild garlic (čemaž) gnocchi; asparagus lasagna; beetroot burger buns filled with pulled venison and pine nuts, pickled beetroot, and red cabbage coleslaw.
This was quite a highlight: a ‘post-Easter’ dish by Bistro Štorja consisting of a Wagyu Angus brisket carpaccio, sweet onions cooked in liqueur, caramelised onions in vinegar and dehydrated egg yolk, truffles with mustard, gaspacho of beetroot and leek, and a topping of squid mayo, all served on deep-fried dry bread.
Brda’s most abundant variety is Rebula. Together with Pikolit, Sauvignonasse and Verduc, it’s an old, local type. You’ll also find other known whites like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Pinot Bianco. Red wines typical of the area are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. You can also come across some Refošk, Barbera, Gamay and Syrah.
Many of these wines were being offered by the Brda wineries present at the BRDA & VINO festival.
Music & Entertainment at BRDA & VINO
Festival-goers are highly entertained by numerous musical bands and dance troupes that tour the festival throughout the duration of the event. Music lovers can enjoy assorted styles, from Slovenian folk music, to pop and bossa nova beats.
My favourites this year were the young three-man band Ne Joči Pevec who got a party going with their drums, guitar, and accordion playing, and the Denise Dantas Quartet that performed Brazilian bossa nova songs. We could also appreciate artworks created by a local arts association ‘Likovno društvo DABLO,’ and live metalworking by blacksmith Vlado Zupančič.
Sleeping in Goriška Brda
Goriška Brda has a great choice of welcoming accommodation, including bed and breakfasts and vineyard estates, most also comprising an outdoor pool and an on-site à-la-carte restaurants serving local specialties. We stayed at Hiša Marica (House of Marica), conveniently located in Šmartno, where the BRDA & VINO event takes place. I can’t not mention the cosy atmosphere of the place. It couldn’t be more comfortable, and we could really appreciate the nicely renovated building, and our spacious duplex apartment with wooden beams and traditional furniture.
The morning following the festival, we woke up to a delicious breakfast of locally cured prosciutto, fresh bread, and other local products. With satisfied bellies, we took to the vineyard trails and climbed up the Gonjače Lookout Tower to admire more views of Slovenia’s wine-growing region. Not only did we have a wonderful time exploring, we also worked up an appetite for lunch. We chose to eat at Belica restaurant in Medana and I’m glad we did. A meal to remember: really tender veal steak with sides of fried potatoes and a tasty creamed spinach purée.
We were very lucky with the weather during our walk, but it turned rainy and windy once we got to lunch so we had to sit inside. When I return to Goriška Brda I will make it a point to lunch or dine at Belica on a nice day and enjoy their terrace, which I know guarantees romantic dining beneath the grapevines while watching the sun set over the hills.