By the time I had arrived, it was almost one in the morning and I was exhausted from the journey. I had traveled through five countries that day by car, which, in Europe, is completely possible without even realizing how far you’ve gone. We arrived at someone’s house, and stepping out of the van, I noticed that complete silence and darkness enveloped me. Frankly, at that point I would have preferred to have gone to bed, but everyone was awaiting the first blogger to arrive in Primostek: me.
Shuffling my feet down the stairs, I followed Peter, the guy who had picked me up from the random van ride I’d gotten from the mall in Zagreb, Croatia, who showed me into the basement. I wasn’t quite sure whose basement it was, or who I was about to meet, but when you travel as often as I do, you come to embrace the unknown and just figure out life as you go.
“They’re crazy,” Peter warned me, with a shy smirk emerging on his bearded face. “But, in good way. Fun crazy.”
“I can do crazy,” I told him. He obviously hadn’t read me right. Maybe it was my droopy lids or the polite soft-spoken questions I’d asked through my sloth-like delirium. “I dig crazy.”
I entered into the warm, cave-like room, where about seven people sat around a long wooden table. Empty wine bottles littered the table, as did empty glasses and a bottle or two of whiskey. Loud music blasted on the speakers as Peter introduced me to everyone and I struggled to hear their names, some of which I’d never heard of before. I was in former Yugoslav territory, after all.
There was Ana, the thin, red-headed Croatian who was in charge of Big Berry’s marketing, and Alberto, a tall Spaniard with thick brown, curly hair. Then there was Istok, a silver-haired, crystal blue-eyed man in a blazer, and Bostjan, whose name took me a solid three days to master. Instinctively, I understood that the latter was the craziest of them all. (It would later come to my attention that he was the owner of the whole operation.) They had a couple of friends there as well, including Jan and his wife. It was their home.
Everyone but Ana, Alberto and I were Slovenian. To be frank, I’d never even heard of Slovenia before the previous year, when I met my good friend Andreja from Adventurous Journeys at TBEX in Costa Brava, Spain. Yes, I was one of those who was completely ignorant of the country’s existence, but at least I had the wit about me not to ask if she’d meant to say Slovakia. She and I immediately connected, like we were meant to be friends, or perhaps already had been in a previous life. Andreja liked to party, as did I- only one of the reasons why we clicked- but I began to sense a common thread in Slovenian culture. I dug it.
Before I knew it, we were all taking shots of whiskey together (alas, the red wine had finally run out, even in a region known for its vineyards), singing along to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs, and getting to know each other in the fragmented interim of quiet. There was a strong vibe of fierce kindness and anticipation for what time would bring. I instantly knew that I was in the right place. This was where I was supposed to be at that moment in life, and the long journey (and even Whizz air canceling my flight on me) was worth every second.
Over the two weeks I spent at Big Berry, I witnessed something very special come to fruition. When I first arrived, I saw the vision through their eyes of what was yet to manifest: a place of serenity where one can go to get away from the drudgery of life. At the beginning of my stay, there was only open land, the Kolpa River, a dream larger-than-life, and several people eager to work their butts off to make it happen. And it did. Like the soft, opaque mist that sets above the river in the mornings, magic was appearing everywhere in Big Berry. And how could it not?
Big Berry is a luxury glamping resort tucked away high in the Slovenian mountains, east of the alps, edging on the border of Croatia. It’s a peaceful haven surrounded by seemingly endless greenery; a place where you can get away from the humdrum of life, yet close enough to everything a city could offer. When you decide to stay here, you know that the meals you’ll be eating will be locally sourced, as will the wine and even the beer. If you are committed to eating and drinking local, fresh, and organic, this is your place. And if you love to have a good time, you’ve found your calling. I know I did. The only reason why I left was because my three-month Schengen visa was running out. Seriously.
At Big Berry, it wasn’t just about being spoiled, though that you’ll surely find as well. It was about the small, yet infinitesimally significant details, such as the soft mist that set in over the Kolpa every morning like a fairytale. It was the comradery, the local cuisine, the care and pride with which everyone crafted their bread, cultivated their grains and poured their wine. There was a communal pride in Slovenian culture, as well as a genuine curiosity for what surrounded them. It was the cows that were grazing freely. The kindness and openness with which everyone received me. The open-air music festivals, the handmade souvenirs, the meticulously crafted bread, the language that I fervently attempted to pronounce (who needs vowels, anyway?), the mountainscapes, the fresh air, the joie de vivre.
During my stay, I made friends so organically that it seemed that we were all one big, crazy family- and it wasn’t just because of the beer and wine tastings, though there were plenty of those. Everyone was so open and accepting of one another. At times, living in close quarters with others can get to me, for I am used to my solitude, but here I was completely comfortable and wonted for nothing. I slept in until late morning, leisurely eating fresh fruit, bread, and black coffee for breakfast. I read (if you haven’t checked out Clara Bensen’s No Baggage, I highly recommend it) and worked on my laptop in the afternoon. When it wasn’t raining, I would stroll around the grounds, inhaling the sweet air, watching the cows graze on the verdant grass, and ponder how lucky I was to be having this experience.
We normally went out to restaurants twice a day- and even though it was a bit difficult for them to catch on to the concept of veganism at first, everyone was very accommodating. We learned how to make pogaca bread, visited Pivovarna Vizir, the first brewery in town, went to local parties, hung out at a beekeeper’s farm (I don’t eat honey and am terrified of bees, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless!), and went to the highest viewpoint of the town, and went dancing in Bela Krajina, where I told a man I was from California and it looked like he’d won the lottery. We even ventured out to Lake Bled to hike up to the castle and go canoeing, and delved into the massive labyrinth of the Postonja caves, where I saw a 140-year-old human fish.
I ended up staying at Big Berry for about two weeks, and even though the days flew by, I felt that I had been there much, much longer. The bonds I’d formed were fierce, and the love I felt for Slovenia buried itself permanently within me. The last night, we had a huge party, drinking home-grown Slovenian moonshine, wine (of course), and feasting on a meal that brought many cultures together. As I tend to do when I am buzzed and happy, I ended up doing headstands and other yoga poses I can still manage to do, falling over and laughing with my friends.
Leaving was very bittersweet. Like I said, I would have stayed longer, but my visa was about to expire, and I still wanted to explore a few more places in the EU- like Ljubljana, Budapest, and Stockholm. I think back on my time at Big Berry and can’t help but smile, thinking of all the laughter, beauty, love, and new experiences I enjoyed.
I know I’ll be back, but this time in the summer, when I can kayak down the Kolpa River and I have a fresh three-month-long visa. As I said the day I left Big Berry, this isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later. Until then, na zdravje, my muci mucis! ❤