Striking a precarious balance of promoting sustainable tourism that doesn’t alienate those it wishes to attract to the region remains the municipality of Bohinj’s greatest challenge.
Increasingly swamped with primarily day tourists, Bohinj had previously been an antidote to Lake Bled – a byword itself for the grim realities of mass tourism and the negative impacts it has upon the Gorenjska region’s highway network. Greater mobility and its central situation within continental Europe has though progressively left Slovenia at the mercy of car-using holidaymakers; increased awareness of the country’s bounty of natural assets has in many ways made it victim of its own success and the environmental wonders of which it was so generously bestowed.
My first visit to Bohinj coincided with the end of the 1999 Kosovo War. By dint of its inclusion within the former Yugoslavia Slovenia was seen by those ignorant of the distance between the federation’s northern reaches and a conflict over 400 miles away from Ljubljana as a ‘risky’ destination, one sure to be enmeshed in a true Balkan war, despite its more Teutonic than Slavic locus. My subsequent eight days on Lake Bohinj were characterized by its utter emptiness, and of a tourist sector seemingly suffering as a consequence. While an artificial state of tranquility reigned, this became an admittedly unrealistic benchmark by which I judged my ideal holiday and despite five future visits that showed a steady increase in popularity, it has only been the last few summer seasons that have seen visitor numbers explode; this has, in my view, been to the total detriment of the quality of visit on a boiling hot Julian Alps day and the effects on its fragile ecology.
Bohinj’s municipality have made sterling efforts to counter the use of the private vehicle, and more in particular the often irresponsible way in which it is parked and driven. Despite signage along the Ribcev Laz-Ukanc road quite lucidly stating the outlawing of parking and its subsequent financial penalties, it would seem that there are none so blind than those don’t see. To encourage the use of public transport along the lines of park and ride schemes, parking places outside of the inner core of the Triglav National Park but in between Bohinjska Bistrica and Ribcev Laz have been created, thus keeping many personal vehicles at arm’s length. I am though surprised that a meadow opposite the Hotel Kristal, a few yards within Ribcev Laz, has been allocated for parked vehicles. I hope that this will only be a temporary scenario, and that a more suitable solution can in the future be reached as it should be noted: walking from this location involves doing so on the busy road itself, not along a safe pavement.
Bohinj’s mantra quite rightly espouses its desire for quality tourism, which euphemistically could elude to an ideal ‘less is more’ scenario. As with most commercial aspects of life the market usually decides, and Bohinj’s appeal as more of a day resort than somewhere to spend an extended vacation could rebalance the number of guests it receives. It should not though be assumed that Bohinj is an inappropriate destination for a longer stay over, but a current lack of hotel provision ensures its quality accommodation comes at a premium during peak summer trading. Reintroducing the derelict hotels Zlatorog and Bellevue into active use will (re)create a different dynamic to the zeitgeist but that appears to be an outcome as far away as ever for the former, much less so for the latter which has been acquired by benevolent, progressive-thinking purchasers. It would though seem that now Bohinj, and Gorenjska as a whole, have been included in the Lonely Planet’s top ten ‘must sees’ for 2018, that the implementation of its traffic reduction stratagem will be put under increased scrutiny until those without prior knowledge of the region are instructed to venture somewhere else by the next ‘where’s hot for….’ pronouncement.
Although it appears that Bohinj’s councillors would like to increase from €80 to €100 the fine for the worst parking violations, by eschewing a more draconian penalty the municipality are in effect giving visitors a last chance to behave accordingly to their surroundings. I suspect a repeat or escalation during 2018 of some of last year’s scenes will in future result in far less leniency than is arguable being afforded by keeping fines at the current level.
The mores of modern life dictate that mass tourism is not a passing fad in itself, although it will of course move from resort to resort, region to region, as tastes, publicity, and facilities dictate. Caught between a rock and hard place of providing greater facilities – build it and they will come – that helps drive regional economic prosperity but runs the risk of alienating those put off by the spike in footfall commensurate with pandering to the deepest pockets of tourists, the likes of Bohinj have to decide whether it can afford to sacrifice the very reasons it has become so popular in the first place, and contextually what sustainability actually means to it as a tourist provider and an area rich in agricultural diversity.
Social Media, individual and mass-transit mobility have undoubtedly made the world a smaller place, and a far easier one to access. Only by sticking to its principles of protecting nature and ultimately defining what sustainability means to it can Bohinj welcome but at the same time resist the excesses of modern life. Although often described as being a straight-jacket to those with greater(or any) ambition for Bohinj and its immediate region, it is with some relief that the Triglav National Park authority still proscribes much of which has become commonplace at Lake Bled. At municipal level punitive measures are though equally important, even in this era where many individuals find rules only applicable to them if it suits their lifestyle, and moral code. In short, telling people what to do is one thing, but whether their pride will allow it to prevail is quite another.
Greater than any individual, demographic, or liberal inclination, Bohinj must live on in a manner that bucks the negative trends of modern life. Those commissioned with the authority to protect must recognize that with such power comes great responsibility. It is only by enforcement and protection will the cerulean pearl of Slovenia attract and welcome back those that leave only foot prints, and take away nothing but memories of vertiginous peaks, clear waters, and a real sense of wilderness among a milieu of caring stewardship.
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