US & Canada

What Mrs Trump's hometown tells us about the next first lady

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Media captionWhat was Melania Trump like in Slovenia?

The President Burger is presented with a flourish - on a wooden board, surrounded by circular "dollar fries" and topped with a yellow crust of cheese "hair" which looks as if it might fly away at any moment.

As tributes to the US President-elect go, it may not be the most respectful. But it is offered with the affection and gentle humour which it soon becomes apparent is a hallmark of Sevnica, a Slovenian town which just happens to be the place where Donald Trump's first-lady-to-be, Melania, spent most of her childhood.

"We formed the burger so it would resemble Trump a little bit," chuckles Bruno Vidmar, the chef-proprietor of Rondo, a restaurant in the newer part of Sevnica.

"It has hot peppers, because Trump's statements are hot - and it comes with dollar fries because he's a successful entrepreneur."

Image caption The owner of the Rondo restaurant designed this burger to resemble Donald Trump

The presidential tie-in seems to be serving Rondo well: on a weekday morning, the place is buzzing with an early lunch crowd from the nearby furniture and textile factories. Meanwhile a table full of smartly-dressed young women order another of Bruno's culinary creations dreamt up with Sevnica's most famous daughter in mind.

"The 'Melanija' dessert is made out of sponge, then there's a layer of mascarpone and strawberries. It's light enough for a model - and we have it on good authority that Melania loves strawberries."

Sevnica is a small place - so Bruno probably did not have to search long to find an authority on what Melania likes for pudding. Or, at least, what she did like when she was growing up as Melanija Knavs in this town of fewer than 5,000 people.

Bar the addition of a branch of Lidl on the outskirts, little seems to have changed since she left for Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, as a teenager. The old castle - parts of which date back to the 12th Century - still overlooks Sevnica from its hilltop perch.

The town itself is a tidy place with new and old sections, sitting alongside the River Sava and surrounded by forested hills. The Slovenian Tourist Board suggests that Sevnica is "an excellent destination for those who enjoy picnics and outings, hiking, cycling or fishing".

If the roads had been less icy, it would certainly have been an enjoyable ride through the trees to Gostišče Ob Ribniku, a restaurant and guesthouse next to a small lake. Inside the traditional wooden chalet, you can chat to one of the people who can shed some light on the future first lady's early years.

Image caption Sevnica is "an excellent destination for those who enjoy picnics and outings, hiking, cycling or fishing" according to the Slovenian Tourist Board

"We were next door neighbours - and we used to go the same way to school," says Mateja Zalezina, who runs Gostišče Ob Ribniku with her husband, Dejan.

"In the afternoon when we came back we used to hang out in front of the apartment block. Even then she was quite busy, because her mother was a fashion designer and Melania was one of the models for the Jutranjka company that did fashion for kids."

Mateja laughs at the idea that she could have spotted that her neighbour would go a long way from Sevnica - never mind all the way to the White House. But she says that Melania could not help but stand out.

"She was really good at school. She and her sister Ines were studying really hard. After school, we played a game called 'gumi-twist', an elastic band game, and she was really good at that. She had the figure of a model - really long legs - and she always won!"

The restaurant is offering a three-course "Melanija Menu" in honour of Mateja's former playmate. But, like Rondo's eponymous offering, this does not feel like a culinary cash-in, just a low-key tribute, delivered with affection.

"I'm really happy for her - she's achieved the maximum," says Dejan. "I hope everyone in Sevnica will watch the inauguration. We will be here at the restaurant with friends and will raise a glass to them both."

Image caption Melania's former neighbour says America's next first lady studied "really hard" at school

Back in the old town, beneath the castle, Sevnica's mayor Srecko Ocvirk is not planning any special events to mark the start of the Trump era. But he hopes the publicity will bring the town's charms to the attention of tourists.

"The first visitors who came were journalists like you," he admits. "But we're now seeing there are rising numbers of tourists. We're also expecting more organised tour groups after the inauguration. Sevnica and the region will become better known because of this."

At the town's primary school, one of the staff has certainly achieved a degree of local celebrity. Art teacher Nena Bedek was best friends with Melania until the future Mrs Trump left to finish her schooling in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana.

Now Nena fields questions from her students about her friendship with Sevnica's most famous former resident - and marvels at the different paths their lives have taken.

"It's a 'wow' effect for us and for me," she says.

Image caption Melania's childhood best friend has fond memories

"She was a reliable girl and a very good friend. But she never wished to stand out - even though she was beautiful and hard-working. She loved to read and draw. She was brought up in a very artistic manner - she knew what was beautiful - due to her mother's job as a fashion designer. I have very fond memories and keep her very close in my heart."

As for the town's various tributes - which include wine, slippers and honey as well as the culinary offerings - Nena believes they are in keeping with the Sevnica spirit.

"They are very sympathetic and sweet - none of them are bad things - and it's also funny. I think it's still within limits - all in all it's sweet and nice."

Rather like Sevnica itself, perhaps.

You can hear Guy De Launey's report from BBC Radio 4's World Tonight via BBC iPlayer.

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