I recently read an article by a fellow American and writer, Noah Charney, who lives in Slovenia, about his Ski and Swim Challenge. Basically, Slovenia, our lovely neighbor to the north and east, boasts “that the country is so compact, with such a diversity of terrain, that you can ski in the morning and swim in the ocean in the afternoon”. This is in fact true, although, as the author points out – to find a time of year in which there is still enough snow on the mountains to ski and water warm enough to not die of hypothermia, is a little tricky.
Being an American with Italian roots, I devised a challenge that is way more my speed: The 3 Meals in 3 Countries Challenge . In one day, I propose sightseeing and dining in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. I have done this challenge on several occasions and it is doable. I also have a few variations that include stops in Lubljana for Slovenia and several other restaurant options in and around Trieste and Slovenia.
My day begins in Trieste Italy in the lovely Piazza Unita’ d’Italia – the largest Piazza in Europe open to the sea. There at the Caffe’ Degli Specchi, I order a capuccino grande with a nice cream filled cornetto. The platter come elegantly served with a side of chocolate and whipped cream. While enjoying my breakfast in the Piazza I can people watch, survey the azure sea with snow-capped Alps on the horizon and enjoy the Austrian inspired wedding-cake style architecture of City Hall, the old Lloyd Triestino building and the Prefecture with its golden mosaics.
I have plenty of time to visit the home of the Barone Revoltella a famous, industrious and entrepreneurial renaissance man and contemporary/frenemy of Maximillian of Habsburg (of Miramare Castle fame). Responsible for the creation of the Suez Canal which directly influenced the shipping trade in Trieste, Revoltella’s sumptuous home transports you back in time and you can imagine the home milling with guests enjoying sumptuous meals and having a turn in the ballroom while the men enjoyed the Orient inspired smoking room. You can also visit the modern art Museum housed in the same building which was started with Revoltella’s own collection and an endowment he left the city of Trieste. There you will find a collection spanning the 1800 & 1900s with rooms focusing on Sculpture, Italian regional schools of art, Triestine artists of the second half of the 1800s, International artists, Italian masterpieces by the likes of Giorgio de Chirico and Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Next stop Croatia. You will need to bring your Passport for this leg of the trip! About 40mins away is the little town of Momiano home to a cosy “konoba” (tavern) called Rino where you can enjoy an incredible indulgent truffle laden meal for a very reasonable price. My suggestion is to start with the soft scrambled eggs with truffles and then follow with a half portion of the tagliatelle with truffles. By then you will have been seduced by the scents emanating from the open grill in the center of the tavern where handmade sausages and beautiful cuts of meat are cooked. I highly recommend you try either the steak or sausage, or you can give in to the sample platter.
This incredible meal should be accompanied by their house wine which they make under the brand Prelac. The vineyard is just next door and you can buy several bottles of the refosco and chardonnay to bring home.
Enjoy your coffee and then take a leisurely drive to Rovigno (54 mins). It is an iconic port town of Croatia. Ancient, quaint and surrounded by breathtaking water views. As you walk up to the cathedral, you’ll be enchanted by the tiny lanes and alleys that all lead you back to the sea. The view from the cathedral is beautiful and from there you can walk down to the port and enjoy a gelato before heading back home towards Trieste.
The 1 1/2 hr drive back to Trieste is pretty and you still have plenty of time to go home and rest, freshen up before hitting the road again — this time for Slovenia.
Depending on the time of year, you should be able to enjoy a beautiful sunset back in Trieste. Sunsets in Trieste are magical – the entire city takes on a beautiful rose-gold hue and it is a daily event not taken for granted by the locals. People dot the famous giant pier and waterfront just to watch the sun set. Another vantage point is the beautiful coastal Napoleonica Trail in Opicina, under the obelisk, before heading out to dinner.
Gostilna Ruj in Dol pri Vogljah, Slovenia is just minutes from Opicina. After a winding road in the woods takes you past an old abandoned customs checkpoint you will arrive to a small farmhouse. In the winter dining is indoors and as soon as the weather permits, it is outdoor dining under the pergola and stars.
Ruj is a family run restaurant owned by Peter Patajac a chef and restauranteur of some note in Slovenia having won multiple awards. The menu is hyper-local and dictated by the season. Patajac takes traditional local dishes and elevates them both in flavors and presentation to exceptional levels. He also curates a wine cellar that features the best of local Slovenian and Italian producers matching the perfect wines to your meal. Not to be be missed are his homemade patès or charcuterie. Here the pasta are served with locally foraged seasonal greens like ramsons (the european version of ramps), wild asparagus or mushrooms. One of the more memorable dishes I’ve had was a bean soup with wild mushrooms and wild boar meatballs — just sayin’! Meat dishes include venison with wild currants or braised guanciale on top of a white polenta or simple aged steaks sliced and served with large grain salt and fresh vegetables medleys. Ruj also has some very unique desserts and home-made artisanal ice creams with unusual flavor blends like his assorted herb ice creams or his white chocolate ice cream served with orange and olive oil. Or skip the dessert and finish your meal with a glass of his homemade juniper digestif.
On your way back to Trieste, if you still have room, stop at the ever popular, double-parking only Gelateria Zampolli. There you will find an endless selection of home-made gelati considered to be THE BEST in Trieste.
Then it’s home and off to bed.
For transportation you can either rent a car at the airport or at the train station in town. Another option is a car and driver service you can rent just near Piazza Unita’ (that way you can enjoy the local wines more freely!). Check out my article on getting around Trieste here: https://bestoftrieste.com/2018/01/25/survival-guide-getting-around-trieste/
Drivers Gilbe has a garage (for your rental) and provides day-trips and a variety of other services through the local hotels or you can book them directly. Drivers Gilbe also offers Scooter and motorcycle rentals.
Comfortcar provides airport transfers, special limo services, day-trips, etc.
Dolinja Vas 23 , 52462 Momjan, Istra , Hrvatska
Tel: +385 52 779170
Dol pri Vogljah 16
Tel: +386 5 7341720
Closed: monday, tuesday, wednesday