My first memories of Bohinj’s then Hotel Kompas stem from the late-1990’s, a time when Slovenia was still in its infancy as an independent state.
Although the era of Marshal Tito’s rule over what by 1991 became the former Yugoslavia had concluded on his death in 1980, Slovenia’s briefly fraught secession from the collective of southern Slavic republics bore the hallmarks for many years of a bygone age after breaking free of its highly restrictive place in a country with which it had little in common.
This was never more so evident than in its approach to tourism. As an adherent of the Non-Aligned movement Tito ran Yugoslavia neither as a fully signed up paragon of the Communist model, nor did he completely shun or encourage Capitalism. This resulted in being able to call in favours from all sides of global political persuasion, and perhaps led to a feeling that Yugoslavia was more important, indeed pivotal, than it actually was.
Tourism did quite understandably centre on Slovenia’s stunning lakes Bled and Bohinj, and Croatia’s dramatic and strung out coastline that extends into Montenegro. Fascinating for their size and often horrific, Brutalism-influenced architecture, nothing shouted out more than these edifices were situated within a Communist-lite state that embraced utilitarianism but expected tourists attracted to Yugoslavia’s many natural wonders to overlook these man-made monstrosities.
Hotel names would often be fairly prosaic, with the same monikers appended to tourist accommodation despite differing locations, and which often did not give away in their titles the actually location in which they were situated. This is how I come back to the then Hotel Kompas adjacent to Lake Bohinj, a name that can still be found attached to establishments in Dubrovnik, Lake Bled, and Kranjska Gora. It might also have been allied in name only to the Kompas travel agency, perhaps adding some nominal reassurance to prospective clients.
My earliest recollection of Bohinj’s Kompas was of a standard but unremarkable wooden construction, neat and tidy but without any tangible investment since who knows when. That is not to say there was anything essentially wrong with it, nor was it uninhabitable, but eventually it becomes impossible to polish something indefinitely that isn’t updated without inevitable but inexorable decline setting in.
The Kompas and its perfectly round outdoor swimming pool was synonymous with the interregnum Slovenia and its now privately funded tourist sector found themselves in post secession, but before new ideas, money, and the risk of unscrupulous speculators became everyday realities.
I couldn’t say for sure when the secluded but only minutes away from civilization Kompas became the unimaginatively named Hotel Bohinj, but its makeover extended to little more than just a rechristening. With a location so close to Lake Bohinj and as a consequence within the Triglav National Park’s inner core, the hotel could not opt for an outlandish makeover but one which sought to blend in with surroundings, and intrude no further into nature than its original footprint. As one of Zmago Pacnik’s properties which included the Zlatorog, its adjacent camp, and the Ski Hotel Vogel, it did seem to buck the trend of neglect and deterioration for longer than some of its counterparts, but in the end it too succumbed to a point where it wasn’t always easy to tell if the property was open or not.
Fast forward to the intervention by Cryptocurrency millionaire Damian Merlak which saw new life breathed into Bohinj’s ailing overnight accommodation sector, and a rebooted Hotel Bohinj once more open for business after an extensive and contemporary but sympathetic renovation that if only by location alone, is guaranteed to be roaring success. Far from being a speculator with dubious motives, Merlak has so far delivered on his promises to also bring back on stream the Aparthotel Triglav, with approved plans for the Zlatorog soon to be actioned. The one fly in the ointment, and there is always one in a multi-asset purchase, is the Ski Hotel Vogel, an iconic edifice that yes, is not too distant from being included within a Brutalist rubric but is not of a size where significant investment can expect to be easily recouped. Access will always be an issue for a hotel that relies on the Vogel cableway to bring it its guests; the adjacent Zagarjev Graben ski run is too steep for all but the most advanced snowcat-type vehicles and experienced hikers.
From what had threatened to become a national embarrassment – imagine several of the English Cotswolds’ primary hotels lying in ruin – where one absentee owner seemingly held sway by dint of a lack of local and national ordinances that could force his hand, Bohinj’s preeminent hotels are all now in safe hands. It will be interesting to see if the much-anticipated renovation of the Hotel Bellevue will now be expedited by its local owner(not Merlak) to in effect piggyback on the renewed feelgood factor once more coursing through perhaps one of the most sustainable tourist areas of alpine Europe.
Source material and further information: