The grass certainly doesn't grow under Kempinski's feet! About the same time the company opened a new hotel in Prague, they also opened the Kempinski Palace Portorož Istria, in Portorož, on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia.
Portorož was one of the most famous spa towns and resorts in the latter half of the 19th century, built on a short strip of verdant Slovenia between northern Italy and Croatia. Designed by Austrian architect, Johannes Eustachio, the Palace first opened in 1910.
By 1913 it had a record number of guests – 7,250, using over 100 rooms. Even then, it was known for its luxury and amazing facilities. The rich and famous flocked there, including Franz Ferdinand, Tito (who had his own palace a few miles away in Istria), and a large number of film stars, including Yul Brynner and Sophia Loren.
Its unique architecture led to the building being declared a cultural monument, in 1980. Typically, Kempinski has retained the building's unique design and style, whilst incorporating the latest in features, re-opening for business on 18th October, with a new wing. The Hotel has 185 rooms and suites, a spa, ballroom, and cigar room, plus the usual five-star amenities. The Palace began as one of the ‘Grand Tour' residences so enjoyed by European monarchs and the aristocracy. Today, it is just as spectacular.
Though the Palace was considered the most beautiful on the Adriatic when it was built, it was closed in 1990, and the town suffered as a consequence. After some years of redundancy, it was taken over by Istrabenz Hoteli Portorož, who began to restore it in 2001.
Kemspinski manages to take guests through a stunning guided-tour of the eras… Vienna Secession, Art-Nouveau (many windows are of this style), Bauhaus, Cubism, Art Deco… in the hotel's older section.
The newest Kempinski I visited in Istria, during its building phase, was completely modern and outstanding in its own right. I have seen the exterior of the latest hotel in Prague and it is superb. I have gone through Portorož to get to Croatia. All I can say is that Kempinski appear to have the knack of choosing outstanding sites for their hotels! And those they restore are top-class, nothing spared.
One of the best features of this site is its location. Just a short drive from the Italian airport of Trieste, using the recently completed roadway to reach Slovenia, and, if you want, a similarly short drive to reach Istria. Across the water is Venice. Three countries so close, the hotel makes an excellent base for touring all three. This also means the benefit of cultural events in all three countries.
An hotel is only as good as its General Manager, and, as usual, Kempinski have hired a man with talent: Thies-Christian Bruhn started to oversee the project in July, 2008, whilst he was still General Manager of the Kempinski Rotes Ross in Halle, Germany, where he worked for nine years. He joined the Palace fully on 1st September. Before joining Kempinski he managed a variety of hotels in Germany, and worked for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in the USA.
The hotel, with an immensely varied past (full fact sheet available on request) is owned by Istrabenz Turizem, d.d., who signed Kempinski up as managers after a satisfactory trial period. Istrabenz said "What is today one of the most prestigious hotels between Venice and Dubrovnik, turned out to be more elegant than (we) planned!" (Quoted from Turistična Tiskovna Agencija newsletter, 23rd Oct. 2008).
One is always wary of company information, which, of course, is always rosy. That is why I randomly ‘test' what I receive with a wide media search. From what I have found, The Palace really does live up to Istrabenz' claim. The Slovenian Times says the contract with Kempinski is for twenty years, and that the trial guests reported a great experience.
Slovenia Tourism told me the hotel was now a symbol of Slovenian tourism aspirations: "The centre of Portorož is alive again after 18 years (putting it) on the tourism map" (Marino Antlovic, Slovenia Tourism).
I am a sceptic of sustainability and all things ‘green', but this project is an example of real, down-to-earth, genuine sustainability of the best kind – taking not just a building, but a whole town, back to its natural beauty, together with jobs and a rosy future, returning the area to its name, ‘Port of Roses'.
It does the heart good to see this kind of local regeneration by an international company. Tourism is now a reality for many once-poor countries, who have no option but to pass through the usual economic development stages to obtain an income. Often, they make big mistakes by being cheap and nasty. But, the Palace is a fine example of big-business accountability bringing an area to life again by retaining past glories and making them modern. And that makes this Hotel unique.Barry Napier
Hotel and Resort Journalist