Last fall my friend Caren and I spent a week walking in Slovenia, booked through InnTravel, one of the many European companies that organize self-guided walking trips. We spent our first night in the village of Tomaj (pronounced Tomai) at the Turisticna Kmetija Skerlj, up a little road just a hundred yards or so from the main village. I was delighted to see the agriturismo written up in the New York Times Travel section this past Sunday.
When we arrived last October, the countryside was blazing with the yellows and reds of autumn. The farm’s courtyard was covered with a vine-laced pergola, heavy with dark grapes. A huge stack of green and orange pumpkins lay against the stucco walls of the farmhouse. We were delighted that our innkeeper, Milojka Skerlj, spoke English; my Slovenia vocabulary was limited to hvala, thank you, prosim, please, ja, yes, ne, no, dober dan, good morning.
We walked into the tiny village for lunch. The only establishment that served food was Gostilna Tomaj, a simple bar/restaurant with outdoor seating under a tall chestnut tree. Chestnuts littered the stone floor outside. In a corner a heavy black-bearded man sat reading his newspaper.
There was a little printed English menu, but the woman behind the counter told us the offerings. We each had a green salad with thinly sliced cucumber, cabbage, chunks of tomato and a scattering of pinto beans. Pinto beans, in fact, were featured on almost every salad we ate in Slovenia.) I also tried a Cockta, the local cola, which tasted strongly of herbs.
Afterwards we walked onto a little country road into the fields. Even though all the wine grapes had been harvested, the apple orchards were heavy with fruit. Tall quince trees with dark foliage bore lots of bright yellow fruit. Most of the houses had kitchen gardens with lettuces and herbs.
Because we were there late in the season, we were the only guests for dinner in the vaulted stone dining room. Everything we ate was freshly prepared and locally grown. First course: homemade wide flat noodles with pancetta and finocchio (fennel) – the fronds clipped like dill. Then roast beef, stewed peppers, gnocchi, and a salad of bitter arugula and deeply flavored tomatoes, followed by panna cotta made with cream and yogurt, and topped with a compote of fall peaches.
Milojka’s husband Izidor had been working out in the courtyard all afternoon and evening. He came in for dinner with the family, still in his stained blue jumpsuit, hair standing high on his head. Bernie, their St. Bernard, pawed the window begging to be let in, but his effort failed.