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6 February 2024

Luxury Tour: Mediterranean to the Alps

Promenading along the waterfront in a Mediterranean resort is one of the joys of life, that special light, the dreamy atmosphere, the cafés and other distractions all make for an emotive and memorable experience.
Seeking the real style of promenading
I was walking along possibly the most famous of them all; La Croisette in Cannes with a former design/lifestyle magazine publisher when I commented about the sorry state of affairs of the palm lined promenade. The crush of money has not been kind as commercialism has left its scars for all to see. A beacon of the former exuberant style is still there; the Art Deco Martinez hotel, an enlightened regime could restore the promenade to its former glory.
It is easy to rue the changes that pressures have wrought upon such formerly beautiful places, but there are treasures which have largely escaped the heavier hands of development. Skipping over Italy to the short coastline of Slovenia; Portoroz is such a haven. The approach road promises much as it winds down through the trees on the steep descent to the resort. Portoroz today originates from the late 19th century and was built rather grandly with the substantial profits from the nearby salt pans.
The essential grand hotel is there in the form of the Kempinski Palace hotel, it has been substantially extended but the design of the new part does not try to up-stage the magnificent original façade. The palms and lawns to the front set it all off splendidly. Portoroz’s promenade has not completely avoided some regrettable development so obviously there is potential to improve, but largely the spirit and character of the resort is intact with some splendid classic villas providing a beautiful backdrop.
Walking further out along the shoreline, passing by the historic, imposing former salt warehouses (one now has an interesting gallery inside) towards the truly stunning old, miniature city of Piran is rewarding, but inevitably the walk has its moments. The highly photogenic, classic architecture around the shore sides of the square – it opens out on to the Mediterranean – satisfies my wishes as it avoids heavy-handed development. This is surely the equal of Portofino without the imported wealth which keeps Piran real and happily escapes any haughty attitudes and sky high prices.
St Nicolas celebrations
We visited in early December just before the St. Nicolas celebrations (see separate Ljubljana article) when the weather was fine and everything was quietly charming – not the usual abandoned atmosphere of so many seaside resorts. Just three couples were in the square which made it magically romantic, a few people in the narrow adjoining streets were unhurried, the bars added a bit of life to the scene. Our chosen restaurant was the shore side road; the Pri Mari, nothing to look at but the freshest of fish and the way they cook lifts it high in our appreciation. If you can find it, the restaurant in the nearby village of Korte is well worth the trouble of getting badly lost.
Putting on the grand style
Back at the Kempinski Palace, they hosted the resort’s Christmas or is it the St. Nicolas Fair on their front lawns? The range and quality of the little stands put many others to shame as there were numerous tempting drinks, food and local honeys, etc. as well as local handicrafts. Within the hotel there was everything you would expect from a full five star establishment except the staff were very personable and helpful, whilst still offering impeccable service; a rare combination. The wine cellar contained the classics but local wines held their own, the therapist at the spa was vastly over-qualified by most standards and was exceptional. I could go on but I have to mention the extraordinarily good breakfast and breakfast room. The Kempinski in St. Moritz had the ‘Best Breakfast’ award in Switzerland; their Portoroz hotel was right up there in all respects.
The accommodation in the two parts of the hotel varied greatly in style; in the original hotel, the style was fresh and romantic whilst the extension follows a more classic modern style with neutral colours. However, in the public areas, there is a very varied and extensive collection of modern chairs and seating in exuberant colours which gives it a lovely lift.
Meandering along the wine land roads
As our visit was short and we had only scratched the surface of the area, we have promised to return very soon. So we headed off towards the Alps but not before visiting the port of Koper, where the ancient centre is well worth exploring; obviously much Venetian architectural influences were to be seen together with a tempting flea market. Our indirect route took us into the wine lands at Brda on the Italian border. This turned out to be far more extensive than we imagined; the Italians boast that this is their wine domain but Slovenia is their equal. There were plenty of wineries to visit so we called in at one of the most proclaimed: Movič, the wines certainly matched their reputation. I gather that most grapes in the area are hand-picked in order to avoid the dreaded detritus that finds its way into vats so chemical stabilisers are not required to cleanse the juice.
The Alps beckon
Onwards and upwards into the Triglav National Park and in particular the village of Bohinj with its local Vogel mountain (and ski slopes), plus its atmospheric lake to enchant all who visit. The final leg was on to Bled where their lake is also a sight to behold with its castle on high as the main focal point not forgetting the beautiful islet in the centre of the lake. If you take the direct route, it is an easy 170 km of generally quiet roads so it is a drive of less than two hours.
The modern part of Bled is not so special but only one hotel on the lake lets the side down, apart from that minor point, everything about Bled and its lake are magic. It is a place where even the restless can return, time and again. The Hotel Triglav directly overlooks pastures to the lake with a perfectly located islet on which a small church nestles, to complete this idyllic scene. The mountainous backdrop frames the picture.
Eat, drink and be cosseted
The Hotel Triglav has been a magnet for years; the food and wines have always been excellent but the new chef has raised the bar even further. We had an amazingly convivial and delightful dinner, or should we say feast, starting with a delicious smoked trout on a parmesan crisp, the pumpkin oil on artisan bread was a complete revelation, the festive Mediterranean terrine in the shape of a Christmas tree, the puy lentils dressed with olive oil from local Koper, Aubergine caviar, Vichyssoise with a roasted langoustine on top, the delicious tender and very slightly gamey lamb and one ambrosial course after another until we finished with a pear ice-cream concoction. The accompanying local wines were perfect choices and highlight the true diversity and accomplishment of Slovenian offerings.
If you want to stay right on the lakeside effectively beneath the castle is the smaller but nevertheless a very pleasant to stay is the Vila Preseren. Despite its proximity to the shops and other activities, it is surrounded by a small area of parkland. In high season, it can get rather overrun so service can be somewhat sporadic, but most people are not in too much of a hurry as eating out on the terrace gives you the picture perfect views.
The St. Nicolas celebrations across Slovenia are not to be missed and Bled plays its part with their events, the fireworks are doubly good as the lake reflects the spectacle to great effect. Move on to New Year and this time around they lit 5,712 lights at the same time with people holding hands in a circle around Lake Bled. Take in the illuminated castle perched on the cliff top on the lakeside; it is a sight to be long treasured.
Combining the Mediterranean with the Alps is a real option for a two centre holiday which could be just a long weekend or a relaxing two weeks indulgence. On our trip, we went on to the capital; Ljubljana for more St. Nicolas celebrations; See the article ‘Ljubljana; a Relaxed and Vibrant Capital City‘
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