Penthouse owner's Haludovo Palace Hotel Now Sits in Ruins on Krk Island
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
We pitched the tent on the overgrown tennis court. In the years since the Haludovo Palace Hotel in Malinska, Croatia had any paying guests, the clay had crumbled, the net disintegrated and moss, trees and shrubbery has taken over the once pristine court. It was a bold but brilliant move to wild camp there, as an inhabited apartments just up the brick staircase and the seaside walkway filled with joggers below meant we were within ear shot of plenty of folks who may or may not be keen on our trespassing.
Craig and I are both fascinated with abandoned buildings and the slow but steady decrepitness that creeps into empty edifices. The windows are broken by bored teenagers, street artists come to paint their graffiti and tag their names. The wind and rain blow through the open windows and slowly but surely plants grow sending their roots through ceilings and up pipes to crack the tile and fill the cracks in with dirt.
We ate lunch on the veranda that once overlooked the posh hotel bar. It now overlooks pits of rubble and broken glass in what used to be big round tables with purple velvet seat cushions. We find an area without too many shards and set up the camp stove, improvising a meal of pasta and stuffed peppers from a tin. The sea is visible over the trees as is the empty pool filled with plywood and spray painted murals.
In 1972 the Penthouse Adriatic Club opened it’s doors on the west coast of Krk Island. Costing $45 million, it was financed by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, staffed by Penthouse Pets and went bankrupt by 1973. While Yugoslavia had opened its borders in 1967, the eastern bloc didn’t become the bastion of western European and American gamblers that Guccione had dreamed of. Croatian corporation Brodokomerc operated the hotel until 1990 when Croatia descended into all out war.
The first campsite we stopped by on Krk was closed for the season. Wild camping on the Croatian islands had been an exercise in finding space both hidden away and big enough to pitch the tent without being on impossible to stake boulders or on a too-steep hillside. After exploring the hotel rooms, pools, rooftop and gardens without seeing another visitor to the hotel we decided to stay the night.
We had nearly run out of water. I took a walk in one direction and found the property to be expansive. A poured concrete swimming pool built into the coastline used to serve guests from a now abandoned bar and restaurant that still shows up on Google maps as a functional establishment. Abandoned cabana after private bungalow, some filled with trash, other smelling like human feces dot the coast. Moms pushing strollers, runners and old ladies casually walk and gossip up and down the walkway. There’s a not a spigot to be found.
Craig and I venture further and find the small downtown of Malinska which includes a harbor with taps of fresh water to wash boats and fill their reservoirs. I am so relieved we have found water. After biking much of the day and rationing what little water I had, I’m parched and grateful. After a drink and bite to eat we wander back to our camp for the night on the court. It’s pristine. Our bikes are still locked to each other by the fence, our cycling shoes are under the vestibule. People only see what they’re expecting to see. Out of the hundred passersby none took a second look. If anyone did notice, they couldn’t be bothered to do anything or report us to the authorities. The rain has stopped and we settle in, sweaty from the day’s cycle, salty like the sea, for the night.
The disc golf course just below the tennis court is overgrown with flora. A mushroom hunter was just as surprised to see us as we were to see her in the early morning light as we were packing up our well-camouflaged green tent. We made our way down to the cobble stone path by the shore and blended into the morning exercise crew. Another night down. Another adventure had.
During wartimes refugees occupied the hotel and today it’s owned by developers who have said they want to turn the once-magnificent waterfront property into a closed resort, thus depriving residents of the beach front access. Much of Croatia has fully recovered from the war, other parts are still filled with mine field and bombed-out homes and farms. Part of me hopes the hotel is left to rot on its own, that the seafront remains open to everyone and that others with an interest in abandoned buildings get to wander first hand through the ruble that for a short time was an opulent getaway behind the iron curtain.