French culinary photojournalist Anne-Claire Héraud continues to crisscross the picturesque Slovenian countryside on her quest to find influential figures in sustainable cuisine. The castle of Grad Otočec, in a rural winegrowing region of eastern Slovenia, is the second and final stop on her journey.
It is relaxing by nature and by design. Otočec Castle sits right in the middle of the Krka River, a vast presence encircled by abundant water and vegetation. To be so thoroughly surrounded by the outdoors is soothing to both body and soul. For that is the raison d’être of Otočec. Go slowly, stop, reflect, appreciate. Take a morning stroll in the surrounding hillsides, or a horseback ride, or a dip in the Klevevž hot spring. Or simply wander around the castle to admire the swans gliding across the water.
Chef Nejc Ban is in charge of the kitchens and the organic vegetable garden, where he grows the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are freshly picked in season to become part of his delightful dishes. Winegrowing is active in this region and Slovenian selections are perfectly paired with the meals.
Over the centuries, Otočec evolved from a medieval mansion into an impressive Renaissance residence. After the castle was partially destroyed during World War II, the owners began renovating it in the 1950s, a long-term project lovingly performed by local craftspeople and architects. Ultimately, the establishment was fully restored to its original splendor, with authentic architecture that now is home to a luxury hotel, a place where the spirit of the past is rife with contemporary comforts. For those living fast-paced urban lives, getting back to nature in such a verdant setting is refreshing respite indeed.