On our third visit to the Slovenian congress heavyweight, we wished to see the state of one of the most renowned hotels in the Adriatic in the spring, post-corona times. Kempinski Palace Portorož is the flagship of tourist development in Portorož, a favoured residence of numerous celebrities and crowned heads, and a jewel of the Slovenian congress offer. Our assessment aimed to discern whether the hotel justifiably boasts the title it claimed at the World MICE Awards in October – Best MICE Hotel in Slovenia. We trust our hidden guest assessors best, and the last visit showed how well the unmistakable patina suits Hotel Kempinski Palace. The veduta of Portorož would be indistinguishable without the hotel that has dominated the destination for the past 122 years. The hotel is the historical and contemporary heart of the tourist offer in Portorož. At the same time, Kempinski Palace is possibly the most Instagrammable point in the most tourist town in Slovenia. Amid a slew of picture-postcard views in the city, the ones from the hotel park are unmistakable. Kempinski Palace is, put bluntly, the heart and soul of Portorož, as it always has been.
Portorož is close to one of Slovenia’s central motorways and thus easily accessible. In the off-season, reaching Portorož is a piece of cake, albeit it is difficult to avoid traffic jams in the summer. Parking is available in the secured garage underneath Kempinski Palace, and utterly kind porters will take care of your vehicle. If you arrive in Portorož by plane, the closest airport is in Trieste, which is 80 kilometres away. Alternatively, the central Slovenian airport in Ljubljana is 150 kilometres away. The local airport in Sečovlje is suitable for smaller business planes. Only two hours separate Portorož from the regional airport crossroads in Venice. More environmentally-aware guests can take the train via Trieste, a junction for train routes across Italy and Europe. The hotel staff know how to tackle any transport challenges you might encounter, and the concierge service is particularly praiseworthy.
COLD STARTER - Architecture and aesthetics
Kempinski Palace belongs to the most representative examples of Secession hotel architecture from the turn of the 20th century and is a heritage-protected building. It reflects the time when neoclassicist architectural compositions that inspire a sense of stability and tradition were at the forefront of design. The classically designed garden, where they incorporated the modern part of the hotel, does not overshadow the main building with its discreteness. An inviting glass lobby overlooking the park and the Gulf of Piran connects the Secession interior of the old part, boasting the Crystal Hall, with the new part of the hotel. The work of the architects who renovated the hotel seems thought out to the last detail. Their approach was to preserve a sense of history and combine it with modernism. The latest renovation followed thirteen years since the hotel’s reopening. Upon its first opening in 1910, the media wrote that the largest, most elegant and most modernly equipped hotel opened on the Austrian Riviera. Today, the hotel might not be the largest and most modern, but it undoubtedly remains the most elegant in the Adriatic.
WARM ENTRÉE - The staff and the culinary experience
The excellent first impression is courtesy of the utterly kind valet, who ensures effortless parking and luggage handling. The lounge design of the lobby contributes to the personalised experience. What makes the check-in a remarkable experience is the receptionist Aleksander, who deserves the title of best receptionist for his incredible professionality and kindness. We found his recommendations and guidelines invaluable. Regardless of the general lack-of-staff epidemic sweeping through the hotel industry, the personnel at Kempinski Palace were locals and entirely devoted to the hotel. We wished to try the cuisine at the à la carte Sofia Restaurant, given it is recommended by the Michelin Guide; however, it is only open from Thursdays to Sundays. The kind receptionist thus redirected us to the Fleur du Sel Restaurant. The gastronomy was impressive, as was the service. Still, the interior and the staff uniforms are in dire need of an update. Even though the selection of dishes is limited, gastronomy is diverse, local and seasonal. Breakfast was fantastic, primarily due to an extensive range of dishes and, more importantly, because of the ambience exuded by the iconic Crystal Hall. The hall opens up to the adjoining green terrace in the summer months. The breakfast selection includes vegan dishes.
