The Fabulous Interior Design of Yugoslav-era Hotels & Motels

Updated: Jul 4

In the years of research I have done examining the history, art, architecture and culture in order to work towards an understanding the monuments of the former Yugoslavia, I have come across thousands of bright and vibrant vintage images from that region. While the majority of these images are outside of my primary field of study, many are simply so vivid, engaging and awe-inspiring in their design and aesthetics that I save them and put them aside as curios for later study. Among these that I consistently find most moving and mind-blowing are the vintage images which depict the bold and ambitious interior design of the hotels and motels across Yugoslavia. As the idea of Yugoslavia's unique approach to interior design in their touristic accommodations intrigued me more and more, I began to look into the topic myself and found there was very little writing on the topic and even FEWER places online where one could view a wide selection of dynamic examples of interior design during the country's "Golden Era". Yugoslavia's distinct expression of interior design and decor without a doubt elevated the endeavor to an energetic art form that sadly does not receive the attention it should, which is especially unfortunate as the few remaining examples within the region are quickly disappearing as the result of renovations, rebuilds and demolitions. As such, I felt it might then be a fun and constructive exercise to catalog here a small gallery (with descriptions) of some of the most intriguing examples I have found of interior decoration, architecture and design within the hotels and motels built during the Yugoslav era.

Motel Vratnik, Vratnik, Croatia

A view of the exterior of the Motel Vratnik. Credit: Morton1905@flickr

Name: Motel Vratnik

Location: Vratnik, Croatia

Present-Day Condition: Destroyed and abandoned

Coordinates: 44°58'40.3"N, 14°59'08.7"E

Description: Situated above Senj on a mountain pass of the Adriatic coastal range along the route between Zagreb and Split was Motel Vratnik. As Yugoslavia developed the Adriatic coast as its premiere holiday zone during the 1950s and 60s, this motel was one of the many 'motor lodges' to service this burgeoning new industry auto-tourists. Motel Vratnik was positioned along the mountain pass perfectly as to take in the stunning views of Kvarner Bay, with some saying this spot possessed some of the most amazing vistas in Yugoslavia. In the above vintage photos of the motel in its prime, we see its wonderfully bright design, its walls hung with abstract art of rustic modern-folk fusion, and, most distinctively, its earthy palette of golds, dark reds and oranges. In the post-Yugoslav era, the motel became privatized, as most such state-owned properties did. Its new owner made several attempts to sell the motel, but all were unsuccessful. It recent years, it has fallen into a state of total decay and dereliction. Photos of its present state can be seen in THIS Flickr gallery.

Hotel Maestoso, Lipica, Slovenia

A postcard showing some horses in front of Hotel Maestoso

Name: Hotel Maestoso

Location: Lipica, Slovenia

Present-Day Condition: Still in operation (renovated)

Coordinates: 45°40'05.5"N, 13°52'57.0"E

Description: Just east across the Italian border from Trieste into Slovenia can be found the small village of Lipica where you can find Hotel Maestoso. Lipica itself is a world-renowned location which hosts the worlds oldest continually operating stud-farm, which was founded in the 1500s. The farm specializes in the unique Slovene Lipizzan horse. In the 1960s the farm opened up to tourists and was developed into a sort of luxury hotel complex, mostly catering to an decidedly upper class clientele, as seen in its posh decor in the above vintage images. The hotel contained not only facilities for horses, but also a nightclub, a bowling alley, fine-dining establishments and much more. As the above vintage images illustrate, the interior design of the complex was attempting to create a middle-ground between classical and modern, where we can see flourishes of traditional craftsmanship peppered with bright colors and patterns characteristic of the 60s and 70s. Hotel Maestoso continues to operate until present-day, but was completely renovated in recent decades, with the majority of the design elements seen in these vintage images now gone.

Hotel Mojkovac, Mojkovac, Montenegro

A vintage promotional postcard showing Hotel Mojkovac

Name: Originally named Hotel "Mojkovac" (currently 'Hotel Palas')

Location: Mojkovac, Montenegro

Present-Day Condition: Currently closed (condition unknown)

Coordinates: 42°57'27.5"N, 19°34'42.8"E

Description: Nestled high in the Montenegrin mountain town of Mojkovac is a hotel complex that was originally named in honor of the town it resided within, Hotel "Mojkovac". Unveiled in 1974 and created by famous Montenegrin female architect Svetlana Kana Radević, this huge hotel was a showcase of Yugoslav modernist architecture. The hotel was designed as a playful take on the traditional mountain A-frame lodge, with a downward succession of smaller triangles cascading to either side of the central middle triangle. The interior design of the Hotel Mojkovac was just as much a product of its era as its architecture was, characterized most predominately with its bold use of earth-tone colors, particularly in the lobby and reception area where a imposing dark-red shade was heavily employed. The complex was privatized in the post Yugoslav era and sold to developers, at which point its name was changed to "Hotel Palas". The establishment continued to operate into the 2010s (for which very poor reviews were left on Trip Advisor), however, it was closed down around 2015 after attempts to sell the property were unsuccessful. Yet, news reports indicate that it was eventually sold in 2018 to a Belgrade developer and was to be renovated and re-opened soon. But as of 2020, the hotel still appears to be closed. It is not clear to what degree the hotel's original interior is still intact.

