An enforced pause of tourism activity in Slovenia’s Bohinj region will inevitably have led to much thought and discussion as to the future direction in which this ecologically sensitive slice of the Triglav National Park will travel post Covid-19, and how the demands and expectations from larger numbers of visitors can be met without compromising the very reasons so many flock to the area.
For perhaps a decade Bohinj’s tourist accommodation was moribund – when describing Bohinj one automatically tends to think of the area between the lakeside Ribcev Laz and Ukanc – with standards slipping at many of its hitherto foremost hotels as their inexorable slide into closure, then abandoned dereliction, became inevitable to bystanders watching their collective demise unravel from an at first imperceptible deterioration before the rot finally set in.
Although there has been little in the way of obvious, material changes since the arrival of responsible owners that crucially seem more willing, and financial able to not only bring their properties up to code but to also drag them into the twenty first century, how the old facades synonymous with the very names of the Bellevue, Zlatorog, and Ski Hotel Vogel will be incorporated with what is hoped to be sympathetic modernity is key for decision makers within the Bohinj municipality and the Triglav National Park authority.
Since cashing in his chips Slovenian Cryptocurrency wunderkind Damian Merlak finally wrestled from Zmago Pacnik a portfolio of properties that had no right to be in apathetic hands. Whether Pacnik ever intended or once had the ability to maintain and renovate the Zlatorog, Bohinj (formerly the Kompas), and Ski Hotel is uncertain, although it should not be assumed that his original intentions were honourable. The cachet of owning several hotels not only famous by dint of their proximity to Lake Bohinj, but also from many of the famous guests of yesteryear that they entertained would have attracted any speculator but reality soon bit hard for Pacnik and Bohinj, when it became apparent that package holidays bought in bulk for far below the rack rate could lift occupancy rates but would not generate sufficient funds for any of his hotels to become self-financing, or anywhere close to being. If tourist income were the only revenue stream available to Pacnik, it is the unsurprising that even basic maintenance of his hotels would eventually become an insurmountable problem. Only then did it become obvious that the assets were being sweated until they yielded their last, by which time guest numbers were dwindling in favour of other more modern and cared for establishments.
The Hotel Bellevue also suffered an ignominious fall from grace. After purchasing the Bohinj hotels job-lot from the Alpinum agency Pacnik sold on the Bellevue to the Jakopin brothers of the now defunct Seaway boat development company, who had grand plans of their own for the 80-year old property which never came to fruition. Allegedly used as a guarantee in business deals the Bellevue became nothing more than an on-paper commodity, with little but hollow words uttered about its much-needed reboot. Giving such an epithet to a hotel ensures it has much to live up to – an examination its situation abstract from the lakeside action set amid dense forest and overlooking Lake Bohinj from a remote vantage point, from where the three-headed Mount Triglav is often visible, that it passes with flying colours. Notwithstanding its rather prosaic and generic annex(depandansa) the Bellevue’s main building is iconic in its design and glorious isolation, and to me is as important as the vista that gave it its name and being amongst a holistic wraparound of unspoilt nature.
Now in the hands of GG Bled, a company concerned with forestry management and the sale of timber products but owned by the Archdiocese of Ljubljana through its Metropolitana subsidiary, the Bellevue’s redevelopment is in a standby phase before building is slated to commence in the summer. Many architectural interpretations as to what the Bellevue 2.0 could resemble can be found online, after what in effect became a competition to produce the winning design of the hotel’s reincarnation. Although I have been unable to ascertain if a final design has been decided upon – if building is to start in the summer it should be presumed that a definite design has been chosen – several of the entrants were as bizarre as they were shocking. Admittedly a traditionalist, albeit with a grudging acceptance that neglect has brought the Bellevue and Zlatorog to points in their history where without change they will die, I retain the hope that these hotels and other accommodation providers now in the hands of Merlak and GG Bled will successfully but subtly weave modern, sustainable and ecological principles into all aspects of the design process that gives more than just a cursory nod to the past.
One hotel in the Bohinj region that has surpassed all expectations of achieving this whilst allaying fears of its illustrious history being disregarded is the Bohinjska Bistrica-based Sunrose 7. An unusual name for a hotel, I hear you say, and an anglicised one at that but after much agonizing over what to name the former Hotel Markes and latterly after the Crna Prst peak that towers above Bohinjska Bistrica as part of the area’s southern chain of peaks, the management chose Sunrose from the alpine flower that grows locally, with the 7 relating to Crna Prst being one of the ridge’s seven attendant peaks, and the seven lakes region beyond Lake Bohinj often used as an approach by those scaling Mount Triglav. Oh, and the hotel’s address is Triglavska cesta 7, should its numerical appellation require further explanation.
Owned and operated by the Cokl family – whose local empire includes the nearby Eco Hotel and AquaPark wellness centre and for now mothballed intentions to regenerate the former Kobla ski area under the 2864 Bohinj brand (2864 relates to the height above sea level, in metres, of Mount Triglav) – the transformation of the derelict Crna Prst in just nine months is nothing short of remarkable. Such a tight schedule would be expected for a less complicated build but creating a boutique experience unique to the area included the sourcing of design expertise from 28 countries, whilst managing to remain sympathetic to the hotel’s original exterior design over a century old – albeit with a modern twist.
Communing with Alpine landscapes and nature has many beneficial effects on the mind and body, but can be undermined by returning each evening to one’s hotel where reconnecting with digital devices brings life swiftly back to reality, and the increasingly instant demands it makes on us all. It is therefore a bold statement, and not without some financial risk, that the Cokl family have decided to predicate the Sunrose 7 identity on a concept of digital detox, and reintroduce adult-only patrons with the progressively deteriorating arts of conversation, thinking, and reading without the need, the extensive wine cellar aside, for artificial stimulation from televisions, radios, wi-fi and telephones.
When in the Alps I have often pondered how returning to reality after trekking at altitude can denude the experiences of the day, leaving the associated aches and pains as the dominant reminder. It is of course a straight choice whether we reconnect with our home life by checking emails and instead of planning the next day’s walk plonk ourselves wearily in front of a hotel room television. To truly stay plugged in to our alpine travels we must do the complete opposite with our devices. Given the choice many will find this too hard to do, but at the Sunrose 7 they make the decision for you.
Covid-19 has changed the rules of engagement between vacationers and the locations that they wish to visit; how long this will last will depend on the area of the world and how able people are to be responsible and follow rules not necessarily to their liking. The Bohinj region has mercifully been untouched by the pandemic, in so far to say that no cases of infection have been recorded, but for an area so reliant on tourist revenue it has been as acutely affected as any corresponding area of Slovenia, Austria, and beyond.
The Alps must always remain accessible to those who wish to give as much respect to their surroundings as to what they will receive in lifelong memories and improvements to their physical and mental wellbeing. The Sunrose 7 offers a unique concept in what is still considered to be ‘sleepy’ Bohinj, but where languor can be incorporated into sympathetically drawing out the area’s many other attributes as common today as they were 130 years ago, a time when Janez Markes first recognised its tourism potential.
I plan an autumn visit to the Sunrose 7, when I will be able to appraise the hotel and its facilities from first-hand experience.
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