The Slovenian word “gostilna” (restaurant) derives from “gost,” or guest.
The Gostilna is the nearest place you can think of to an English country inn, a large but very homely venue, predominantly serving food but also offering rustic pub-like elements that invite a longer stay or an evening visit purely for a pint or two. Originally these began through landlords inviting guests around to taste their local food and wine. In the countryside these venues offer a home away from home, roaring fires, hearty food and shelter from harsh weather. In addition to that Slovenia takes a break from the usual sullen Slavic service and in a Gostilna you can expect to be treated like a host treats a guest at their house.
A gostilna might be any restaurant, although these days the imperatives of culinary arts, gastronomy and tourism have led to the development of an appellation of authenticity, “Gostilna Slovenija.” This is a designation that must be earned.
Each carefully selected gostilna must meet a certain criteria, including strong family connections that have passed through generations, and use locally sourced ingredients to produce traditional dishes paired with Slovenian wines. They must also maintain strong ties to their local communities. A gostilna provides a central place for spending time with family and friends, celebrations and other social occasions, where food is often the focal point. All gostilnas carrying this trademark will represent a collection of highly acclaimed businesses that all strive to uphold their Slovenian heritage and promote Slovenian gastronomy to a wider audience. Slovenia has over three thousand restaurants, many of which are gostilnas.
Presumably far fewer than 3,000 will qualify to be placed on the “Gostilna Slovenija” list, and in all honesty, I’ve just now become aware of its existence.
I also don’t know whether Gostilna Pri Planincu in Bled has met the standards for inclusion. Perhaps not, considering that a pizzeria under the same management operates on the second floor, and pizza is Italian, not Slovenian. We didn’t go to this atmospheric gostilna (founded in 1903) for pizza, but to enjoy outstanding regional meals, beers and ambiance. I loved it.
Gostilna Pri Planincu was our choice for Sunday dinner, a last meal in Bled, after climbing up and back from Bled Castle.
Roughly translated, the name means the “Mountaineer’s Restaurant.” Situated less than one hundred yards from our hotel, we’d noticed Gostilna Pri Planincu on Saturday afternoon, post-Christmas market lunch and pre-hot tub. We popped inside for beers. The place was packed, so we found two barstools and enjoyed draft Union Pivos — and the witty repartee of the English-speaking bartender.
You’ll notice that someone has a predilection for license plates and motorcycles, and these decorate the front room. The rear seating area is pleasingly rustic, as we learned on Sunday when we returned to eat and found an almost empty gostilna. After all, the weekend was over.
There was a regional meat and cheese board.
Heavenly garlic soup.
Pork cutlets beneath our respective gravies.
And for something different, a draft craft lager, Komunajzer Broz.
Komunajzer beers bear an explanation.
Josip, Broz, Tito and Jovanka Sold as Beer, by By Jasminka Mitkovska (Total Slovenia News)
“We managed what Tito failed to do” is Komunajzer’s slogan.
They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, and a Slovenian microbrewery is reaping the benefits of branding some of its beers after some characters of the past. The socialist era may be long gone, but Novo Mesto microbrewery Komunajzer has been annoying plenty of people while experiencing a decent uptick in sales after naming his beers Josip, Broz, Tito and Jovanka, famous names in the region, all tied of course to the former Yugoslav leader and his wife.
Diana went back to our room to begin packing, and I stayed for a nightcap with a second witty bartender in as many nights.
He sold me two beers for takeaway: Bernard, from Czechia, a tasty pilsner.
Stuffed with prime gostilna fare, we readied for the trip to Trieste on Monday morning.