Hotel Prag, Belgrade, Serbia

Here is a scene from a vintage postcard showing the lounge area of Hotel Prag in Belgrade, Serbia
A vintage postcard showing the exterior along with the restaurant of Hotel Prag in Belgrade

Name: Hotel Prag

Location: Belgrade, Serbia

Present-Day Condition: Still in operation (renovated)

Coordinates: 44°48'38.9"N, 20°27'35.2"E

Description: Located just a block west of Terazije Square in Belgrade, Serbia along the historic Balkan Street is Hotel "Prag". The hotel was constructed in 1929 and is an excellent example of early modernism in Belgrade. The hotel underwent an extreme interior renovation in 1978 to bring its appearance up to more contemporary standards. Among these additions to the hotel was a very unusual lounge area which was adorned in textured walls to give the appearance of a cave. To enhance this 'extreme rustic' aesthetic, a hanging caldron with fake fire was set-up in the center of the room while large rounds of wood were used as tables (even with little tufts of fake grass on the stool tops to finish off the effect). In subsequent renovations of Hotel Prag in recent decades, this 'cave lounge' decor was removed and replaces with more traditional fixtures. Hotel Prag continues to operate up to the present day and is conserved as part of the city's architectural heritage by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

The Holiday Inn, Sarajevo, BiH

A vintage postcard view of the atrium area of the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo
A vintage postcard view of one of the rooms at the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo
A vintage postcard view of one of the restaurants at the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo
A vintage photo of the bright yellow exterior of the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo

Name: Originally named "Holiday Inn" (currently named "Hotel Holiday")

Location: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Present-Day Condition: Currently in operation (renovated)

Coordinates: 43°51'22.6"N, 18°24'13.6"E

Description: A huge amount of new infrastructure was created across the city of Sarajevo in the early 1980s for Yugoslavia hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Among the many sites created for this historic event was a massive hotel complex near the center of the city which was to be part of the American hotel-chain "Holiday Inn". Created by renowned Sarajevo architect Ivan Štraus, the bold and ambitious design of the hotel was initially controversial, but with the passage of time and the success of the Sarajevo Olympics, the hotel became a landmark of the city. It was fitted with all the most modern amenities of the time period and built with an interior just as playful and adventurous as its exterior. The most notable feature of the hotel's huge lobby was a gigantic orange and green umbrella-like canopy draped over an upper-level over-hanging lounge. The Holiday Inn was such an essential character of Sarajevo, the hotel even stayed open during the during of the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo, where it housed the majority of the international journalists covering the conflict, as well as playing host to many key political moments of the war. A 2013 BBC article explores many of the war-time moments of the hotel. At the end of the war, the damage the hotel sustained during the war was repaired, while it also changed its name to "Hotel Holiday". While was restored to its original appearance, much of the interior was drastically changed during recent renovations, however, such classic elements like the lobby's hanging canopy were retained. The hotel continues to be an important Sarajevo landmark and attracts tourists from around the world for both its dramatic history and unique architecture.

Hotel International, Zagreb, Croatia

A vintage postcard view of the Hotel International in Zagreb

Name: Hotel International

Location: Zagreb, Croatia

Present-Day Condition: Currently in operation (renovated/rebuilt)

Coordinates: 45°47'56.6"N, 15°58'27.5"E

Description: Located roughly 500m southwest of Zagreb's central train station is the Hotel International. Unveiled in 1959 and built by Zagreb architect Božidar Tušek in the International Style (which perhaps is where its name originates from), this monumental hotel complex was created as one of the premiere city center accommodations for Zagreb. As the above vintage images indicate, the interior of the hotel was furnished and adorned with an elegant late 50s era aesthetic, replete with mid-century furniture, marble-paneled walls and large whimsical modernist folk-art murals by an artist I've not yet been able to identify (if you know, please message me). Again, as with other hotels on this list, the dark red color is used heavily in creating atmosphere within the confines of this hotel environment. The Hotel International existed and operated in this state up until 2007, when it underwent a drastic renovation/rebuild. While it isn't exactly clear, sources seem to indicate that this original building was torn down in its entirety and a similarly shaped building with a dark glass facade was subsequently built in its place. However, while the building is completely different, it continues to operate under the name "Hotel International".

Hotel Kontinental, Skopje, N. Macedonia

The bar and lounge area of the Hotel Kontinental in Skopje
A photo colage of various rooms that existed within the Hotel Kontinental in Skopje
A vintage postcard showing a view of Hotel Kontinental in Skopje

Name: Hotel Kontinental

Location: Skopje, N. Macedonia

Present-Day Condition: Still in operation (partially renovated)

Coordinates: 41°59'55.8"N, 21°27'12.6"E

Description: Just northeast of the Skopje's city center (roughly 100m from the central train/bus station) is the Hotel Kontinental. This enormous 14-level concrete hotel complex was unveiled in 1972 and created by the Macedonian architect team Živko Gelevski & Dimitar Dimitrov. Upon its completion, it stood as the largest hotel in the city and instantly became a modernist landmark. Its interior, dominated by dark red and amber tones, was a feast of 70s aesthetic, with the centerpiece of the hotel being its bar and lounge area bedazzled with a series of huge circular yellow cut-glass chandeliers, each hovering over matching circular bars. While much of the hotel has been renovated in recent years, such as the rooms and suites, interestingly, the hotel's bar, lounge and restaurant remain remarkably intact, with the amazing chandeliers (among other distinct features) still in place. Furthermore, the exterior of the hotel is still largely the same, only changed with bold red stripes painted along the spines of the structure.

Hotel Radin, Radenci, Slovenia

A vintage postcard showing the bar and lounge of Hotel Radin in Radenci