The Bohinj region’s relationship with the Triglav National Park has entered a new phase, both very much being at the crossroads of counterbalancing the demands of modern day tourism and protecting a unique environment from the aesthetic and environmental abominations inflicted elsewhere in the Alps and to some extent, Slovenia too.
Development within the Bohinj region’s boundaries is heavily restricted, with two thirds of its territory found within the TNP’s perimeter. Tourism is vitally important to the area but isn’t by all means the only revenue stream, with farming seemingly coexisting harmoniously – the continued use of traditional, if somewhat backbreaking methods attracting tourists in its own right. The facts though are that visitor numbers(day-trippers) and the figures for overnight stays are significantly dropping – by 9% and 12% respectively. The reasons for this are complex, manifold and not easily blamed on any one or a number of factors. One area that does undoubtedly let the area down is a lack of hotel rooms. The Zlatorog, along with its annex was capable of accommodating several hundred guests, is now a decaying blot on the landscape awaiting the last rights to be administered, probably courtesy of a wrecking-ball. The Bellevue, if it is still receiving guests is a shambles and a perfect example of a missed open goal, failing to utilise its links with former guest Agatha Christie. It again has a creepy annex not fit for purpose, despite a wonderful aspect overlooking Lake Bohinj a mere 800 metres from Ribcev Laz. The list goes on. The Hotel Bohinj, formerly named the Kompas is another that lets down Slovenia’s finest mass-tourism alpine attraction, rumoured to bus in its food every evening from where, who knows where. Apocryphal or otherwise, such hearsay does nothing for the reputation of another hotel that at best flatters to deceive. The eponymously named Jezero, adjacent to Ribcev Laz’s facilities is a self-styled four star hotel, probable nearer a 3/3.5 if this was the Tyrol but is scrupulously clean, efficient and ideally positioned for the lake. I have read nitpicking complaints pertaining to it but have had no complaints about the standard of service received during my two stays at the Jezero, apart from the British tour-operator who shamelessly ripped me off compared to what I would’ve paid had I booked directly with the hotel.
Several other hotels/pensions are sited in Ribcev Laz, the well-regarded Gasperin and Kristal and functional Rozic. These all serve the purpose depending on your budget, the Kristal and Rozic offering half-board. The Rozic services the more budget-end of the market, I for one being disappointed with the neglected state of the showers. This though of course might have been remedied since my last stay in 2010. Other than that, the options become more narrow. A profusion of private rooms in family dwellings or purpose-built self-catering properties can be found throughout the area, including Ribcev Laz, Srednje Vas, Stara Fuzina and at the far end of the lake in Ukanc. These though do not amount to a significant number; subsequently, spare rooms at peak times of the season such as the Cow Ball and the Bohinj Festival of Wild Flowers can be extremely hard to come by. Hostel Pod Voglom found adjacent to the lake a couple of bus stops on from Ribcev Laz offers accommodation exactly what is says on the tin but private rooms with facilities can be booked although, caution should be exercised during the school holidays when the property, its grounds and immediate surroundings can become noisy and raucous, albeit in a good-natured manner.
This then, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter. Falling numbers staying overnight in the Bohinj region is surely not a year on year fluctuation, a change in tastes or determined by poor spells of weather. I believe the quality and quantity of tourist accommodation is letting down the area, which unfortunately is giving the impression it is not serious about sustainable tourism. Whilst the strictures enforced by the Triglav National Park remain so suffocating, the tourism sector in the Bohinj region will see its accommodation stock continue to stagnate. I have long called for the area to make the most of what it already has, amounting to complete renovation or the demolition/rebuilding of the Zlatorog and a similar course of action at the Bellevue, unsurprisingly owned by the same proprietor. I have read criticism of Vogel as a ski destination but attach little credence to such condemnation. Yes, some modernisation would perhaps benefit it but the enduring popularity of its pistes and relative snow-sure nature certainly keep the operating company in the black, thanks to an almost year round record of operation. The iconic Ski Hotel is an eyesore but in the same way the communication tower atop the Kitzbuheler Horn has won over the many naysayers, the Ski Hotel’s epochal architecture and unsurpassed location have seen it develop a cult status with many skiers. A subject I have touched on before but being particularly pertinent to this blog post, I fail to see why the Hotel Ski, despite its season-defining name cannot open during the milder months.
The mandarins based at Bohinj’s Obcina have an undoubtedly difficult decision to make. Open the floodgates and the area will be unceremoniously trampled over, losing forever the delicate balance struck between man and nature. Leaving things as they are will see the continued deterioration of visitor figures, losing many overnight stay to nearby Bled but paradoxically, everything Bled has become Bohinj surely wishes to distance itself from. Brutalist behemoth hotels and heavy traffic do Bled no favours whatsoever. A middle way must therefore be negotiated, encouraging strategic, not frivolous development within the TNP’s central core on a scale not previously seen but well within the bounds of acceptability. Coupled with the sympathetic regeneration of hotels Bellevue and Zlatorog and along with the introduction of artificial snow-making at Vogel, I believe that should be the extent of the relaxation of the rules the TNP has quite rightly enforced for many years.
Whatever the outcome of the meetings discussing this sensitive issue, there are undoubtedly going to be individuals/groups bitterly disappointed with the outcome. The fact though that everyone involved has Bohinj’s best interests at heart will hopefully result in a consensus being struck as to the way forward. It is perhaps though strange that on the shores of the non-motorised northern side of Lake Bohinj a former fishery and custodian cabin have been left to fall into decay over the last fifteen years or more. It will come as a worry to many that without intervention, it and the daily decline of the Zlatorog could come to be very real metaphors for the atrophy of the whole region, if tangible change isn’t cautiously welcomed.
Further reading on this subject can be found at: Dnevnik: Bohinj and the Triglav National Park look to the future