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The Grand Bovec Hotel

There are several lodges in Karlovy Vary that are variously cited as the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. We have yet to visit this Czech resort town, but in Bovec we stayed at a small boutique hotel that can accurately be described as the Grand Budapest’s spiritual cousin.

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Originally used as a telephone exchange before being converted for its current hospitality use, the building housing the Dobra Vila Bovec dates to the period between the world wars during which the fictitious Grand Budapest was in its heyday. It was not the art deco interior, the old-fashioned elevator, or the hotel’s many quirks that made us think of Wes Anderson, however. Rather, it was the staff, led by a concierge who, much like Anderson’s Monsieur Gustave, was alternately imperious and obsequious.

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Arriving in the late afternoon after a long, wet slog through the Alps, we were caught off guard when the concierge informed us that he had not been expecting us. After a few moments of confusion, a Kafkaesque conversation ensued, during which S and the concierge looked over the same string of emails, which ended with him writing, “thank you for your confirmation,” and tried to ascertain why we did not have a reservation.

The kicker was that several times throughout the exchange the concierge remarked that he had an empty room much like the one we had reserved, “which is good, but…” There was always that but, as if the question of our lodgings was beside the point, and the real issue was the fact that we had failed to make a reservation properly. It was only after S conceded that the debacle was somehow entirely her fault that he condescended to give us a room key. We, at least, got a room. When a tour bus pulled up a little while later and one of its hapless occupants wandered into the lobby, the concierge snapped, “NO! You must have the wrong hotel,” his tone of voice leaving little doubt that such riffraff was not welcome at the Dobra Vila.

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We were assigned to room 640, which was inexplicably located on the first floor — a mystery that was clarified when D ascended in the elevator with our bags and realized that the rooms were numbered completely at random. There was a 007 room, another that was tagged 2001, 69 a third. Presumably, each one was numbered thus for a reason. A little placard inside our room explained that the 640 on our door corresponded to the depth in meters of the largest subterranean drop that has ever been discovered and which is located somewhere in the depths of Slovenia’s Julian Alps.

The room was considerably smaller than the other places we stayed on this trip, but Dobra Vila was the only hotel in Slovenia where our double room came with a single, unified double bed. Everywhere else we were lodged in rooms with two twin beds pushed together in various arrangements and — what’s worse — with sheets and blankets that were barely wide enough to cover one person. The whole week we felt as if we were overnighting on the set of a 1950’s sitcom. So, by comparison, the Dobra Vila’s compact room felt luxurious on account of its big bed.

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For dinner, the concierge changed into a cuff-linked shirt and dinner jacket. The tables, set on a glassed-in veranda, looked lovely, but he led us away from the veranda to a solitary table in the corner of the indoor dining area, where he quarantined us and our messy baby so that we would not disturb the other guests. He was not amused when the following morning we skipped our assigned seats and headed for the sunlit veranda. It was 9:45, he had told us that breakfast was until 10am, and there were still plenty of guests enjoying the buffet spread, but he upbraided us anyway for being late. Breakfast is “until 10” he reminded us with visible irritation — stay a minute longer and you’re disrupting the schedule by preventing the staff from cleaning up.

Lest you think we are complaining, we are not. For all the pomp and circumstance and the concierge’s distinct aura of high-brow snootiness, the food was quite good and the lodgings unique. Staying at the Dobra Vila will go down as one of the more memorable parts of our Slovenia trip.

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