The Many Charms of Yugohotels

Hotels and resorts of Socialist Yugoslavia got a lot of press in the past few years (two examples here), especially as every summer more and more foreign tourists are heading to its coasts and cities over the summer.

This recent fascination with ‘Yugohotels’ is more than just due to the trendiness of the Eastern Adriatic coast in the past few years, or the hipsterish love of retro design. It lies in the wider trend towards re-evaluating the perceptions of life in the non-Western world.   

Hotel Haludovo in Malinska, Krk

The allure of ‘Yugohotels’ lies in that they strike a dissonant chord in the usual perception of the socialist East as grim, dark and joyless. These modern, even futuristic-looking hotels, whether they have been revamped or left to deteriorate, are a proof that a socialist country (albeit with an amazingly pretty coast) can be vibrant and fun, even glamorous. For the more socially minded, these ‘affordable arcadias’ (to borrow the term from an excellent essay by Maroje Mrduljaš in the MoMA catalogue from the recent exhibition of Yugoslav architecture) also showed that workers in Yugoslavia, were not (only) treated  by the system with socialist ideological bromides, but also with highly subsidised holidays comparable to those enjoyed by the Western middle classes. Finally, for the many of those who like to read Yugoslavia as a (cautionary) tale of doom, they offer very photogenic and quaint proof how some more utopian aspects of Yugoslavia were steamrolled in (post-)transition period.

Hotel Karmen in Brioni

The more one digs through the history of Yugohotels, the more one finds many interesting facets in their history. Economic historians can look into them as great examples of infant industry development, which allowed the previously depressed economies of Dalmatia and Montenegro to flourish, according to the plans drawn up with the UNDP in 1960s. Social historians have even more to play with: Yugohotels were one of the few places where sunseekers from both sides of the Iron Curtain could meet, and were also one of the many tools Yugoslavia projected its soft power around the world and especially to other Socialist countries, as place where you can both have subsidised holidays and (at least a glimmer of) western-style glamour.

This summer, I was lucky to experience three Yugohotels whose designs and histories fall in three distinct, almost archetypal types: Haludovo in Krk, a crumbled decadent 1970s fantasy of the owner of Penthouse; Brioni complex, Tito’s former residence which preserved 1980s luxury, and finally, Hotel Eden (and Lone) complex in Rovinj, which managed to evolve with current ideas of luxury and maybe shows what most Yugohotels could have become if Yugoslavia’s disintegration and transition was less bloody and chaotic.

Hotels Eden, Lone and Grand Park in Rovinj

Besides these three grand complexes, in my previous travels I passed by a few less internationally known examples of Yugohotels. Some of them are still more or less preserved and wonderful like Podgorica’s Hotel Podgorica (designed by Montenegro’s first female architect) and Novi Pazar’s post-modernist-orientalist Hotel Vrbak (designed by the local architect Tomo Milovanović), while many others have been left to decay or given horrific facelifts.

I hope this article will be the first in a series about these fascinating structures (I also am using the #Yugohotel on Instagram), however, in case I fail, here are a few photos to hopefully inspire you to take ore notice of these great places, and even try to stay in some (Hotel Karmen in Brioni is particularly great!).

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