Damian Merlak considers the purchase of hotels in the embrace of the high peaks of the Julian Alps as an entrepreneurial adventure, not an investment. More than the financial aspect, he was persuaded by the desire for a new life story, which he will create in a place where he has very fond memories.
The most legendary hotel of all time in Bohinj, one of the most beautiful glacial valleys in Europe, is named after the mythical guardian of the Kingdom of the Julian Alps, the Zlatorog (Goldhorn), and it boasts more than a century of history. It has been almost 50 years since the Zlatorog Hotel, where even the former Yugoslav President Tito invited his most important guests, was a link in the chain of alpine hotels from Ribčev Laz and Ukanc to Vogel – the Bohinj Hotel, the Apartments Tiglav and the Vogel Ski Hotel.
Now a new story awaits these hotels. The love for Bohinj, cherished by the wealthiest Slovenian millennial Damian Merlak—who made his fortune through the establishment and sale of one of the world's first cryptocurrency exchanges Bitstamp—led to this massive real property investment.
The young investor and his team are also welcomed by Bohinj Tourism. As its director Klemen Langus says: "Bohinj holds the reputation of a destination that has taken sustainable development seriously through its actions. I'm glad that Mr Merlak's team has joined us. We see them as a wave of fresh energy that will further strengthen and encourage the development of sustainable tourism in the right direction. It fills me with special joy and happiness that they came with respect to Bohinj, a place open to everyone who is curious and seeks authentic experiences. Today, the extremely positive collaboration has developed into a sound partnership with the aim of creating a carefully selected array of boutique accommodations, which are not for sale at all. As a child and teenager, I experienced the grandeur of the Zlatorog Hotel, which had a special place in locals’ hearts. Despite many attempts to restore its old glory, many ideas failed due to the lack of respect and connection with the local environment. I know this time it will be different."
Mr Merlak entrusted the renovation and management of the hotels to Jure Repanšek, one of his closest friends, with whom he has shared a common vision for the Zlatorog Hotel from the very beginning. He says this is an investment with heart. It will attract the most discerning guests to Bohinj, who will know how to appreciate luxury in unspoilt nature and old Bohinj fairy tales, in which the locals still believe.
1. Slovenia is established as a sustainable destination, and Bohinj received an international award for green development. How do you follow a sustainable vision in the choice of materials used in renovating the Bohinj Hotel?
Jure Repanšek: The use of materials is sustainable and follows the vision of green development. Before the renovation, the building was in poor condition as regards the statics and energy losses. To strengthen it against earthquakes, wooden frames were added to all sides of the building. The facade and roof will be completely renovated to better energy standards. All joinery will be replaced with wooden-framed triple glazed windows. The building will be heated and cooled with the help of natural resources by installing a heat pump, which will draw energy from the ground through a bore hole. All rooms will be ventilated with heat recovery. This energy renovation and the use of wood and other natural materials will reflect the local character while being sustainable. The interior of the rooms and common areas draws inspiration from local design elements and materials, with a focus on wood, particularly larch, in combination with unfinished plaster and textiles.
2. Will the food and beverage services at the Bohinj Hotel reflect the local supply chain?
Jure Repanšek: We strive for the greatest possible partnerships with local food and beverage producers. For example, the selection of wine will be limited exclusively to Slovenian vintners. The breakfast options, however, will largely reflect the local supply chain. We hope that with our hotels we will contribute to the revival and development of agricultural activity and the restart of the local economy that a tourist destination needs very much.
3. Bohinj is one of the most beautiful Alpine glacial valleys in Europe. Where do you see most opportunities in designing tourist products and services? Do you see any other opportunities to improve tourist products and services?
Jure Repanšek: We see mainly challenges, as we would like to enrich and diversify the tourism services provided in Bohinj. We want to implement a new concept of tourism and give Bohinj additional importance, while following the sustainable development strategy and all the guidelines relating to Triglav National Park and adjusting tourism products and services accordingly.
4. You want to extend the tourist season in Bohinj to the whole year. Do you have a plan on how to accomplish this?
Jure Repanšek: We want to turn what is a disadvantage for many people into an advantage, as we sincerely believe that Bohinj has a special charm in both autumn and winter. There is still much room for the development and upgrade of what Bohinj has to offer; our hotel programmes will be designed to combine the place’s natural features, exceptional hotels, and special experiences, so as to convince many guests to spend a few days in Bohinj.
5. How will you get involved in the project of green mobility and environmentally friendly transport in Bohinj?
Jure Repanšek: We support the Municipality of Bohinj in its efforts to calm traffic and we will participate in all joint green mobility projects. For now, our hotels will focus on providing the right information and raising awareness of our guests about the importance of sustainable mobility and the use of environmentally friendly modes of transport.
6. Hotels in Bohinj, especially Zlatorog, have history and many stories. How will you incorporate this into the renovated hotels? What kind of a story will they tell? What kind of guests are you targeting?
Jure Repanšek: We will definitely build on each hotel’s history.
The Triglav Apartments will continue to be family friendly, as they have everything important to families: peace, numerous hiking trails and the option of preparing meals in the rented apartment. Pets, for which we care deeply, will also be welcome at the Triglav Apartments.
At the Bohinj Hotel, we want to provide many more activities that will attract as many young active people as possible: various workshops, events, the option of evening socialising and activities outside the hotel.
At the Zlatorog Hotel, we will build a story for wealthy guests based on wellness and selfness programmes; we also want to provide services for business guests who want to stay and create in a natural environment, peace and remoteness away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
7. In addition to hotels, Damian Merlak bought the Muhr Villa, also known as the villa of the Karađorđević family, the rulers of the former Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which was built in 1902 for the Viennese merchant Adolf Muhr. You are planning to renovate this villa as well. What is your vision for this historically important building?
Jure Repanšek: At the Muhr Villa, we will aim to create the atmosphere of the period in which the villa was built and target people who appreciate history, while offering them the charm of that period, tailored to individual wishes.
Damian Merlak considers the purchase of hotels in the embrace of the high peaks of the Julian Alps, in the heart of Triglav National Park, the very symbol of Slovenia, with the country’s highest peak, as an entrepreneurial adventure, not an investment. More than the financial aspect, he was persuaded by the desire for a new life story, which he will create in a place where he has very fond memories.
The renovation of the first of the hotels, the Apartments Triglav, was completed in just over three months and boasts 27 apartments and a completely new restaurant. The renovation of the Bohinj Hotel began at the end of October 2019, and the opening is planned for 2021. All Slovenians follow Merlak's investments with curiosity and enthusiasm, so that Bohinj’s legendary hotels will get a fresh look and purpose, and continue to live their great stories as we remember them.
The renovation works can be followed on Hotel's Bohinj IG profile.