As 2018 draws to a close another year will pass that has seen little obvious change in the fortunes of Bohinj’s once iconic hotel, the Zlatorog.
Empty for at least the last five years the Ukanc-based facility still ostensibly remains in the hands of failed hotelier Zmago Pacnik, who seemingly closed the doors once every last euro had been sweated from his ageing asset. During the last few years of trading it was literally existing on its name only; to even describe it as having a faded glamour in this period did a serious disservice to several of its lakeside counterparts in neighbouring Bled, who in some cases still manage to charge patrons exorbitant rates for the privilege of evincing its eponymous jezero* from jaded guest rooms.
Without an apparent desire to inwardly invest in the Zlatorog its owner had little choice but to close the hotel and annex once guest revenue dried up, which of course only did so due to the increasingly poor state in which the accommodation had fallen. Such a sequence of events would presumably precipitate the Zlatorog being placed on the market, giving a chance for someone with deeper pockets and a joined-up approach to investment to rejuvenate a hotel that once received heads of state during Tito’s Nonaligned era. For reasons only known to Pacnik, to this day the hotel with a reported price tag of €7 million has been left to rot and in parts collapse, squarely at odds with the Triglav National Park’s strict ethos of protecting the Bohinj region from environmental damage and inappropriate planning. It is with some irony that the Zlatorog is situated within the national park’s very core, which is supposed to represent the highest levels of guardianship.
Not one to be overly garrulous with the press, Pacnik has rarely, if ever, made known the real reasons why he is prepared to allow a once viable asset crumble to nothing. If finance has in the past been secured against the Zlatorog this will presumably have to be repaid in the event of the hotel being sold, although its amortization will now render it a lame duck as a single part of a wider portfolio of properties. Is this Pacnik’s revenge for his planned Hotel Lev** in nearby Stara Fuzina never being realized, or simply a perverse pleasure gained from effectively there being nothing that Bohinj’s municipality, the Triglav National Park authorities, and even national legislation can do to force his hand into selling, or even to have the Zlatorog compulsorily seized from his control. We of course may never know, and I for one am in no position to publish what I believe to be the motives of this one man.
It is easy to say that the future of the Zlatorog is far more important than the mindset of its current owner. There are though dangers of this damaging precedent allowing other hoteliers to take home their bat and ball if they don’t get what they want (should that be the case in this instance), and similar situations of significant accommodation set within areas of outstanding beauty going to seed, without decisive intervention from those allegedly tasked with preservation and protection. Without the paper tigers being given teeth, what is there to prevent this happening again?
The comparatively little known Bohinj region has grown in popularity at a geometric rate over the last decade, as travel publishers and trade websites discover this antithesis to Lake Bled and proclaim it as a ‘must visit’ location for the year ahead. The summer of 2017 was a low point for the area, especially around the lakeside which succumbed to innumerable examples of illegal parking, littering, and a general indifference to the actual reasons why so many stampeded to Ribcev Laz and its surroundings. This ‘smash and grab’ tourism is often of little financial benefit to places such as Bohinj, where legions of visitors arrive early, leave late but crucially don’t stay overnight. As can be seen on WordPress there is a modern-day propensity for perpetually moving around a region and country, rather than pausing in any one place for more than a day or two. Rather than leaving behind the tourist euros so crucial to the local economy, it is the comestible detritus and damage caused by illegal parking and camping that leaves the greatest impressions once the masses have left.
A raft of initiatives to prevent a repeat of the scenes of 2017 were introduced this summer, including the option to ‘park and ride’ to the lake, higher by-the-hour lakeside parking charges and travel cards designed to encourage ‘soft mobility’. It is though obvious by the only recent implementation of such schemes just how far behind Slovenia is from comparable resorts in Austria. The country’s situation at the heart of Europe does though make it an easy weekend target for many continental visitors from a whole range of countries. As mobility increases in tandem with the world becoming a smaller, more accessible place, there are few realistic ways in which a region of a country can actively dissuade travellers from visiting as they see fit. It has tentatively been suggested that Slovenes themselves should shy away from the country’s alpine hotspots during the peak summer season, although this is not only unenforceable but highly offensive, in effect recommending that the likes of Bled, Bohinj, and Kranjska Gora be given over to supposedly freer spending, foreign tourists during July and August.
Smash and grab tourism has caused many concerns in Dubrovnik and Venice, both of which are constantly visited by vulgar-sized cruise ships for only a few hours at a time. While the situation in Bohinj is starting to show similarities to these Adriatic leviathans, would it actually want from an ecological perspective for its many thousands of day visitors to stay overnight, if it actually had the guest rooms to accommodate them? There is a real challenge for Bohinj’s new mayor, Joze Sodja, to not only work in tandem with the national park authority to preserve the valley’s nature, but also stimulate the tourist economy in a way that doesn’t undermine what the area represents. A bare minimum from my point of view is to ensure the promises made by the new owners of the Hotel Bellevue are honoured, and that the Zlatorog is finally wrested from Pacnik’s grasp. The latter of course is easier said than done; if it wasn’t, it would have been achieved long ago. There is also a very strong case for the Ski Hotel Vogel to remain open outside of the summer season, thereby utilizing what the area already has, rather than simply building more and more. It is also vitally important that protection of Lake Bohinj’s primeval northern reaches is strictly enforced, especially against cyclists and trail bikes.
If Bohinj want to be regarded as a year-round destination it will need to find a way to counter-balance an almost subconscious bias heavily weighted towards its summer season. Although placing great emphasis upon Vogel’s lengthy ski season there is little for those partaking in the winter sports to do apres ski. I have recently read a complaint on WordPress to the effect that there is little to do around the lake after skiing, or for those visiting not of a winter-sports persuasion. Due to its proximity to Vogel’s cableway the Zlatorog is an ideal location for in-house apres ski, again without the need to construct garish, incongruous edifices. There are facilities for post-skiing jollity in and around the Rjava Skala top station but very little exists at resort level. For this reason alone, Bohinj is never going to be a location where visitors will stay put for a week’s skiing, although it already has the untapped, in some cases within what is derelict, potential to sustain a modest but satisfying scene for those wanting to take the party from the slopes into the early hours.
There is undoubtedly a great deal of responsibility in the hands of those tasked with overseeing the future of the Bohinj region from employment, leisure, and environmental perspectives. In common with most areas of life there will never be a one size fits all solution to sate everyone’s tastes, although it is unequivocally vital that its unique ecological riches are not sacrificed in the restless pursuit of a quick buck. There are positive lessons to be learned from the way Austria’s Tirol and Salzburgerland incorporate so many features on to often complimentary guest cards, although the approach frequently pursued to drive through many landscape-changing lifts and associated infrastructure must be resisted at all costs. This though begs the question: without investment, isn’t stagnation inevitable, a la the Zlatorog?
Every resort, be it geared towards hikers, skiers, or both, must weight its own developmental aspirations against the relative merits, individual environmental sensibilities, and constraints. I would not like to be partly or wholly responsibility for assessing Bohinj’s future options for investment and tourism, although from my perhaps biased viewpoint I believe it should work to sympathetically enhance what it already has, and not plot a course that could ultimately undermine the traits by which it is identified and loved.
*Jezero – lake. **Lev-lion.