Blog: Špacapan House

Among the hidden treasures of the Karst underground

At the tables of Špacapan House, laden with delicious food creations, one can only hear the sounds of subtle satisfaction for which no actual words exist. Irrespective of where and how many times we have tried any of the Karst delights, everything is more authentic here and of fuller flavour. Perhaps cooking really is like wine production, since Ago Špacapan says that one has to understand nature for both activities. But here, deep in the bosom of the Karst, wine production and cooking both take on an intriguing new dimension.

Several metres below the famed restaurant in which guests from all over the world gather, chef and sommelier Ago Špacapan speaks about wine as a living being. He says that when temperatures increase in the summer, the wine becomes alive joyfully and it would actually be dead without acidity. In the large old cellar of Špacapan House, he elaborates on boutique wine creations that are frequently a new experience even for the acknowledged experts, mentioning that he enjoys playing with late harvest wines. From his words, you can readily tell that he has only love for what he does, the place he lives in, the people who surround him and the mission he has undertaken. Lili and I devour his intelligent insights and at the same time we’re just about drooling due to being surrounded by Karst delicacies that seduce all our senses. The place, space and the main protagonist of Špacapan House reveal the foremost ingredient of their renowned cellar and inspiring cuisine: the genuine and delicious story of the Karst.


I learned about the Karst as a child, but I’ve never experienced it beyond primary school textbooks. I know that the term denotes a landscape with typical Karst phenomena and that Kras (the Karst) is also the proper name of the region stretching between the Gulf of Trieste, the Vipava Valley, the Soča River Valley and the Brkini Hills. But the way Ago Špacapan speaks about the Karst reveals that I don’t know anything about the spirit of this landscape. The Karst is much more than just a land of prosciutto and Teran wine. According to the legend, the sack in which God carried stone got ripped here, resulting in this stony plateau, the appearance of which has been changed over the centuries by wind, water, sun, the bora wind and people. And it’s because of the people that this harsh landscape has a very gentle soul. It was immortalised by the rhymes written by the great Slovenian lyricist Srečko Kosovel that have been inspiring us for a hundred years, while the picturesque Karst images were skilfully depicted by Lojze Spacal, the Slovenian painter who lived in Italy. Wild landscape, vineyards and terra rossa. Images that cannot fail to touch the heart.
And we were also touched by the story that developed in the cellar of Špacapan House on that day.


When we descend the staircase into the subterranean wonderland beneath Špacapan House, we realise that we’re about to witness something exceptional. We come to a large door and when Ago invites us in, we take just a few steps before feeling as if we’ve entered a treasury. Large wooden barrels and colourful bottles of wine and spirits gleaming in the subtle lighting can be seen on the left, while on the right is an old Karst well harbouring a rich vinothèque and aromatic wheels of cheese stored at the bottom of its winding stairs. Right before us is a glorious maturing room for Karst prosciuttos that hang from a large wooden rack as silent guards of this sacred space. It’s dark enough to accentuate the magical ambiance and is immensely seductive. We breathe in the divine fragrances of prosciutto, wine, cheese and who knows what other Karst delicacies, and are held spellbound.
“Welcome to the kingdom of Karst delights!”


Surrounded by oak barrels and colourful bottles bringing to mind a motley autumn Karst harvest, Ago prepares a tasting of wines that the family produces themselves. He first pours Vitovska Grganja into tall wine glasses. It used to be produced in quantity, but nowadays solely with an eye towards quality, he explains. The divine nectar flows down our throats and gives our Štajerska taste buds a completely new and authentic experience of a different Slovenia. Other indigenous Karst wines follow one by one, accompanied by tales of vineyards and Karst specialities. Malvazija is also native to the Karst. It has small and plumper grapes and I see that Lili’s taken a particular liking to it. Rebula is harvested late in the season to make sure that it’s completely ripe and it then matures without any addition of sulphur.
“Its orange colour tells us that the grapes were very ripe,” reveals Ago, as we spin our glasses towards the light. “Wine is like a child,” he adds. “It needs time to develop.”
We also try Cabernet Sauvignon from Črniče in the Vipava Valley. Ago’s mother, Ada, came from there. She taught him to cook and is certainly one of the people most deserving of credit for Ago today being a master of the culinary arts. What his mother is in the kitchen, his father Miro is in the vineyard. He still tends to the vines and nurtures their wines. The first vines of Teran were planted in the terra rossa of Karst sinkholes in 1984. The north-west position gives the vineyard the perfect exposure to the sun at 250 metres of altitude. And still today – like in the old days – the vines are processed manually, although their number is well over 5,000.
Upon hearing this explanation, a sip of Teran becomes even more heartfelt. The distinct fruity aroma reminds us of raspberries and currants. It thrills with its full flavour and harmony. A true gem. I’ve never tasted a better one.

