A month in any walk of life is becoming increasingly shorter and shorter: just ask any ‘American’ caught up in President Trump’s on-off travel ban. Things are somewhat more sedate in the Slovenian resort of Bohinj, where the pertinent issues of life rarely change over night, or indeed year to year. It is therefore with some albeit pleasant surprise that the area’s flagship hotel, the Jezero, eponymously named through its lakeside situation, is set to expeditiously reopen after narrowly averting complete disaster from a January blaze that ripped through its upper floors.
Whilst many of the area’s other prominent hotels are shut and decaying through maladministration and neglect without any perceivable light at the end of the tunnel, the Jezero’s phoenix-like recovery represents more than just a saving grace for its own business. Caused by a faulty ventilation and air-conditioning unit the conflagration not only threatened to destroy the historic Jezero but also send up in smoke what was left of Bohinj’s credibility as a tourist resort. The lakeside ‘big three’ of the Jezero and its Ribcev Laz counterpart the Bellevue, along with the Ukanc-based Zlatorog have for many years been the familiar mainstays of a tourism industry heavily restricted by the fragile environment in which they reside – areas controlled by the seemingly all-powerful Triglav National Park(TNP) authority. As the triumvirate’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed but ultimately declined, there have been precious few opportunities for other accommodation providers to fill the void due to the TNP’s moratorium on new builds within the park’s inner core – something on balance I believe to be correct. There have though been serious implications for the area as overnight stays inevitably waned when first the Zlatorog then the Bellevue closed their doors. Used in Yugoslavian times to entertain foreign dignitaries, the ‘Zlat’ benefited from its secluded lakeside situation at the quieter western end of Lake Bohinj. Now, it and its admittedly anachronistic depandansa(annex) lie in ruins – ravaged by the vagaries of an alpine climate and those who see fit to loot the once proud hotel of anything of value. Owned by absentee landlord Zmago Pacnik, the Zlatorog was sweated mercilessly until little more could be extracted from it without a substantial programme of inward investment. It then closed.
Despite being under the aegis of a different owner, the Bellevue, a former favourite of Agatha Christie and fully worthy of its name for the views commanded of Lake Bohinj and Mount Triglav, is suffering a similar fate. Mired in a labyrinthine web of intrigue through a complicated ownership structure the Bellevue is on paper owned by Japec Jakopin, the former custodian of the now defunct Seaway boat building concern. Both Pacnik and Jakopin ‘coincidentally’ placed their portfolio of properties simultaneously on the market – at prices generally considered to be way above what could be realistically achieved. It is unfortunate for Bohinj that Pacnik also owns the Hotel Bohinj(formerly the Kompas), the Stara Fuzina-based Triglav Apartments, and the mountaintop Ski Hotel Vogel, located at the Rjava Skala top station of the Vogel cableway. Although by general consensus the Bohinj could be the next cab off the rank to suffer a similar fate as the Zlatorog and Bellevue, it is pleasing to note that the Ski Hotel, an edifice very much in keeping with the Non-Aligned era, Brutalist architectural days of a Tito-led Yugoslavia, is being diligently run by its current tenants. There is much that could be done with a hotel that sits at 1535 metres above sea-level – especially one that carries so much historic significance for those who look back with fondness to pre-secessionist days. It won’t though be sentiment that propels the Ski Hotel forward, although perhaps its extreme appearance should in some way be retained, especially as it falls slightly outside the TNP’s most heavily restricted area.
It seems more likely that the Jakopin-owned Bellevue and thriving Pod Voglom(under Vogel) hostel will this year be sold, although the price of both will have to reflect the condition of each property and the finances needed for significant renovation. Although the Pod Voglom can best be described as basic and rustic, it is, despite its ownership, a fantastically run property that offers clean, friendly accommodation to backpackers, school-parties and those seeking a cheap but cheerful stay in the Julian Alps.
Proof, if ever it was needed, that from the depths of fire-ravaged despair a professional, well-run hotel with the area’s best interests at heart as well as its own can expeditiously get back onto its feet – with a full reopening expected for the important May Day holiday. Only once under caring and responsible ownership is it expected that both the Zlatorog and Bellevue will eventually recover but this will not happen overnight, nor, sadly, will their extrication from owners whose antipathy has no place in what is for now the flawed jewel in Slovenia’s tourist crown.
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