Eko Hotel St. Daniel

An integrated and nature-friendly boutique approach

The slogan of the St. Daniel Hotel is: »We are part of the history of the Karst, with all of its gifts, its riches and its fruits, but also its occasional harsh reminders about the might of nature.« Photo: Ana Rojc

For a long time the nutritionist and bioresonance therapist Nina Abramič, along with sculptor and restorer Miran Prodnik, felt they wanted to leave behind the urban routine of constant rushing and stress, and so they decided to make a change to their lives.

“On listening to the Solfeggio frequencies – the ancient six-tone scale used in sacred music and Gregorian chants – we awakened the primary and instinctive feelings we carry in ourselves without being aware of them,” they say in explaining their philosophy.

“We sensed them more than heard them, and a primal force led us in a precise direction, as if returning to a home we no longer recognised. To a place where time goes slowly, almost stops, and there is enough for you to take some for yourself, to pop over to your neighbour for coffee and a chat, a place where shopping in the store in the neighbouring village becomes an event, and the afternoon siesta is an essential part of the day.” They were thus drawn to the Karst village of Hruševica, just a kilometre from Štanjel, and there they found an old Karst house in need of repair. And with true Karst stubbornness, the couple did not take the architect’s advice to forget about renovations, because it would not be worth it. Instead, they were convinced that it would be possible to set up the hotel they were dreaming about. 

After three years of hard work on renovations and construction, their dream came true. Last month they opened the doors of their family eco hotel, which they call St. Daniel  – a name derived from the place name, Štanjel. Their guiding concept was simple – an integrated and nature-friendly boutique approach. 

Nina and Miran have themselves been living by these principles for some years, so the decision to take this new business path was entirely logical. They experience the Karst as a wonderful area that will not sustain mass tourism. “We fell in love with this landscape, and all in all there could have been no other outcome,” they say as one. They found support in the international Bio Hotels chain, which has seen much success in Austria and Germany with regard to the growth of ecological tourism. “We joined the chain, and they helped us a lot with advice and the rules we need to follow.” Today their main wish is for their guests to experience the Karst with body, mind, heart and spirit. To live a little with it, to immerse themselves in the Karst history and landscape, and all its gifts. 

Fusion of ecology and all things Karst

The St. Daniel Hotel is a a lovely quiet, friendly place to stop over for a couple of nights and explore the wonderful Karst region. Photo: Ana Rojc

In the new hotel everything is ecological or organic – the food and drink, furniture, the heating system and the approach of the hosts, who also offer therapeutic services. There are in fact strict criteria that must be met to obtain a Bio Hotels certificate, along with equally strict conditions for pursuing a business. These do not just cover the construction materials and furnishings, or the issues of saving water and energy and waste management, but also the provision of organic food and drink, which must be certified as organic produce or products. In private the couple are also advocates of healthy living, and the use ingredients that are organic and locally produced. “Organic food is not just important to us for health reasons, but as a message about our commitment to the principles of fair trade and environmental responsibility. Everything conjured up in the kitchen by our outstanding chef Borut Jakič is a living original signature of the fusion of the traditional and modern, of what is organic, healthy and mainly from the Karst,” they explain. In ecological terms, this means that you try to make the supply chain as short as possible, so there are the least number of intermediaries between the farmer and consumer. Organic food also has no additives, artificial flavours, colouring or flavour enhancers.

A distinct lack of chefs, waiters, organic vintners and stonemasons

Despite relatively high levels of youth unemployment, top restaurants in Slovenia still have a lot of trouble sourcing good chefs and waiters, and this holds true for Nina and Miran. “At one time the occupation of a chef was undervalued, and young people would choose grammar school instead of vocational school, so this created a vacuum, and a lack of skilled staff that is today much in demand. And we are now paying the price for this.” However, the couple believe in pursing the right vision, and that this is followed by the right things happening, that nothing can be forced, and that all things come in time. “So just like that one of the best Slovenian chefs, Jakič, came knocking on the door. He had sensed that together we could do something good. Just like now we are bringing native cultures back into our lives, we can see the gradual return of those vocations which had almost disappeared and died out. But there are still some problems. For example, it was hard for us to find a stonemason to work on the renovations, or any craftsman who knew how to stencil patterns on a wall.” 

Old Karst kitchen brought to modern life

You have to try the pršut (prosciutto) and olives in the Karst region, of course, and the couple’s menu also offers cod, celery, potato soup, Brussels sprout rolls, sage risotto, various gnocchi and cheeses, from those matured in wine press residue to juniper and ash-coated cheeses, stewed beef, fried veal tail, sardines, lamb’s lettuce and courgettes, fennel risotto, pork tenderloin, celery with sautéed buckwheat, roast chicken in white wine, beet gnocchi, cod and potatoes, Škapin cheeses and lots of Teran-based and other sweet snacks. In selecting dishes for the menu, along with the actual recipes, Nina and Miran had a lot of help from the leading expert in Karst cuisine, Vesna Guštin. As they explained, “We work with the top suppliers of organic food and drink, and together we create a version of old Karst cuisine transformed into something of the present day.”

Exclusively organic wine

The sommelier at the hotel has also put together a wine list that features only organic wine makers. These include bottles from Guerila, Burja, Batič and Pasji rep from the Vipava Valley, Štekar, Movia and Reja of Goriška brda, and the cellars of Korenika & Moškon, Rodica and Rojac from Slovenian Istria. 

A good wine selection is of course the cornerstone of any restaurant, but at the Hotel St. Daniel they have also added a water list. “We often forget about those people who are conscious of the importance of drinking high-quality water. It is precisely for those that we decided to carry a large selection of mineral and natural water, both domestic and foreign, under the slogan: different water for different people,” they explain. Being an ecological hotel also means that they kindly ask guests to turn out the lights when leaving a room, not to run water in unlimited quantities, and to behave as respectfully as possible to all the elements of nature they encounter during their stay. They themselves have worked to ensure that in the planning and construction of their hotel they have been as nature-friendly as possible. They provide heating by means of a heat pump, all the furniture is made from recycled materials, with the furniture and parquet being unvarnished and just sealed with linseed oil or beeswax, while their laundry provides environmentally-friendly cleaning and drying services. In the kitchen, they are especially careful to create as little waste as possible, and to use as much of each ingredient as they can. “The essence of our kitchen lies in organic and naturally ripened foods from the local environment, and we continuously adapt the menu to the wishes of our guests, as well as the conditions and produce that nature bestows on us in any given season.” Next to the house is an herb garden laid out in the monastic style, which means that the herbs are planted painstakingly and to a specific plan. The house is adorned with photographs of the famous and unknown, with Nina and Miran explaining that the only difference between them is that the unknown people did not have the chance to become famous.

Text by Vesna Žarkovič

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