SLOVAKIA is a country dotted with castles, manor houses, mansions and other historical buildings. After the Second World War and the arrival of the new, communist, regime all of these buildings were confiscated from their original owners and became the property of ‘all’. The state assigned new functions to them, some of them markedly different from their original purpose. Castles served as museums, and manor houses as hospitals or nursing homes. Synagogues were turned into concert halls but also into stores or warehouses. The fall of the communist regime brought greater respect for Slovakia’s cultural and historical heritage and many of these historical monuments were returned to their previous owners. However, the properties were often returned in a dilapidated condition and the owners faced the challenge of whether to restore them to their original function or give them a new role.
Turning a castle or a manor house into a hotel was in some ways a natural choice, as all these properties have their own distinctive style and character, creating the kind of atmosphere which a newly built hotel cannot provide. There are now a number of hotels across Slovakia located in historical edifices, and more are in the pipeline. But it is not only tourists, able to experience a romantic stay in what is usually an exceptional environment, but also the historical monuments themselves that benefit from this solution.
“There are more positives from putting a hotel into a historical building,” Michal Čuridlo, secretary general of the Association of Historic Hotels of Slovakia (HHS), which clusters eight hotels located in historic buildings in Slovakia with the aim of jointly promoting them. “For the edifice it is the fact that it gets an owner who is interested in keeping it in as a good condition as possible. From this stems the motivation to salvage and develop the edifice itself.”
Čuridlo also sees running commercial hotels in the buildings as a way to preserve them, pointing out that even though the state or local municipalities need not be bad owners their finances are very limited and historical monuments can be regarded by them as burdens. He added that during the communist regime people developed an indifferent attitude to the history represented by these buildings, which were turned into young offenders’ institutions, nursing homes and, in the worst cases, even into granaries.
“Many of these jewels of our history have not changed to new functions,” said Čuridlo. “The only examples are cases where the condition of a building is so dilapidated that it cannot serve its purpose any more. In such a situation, it is closed down, boarded up and waits for an investor to arrive.”
According to Čuridlo, visitors to hotels in historical buildings can enjoy an unrepeatable experience while spending some time in a historical space.
“Today, tourism is about experience and unique moments,” said Čuridlo. “Aquaparks are OK, but when Germany builds a longer toboggan run and the USA a bigger water resort, who will have a reason to visit Slovakia? Nowadays, when holidaying anywhere in the world is not a problem, more attention is being paid to exceptionality and unrepeatable experience. Historical buildings meet all these requirements. They are linked with many historical events which have influenced our history. The fact that in many of them significant European rulers, queens, princesses and other noble people spent a night adds a scent of exceptionality to them.”
Čuridlo sees technical conditions as the biggest problem investors face when turning historical buildings into hotels. Another challenge is that he says the state, via the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic, dictates absolutely every detail of the renovation, from the techniques used to the colour of the façade. Pointing to the high cost of renovation and maintenance of historical edifices, he says state support for owners of historical buildings, something which exists in other countries – for example France or Denmark – is lacking, as is support for ‘heritage travel’ as a brand in the local tourism industry.
When rebuilding any historical structure to give it a new function Jozef Vyskoč, who operates a hotel in the manor house of Beladice near Nitra, says it is very important to prepare an investment plan in order to ensure that the new facility is able to fulfil all its intended functions at the required level – and at as low a cost as possible.
In spite of the challenges there already exist a number of hotels in historical buildings, with more in the pipeline.
Opinions differ on whether there is space in the Slovak market for more hotels in historical buildings. Vyskoč thinks that for the time being the segment is saturated and many facilities are relatively empty. Slávka Krivčíková, the marketing manager of the five-star Hotel Amade Château, which opened in Vrakúň in June this year, maintains that the opposite is true.
“In Slovakia there are only nine such hotels with five stars and the market is far from being saturated,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “Clients are looking for such facilities, which apart from a perfect environment offer also exceptional services in the form of wellness or a quality restaurant, or additional services. There is certainly an interest in such services and it will grow. And it will be good for Slovakia if such manor houses change into luxury hotels.”
Čuridlo agrees with Krivčíková, though he thinks that there should not be an automatic link between luxury hotels and historical buildings.
“I prefer talking about the atmosphere to which the attitude of the staff, original equipment and historical furniture and traditional gastronomy put the finishing touches,” he said. “If we take into consideration these criteria we cannot speak about saturation. This kind of accommodation does not have a tradition in Slovakia and Slovaks often associate it with something that they cannot afford. But this is often not true.”
Čuridlo also sees hotels in historical buildings as something that may draw foreign tourists to Slovakia.
“In the case of tourists from remote countries, for example Japan, Korea or Australia, who visit our country only once in their life, the possibility to visit such an edifice and spend a night in it is highly valued. This is a part of the experience of their trip.”
Enthusiast rebuilds manor house
One of the first historical edifices in Slovakia to be turned into a hotel following the fall of the communist regime was the manor house in the village of Beladice. The neglected building caught the attention of Jozef Vyskoč, the owner of Nitra-based Ekostavby, when his company was working in the village. At the time, the neoclassical manor house was unoccupied and its condition was deteriorating. Its then owner, the local municipality, did not have enough money to restore it and was looking for an investor.
Vyskoč, who did not have any experience of running a hotel, bought the premises, which include the manor house, its former outbuildings and a five-hectare park – of which the manor house is classified as a protected cultural monument – in 1998. In cooperation with conservationists and architects – especially architect Miroslav Tomík, in whom Vyskoč found a soulmate – he rebuilt the manor house, previously known as Pustý Chotár, into a luxurious hotel.