MAIN COURSE – The meetings offering at the hotel
On this occasion, we stayed in a standard room in the recently renovated new hotel part. The balcony visually enlarges the bright room. In our case, it overlooked the lavish hotel park. The corridors of the hotel are a remnant of the original architecture. The dark wood in the corridors continues in the new rooms, with beige closets and two recognisable loungers in blue striking the eye, complemented by a designer glass table. The colours blend seamlessly with the pastel flooring. What caught our eye was the spacious writing desk, illuminated wherever one expects. The ceramics in the bathroom were world-class, albeit in various styles. A stand-out detail is the artistic colour flooring on the wall behind the bed, illuminated by LED lights to reflect the touch between land and sea. Everything is well-maintained and on the level of a five-star hotel, yet not too exciting. We missed the wow effect during our stay. To find such an extraordinary experience, guests should book a room in the historic part of the hotel.
The modern conference centre is prestigious and still features advanced and quality equipment. Six conference halls boast natural daylight, with the largest one capacitating up to 220 attendees. The Crystal Hall embodies the essence of the meetings offer. Following its latest renovation, it shines brighter than ever, being the most prestigious historic meeting and banquet hall in Slovenia, alongside the Union Hall in Ljubljana. Breakfast is served till 11.00 in Crystal Hall, meaning event organisers can book it later in the day. The hall leads to the century-old park, home to the Forma Viva Cafe, which can transform into a unique event venue.
DESSERT – The extras
Considering the Rose Spa Centre is slightly smaller than expected of a hotel in the five-star category, guests may find themselves waiting in a queue to enter one of the three revamped saunas. Nevertheless, the spa is beautifully maintained and complemented by an indoor and outdoor pool.
FLOP – NEGATIVE SURPRISES
The hotel hardly has any flaws, barring the tidiness of the coastal area and the local offer that cannot keep pace with the prestigious hotel. That, however, is not a flaw of the hotel but an issue Portorož will have to address to further develop tourism in the future.
TOP – POSITIVE SURPRISES
The gastronomic offer of the hotel is world-class and, unsurprisingly, recognised by the Michelin Guide. Alas, Sophie Restaurant was closed during our visit. News about its exceptional tasting menus has spread among gourmets like wildfire.
The hotel cooperates in numerous sustainable campaigns with esteemed companies, including Clean the World and Earth Check. A charming invention is the wooden rose of Portorož that guests, who opt for prolonged stays, can use to remind staff that their bed lining needs changing.
FINAL IMPRESSION AND CREDIBILITY
Since its inception, Kempinski Palace Portorož has served as a meeting hub for events and meetings. Crystal Hall is its crown jewel and historic venue, unrivalled in the Adriatic. Likewise, the conference centre and interior appear in mint condition after fourteen years, even though not as sensational as upon opening. The latest investments show that the owners understand the importance of maintaining quality in luxury hotels. On the other hand, there are noticeable discrepancies in the style of recently renovated rooms in the new part of the hotel.
When organising events at Hotel Kempinski Palace, expectations are high. The hotel easily meets the expectations in terms of hotel service. An outstanding team that works like a well-oiled machine justifies the reputation of the Kempinski hotel chain. However, we were left ambivalent by the weariness of the hotel. Nothing is lacking in the hotel, yet Kempinski should strive for perfection. Thus, we eagerly await their announced renovation. From the viewpoint of added value, we can dub the hotel an expensive yet great choice.
We will reveal whether Kempinski Palace is still the best meeting hotel in Slovenia in February when the winners of the Meetings Star are announced. In the past years, competition has become fierce, and we look forward to the results. Kempinski Palace Portorož has improved its final mark this year.
FINAL GRADE: 4.91 GOLD Resort Meeting Hotel
GOLD final score from 4.81 to 5.00
SILVER final score from 4.61 to 4.80
BRONZE final score from 4.41 to 4.60