Just two hours’ drive from Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, lays Portoroz (port of roses), set against the Adriatic on one side, the Istrian countryside on the other. It’s a tiny little town that attracts mostly Italians unaffected by the recession. The Italian border is less than 20 miles, (Venice just two hours away) and Portoroz is known for its spa culture. Members of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and military officers flocked here from the 13th century for its therapeutic baths. Benedictine monks used seaweed and the local salt, sold in specialty shops today, to ease the stresses of medieval life.
I was given directions to drive from Ljubljana to the Kempinski Palace Hotel in Portoroz. Everyone said, “You won’t miss the Palace. It’s impossible to overlook.” And it is. The 100-year-old hotel is both historical and cinematic. A rich history and a colourful guest list of celebrities and statesmen make the hotel a landmark.
According to the history books, Archduke Franz Ferdinand led the waltz in the grand ballroom. It now serves as the breakfast room, which feels about right, as even most modern-day aristocrats would shudder from all that formality.
The hotel has gone through several incarnations, first as a cornerstone of Portoroz’s thriving tourism and spa culture in the early part of the 20th century, then as a ghost of its former self between the two world wars, when German and Yugoslav soldiers pillaged it and used it as their headquarters. Renovations and the swinging '60s helped revive things at the Palace, along with famous guests, but like most tourist spots, the undiscovered becomes uncovered, and overdeveloped. During the '70s, the hotel’s unobstructed access to the sea was no more, and without that, the vacancy rate dropped. The hotel spent the next twenty-odd years changing hands before Kempinski was brought in to manage the Palace, restoring 5-star style and service to the hotel, after a serious renovation project was complete.
I was surprised to find the hotel fully occupied during an early weekend in December. Remember, this is a seaside town. But, the Italians who make up the majority here have come to chill out by the indoor pool and take full advantage of the spa.
It feels as though Marie Antoinette could have lived here. Everything is perfect, from the decor, to the bedside lighting, there’s even a discreet reading lamp at each side of the bed in case of insomnia. And, my own personal hang-up, a power socket near the bed since we all use smart phones as alarms these days, is looked after. Whoever was in charge of the renovations thought of every detail. The decor really is a blend of substance and style. Normally this is the sort of hotel which feels overly indulgent, but spend 10 minutes in a room, and one realises that there’s a reason behind each design decision and it all really works. Another favourite are the triangular shaped, black Faber-Castell pencils at the desk. The pencils have been written about in design magazines for a great shape that just fits well in the hand. . It’s a small touch, but indicates someone behind all of this is in the know.
The passageway from the modern to traditional wing offers views of the countryside, and an herb garden. The gym (one of my favourite rooms in any hotel) offers the latest equipment, and even a spin bike, though I’m not sure why it’s tucked so far away from the spa and pool. That seems awkward. Maybe Italians don’t work out?
Rooms in the modern wing are themed by colour. Mine was a mix of soothing, slightly iridescent champagne and rose tones, which seems the perfect statement. Beautiful balconies are done in understated wood decking and slabs of stone, creating clean lines which don’t distract from the views.
As one would expect, there are plenty of bar and restaurant areas, including one dedicated to Sophia Loren, and befitting such a star, too. Menus are French and Italian influenced, and there’s a cigar bar to really replicate the heydays.
Breakfast is a serious affair here, not just because it’s served in the ballroom, but because the Slovenians know how to put on a spread. Throughout my time here, I’ve been impressed by large, and varied buffets filled with healthy and unhealthy food. At the Kempinski Palace there’s enough loose tea to sink a British battleship, with one particularly good rhubarb flavoured blend. The egg chef didn’t bat an eye when I asked for an egg-white only omelette. Homemade granola sits alongside all sorts of muesli and cereal, as well as baked goods prepared on site, a variety of cheeses that’s like looking at a map of the Continent, soymilk and rice milk for those with lactose issues, meats, fish, and a few different kinds of honey. Nuts and seeds were a surprising treat, as well as the Austrian brand Staud’s complete line of fruit jams. Anyone who’s been to Vienna will know Staud’s is a treat.
It’s a feast fit for royalty and I can think of no better way to fully experience what life must have been like here than to eat like a king. It helps that they treat you like one, too.
Kempinski Palace Hotel
+386 5692 7000