Slovenia. Bled, about an hour North of the capital Ljubljana to the North-West of Slovenia. Rather than the town it is the beautiful lake that gives the name Bled, famous among the European elite as early as the 1930’s with the construction of a luxurious hotel providing natural hot spring source knowned for health benefits.I am talking of the Grand Hotel Toplice, a venue that boasts a rich history, a magical location, gorgeous alpine and lake views and sumptuously comfortable, elegantly styled rooms.
Each of the rooms and suites at Grand Hotel Toplice has its own unique character and are traditionally styled with beautiful parquet floors, rich furniture and beautiful paintings with many of the rooms benefiting from breathtakingly beautiful lake views. The hotel has been recently renovated and restored to its former glory and is one of the best hotels in Slovenia as well as being a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection.
It has hosted many eminent guests and is frequented by celebrities such as Vivian Leigh, Arthur Miller, Pablo Neruda, King Hussein of Jordan, Paul McCartney and…me, with my best friend-chef-writer Philip Sinsheimer, graciously hosted by Sava hotel and resort group that manage the venue.
Starting from the impeccable reception. the hotel boasts luxurious accommodation, few restaurant, a bar and the enchantment of Lake Bled. All rooms and suites are individually decorated in an enchanting and traditional style, lavishly equipped with an excellent range of facilities, a relaxing thermal swimming pool and benefit from different saunas, wellness services and a solarium among a private lido, where Philip (expert swimmer) dived in the limpid lake water while me (lazy man…) was indulging in a relaxing sunbathing. We dedicated the morning ( when the light is best) to row to the island where the minuscule baroque chapel.I was anxious to hear the bells rings, because I knew about the legend wich narrates that around the year 1500, the leaseholder of Lake Bled at the time, Hartman Kreigh, disappeared. People said he was killed. Sad for the events, the Lady of the Castle collected all of her precious golden jewellery to be melted down and casted into a bell for the chapel on the island of the Lake, so that the bell would toll in remembrance of beloved companion. They say the bell has a magic power, when it rings, you should make 3 wishes and wait for them to become real. We did 99 steps and finally we arrived at the church, where the view is really breathtaking and, yes, we waited for the bell… Not sure my wishes are becoming a reality, we ll see….
A true wish coming true was the splendid dinner we were invited for dinner at Julijana Restaurant where Chef Bertoncelj prepared a great dinner.
I leave Philip the privilege of writing about it, since he is a chef and a food blogger.
GRANDE CUISINE BY THE LAKE
This historic landmark now called the Grand Hotel Toplice, operated by the Sava hotel and resort group, has managed to preserve the relics of the past with grand salons adorned with memorabilia pictures and bring all the comfort of modernity at the same time.This delicate balance between past was brilliantly reflected in the cuisine of the executive chef Simon Bertoncelj and the whole crew under him. Having dinner at the gastronomic Julijana Restaurant, especially if the weather allows to eat al fresco facing the lake is a moment of bliss: the quality of service, attention to detail and classic decor evoke a certain respect of classical elegance. This doesn’t constrain the cuisine to old classics, and the chef’s creativity and modern techniques seem to find their place very naturally in this elegant environment.
The mise en bouche consisting of a delicately baked oyster and a buttery giant shrimp had all the signs of what you can expect in a palace restaurant: prime quality ingredients simply treated. This seafood opening was in synch with the view of the water even though it wasn’t the sea. As I were to learn later by the chef, unfortunately, as beautiful as it is, the lake doesn’t often yield the quantity of fish needed to take place on the menu.
The mushroom cappuccino with porcini had the depth of flavor one can only get in top notch restaurants, served piping hot but adorned with the freshness of a few micro greens scattered on top rather than the old habit of a dollop of cream and a few chives. Fresh too was the vitello tonnato inspired salad, bright and lively. Here, as in all the great restaurants experienced in Slovenia, the wine list paid homage to the country’s fine wines, such as the 2017Verus Chardonnay from Stajerska, the western part of the Podravje region in the North of the country. At last a chardonnay that can showcase both concentration of flavors and freshness in the palate with a mere 13° alcohol content.The shining fish course was a thick and moist turbot filet, perfectly cooked and adorned by a beautiful composition of vegetables and foamy grapefruit sauce. Here again: classic base and modern composition. Though generous, nothing was heavy, and the beautiful matured saddle of veal served pink with a herb crust was still welcome.
To finish, the iconic Bled Cream Cake, which recipe goes back to 1953 and is secretly kept by the Sava hotels group. The result was up to the legend. Even though I really do not have much of a sweet tooth, and I have had my share of mille-feuilles in France, this raised version of the classic with just two layers of perfectly crisp puffed pastry holding a firm custard covered by a layer of lighter whipped cream is to die for…
Chef Simon Bertoncelj, who has worked under the commands of Gordon Ramsey, seems rather poised and discreet, but if you really want to find out, he opens his kitchen to a guest table of 2 to 6 people for a 7-course menu cooked and served, right before their eyes…and ears!
For more info
Grand Hotel Toplice
Cesta svobode 12, 4260 Bled, Slovenia
+386 4 579 10 00