Visit with us President Tito’s Summer House, learn about his lavish lifestyle and go on a historic journey through Slovenia
It is October 2017. We are in Bled, a pictoresque town in the North of Slovenia famous for its location in the Slovenian Alps, delicious Bled cake, a pictoresque church on a little island which can be reached only by pletna boats, extremely hospitable Slovenian people and a villa, very special villa: Summer Residence of President Josip Broz Tito.
Island on Bled lake with a church
President Tito has a double image. When talking with the Slovenians, some proudly repeat:’’ Tito was the only one who said NO, to both Stalin and the Americans’’. The younger generation I talked with has a different view on this subject. They are internationally oriented, enthusiast about their membership of the European Union and democracy.
These both groups though proudly advise me to visit General Tito’s summer house, for some it is a relic of the past which made an integral part of their life for others a symbol of the new future of the country, which focuses among others on tourism.
Tito’s lavish lifestyle
President Tito maintained a lavish lifestyle. Besides the Summer Residence in Bled he stayed in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia in the official residence called Beli dvor and had a separate private house. In the Brijuni islands he had the State Summer Residence since 1949. The pavilion was designed by Joze Plecnik, one of the best Slovenian architects and included a zoo. Around 100 foreign heads of state visited Tito there and many film stars including: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti, Gina Lollobrigida. He loved hunting and he went often to a village Karađorđevo where he hunted with his diplomatic relations. He also hunted in the park surrounding Vila Bled. By 1974 the Yugoslav President had at his disposal 32 official residences, the yacht Galeb (“seagull”), a Boeing 727 as the presidential airplane and the Blue Train.
Galeb Yacht, source: Wikipedia
The Vila Bled is now an exclusive, fantastic hotel which is visited both by international guests, the older and the younger generation of Slovenians for example during wedding ceremonies. Both groups love the location and the entourage, sometimes only the famous mural depicting ‘’ the glorious victories in World War II and years under Tito’’ has to be covered.
So, let’s go on a journey and find out more about this place, its history, let’s check who visited it and have a look at the places which were only open to a selected group of the priviliged people in a different era, era of Tito’s Yugoslavia.
History: Vila Bled through the ages
Austrian aristocrat Duke Ernest Windischgrätz built a large two-storey villa between 1883-1885 with corner turrets that resembled an English country mansion on the site where the Vila Bled stands today.
Otto Windischgrätz, Ernest’s son, married in 1902 Elisabeth, the Austro-Hungarian emperor’s granddaughter. The first stop on their honeymoon was Bled, where they spent several days in the villa.
Suvobor Mansion of the king of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
The villa was owned by the Windischgrätz family until 1922, whereupon it was purchased by Alexander Karađorđević, the young, just married king of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. His wife, Queen Mary and their three children, were particularly fond of the place and spent all their summers here. The youngest, Prince Andrew, was born in the villa. The villa was renamed the Suvobor Mansion to commemorate an important victory by the Serbian army over the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In these times, Bled was an elite resort. Among others, members of the Romanian, Greek and English royal families spent their holidays here.
The Yugoslav royal family planned the construction of a new villa that was to be built close to the Suvobor mansion. The plans for this new royal residence were designed by the famous Slovene architect Jože Plečnik. However, by the time of King Alexander’s death in 1934, just the 30-metre pillars above the lake had been constructed, upon which the Belvedere Pavilion stands today.
Following Alexander’s death, the old building, the Suvobor Mansion, was torn down and construction of a new villa was begun in its place. The plans for this villa were designed by architect Fürst. However, this was interrupted by the advent of the Second World War.
President Tito’s Summer Residence and eminent guests
Construction of the unfinished building was taken over by architect Vinko Glanz after World War II. The original plans were slightly adapted and instructions by Tito were followed. Numerous valuable materials were used.
The building was completed in 1947 and served as the summer residence of President Tito for many years, where he hosted numerous official state visits. Tito welcomed many eminent dignitaries to the villa, including Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev, King Hussein of Jordan, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter and Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Indonesian President Sukarno, President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda, Emperor Akihito of Japan, Emperor of the Central African Empire Jean-Bédel Bokassa and even President of North Korea Kim Il Sung.
Private residence becomes a hotel
The Vila Bled opened as a hotel in 1984 and was part of larger hotel groups. Its modern-day visitors have included Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl, Prince Charles, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Spanish King Juan Carlos, William Perry, Paul McCartney, William Hurt, Eva Herzigova, Laura Bush as well as numerous Slovene and foreign statesmen.
Vila Bled changed management and started operating in 2012 under the direct management of the Government of Republic of Slovenia – State’s Protocol Services. Staying in this hotel, consisting of 31 rooms, mostly spacious suites, you stay in a real museum, a Slovenian monument offering topservice and a culinary journey of the highest sort and you are served by the highly skilled staff of the Slovenian State Protocol Service.