The history of the manor house in Beladice dates back to around 1820, when the aristocratic Jesenský family built it in a location called Pustý Chotár, or ‘empty land’ in English. Baron Heinrich von Lindelof, who is buried in Beladice, later bought the manor house, rebuilding and extending it at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century. At that time it assumed the neoclassical form which it retains to this day. However, the building is now smaller since the next owner, Dr Kraus, ordered two side wings to be torn down. Shortly after this the Ďurčanský family became the new owners; they had the manor house until 1945, after which it became the property of the state. Between 1948 and 1979 the building served as a primary school. Afterwards, a complex reconstruction was launched but was not completed before the fall of the communist regime.
When reconstructing the manor house, Vyskoč paid special attention to preserving as many historical elements of the building as possible and restoring them to their original form. Thanks to this, the manor house has a neoclassical handrail by Viennese artist-blacksmith J. Wagner, stained glass windows, and a balcony supported by an old, and richly decorated, cast iron structure.
Vyskoč says that if he were faced with a similar restoration challenge today, he would choose a different path.
“When I look back on the whole investment, with regards to current demand and clientele, I should have rather put the building into its shape in which it was before its extensive re-building [by Dr. Kraus], i.e. to construct again its former two side wings,” Vyskoč told The Slovak Spectator. “This way I would have created the capacity for meetings and congresses for about 150 people in one room. Now the hotel has a capacity of 160 people, but in two rooms.”
Returning to the reconstruction itself, the most difficult task for Vyskoč was estimating costs, since he had neither documents about the original edifice nor the plans used in the poor-quality reconstruction of the 1980s.
“When we uncovered anything to find its real condition, this required additional repairs and additional costs,” said Vyskoč.
The premises are now known as Park Hotel Tartuf, which opened in 2003. The hotel consists of the historical manor house with a restaurant, coffee-bar, concert room and conference rooms, as well as rooms and suites for guests, and other rooms located in the former outbuilding. There is also an adjacent wellness centre with a pool, saunas, gym and golf simulator, plus outdoor pool and tennis courts.
What distinguishes the hotel from other historical buildings converted into hotels is its Natural Gallery of Art Ceramics.
Art has always been close to Vyskoč’s heart. This affection has resulted in a long-standing and fruitful cooperation with art ceramicist Ilja Holešovský. Under Holešovský’s leadership, the manor house held its first international ceramic workshop in 1999. During the eight workshops held to date dozens of artists from around the world have travelled to Beladice to create ceramics. Now some of these artworks decorate the park and the interior of the hotel.
“The artistic artifacts gradually replaced what was not preserved from the original decoration of the neoclassical manor house: that which was lost or destroyed,” Holešovský said back in August 2007, when the outdoor art gallery was ceremonially opened. “Thanks to the work of the ceramicists these premises won a new identity and character, and a uniqueness based on the introduction of the latest world trends in art ceramics.”
Park Hotel Tartuf has become a popular place for weddings thanks to its romantic atmosphere, as well as for conferences and business meetings. But Vyskoč admits that with the benefit of hindsight he would not have bought and restored the hotel.
“I would not have done such an investment now,” Vyskoč told The Slovak Spectator. “This is a burden for the whole family. If we want each guest to be satisfied with our services, we have to organise and oversee everything and keep the whole operation in perfect condition. Only an hotelier is able to assess this work.”
Vyskoč adds that maintenance of the historical park is costly and demanding, and points out that hotels without such extensive parkland do not bear such a financial burden.
Nevertheless, the large park, with its meandering paths amongst large, mature trees provides incalculable ‘added value’ for the place, giving it the special atmosphere of a completely secluded site far from the rush of the city, event though it is only 18 kilometres from Nitra and 100 kilometres from Bratislava.
“A guest will go into a hotel located in a former manor house only when he checks the quality of the facility from all angles, or when he receives a good reference,” he said. “Running a hotel consists of a lot of activities which should be done at a high quality level in order that the guest feels well and returns.”
More hotels in historical buildings
While Park Hotel Tartuf in Beladice has been operating for years, the five-star Hotel Amade Château in Vrakúň near Dunajská Streda has just opened: it started trial operations in June.
“The idea to rebuild the local manor house emerged in 2004 when the Valor-X company managed to acquire this real estate from the original owners,” Slávka Krivčíková, the marketing manager of the Hotel Amade Château, told The Slovak Spectator. She added that the idea of building a luxury hotel in the historical building of a late nineteenth-century manor house was a great one because the tourism market lacked such a type of a hotel, especially in the southern Slovak region of Žitný Ostrov.
Krivčíková says the ambition of the Hotel Amade Château is to focus on clients searching for exclusivity, top services and a discreet and peaceful environment. According to Krivčíková, the hotel intends to distinguish itself from similar hotels by offering, along with luxury accommodation, a generous wellness centre with genuine Turkish baths in a modern extension of the manor house.
The hotel also wants to be a pioneer in gastronomy in Slovakia. Its restaurant follows the slow-food style.
“This style of gastronomy, originating in Italy, is currently unknown in Slovakia,” Krivčíková explained to The Slovak Spectator. “In the current hotel world, which demands quality and experience, this style has its justification.”
The slow-food style is not only the opposite of fast-food, but it also gives an opportunity to return forgotten Slovak and regional specialities to the dining table.
“This movement has a future and Hotel Amade, as the first one in Slovakia, will promote the principles of this movement and support the usage of fresh local products and, apart from European meals, also offer regional recipes, which are ‘on the brink of existence’,” Krivčíková said.
9. Aug 2010 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková