Despite still firmly being within the depths of spring the beginning of May heralds the start of the summer season in Slovenia’s Gorenjska-based alpine resorts, all of whose differing expectations for the coming year are shaped by local circumstances.
Notwithstanding the lack of an immediate alpine feel and its overtly touristy outlook Lake Bled continues to pull in the crowds from abroad, its precariously placed castle looming over a lake dominated by pletna operators who ply their trade ferrying wide-eyed guests to one of only Slovenia’s two islands(the other being situated on Maribor’s River Drava). The views of course endure but to drill further down into Bled as a destination will perhaps disappoint those planning an extended stay in a resort dominated by a tired shopping centre, several brutalist lakeside hotels and an unpleasantly busy road that skirts the lake’s southeastern flank. Whilst Bled has an unparalleled array of tourist accommodation that has predominantly weathered the financial storm engulfing hotels in Bohinj, Pokljuka and Kranjska Gora much of their trade consists of camera-toting Japanese and American tour groups who are often already casting a restless eye onto the next stop on their itineraries. Bled can though also rely upon intermittent patronage from the rowing fraternity who in May will account for 700 tourist nights, when the World Cup circuit pays one of its regular visits.
Kranjska Gora’s situation close to the Austrian and Italian borders make it an ideal base for touring the wider area. Much of its trade emanates from Italy and Germany although many visitors are domestic, perhaps, as with Bohinj, betraying the inconvenient truth regarding a paucity of accommodation that isn’t either shut or in dire need of renovation. The spectacular views surrounding KG are an undoubted virtue but in common with most alpine resorts, the capricious nature of the weather will compromise the activities of those who come for rafting, canyoning and other high-adrenalin sports.
Bohinj’s problems have been well documented but solutions seem to be in short supply. Popular with day-tripping Slovenian’s keen to sample a more authentic alpine atmosphere, Bohinj is as diametrically opposed by being Bled’s antithesis as can be imagined, especially with little more than 20 km separating the two settlements. Taking the Bohinjska Bistrica-based Eco Park Hotel out of the reckoning the number of tourist beds in and around the immediate environs of Lake Bohinj are at their lowest level for the last sixteen years that I’ve been travelling to the region. Ribcev Laz is again an essential stopping off point for the aforementioned Bled-based tour groups but once the dinner gong has sounded, the vast majority of foreign tour-groups are enjoying dinner in Bled’s Grand Hotel Toplice or already on their way to Croatia’s coastline. Whilst to criticise Bohinj’s tourist office for sleepwalking into the area’s current malaise could in someways be justified but with two thirds of the area being located within Triglav National Park controlled territory, this ‘privilege’ has seemingly stymied growth and made it possible for ordinary citizens to mend their damaged properties only once they’ve scythed through seemingly impenetrable layers of red tape. Nobody can claim the TNP’s formation and mission statement to protect the area have proved to be mistakes but the irony isn’t lost on the Bohinjci that the very legislation to safeguard the region has in fact strangling the lifeblood from it, especially while such iconic hotels of yesteryear as the Zlatorog and Bellevue are allowed to deteriorate further from their already near derelict states.
Whilst Bohinj’s tourist office is making all the right noises in their attempts to arrest a sharp year on year decline in visitor numbers, a fresh approach to more effectively connect with foreign markets will fall on stony ground if the numerous differences between Bohinj’s Municipality and the Triglav National Park authority cannot be resolved. It is surely incumbent on the local authority to apply for state aid to acquire the ailing Zlatorog and Bellevue, much in the same way Bovec has sourced €3 million of central funding to resurrect its dormant Kanin cableway. Without an immediate upturn in fortunes for Bohinj’s tourism sector it is difficult to see how the limited power wielded by its tourism office can stimulate a renaissance for the area.
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