It is difficult to comprehend the reputational and financial implications that Bohinj must have suffered in the last decade from the simultaneous decay of many of its preeminent hotels, in particular the Zlatorog, Ski Hotel, and the Bellevue. Tourism has never been an industry which the area places its unswerving faith in and dependence on, but the absence of so many tourism beds that once would have been in such high demand cannot have had anything but a negative effect.
It has been well-documented as to how the hegemonic grip of Zmago Pacnik, now former owner of the Zlatorog, Bohinj/Kompas, Ski Hotel, and Aparthotel Triglav, effectively placed Bohinj’s overnight offering into paralysis, which is only now starting to recover thanks to decisive intervention from Cryptocurrency millionaire, Damian Merlak. Whilst Bohinj is not equipped for unchecked mass tourism and does not pretend to wish to be, those seeking an antidote to nearby Lake Bled often being depressingly jam packed with more than a little help from Instagram ‘influencers’, will until recent times have found Bohinj a wonderful place to visit, but not an easy one in which to find a bed for the night. At times it too has suffered from levels of day trippers that threaten to make a visit far less appealing than it should, but several measures implemented by the local municipality have made parking adjacent to the lake, both legally and otherwise, prohibitively expensive, and therefore encourage visitors to instead arrive by train into Bohinjska Bistrica, or use efficient park and ride schemes.
The Hotel Bellevue was not part of the portfolio of properties snapped up by Merlak, but whose decay and fall from grace coincidentally ran in tandem with that of its counterparts. As with the the likes of the Zlatorog and the Ski Hotel Vogel, the Bellevue has suffered the ignominy of a lack of inward investment whilst still trading on its wonderful situation, reputation, and past glories; it was even used as a bargaining chip as security by previous owner Japec Jacopin. That a hotel which was regarded between both world wars as Bohinj’s main tourist attraction, presumably of the man-made variety, highlights its importance to the area and what drew novelist Agatha Christie to its bucolic seclusion in the late 1960s.
Located at the end of steep road approximately 800 metres in length from the lakeside and Hotel Jezero in Ribcev Laz, the Bellevue is close enough to civilization without actually feeling that that is the case. If previous visitors were fortunate enough to snare a room at the front of the main building, views of Lake Bohinj and on a good day the three-headed Triglav peak wholly justified the hotel’s name. On this basis it is easy to see how unscrupulous owners could sweat such an asset whilst explaining away a lack of ongoing but sympathetic renovations by ‘wishing’ to keep a hotel like the Bellevue as a rustic bolthole intentionally stuck in a time warp as the antithesis to modern life just a few minutes down the road. My last memory of the hotel and its by then creepy annex was an abandoned complex of building surrounded by metal fencing and signs warning that all movements were being monitored by CCTV. Agatha Christie always said that Bohinj was too beautiful a location in which to base one of her murder mysteries, but a sanctuary she previously enjoyed became a setting that looked anything but out of place as a crime scene.
Several years have elapsed since the complicated ownership of the Bellevue and the lakeside Hostel Pod Voglom was forcibly auctioned off. Both entities are now controlled by a relatively local investor, GG Bled, whose metier is forestry management and timber products. The Bellevue’s situation within dense forest and a mandatory need to respect its surroundings would seem to dovetail nicely with its new owners’ reason for being, who themselves have a labyrinthine but more benign ownership structure which appears to end at the Archdiocese of Ljubljana.
When walking along the rocky northern reaches of Lake Bohinj, those who knew where to look across towards and above Ribcev Laz could see the Bellevue, its name spelled out in large but at the same time subtle, at least when viewed from a distance, lettering. From this distance the hotel looked an eerie, mysterious, and even foreboding and unapproachable presence in impenetrable surroundings. Plans for the hotel’s renovation are welcome insomuch that this amounts to a commitment from a new owner to breath new life into its acquisition, but I cannot help but feel apprehensive after viewing the artistic impressions of the winning design. I feel there is an element of sprawl that is detrimental to how the development will be viewed from afar, but I am at least reassured that the original, main hotel building will be retained and remains central to the overall plan. There is also a need to commit to a design that is something more than a cursory acknowledgement to the surroundings, vista, and the hotel’s location within the strictly managed Triglav National Park.
I am sure any new design of the Bellevue will be an initial shock to the system for locals, and previous patrons such as myself. With any building that has looked the same for time immemorial and which has such a rich history, changes are a hard sell but the Bellevue, as with the Hotel Zlatorog, requires urgent attention and a new broom if its presence as part of Bohinj’s rich mosaic is to continue uninterrupted. It is comforting to know that both Bohinj’s municipality and the Triglav National Park authority will not compromise from their mutual and unilateral standpoints of design and harmony with the surroundings.
My experiences of staying at Bellevue and having passed by it on the way to and from hikes that began and ended in its proximity are to say the least, unusual. It is 17 years since I stayed at the hotel, but its deterioration was evident even then, in no part helped by demanding tour operators who block booked rooms for a fraction of the rack rate. The main building was steeped in history but felt unloved by a mostly absent and at times chaotic management team. At other times I have encountered a Slovenian Army tank/personnel carrier division carrying out manoeuvres in the nearby forest, whilst my last encounter with the hotel at the culmination of a walk down from the Vogel cableway’s top station consisted of beehives humming with significant activity, and the previously mentioned security measures to deter unwanted visitors.
It is within or as a direct replacement of iconic buildings that modernity can feel like an alien, often unwelcome concept. The devil is though in how it is delivered, rather than to dismiss all notions of contemporaneousness as dumbing down, or disrespectful. I look forward to the Bellevue’s next life.
Source material and further information:
Gorenjski Glas: http://www.gorenjskiglas.si/article/20210318/C/210319781/1011/obnova-hotela-bellevue AND http://www.gorenjskiglas.si/article/20200905/C/200909877/1039/rozalija-skantar–prva-zenska–ki-je-stala-na-vrhu-triglava
Urban Exploration: http://www.urbex.nl/hotel-agatha-christie/