My wife and I enjoyed two wonderful nights at the Villa Bled on September 10-11, 2007.
While looking for an interesting extension to a trip to Venice, we learned that Tito’s former summer palace on Lake Bled was now a Relais & Chateaux hotel. Too exciting to pass up, we built a 5-day circuit through western Slovenia around a visit to Villa Bled.
We expected this to be a window into how the big-named Communists lived, and we were not disappointed. Well maintained but little changed, the Villa Bled displays an unsmiling (but ultimately quite friendly) black-dressed matron at the front desk, 50’s vintage sterile-granite elegance, and huge multi-room suites designed to house dignitaries from abroad. Our suite (for just the two of us) started with an ante-room, that led to a dining room, that opened into an oversized office replete with desk and built-in cabinetry for conducting business of state. Beyond that, hefty French doors opened (at last) into the master bedroom, very large and with a huge marble bath en suite. That Communist bigwigs lived differently from the adored masses was highlighted by the priceless maid call-button next to every bed. Sadly this suite lacked the lake views we wanted (a booking error by Relais & Chateaux), but the Villa gladly moved us the next morning into a mere 2-room suite with the spectacular views we had hoped for.
Do not miss walking up the not-so-grand staircase from the lobby and into the ball room, which is encircled with Tito’s prized murals, brightly depicting the victories of the People’s Red Army. It is adjacent to a modern-looking business/conference center.
We were at the Villa for the throw-back experience, and so even enjoyed the Communist-era inefficiencies that abounded. For example, asking for a cocktail before dinner, we were directed to Tito’s bar, a spacious room at the rear of the lobby where Tito apparently did much of his entertaining. There was a fully stocked bar but . . . no bartender. Eventually we asked at the front desk, and after while a waiter was pulled from the dining room to serve us. So for us to have a drink, someone had to wait for supper. Another hotel would turn the bar into a money-maker, a great way to gain business from travelers staying at other hotels. But here, the bar was historic dead space. We loved it, sipping our drinks and trying our best (unsuccessfully!) not to talk in bad-guy accents straight out of Soviet-era James Bond movies.
Dinner at Villa Bled was another treat. The large and austere dining room was staffed by lovely and eager servers. Everyone in Slovenia, it seems, speaks excellent English, and this was certainly true of the staff in the restaurant and throughout the Villa Bled. The kitchen was headed by Slovenia’s only Michelin-starred chef and the meal was a nostalgic wonder, my sense being that the menu has gone without change for decades. We ate superbly prepared Cordon Bleu cuisine, featuring dishes (e.g., aspic laden salads, meats in pastry) one would not have seen on a menu in, say, New York for decades. The perfect retro experience for this venue.
The Belvedere Pavilion is a separate building on the grounds, where afternoon tea and snacks can be purchased. Apparently used by Tito for entertaining his guests, this offers wonderful lake views and more Communist-era art on the walls. A cup of tea and a pastry there was a wonderful end to our stroll around the lake.
Villa Bled is an excellent high-end base for touring this beautiful sub-Alpine corner of Slovenia. As other reviewers have noted, it does not provide all the up-to-date luxe of a 21st Century 5-star boutique. And thank goodness for that. It is a well-priced and comfortable blast from the past, the best reason of all to visit!!