And yet, wine is not the only genuine jewel in this Karst treasure trove. There’s also prosciutto.



“The best dishes can only be made from the best ingredients,” asserts Ago as he stands next to a large leg of prosciutto, sharpening the knife ready for slicing this Karst delicacy with skilful strokes. For first-class meat, pigs must be fed first-class fodder. Since nothing in connection with food is left to chance, the pigs are specially reared.
The Krškopolje pig is a Slovenian breed which was never adapted to industrial farming needs and is noted for its exceptionally high-quality and delicious meat. These pigs need twice as much fodder and time than pigs raised by industrial farming methods, but the difference in quality, texture and flavour is tremendous.
“The day the pigs are slaughtered is a holiday. When the butcher comes, everyone pitches in. And we also enjoy a drink,” he winks, skilfully cutting the prosciutto into thin slices. It’s a joy to watch him at work. But it’s not only his skills we admire; his deep respect for what they have produced is also inspiringly apparent.
Pigs’ legs are first washed, salted with Piran salt and then left to be gently caressed by the Karst bora wind for a month. When the temperature begins to rise, they are taken to the cellar, where they mature under Ago’s watchful eye for three to four years. Who knows how many times he touches and carefully inspects them during this time.


As he lays the slices of prosciutto on the plate, he clicks his tongue in eager anticipation. Lili doesn’t eat meat, so he serves her a plate of cow, sheep and goat cheeses. These cheeses, which have matured at the bottom of their old well, are also an authentic Karst story. The Špacapan family regularly cooperates with only three local cheese makers, but not only because they make excellent cheeses. They were selected because they share the Špacapan family philosophy about the Karst.
Finally, he places on the table some homemade sourdough bread, cut once lengthwise and once across. We tear it with our hands. It’s still warm and mouth-wateringly fragrant. No bread you buy from a shop tastes like this. And then, finally, I try the meat. It’s impossible to compare it with shop-bought meat. The thin slice melts on the tongue; the gustatory equivalent of a fine melody gently caressing your ears. But then the entire Karst orchestra comes together in a symphony of flavours… Pork neck, dry salami, homemade bread, cheeses and wine. The harmony is divine. When Ago brings out the homemade butter with toasted yeast, pickled porcini mushrooms and wild garlic buds, I hear the camera, placed and forgotten on the edge of the table, turn off automatically. At the table laden with Karst delicacies, in the following minutes only the sounds of subtle satisfaction can be heard, for which no actual words exist.


Irrespective of where and how many times we have sampled any of the Karst delights, everything is more delicious and of fuller flavour in this cellar. Even their homemade vinegars that mature ten or more years and are bottled at the full moon. I also mustn’t forget their homemade spirits. These are poured over ripe figs, blackthorn, Cornelian cherry, raspberries, linden blossoms, walnuts and other fruit and then left so that time can complete the work. Even time runs somewhat differently in the Karst.
Ago keeps filling my glass with Teran, which I truly adore, and Lili has the Malvazija. Ago enjoys a mouthful here and there and offers his thoughts about tradition and ancestors, but otherwise simply watches us contentedly. We taste pure Karst in the cellar of Špacapan House and enjoy a meal worthy of angels.


When night falls on the slates of St George’s Church in Komen, the tables on the terrace of Špacapan House are fully occupied. Špacapan House is a family inn that brings together lovers of good food, drink, music and company. Their colleagues are also their family members, and their guests are their friends.
“Špacapan House is our home and we want our guests to feel at home as well,” says Ago.


Just like their cellar tells the story of the Karst, the same applies to their cuisine. As a good reputation spreads fast and the Špacapan cuisine can be read about in the Michelin Guide, we also hear a different language at almost every table. One can feel the embrace of homeliness as the guests indulge in the culinary extravaganza performed by Ago and his team while they serve dishes prepared in accordance with the tested and reinvented recipes of their grandmothers. They are now in their element; every dish prepared with care and love and every wine accompanied by a brief yet inspiring explanation.
“The greatest reward for our work is the satisfaction of our guests,” Ago tells us this afternoon in the cellar. The happy faces on the terrace of Špacapan House reveal that the hosts will be richly rewarded at the end of the evening. Perhaps cooking really is like wine production, as Ago says when he tells us that nature must be understood for both activities. But now I can see that it’s much more than that. I understand why certain signature dishes of Špacapan House sometimes have to mature for several years before they develop to perfection. Their recipes, designed with a touch of modernity, are dictated by tradition, the Karst and its customs. Firstly, savoury greetings from the kitchen, and finally the almost endless sweet ones, and in between the compelling and innovative Karst stories, both on the plates and in the glasses. The stories are ingenious and unpredictable, just like the bora wind which sweeps away bad thoughts and reminds us that life is there to be enjoyed.

Why is Špacapan House one of the TOP 9 Slovenian boutique destinations

One-minute videos of our adventures in Špacapan House

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