Tarrace with a fantastic view on the Island with the church
Spectacular park and the unforgetable view
So, we are at this unique builidng which has been a witness of so many historic moments. It is huge, spacious, and you can either reach it via pletna boats or by a very long driveway. It is surrounded by an amazing park with the view on one of the most famous tourism destinations of Slovenia: the church on the little island in the middle of the Bled lake. The villa is surrounded by a huge park where Tito used to hunt with his diplomatic relations. The villa is built to impress or if you wish to intimidate. We are impressed, we really are. It looks as if the time stopped, as if Tito and his guests were just about to stroll in the park. It has been of course modernized but the character of the builidng and its features have been respected. We enter the building and go to the bar which used to be the garage of President Tito’s. So it is here where he parked his limousines.
Beautiful park around the Villa and Belvedere
Beautiful lobby finished with marmur
This bar used to be Tito’s private garage
In a private lift of President’s Tito
We take a private lift of Tito’s to get direct to his apartament. We go to the highest floor, floor 3 and room 320. It is an original lift, the same Tito used in the past. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwJ6BpCihLM&t=4s
President Tito’s private lift
It is there, behind the elegant wooden door situated at a spacious, light elegant hall. A private apartament of President’s Tito which consists of three rooms: parlour, office and a spacious bedroom with an elegant bathroom. In the study room there is a Tito’s portrait. He is elegantly dressed, as we recognize him from the archive films. His desk with an antique black telephone is situated just below the portrait.
Parlour in the private apartament of Tito’s
His office with the portrait and an original telephone
The bed, the nurse, the wife
From there we move to another apartament with a very famous bed. It is here where President Tito stayed after he was operated on his kidney stones. He was taken care by his secretary, Jovanka Budisavljević. She was a lieutenant colonel in the Yugoslav People’s Army and became his 4th and last wife.
Private cinema and cigars
On the ground floor there is a concert hall which Tito used for receptions of delegations and other events. It was also his private cinema where he loved to sit in the evening and smoke a cigar, a Cuban sigar. You can still buy the cigars in the hotel. His favourite films were westerns. Concert Hall is also famous for its mural.
The concert hall which was used for receptions and also served as a private cinema
Do you see the black hole in the flag? This is where the images were broadcast.
These cigars you can still buy at Vila Bled
Mural and wedding receptions
The mural in the Vila Bled Concert Hall, painted in 1947, is the work of Slavko Pengov. Slavko Pengov was also the creator of the fresco in Bled’s parish church of St Martin, as well as the mural in the Slovenian parliament, which depicts the history of the Slovenes. The mural in the Vila Bled depicts the Second World War in Yugoslavia, from the beginning to the liberation.
In the left upper corner the bombing of the parliament in Belgrade is shown. The gathering of the first partisan troops follows. According to some explanations, the soldier whose back is turned to the viewer and whose face cannot be seen is Tito. Many faces are repeated throughout the mural as Slavko Pengov asked the then employees of the Vila Bled and prisoners of war who helped build it after the end of WWII to stand as ‘models’. A town in Bosnia is depicted next, and the capitulation of Italy follows (an Italian soldier holding his arms up).
The central part of the mural shows three battles: the battle of the Neretva, the battle of Sutjeska and Igman marsh. At the end of the longer wall the liberation is depicted, in the right upper corner is a blossoming cherry tree as the harbinger of spring.
Post-war construction is depicted on the shorter wall. The factory in the background is said to be the Ljubljana Litostroj, in front of it is the youth of Yugoslavia: students, miners, workers, farmers and so on; the Yugoslav flag is being carried by a woman from Bosnia. There are shutters in the flag from where films were projected for Tito onto the opposite wall.
This unique hall is often used as a wedding reception. Sometimes though, the guests wish is to cover the mural and not to be confronted with the past.
The man standing with the back to us is Tito himself
Wedding receptions are held here regularly
Belvedere and the cafe with the Bled cake
The Belvedere Pavilion is an exceptional building set on 30-metre pillars in the hotel park. The edifice was designed by architect Jože Plečnik, as the reception area of a new royal residence, the plans for which never came to fruition. Later, it was used by Tito for relaxed tea parties. Nowadays, it is a café with one of the most beautiful views which we have ever seen. And indeed you can try the real Bled cake there.
Slovenia, Bled, Vila Bled and much more
This location, this unique villa has been a witness of so many historic changes Slovenia went through. It was a part of Croatian, Slovenian Kingdom, part of Yugoslavia and now it is part of modern, amazing Slovenia, which has so much to offer and can be an example to so many other countries. As a foreign student you can study in Slovenia at their international departments for free, in the annual report published by the World Economic Forum concerning gender equality, the highest occupied position by the CEE countries is number 7 by Slovenia.
Slovenia has become the world’s first country to be declared a green destination by a Dutch organization Green Destination. They established 96%-compliance across 100 criteria. Slovenia has it all: see, mountains, plain, delicious food, wine, infrastructure. This is the country where, as the tourism office of Slovenia says:
‘’the Alps meet the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plain meets the Karst,’’ So, when you finally decide to come to visit this country there is another advantage worth remembering: In Slovenia it is not difficult to compare the value of goods and services, as they are priced in one of the most important world currencies – in euros.
We would like to thank Ms Boža Robnik, the team of JGZ BRDO and Slovenian State Protocol Service for help in creating this article.
Photos: Communications-Unlimited.nl and BRDO.SI,Wikipedia
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A greater connectivity between individuals and institutions might help us to understand each other better and it might help us to appreciate that the small differences among us make it interesting in the end