This summer, on my way to Ljubljana, I stayed a few days in Bled, enjoying the peace and quiet… At least, that was my plan. I remembered Bled from the 1990s as a sleepy Alpine village allowing me to de-stress and mentally prepare myself for a relaxing summer vacation elsewhere in the Balkans. But that turned out a little different. Bled has been taken over by tourists. Not only from neighbouring counties; there were Chinese people everywhere, and I kept tumbling over busloads of families from the Middle-East.
Avoiding the crowds, I went for a walk outside the touristic epicenter. With my Art Nouveau radar always on high alert, I immediately noticed Vila Ana at Ribenska Cesta 4. The villa was built in 1904/06 by Josef Hronek, a (Czech) master builder who built houses in Bled, Radovljica and Ljubljana.
In 1852, when Bled (which was called Veldes in those days) was located within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Swiss doctor Arnold Rikli discovered thermal qualities of lake Bled. He created baths, walking paths, hiking trails, accommodations and a hospital with his own examination office. Word spread across Europe about the healing power of Bled. Beside people who were looking for healing, Bled started to attract people who wanted to spend their holidays in a healthy and clean environment.
The number of visitors started to grow from 1870 when a railway connected Ljubljana with Tarvisio and a railway station was built in nearby Lesce. In the year 1903 Bled was awarded with a gold medal in Vienna at the international fair of healing places. In the year 1906 Bled was classified among the best tourist destinations within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With its healing climate Bled had turned from a sleepy town into a major resort for the well to do from all over the Empire.
And our master builder Hronek saw opportunities. Personally, he didn’t need a view of the lake. In fact, he built his own villa a little before the centre of town. Exáctly where it would attract most attention of potential customers; where rich visitors – who could afford to commission summer residences from him – would arrive. Hronek built his family home Generös* right off the main Radovljica-Bled road. And that turned out to be a great idea. In the 10 years before the first world war he built at least seven residences in Bled.
* Generös is a German word meaning generous, giving, big-hearted etc.
Nika Leben, a Slovene art historian specialised in the Bled region, writes “Hronek’s villa in Bled is a unique catalogue, in which a variety of architectural ‘bravura’ is collected. It has to be understood as a status symbol, though also a guarantee of the quality of his building services. It is constructed in a mixture of romantic Historicism and Secession according to the contemporary fashion.”
The house has só many details, só many balconies, gables and turrets, it is “difficult to imagine that all the elements could have possibly been crammed on to a single house. Villa Ana is like a young lady who, to attract suitors, loads herself with all the jewellery she can carry. In order to be even more elegant, she tops everything with a hat crowned with peacock feathers” writes Nika Leben. I find that an endearing allegory!
According to current owner Andrej Ristič, oral history indicates Hronek had a motorcycle accident and lost his leg. The house was sold in 1916 to a highschool teacher from Ljubljana. In 1926 Andrej Ristič’ grandfather, Andra Ristič, bought the villa for his wife Ana as a summer-house. They renamed the house Vila Ana. At the time, they lived in Belgrade with their children.
Between 1941 and 1945, the house was confiscated and served as a German police office. Fortunately, in 1946, the family got their beautiful villa back. Together with his parents, Andrej Ristič moved into the family home and he has lived there untill this day. And it may just be a wonderful coincidence, but I love the fact that the name of Andrej’s mother is also Ana!
Vila Ana, Ribenska Cesta 4, 4260 Bled, Slovenia
e-Heritage.si Digital Content Cultural Heritage of Slovenia
Gorenjci.si – Nika Leben
Sava Hotels & Resorts – Early beginnings with thermal springs (1818-1900)
Website Vila Ana – for apartments and rooms
Book honours Rikli’s contribution to Bled health tourism