“ Address: Slovenska ulica 52 / SI-9000 / Murska Sobota / Slovenia / Tel: +386 2 514 1 200 „
A red hot day in mid May in Hungary: it's only 8.30 am and already the mercury is showing in the twenties. We're standing at the side of the road on the outskirts of Keszthely, a town at the southern end of Lake Balaton. Our mission is to reach Maribor in Slovenia before the train from Budapest gets there.
The previous day we had asked about trains and learned that there was only one train a day crossing the border. To catch it we would have to take the bus (or rather two buses) to the town of Zalagerszeg, a relatively short journey but one that would take a couple of hours in total. We'd then pick up the train just before four o'clock, arriving in Pragersko, Slovenia, at 7.15pm, and picking up a connecting train to get to Maribor just before 8.00pm.
I was desperate to get back to Maribor, we had a friend arriving the next day, flying in from the UK, and I wanted to get the flat ready; besides, I was really missing the place and was anxious to get back to my Slovenian nest. Looking at a map, it didn't seem that far to the border. According to our Lonely Planet, there were two road crossings into Slovenia and one of them, the busier one according to our information, was a direct road from Keszthely. If we hitched we could get on the road earlier, and even beat the train. It would mean not having to hang around with rucksacks until late afternoon and we'd get to Maribor in time for a slap up dinner at Gala Zar, a brilliant Serbian restaurant, currently my favourite.
I'll be honest, it was slow going. The first lift materialised after about thirty minutes standing in direct sun at a crossroads on the edge of town. Our style was cramped when a van load of road-menders pulled up and started fixing potholes beside our pitch, fortunately, a lovely man stopped for us just as we were about to start walking to find a new pitch. Eventually, though, we managed to get over the border and by four o'clock, with four hours left until deadline, we're in a town about an hour and forty minutes from Maribor by bus - except the last bus of the day left at ten past two. Back out comes the thumb and at first it seems hopeful as the roads are heaving; unfortunately a quarter of the cars are registered in Cakovec and heading to Croatia, a quarter are Hungarian and heading to Croatia, and the rest is local traffic heading to nearby villages at the end of the working day. In desperation we pick up a bus to Murska sobota, a large-ish town halfway between where we are and Maribor; it's possible we can then pick up a connection to Maribor from Murska. But at Murska we learn we can only get as far as Gornja Radgona that evening, still forty minutes from Maribor.
The perceptive (and perhaps slightly irritated) among you will probably be saying "As I understood it this was going to be a hotel review..." and I promise I will tell you about Hotel Diana, but I needed first to describe the circumstances that led me to check in at this admittedly pleasant and comfortable, but very average and over-priced hotel, not least because they are, in my opinion, far more interesting than the hotel itself so it's better for you to be entertained with tales of my travel tribulations, than an account of a very standard hotel.
Having finally accepted that we were not, unless we took a taxi, going to beat the train we needed to find somewhere to stay for the night and having been to Murska on other occasions, though not for an overnight stay, we knew there was a very colourful hotel just behind the bus station. However, exiting the bus station we were confronted with a symphony in orange and sunflower yellow, not the Dolly Mixture purple we remembered; still, it would not have been unreasonable or improbable that the hotel façade might have had a revamp.
I'm guessing that a lot of British people would wince if they heard that a hotel was situated just behind the bus station but in Slovenia bus and train stations don't carry the slightly seedy connotations they do in the UK; it's not unknown in some places for the train station bar to the be the most popular one around. The hotel occupies a somewhat awkward position bang in the town centre but it looks as if it ought really to have some area of green around it. The canopy over the main entrance gives the impression that this hotel thinks it's rather grand, the sort of hotel where you can jump out of your car and have someone park it for you. But it's not.
We knew it wasn't going to be cheap, hotels in Slovenia (especially when you're in a small town) aren't particularly cheap and managers don't like to negotiate even if they are empty. There's plenty of accommodation in the villages surrounding Murska but, after a day standing on grass verges with only a couple of cream cheese filled rolls, a banana and a bag of Midget Gems for sustenance (OK we had a glass of wine and a beer just inside the Hungarian border too), we were tired and hungry and thought it best to take the first option.
