There isn’t an actual place just called Bohinj. Foreign visitors find it as a place-name easier to remember than Ribcev Laz, Ukanc, Polje, Bitnje and Savica(not to be confused with Slap Savica waterfall) and the other settlements found along the approaches to and immediate surroundings of Lake Bohinj. Understandably though the locals can be less forgiving at such apparent ignorance of the nuances that make up the finest gem in Slovenia’s crown. Board a bus in Ljubljana destined for Bohinjsko Jezero and you will see on the computerised ticket-machine that the driver has at his disposal a detailed breakdown – no pun intended – of every stop; even Ribcev Laz and Jezero(lake) are differentiated, which does cause some confusion. Ribcev Laz is where the commercial-premises(Mercator, Post and Tourist Offices) and most accommodation by the lake reside but disconcertingly the bus-stop nearest is named Jezero. For me to therefore state that “Bohinj” has a diverse range of accommodation doesn’t just relate to what is to be found a mere skimmed-stone away from the lake; in fact it encompasses the 7 miles from the area’s administrative centre at Bohinjska Bistrica to the western extremes of the lake at Ukanc – roughly translated as “the end” but not in any way pejoratively.
Over the years I have stayed in many hotels and guest-houses in the area but inevitably cannot profess to have an intimate knowledge of them all. Any endorsements of establishments are based upon personal experiences and/or positive reviews found on the likes of TripAdvisor. Conversely any downsides to tourist accommodation will be strictly founded upon personal criticism and NOT negative TripAdvisor reviews, which at times can resemble nothing more than an axe-grinding forum or for the direct competition to spread damaging misinformation. Not an exact science, I grant you, but I feel on balance this is the easiest way for the truest impressions to come to the fore.
Hotel Jezero – Ribcev Laz
As the name would suggest, the Jezero is situated lakeside. Far though from resting upon its positional laurels the Jezero is the finest all-round accommodation available close to the lake. It rightly takes great pride in the goodwill it has built up over the years through the repeat-custom that it enjoys. Last year I found the hotel to be spotlessly clean in both public areas and in the bedrooms. Staffed by a friendly, often long-standing workforce the Jezero has a familial and familiar feel, benefiting from being run professionally but in a human, non-clinical way. The dining-room and conservatory used for mealtimes can feel a touch sterile but that is a minor quibble and purely a subjective one. For a few Euros more you can eat from an A la Carte menu in more intimate and salubrious surroundings, where you can expect speciality dishes to include locally caught fish from the lake and nearby river. Vegetarian options are available on a daily basis. I would recommend booking directly with the hotel to secure the best prices, rather than through the likes of Inghams and Crystal Thomson(see historic blog post for the reasons).
Pension Gasperin – Ribcev Laz
Situated between the Ribcev Laz and Jezero bus-stops, and subsequently a few minutes walk from the lake. Since my last visit in 2006 the Gasperin has burgeoned in size but continues to receive positive reviews. The owner is married to an English woman and former travel-rep who I found to be monosyllabic and less than friendly but if reports are to be believed, it seems she has since learned the art of customer-service. The owners father, a baker, was friendly – the breakfasts were excellent. Roadside rooms can be noisy but this cannot be levelled as a criticism – it’s just a fact of life that there is usually a price to pay for such an advantageous position. Bed and Breakfast and self-catering apartments only, although there are no shortage of dining options in the area, many of which Mr. Gasperin can arrange for you.
Pension Rozic – Ribcev Laz
Positioned further along from the Gasperin towards the lake, the Rozic is a mainstay of the tourist landscape in Ribcev Laz and 15 years ago was the first overnight accommodation I used in Slovenia. Whilst nothing much has changed in the intervening years, it again offers a location that is hard to beat, at a fraction of the cost of staying at the Jezero, although, it is more two star if the Jezero is branded a four. Built in a traditional manner the Rozic resembles a hunting-lodge with game trophies adorning the stairways, which can be a little off-putting if like me, you prefer your animals running free. Downsides were prosaic evening-meals and jaded bedrooms and bathrooms. The manager Janja is though very friendly and speaks good English – especially when one wants to practice Slovenian. Breakfasts are extensive and for those interested in fishing and extreme sports, the Rozic is a knowledgeable port of call.
