Andrew Villone lived and worked in Seattle. He drank his favorite beer, raised a family, and couldn’t really complain. Yet, something was gnawing at him. His normal American life was interrupted by something far from ordinary. Each year, Andrew would take a few months off work, kiss his family goodbye and run tours throughout Eastern Europe.
Yes, it just so happened that Andrew’s hobby was guiding groups of travelers through countries like Slovenia and Croatia. Hey, better than painting model airplanes.
“Surprisingly,” Andrew says of his work in a corporate tax department, “it wasn’t as exciting as drinking wine, eating food and seeing sights across Europe.” He laughs, then gets serious again.
“I was getting burnt out on my day job. Plus I have two little kids and I was getting really tired of being gone for 4-6 weeks at a time.”
So Andrew did what none of us would do. He packed up his family and moved to Slovenia, a country that could fit into California 21 times. Thankfully, it’s also a country where the average citizen drinks 38.6 liters of wine a year.
“I’m kind of a ‘just do it’ sort of person.” Andrew blurts out. “I’m tired of people saying I’m gonna or I might.” It was in this spirit that Andrew’s tour company Savor the Experience Tours was born.
“There’s just something here.” He says of Eastern Europe. “Every time I came back to see more, whatever else I saw I loved. It’s a small place, but everything here, I love.” Unsurprisingly, the tours themselves are really just extended opportunities for Andrew to show off everything he loves.
Luckily, he loves intimate experiences centered around food, wine, and all things artisanal. Think off the grid goat cheese tastings, days spent with winemakers and traditional Georgian feasts where wine is drunk from ram horns. The things he loves are basically the sorts of experiences that are near impossible to find anywhere else.
“It’s not over commercialized here. And I think that plays a big part” He says. “You could find ten people on the street today that could tell you what to see in Italy.” This is not quite the case for Slovenia.
“Here,” he goes on, “they don’t have that brand so they work extra hard, with the wine, food and tourism. You’re not looked at like a walking wallet. People go out of their way to welcome you.”
In the tiny, wine and food rich villages of the region Andrew’s guests are immersed in environments where nothing is mass-produced or imported, where people carefully craft amazing things and where everything is family owned.
Ironically, in Portland or Austin these wineries, restaurants and farms would be super trendy. They’d be perfect for locavores and eco-gastronomists and would create mile-long queues in Williamsburg. It’s no surprise that the international Slow Food movement endorses Savor’s tours.
“These days” Andrew recognizes, “people want to know who’s making things: their food and wine and where it came from.”
“The good thing over here” he continues “is that it’s really easy to meet those people. Nothing can really be mass produced and everything is on a small scale, so everything is ‘boutique’ already.” He laughs.
In places like Brda or Karst, artisanal goods aren’t trending, they’re just tradition. These experiences are authentic, but not by artifice or design. That can only be a very good thing.
Really, it doesn’t take long to see why Andrew moved to Kranj, Slovenia, why he created Savor or why he focuses on local culture, food and wine. What Andrew seeks out is anything real. He seems to treasure (above all else) the type of authenticity that’s going extinct… the sort that must be sought out and savored before it’s gone.
In our humble opinion, the existence of this rare realness (and in this case absolute deliciousness) is well worth going to Slovenia for. Plus, Andrew himself will tell you: it doesn’t hurt that each and every day is filled with enough gorgeous wine and food to kill a king.
Think about it honestly, when’s the last time you had something you could truly savor?