Slovenian fine dining experience opens in abandoned coal mine that claimed 31 lives

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Forget dining in the dark or supping with the devil on a funicular, a coal mine that once claimed the lives of 31 miners is now the location of an immersive fine dining experience.

An abandoned lignite mine in Velenje, a city in the northeast of Slovenia, has been transformed into a pop-up restaurant. Thrill-seeking foodies can enjoy ‘štajgerjeva južna’, a 4-course meal prepared with locally sourced ingredients by chefs from award-winning restaurant Villa Herberstein.

The experience is part of The Coal Mining Museum of Slovenia which was established in 1957 to preserve Slovenia’s coal mining heritage. In 1983, 31 miners died on two separate occasions due to gas explosions caused by poor air ventilation and inadequate safety measures.

The Velenje mine’s new 160-metre deep dinner (Picture: Associated Press)

So, is popping down for dinner actually safe? Well, according to the head guide at The Coal Mining Museum of Slovenia, there are some risks.

‘There are some dangers present inside the mine. Above all, in coal mines there’s methane. Coal is organic matter and those gases escape from coal deposits,’ said Ales Rehar.

‘That gas is always present and during the history of this mine, there were two large explosions of methane, when 31 miners died within a month.’

Diners are greeted with a welcome drink and a miner’s welcome of ‘Good luck!’. If they’re not entirely rattled by that greeting, they’re kitted out with helmets and led 160 metres underground in the same elevator used by the miners when the mine was in operation. It’s said to be Slovenia’s oldest lift still in use.

The Velenje mine’s new pop up event. (Picture: Associated Press)

The meals served are modern takes on the foods that were typically eaten by the miners. Dessert is a highlight, featuring chocolate brownies with vanilla mousse and strawberry cream and truffles.

Due to the risk of methane explosion, dishes are prepared above the mine.

‘Here, underground, we can’t use the appliances we use in the kitchen, that’s why we do most of the preparations upstairs, and then we finish it here. Of course, a lot of organising and calculating is necessary, so we don’t forget something,’ said chef Primoz Gorisek.

After dessert, the real action begins. A guide leads diners onto an old mining train that veers through the caverns to recreations with mining equipment and dummies.

The guides then stage a re-enactment of a methane gas explosion to create a sense of what the miners experienced in the pit. After the final train ride, guests knock back a glass of sparkling wine and return to ground-level in the elevator.

If you like your dinner with a bit of danger and morbid historical re-enactments, the package will cost EUR 475 (£406.69) per person (for 2 people) or EUR 250 (£214.05) per person (for six people). Experiences are also available in English.

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