Hotel Bohinj – Ribcev Laz
Hotel Bohinj website
Situated further along again from the Gasperin and Rozic towards the lake, the Bohinj has relatively recently had something of a makeover, having previously been known as the Kompas. The tautology of this blog post isn’t lost on me but again, I must emphasise that the Bohinj’s position is its main selling-point, being located atop a small hill affording patrons an element of seclusion and potentially fine views of the lake. Rumours though abound of poor food, with the hearsay extending to evening-meals allegedly being bussed in from elsewhere. You may then just want to use the Bohinj as somewhere to rest your head, choosing as a precaution to dine elsewhere.
Hotel Kristal – Ribcev Laz
On entering Ribcev Laz by road you will immediately notice the Kristal on your left-hand side. Consistently hitting the heights on TripAdvisor, what the Kristal lacks in a lakeside-aspect it more than compensates the traveller with superior cuisine, personable service and a delightful garden alive with ornithological abundance. Downsides are, for me at least, its attractiveness to motorcyclists and at first glance being situated on a busy road and unserviced by an uninterrupted and safe path to the lake. This though can be overcome by utilising a path round the back of Ribcev Laz through a small residential area, bringing you out by the Mercator, Post and Tourist offices – only a matter of minutes from the lake. A fine establishment.
Hotel Center – Ribcev Laz
Predominantly and previously known as the best restaurant in Ribcev Laz that isn’t housed in a hotel, the Center is rightly known for the superiority of its pizzas but now, the owners have cleverly converted their premises and an adjoining unit into accommodation, enabling the Center to translate its reputation for affordable culinary excellence into providing an inexpensive alternative for overnight guests of the area. All this in a location where only the Hotel Jezero is closer to the lake. The only drawbacks I’ve been able to ascertain are its proximity to the car-park adjacent to the nearby Mercator, which potentially could cause some sleepless nights, as could some noisy air-conditioning units situated externally but at the rear of the premises. Since ten months have elapsed since my last visit to Bohinj, the latter problem may have since been addressed. The Center is as ordinarily but undoubtedly as eponymously named as the Jezero and worthy of some merit. It is a welcome edition to the area.
Hotel Bellevue – above Ribcev Laz
It is with some sadness that I come to the Bellevue. The dual-attractions which tempted me to opt for this hotel, another appositely named establishment with an amazing location some 800 metres above Ribcev Laz, were the views it afforded patrons lucky enough to secure a room with a view and the small matter of it once being a favourite bolt-hole of Agatha Christie. Accessible only by an admittedly steep but well-maintained road that begins next to the Jezero(lake and hotel), the omens were initially good. Christie stated that Bohinj was too beautiful an area to be the location of one of her murder-mysteries but had she seen the marked deterioration of the Bellevue, she may have thought again. Having potentially more going for it than any other accommodation provider in the area, travellers who are particularly savvy or lucky enough to secure a lake-view room are greeted on a clear morning by not only a placid cerulean gem beneath them but also the often snow-capped Triglav standing proud of its companions, on what seems to be from this elevated aspect a none too distant horizon. Oh, but how badly treated this precocious child has been. When I stayed 10 years ago the hotel just about functioned, albeit serving evening-meals not worthy of the name. I then, rightly or otherwise, condemned Thomson/Crystal Lakes and Mountains for paying bottom dollar/Tolar to the Bellevue, pushing margins and standards to the limits of unacceptability. I now though hear stories of guests being bitten by rodents and of a building left to decay. On paying it an admittedly cursory visit last year I was shocked by the state of the annex(depandansa) and of the bedding, used by its unfortunate occupants, being unceremoniously dried/aired over its many balconies. It frankly looked crap. If the tourist-industry in Slovenia cannot make the likes of the Bellevue and Zlatorog(more later) run profitably and with some dignity, the time has perhaps come for outsiders to do it properly, albeit sympathetically to local restrictions than the proximity of the Triglav National Park dictate. I don’t really know if the Bellevue is still a going-concern in 2014 but arguably it ceased being that long ago.
