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Life sometimes truly seems like a fairy tale in this place, with the mist rising above the green wetlands and birdsong embellishing the dewy mornings. It was here, on the outskirts of the fairytale-esque marsh in Črna vas, that Miha Pupis and Urša Kunz found their sleeping queen some two decades ago.

A woman is cutting purple flowers.

© Suzan Gabrijan

The old homestead, adorned in belligerent blackthorn branches and hidden from the inquisitive gaze of passers-by, inspired them. Being adventurers at heart, they set themselves the challenge of breathing new life into it and making a home at Trnulja, or “Blackthorn” as they named it.

They always wanted to live on the outskirts of the city, where time passes more slowly and people strengthen their spirit by honest work in the fields and barns. They left their careers – aviation engineering and macroeconomics respectively – behind, gained new knowledge in the fields of agriculture and catering, and slowly began to chart a new path. One full of challenges, but also of pure joy. Slowly, step by step, stone by stone, grain by grain, the path led them to a certified organic farm, complete with the first eco hotel in Slovenia (part of the international Bio Hotels chain since 2013), a restaurant with thoughtfully conceived dishes, and a varied accompanying program that includes pile-dweller wellness, team building, electric carriage rides, culinary workshops, and much more.

A new marsh tale

The renovation of the sleeping queen was inspired by the nearby homesteads. One of these was captured on paper by the painter Božidar Jakac, and was called the Marsh Fairytale (Barjanska Pravljica). Today, the graphic hangs in the corner of the dining room of the Trnulja Estate, which is decorated with wood from Slovenian forests, with a floor made from the bricks of the original house. The stone used in the renovation came from the Podpeč quarry, the very same stone used by the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. The insulation is made from the hemp grown in their own field, and the counter is decorated with original timber piles that were hidden in the ground under the house for many years.

From (organically certified) field to plate…

Every step outlined by Urša and Miha is carefully considered, with every piece of produce and every ingredient carefully selected. Applying organic farming principles, they ploughed fallow land and also brought some animals to the estate. Today, however, the farm only grows plants, mainly oleiferous plants, soybeans, corn, and hemp, and they also have their own almond grove in the Primorska littoral region. They use their own produce in their restaurant, which is the only open-to-the-public restaurant in Slovenia serving exclusively organic ingredients as evidenced by a special, annually-renewed certificate. Additional ingredients for the kitchen, which is headed by Urša, are obtained from organic farmers and from specialised sellers, and they also barter with each other whenever possible. The restaurant mainly welcomes guests by prior reservation, only opening its doors to the general public on every first Sunday of every month (and even then, guests are encouraged to reserve their table beforehand). When preparing food, they aim to create as little waste as possible, so good planning is crucial. When designing the menus - meat, vegetarian, and vegan - Urša likes to try new approaches and present her guests with as many local ingredients as possible in new combinations. Above all, she wishes to change the belief that there is only salami and cheese at tourist farms and that even these should be nigh on free. Recently, she has been flirting more and more with fermentation. In these endeavours of hers, she also collaborates with the highly driven fermentation duo, Goran Žerdin and Sanja Čakarun from the Kis in kvas shop. And she likes to exchange tips with the fermenters who buy the basic ingredients from the Trnulja Estate (soy, jasper...) for their fermented products - both domestic amateur fermenters, and the most well-established ones like the team from Fržek, or Luka Košir from Grič.

… and into your home

Urša and Miha also sell produce and products from the Trnulja Estate through an online store and via a vending machine at the edge of the estate. Among these products are packages with organic soybeans and beans, cornmeal and flour, cold-pressed oils, home-made frozen delicacies (rolls and puddings), cookies, and various brandies, the flavours of which are enhanced with blackthorn wood, sloes, and industrial hemp flowers. Each of the brandies has 46 % alcohol by volume, which is a nice tribute to the location of the estate, as the N 46° 00′ 00″ parallel runs through it.

Commitment to tradition – from the renovation of the homestead, through the selection of old grains, to the presentation of the greatest treasures of the marshes – coupled with dedication, attention to detail, hard work, and sincere love for nature are the things that characterise Urša and Miha, which in turn makes a visit to the Trnulja Estate so special and so fabulous. There, every guest can relax to the fullest, and enjoy the invigorating greenery offered by the outskirts of Ljubljana – without the fear of being stung by a nasty black thorn.