“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” H. James – Portrait of a Lady
About a year ago in June 2022 my boyfriend and I realised that we still had some of those government tourism vouchers that were given to us here in Slovenia during the Coronavirus pandemic to kick-start the hospitality sector. Whether that was a politically sound decision or not doesn’t really matter now, but the two of us decided to use ours to visit some of the very fancy places in Slovenia that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. One of them was Strmol castle, a gorgeous country manor in Gorenjska region with a rather tragic history. The other one was the 4 star hotel Jama in Postojna, which you can check out here.
Strmol castle is amongst the oldest and best-preserved castles in Slovenia. Its first official mention dates back to the 13th century and the knights of Strmol, and it stayed within the Strmol family until the 15th century when it started to rapidly change ownership. Most notably due to the tragic events that followed, the castle was bought in 1936 by a wealthy industrialist from Ljubljana named Rado Hribar, who made it into the final form of the gorgeous manor it is today. However, in 1944 Hribar and his wife were killed by the Yugoslavian intelligence services (VOS), and the castle became a protocol facility for the communist party of Yugoslavia. In the year 2000, the ruling for their execution was officially annulled at the urging of their surviving relatives and the event is largely considered to have been an excuse to remove the pre-war owners and acquire the castle.
Strmol castle was returned to the descendants of Hribar during the denationalisation of 2004 when it was also declared a historical monument, but they decided to sell it back to the government so it is now is used as a protocol facility again. It was fully renovated between 2010 and 2012, which included the refurbishment of the fancy antique furniture, and it can be visited or rented for small events as a boutique hotel. Also, if you want to read a good Slovenian book, the fate of Hribars served as the backdrop for Jančar’s internationally acclaimed novel “I saw her that night”, but more on that here.
Impressions of Strmol Castle
As you can imagine, the recent history surrounding Strmol castle is a sensitive topic for Slovenians and I am glad to say that the guided tour of the castle covered it very tactfully. In fact, since Strmol castle is one of the governmental protocol facilities, the level of professionalism and tact displayed by the staff was unreal. I was a bit surprised to hear that unlike some of the fancier hotels around the country, they were quite happy to receive tourism voucher visitors as they wanted to portray a more accessible image to the general public. Upon hearing “protocol facility”, most people think of a more formal and expensive experience and although booking a room in Strmol castle is not cheap, they do offer affordable options and I definitely recommend the Tea Party experience, so read on.
Since we had the vouchers, we could splurge on a full ~300€ package featuring one of the deluxe castle suites with original antique furniture and it was a really luxurious experience – the sheets even had a golden trim and the breakfast was a delicious selection of local products. The experience felt even better because we were still in that awkward stage of our home renovation where our bathroom wasn’t finished yet and we had to shower downstairs with the in-laws, so having a private bathroom for the weekend was a luxury in itself.
Our Castle Suite
The good news is that you don’t need to splurge quite so much to enjoy Strmol castle, as they have a very affordable 2 person Tea Party package which is perfect for a day-trip. For 60€ (as of 2023) you’ll get a private tour of the castle with a short stop for a glass of sparkling wine in the extravagant drawing room, as well as a longer private afternoon tea with snacks in the elegant Piano room. The tea is served in the antique castle porcelain set and you’ll be kept company by a replica of the famous Coffee lady painting by one of the best Slovenian painters, Ivana Kobilca.
TEA For Two
Ivana Kobilca was a 19th century realist painter and is widely considered to be the most successful Slovenian female artist. She had surpassed all of her male contemporaries by exhibiting her work all across Europe and became a membre associée of the French Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The themes of her work include portrayals of her family, portraits of members of middle-class society, genre scenes and a lot of gorgeous flowers. Her Coffee lady was bought by Rado Hribar for his Piano tea room and the original is now hanging at the National Gallery in Ljubljana along with some of her other paintings, which are all very worth checking out. As a bonus, you can buy a replica of the porcelain cups in the painting at the castle souvenir shop and they are so dainty and beautiful that we did.
P.S.: Similar to the Tea Party experience at Strmol castle, you can book a picnic basket full of local goods at the Brdo estate, another Slovenian protocol venue. I am told it is also very nice, but I haven’t tried that yet.