Hostel Pod Voglom – beyond Ribcev Laz on the road to Ukanc
Pod Voglom website
Travelling along the main-road out of Ribcev Laz and skirting the lake, you will in a few minutes(by car/bus) come to the Hostel Pod Voglom. Handily situated next to the bus-stop, I think Tolar-for-Tolar this is the best place for a traveller journeying on a strict budget. Unprepossessing but greater than the sum of its parts, the Pod Voglom(Under Vogel) combines clean hostel-style accommodation with friendly service and an unparalleled exposure to the full array of outdoor pursuits and extreme sports available in the area. Operated by local specialists PAC Sports who can organise any of your sporting desires, the PV is also an excellent base for those just wishing to soak up all Bohinj has to offer. It is also apposite for those that ask the price meaning they cannot afford it elsewhere. Located slightly above the lake in semi-dense forest but not too far from civilisation, the Pod Voglom is the only commercially available accommodation on the motorised side of Lake Bohinj. Beware though of noisy school parties!
Ski Hotel Vogel
Similar to the the Bellevue and the Zlatorog, this third fallen accomodational giant in the Bohinj region has made an art-form out of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. In common with many of Bohinj’s tourist traps the Ski Hotel is uniquely situated, next to the Vogel cableway’s top-station at Rjava Skala, some 1535 metres above sea-level and over 3000 feet beyond Lake Bohinj below. But, if there has been a more ugly hotel in such a beautiful situation I am yet to witness it. Tito inspired from the non-aligned Communist era with a dash of Brutalism for good measure? You get the idea and unfortunately I wouldn’t bet against it. Having recently reopened for the 2013/14 winter season, the Ski has been refurbished in a pragmatic manner suggesting the current operator has little confidence in it being commercially successful/viable for the long-term. I hate to say it but such a situation wouldn’t arise in Austria. All the ingredients are here for a successful hotel to thrive in this advantageously elevated location twelve months of the year, catering for skiers and hikers alike. It does though seem that the powers-that-be at Slovenia Tourism are guilty of having a lottery winning cheque at their disposal but without a clue what to do with it. Which brings me to…
Hotel Zlatorog – Ukanc
No website available as it would seem that the “Zlat” is no longer. Once frequented by heads of state, this former main-accommodation provider at the Ukanc end of Lake Bohinj has been allowed through a succession of bad management and attempts to sweat a crumbling asset to become a ghost, a spectre of yesteryear. Looking forlorn and blatantly out of date, I was last year shocked to see the Zlatorog, its spacious grounds and carbuncle of an annex conspicuously deserted. Its future looks uncertain, being situated in the Triglav National Park which make reconstruction difficult but not impossible. With there only being a moratorium on new builds, and not necessarily on demolition and rebuilding, or in the very least a sympathetic remodeling, the Zlatorog could and should rise again. Again, I am at a loss how a country so reliant upon tourism can let a situation like this arise, let alone drift. Strictly controlled, an international operator could restore this sleeping giant to its former glory.
Pension Stare – Ukanc
Budget pension-style accommodation in an idyllic setting, again in Ukanc. Reviews of accommodation, food and questionable value are mixed, although the owner-manager Milan Stare will at least front up and argue his corner in the face of any online negativity. Plans for further expansion are in the pipeline. A good budget option with the choice of hiring the Stare’s villa, this is an ideal base for exploring the Triglav Lakes and Savica waterfall.
Vila Park – Ukanc
An upmarket, boutique establishment, where the term guest-house would perhaps be doing it a disservice. Whilst relatively expensive the standard of accommodation is higher than currently found at the Stare, the Vila Park benefits from a private setting amongst Ukanc’s bucolic splendour. Single-travellers are though punitively charged, which does in general add to the feeling that better value can be found elsewhere, but nowhere of this relative luxury can be found at the Ukanc end of the lake.
Honorable mentions in the Ukanc area go to Don Andro Pizzeria and Apartments, situated very close to the Zlatorog’s twitching corpse. Gostilna Erlah offers pleasant accommodation and food in a beautiful setting, although watch out for wasps in the area around August and September.
I don’t pretend that my rundown of where to stay around Lake Bohinj is exhaustive; many private-rooms, pensions and self-catering options are to be found in the wider area and are showcased on the Bohinj tourism website: www.bohinj.si
The Zlatorog campsite seems to be still operational and unaffected by the closure of its namesake and nearby neighbour. I personally find campsites abutting lakesides to be an affront to visual-aesthetics and more often than not are eyeball-splittingly ugly. Having seen the Zlatorog campsite at first-hand I will let you make your own minds up as to whether my graphic description of lakeside campsites IN general is worthy of it.
I will be posting again soon, this time concentrating on what Bohinjska Bistrica has to offer visitors to the Julian Alps.