To be at the very end, neglected, and alone through no fault of your own has to be the ultimate insult to injury when an inadvertent, but preventable, fall from grace has brought about such a sad demise. This though has been the fate of Bohinj’s Hotel Zlatorog, once one of the most famous establishments of its kind in Slovenia.
There is a dual meaning to say that the Zlatorog is at the/its end. Situated at the Ukanc extreme of Lake Bohinj, the settlement in which it nestles translates as ‘the end’, but for those unaware of this unfortunate linguistic happenstance would conclude from looking at the abandoned and decaying hotel and its associated buildings that the end is very much nigh in its current form. They would not be incorrect to think this.
Marshal Tito did not live to see Slovenia become an independent nation, but his pride in keeping together a united former Yugoslavia would often be displayed by hosting Communist and fellow Non-Aligned leaders of the time at the Zlatorog – if only for a lunch or coffee break following a short journey from the far more well known Lake Bled. It is easy to say that the Zlatorog became a byword for another era that the world is now well rid of, but the fleeting but significant part it often played when receiving the likes of Presidents Nasser, Kim, and Khrushchev link to a fascinating point in history and one unique to Tito, who managed to stay on side with Communism whilst keeping it at arm’s length.
The Zlatorog, and its surroundings that even Communism couldn’t claim responsibility for, were justly a source of pride for Tito, whose frequently infrequent visits only added to the hotel’s already rich history. It wasn’t though the death of Tito, in 1980, that precipitated the Zlatorog’s demise, but its passing through multifarious hands post-independence which ultimately did the hotel few favours. When Capitalism gained a foothold throughout the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union as one of the first consequences of post-Communist secession, most or all areas of life formally controlled by the state were let off the lead to do their own thing, often with disastrous results. I am neither pro-Communism or anti-Capitalism as such, but what followed through large swathes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia initially led to greater turmoil, cronyism, and corruption than during many of the dark days between 1945 and 1989.
Without a state-operated safety net the likes of the Zlatorog became easy pray for speculators, chancers, and those intent on sweating assets whilst playing on their history and location but without any or sufficient inward investment to keep buildings and businesses viable. It must though be said that foreign tour operators did at times play their part in the lack of investment in some hotels who felt compelled to sell rooms en bloc at prices often far lower than the rack rate.
The Zlatorog has perhaps been out of active service for the best part of a decade, with the years leading up to its closure characterized by a marked deterioration in its material appearance and levels of service; as with the Hotel Bellevue, trading on its location, albeit with each property being under different ownership, became the last line of defence for negligent owners before even they had to give up the ghost, and on guests.
Now under the ownership of young Slovenian Cryptocurrency millionaire Damian Merlak, the Zlatorog will in time be restored to prominence through respecting its historical significance, whilst being sympathetic with extraordinary natural surroundings but also giving modern-day tourists what they expect from 21st century accommodation in the Alps. Working with Bohinj’s municipality and the Triglav National Park authorities will ensure that the mistakes of the past will never be repeated, and whilst empty and decaying hotels in any location are an endless source of fascination, they have no place in an area of such outstanding natural beauty as Lake Bohinj.