The parlous state of the quality and quantity of tourist accommodation in the Bohinj region – or the complete lack of both – have again been brought into sharp focus but this time with national exposure, through one of Slovenia’s foremost daily papers, Dnevnik. The media glare has previously been centred upon the now derelict and defunct Hotel Zlatorog, situated in the otherwise idyllic surroundings of Ukanc. I have though often mentioned the demise of Ribcev Laz’s Hotel Bellevue in the same breath as the Zlatorog, both of whose decline have been mirrored by visitor figures and overnight stays in the area falling sharply.
When I last viewed the Bellevue at firsthand in 2013, it appeared to be clinging on by its finger-tips but looked in a shameful state. Having emerged from a somewhat protracted hike from Vogel’s top-station at Rjava Skala I was initially pleased to see the Bellevue hoving into view as a welcome focal-point, indicating a walk I had long wished to do had finally come to an end, its seemingly interminable length, a path at times obscured by felled trees and the heat of the day all making the experience an at times unpleasant one. The main building appeared shut but its grim annex looked comparatively open for business, the rather debatable and seemingly freshly laundered bedding being aired on the balconies. It did though resemble something out of a horror film, its rather modest size appearing larger than it actually is, framed somewhat menacingly against the forest trees motionless in the heat of the day. All was silent, as if something bad had occurred or was about to do so, a ‘sound’ more frightening than any blood-curdling scream. This air of foreboding and expectancy saw me continue my journey more rapidly down the tarmacked road back to Ribcev Laz than I had originally intended. Having previously negotiated my way gingerly past the colourful beehives found on the trail before reaching the Bellevue I was anticipating a long sit down and some reminiscence on reaching the hotel, it then being nine years since I had stayed in the room famous for accommodating Agatha Christie on her trip to the region. Since then news of the Zlatorog falling into terminal decline had from time to time contributed some column inches in the Slovenian media but I hadn’t heard similar regarding the Bellevue, despite my expectations of it having met a similar fate as the ‘Zlat’. I rather naively assumed that the Bellevue was still operating a skeleton service for tourists, although I never found any way online of being able to book a room. The Dnevnik article has therefore come as part shock of what the Bellevue has been reduced to but also, part surprise that it has taken this long to reach some prominence in the media.
At the risk of going over old ground I will nevertheless say this: how have the Slovenia Tourism(I Feel sLOVEnia), the Bohinj municipality and the Triglav National Park authorities allowed the situation to escalate to the point the area finds itself in today? Bohinj is the jewel in Slovenia’s crown, a monument to an equitable juxtaposition of commercial agriculture and tourism coalescing in an area as unique as it is fragile. Something though has gone very badly wrong. It is very easy to blame negligent proprietors who mercilessly sweated their hotel assets, trading on past glories when presidents visited the Zlatorog and Agatha Christie sequestered herself away in the elevated seclusion afforded to her by the Bellevue. A complete absence of foreign hotel-chains in the Bohinj region would appear to be a victory for the area but in reality, is it nothing other than a Pyrrhic triumph, the only result being the stagnation of the area denuding yet further into atrophy? The stringent criteria set by the Triglav National Park has long been held up as an exemplar of a region putting its ecological interests ahead of extricating euros from tourists, ironically often at the expense of many locals who have struggled to make a living under such conditions. The recent rejection by the Bohinj municipality of the TNP’s draft Management Plan betrays the strong emotions engendered by those fortunate to reside in the Bohinj region, two thirds of which fall within the TNP’s territory. So, are the Triglav National Park decision-makers to blame, stymieing regeneration in the tourism sector, however modest and sympathetic such intentions may have been? I cannot answer this hypothesis either way with any degree of certainty but nevertheless find it hard to believe that the Bellevue, Zlatorog and indeed their Hotel Ski Vogel counterpart would’ve been prevented from modernising what they already had, especially in a manner befitting the immediate and wider environment. The only evidence I have though of this is that I have none to suggest the aforementioned triumvirate of hotels have sought to redevelop their antiquated, anachronistic facilities, instead wringing every last Tolar from them without much or any thought for the future. Essential, ongoing maintenance seems to have been treated as optional, let alone modest, pragmatic levels of ongoing, inward investment to keep their existences viable. In short, the demise of a trio of hotels, who for contrasting reasons have such compelling cases to be at the heart of everything that is good for overstaying tourists, could be seen coming a mile off.
Figures mentioned in Dnevnik’s article suggest investment in the region of €150 million is needed to regenerate tourism infrastructure in the immediate Lake Bohinj area. This sounds an inordinately large amount of money to bring the Bellevue, Zlatorog and Hotel Ski Vogel into the 21st century but presumably, this figure suggest additional hotels will need to be constructed to arrest the alarming decline in visitor figures. As I previously touched upon in a previous post it is difficult to imagine where such constructs could be sited although, the Bohinj Eco Park Hotel in Bohinjska Bistrica illustrates what can be achieved, if albeit away from the developmental straitjacket of the TNP. If things are to change in the area, the TNP will have to considerably climb down from its lofty ideals to find some common-ground or consensus with the Bohinj municipality’s elected members and constituents. With though a very real danger of releasing the expansionist genie from the bottle, potentially allowing the area to be deemed fair-game by developers, the TNP will not relish offering concessions, a middle way often being harder to broker than ‘all or nothing’ standpoints. It is though surely the restraints imposed upon developments and redevelopments within TNP controlled-boundaries that has ensured a lack of international money, expertise and experience being encouraged into the Bohinj tourism sector. Can though this be done without the very essence of the area being diluted to a point where its identity is lost? Finding a middle way that all can agree on as a route forward for the area will be an arduous, perhaps insurmountable exercise. An uneasy feeling within me persists that the Zlatorog and Bellevue’s decline have been strategically managed, perhaps in the hope of forcing the hands of those who control the levers. With this unfounded allegation in mind, has the TNP dug its heels in yet further and not intervened where perhaps it should? I am well aware that the days of the state being king are long gone, this former republic of Yugoslavia now through its privatisation programme as far away as possible from Tito’s ideals. Nevertheless, I feel for the state at a local and national level to have allowed the situation to drift to the point Bohinj now finds itself at is nothing short of negligence and a dereliction of national duty. Nobody wants to see the Triglav National Park ridden roughshod over or become a beacon to brutalist architecture but how, as things stand, are its best interests being served by having two famous buildings, albeit from yesteryear, falling into such decrepitude that they have begun to reflect badly on the area and the organisation formed to oversee it?
Unlike Lake Bled, Bohinj has more about it than just being an obligatory stopping off point on a Japanese tour-guide’s itinerary. Its depth of soul, narrower touristic offering but at the same time affording a broader, metaphorical hinterland lends itself an air of being otherworldly, almost mythological in its beauty and fragility. The complexities of the issues it faces are undoubtedly disproportionate in size, in relation to the area of land it covers but words alone cannot convey its status as a nonpareil; only therefore will those who have visited get a true sense of the magnitude of the task ahead to ensure tourism once again thrives, whilst allowing nature to retain the whip hand.
Further reading on this subject can be viewed at: Dnevnik: Bohinj’s Bellevue a real-life horror story