The reception area of Hotel Diana is vast, much bigger than it might ever need to be, and it has a degree of swankiness that far exceeds its status as the chief hotel of a provincial Slovenian town. Although everything was new and shiny with lots of gleaming surfaces, it was also dingy and were it not for a group of young Slovenian athletes who had checked in just before we arrived and were now chatting animatedly in the foyer, the place would have looked a bit sad.
The receptionist responded to my hesitant Slovene with perfect English. A double room with breakfast would cost Euro82.02 (if you're wondering where the 2 Cents comes from it's because tourist tax is Euro1.01 per person per night). In retrospect we could have got a taxi to take us back to Maribor for that but we had come to an agreement that we would not moan about the price, we would make the most of the facilities, take any freebies and enjoy an evening in Murska. The receptionist took our passports, issued us with a swipe key each and gave us directions to the lifts. She also told us what time breakfast was available and that we could use the hotel pool and saunas on the second floor; had we come a few weeks later we'd have had swimming gear with us but May is not warm enough for swimming at Balaton so we were not appropriately equipped, much to my disappointment. (The hotel also has a "Wellness Centre" where various therapeutic and cosmetic treatments are available for an additional cost).
The public areas are, for the most part, smart and well maintained. There was a curious stain on the carpet near the lifts on our floor but it was the only obvious flaw. Now, I don't need to be told that you don't spend much time in the corridors but I did think that it was a shame that some of the artwork displayed, for example in the ground floor foyer, or in the breakfast room, hadn't been displayed on the walls of the accommodation floors which were markedly bland in contrast.
Our bedroom too was decidedly neutral, non-descript carpet, beige walls, white bedding and beech furniture, all of it good quality and in good condition but for Euro80 a night it was a bit disappointing. The bathroom, again, could not be criticised although the towels were on the small side and there was a touch of IBIS pod bathroom to it. The Hotel Diana complimentary toiletries got shoved in the pocket of my rucksack but the packaging was dated and I felt the price warranted something a little more upmarket.
Ours was a spacious room although for only one night we failed to feel the benefit. There was a fairly large balcony from which it was better to look out over the rooftops than to look down at the car-park behind some nearby retail units. Some space between the bed and the window was pretty useless, containing only one tub chair which looked a little forlorn all on its own. There was a decent work area with good lighting, practical for anyone visiting on business. There is an internet computer terminal available in reception as well as wi-fi access. A mini bar under the desk contained a couple of Slovenian beers, some small bottles of wine, a couple of soft drinks and some miniatures; none of it was price marked nor did the information folder contain a price list. Resourceful as ever, we had stashed some bottles of Hungarian beer into any odd spaces of our rucksacks so we didn't have any reason to resort to the mini bar.
Alternatively we could have supped in the hotel bar or in its slascicarna - basically a coffee shop come ice cream parlour - and both of these looked perfectly pleasant but the sun was still shining and we decided to take a walk before dinner. Again we could have dined in the hotel and the menu which specialises in dishes from the surrounding Prekmurje region, does look appealing. Had we been aware of the excellent value of going half board - just add another Euro4.50 person - we'd have probably eaten at the hotel. (At the end of May the hotel was staging a "bograc competition" in which cooks would compete to win the prize for creating the best bograc stew, a Prekmurje specialty).
Murska town centre is not blessed with an abundance of eating places but we did have somewhere in mind and thought we'd have a drink outside first, then head inside to eat. As we turned the corner away from Hotel Diana towards the park and the main shopping area we were confronted by an enormous purple edifice - Hotel Zvedza. The tariff posted in the window of the hotel indicated that a double room would have cost us around Euro52.00.
The centre of Murska can easily be tackled on foot and most things (the shops, the park and castle, the train station) are no more than five minutes walk away. Hotel guests can park free of charge in the secure carpark.
Except for the fact that the wall mounted bedside lights were in a really silly position right where any normal person would have their head when sitting up in bed, I can't complain about the might I spent in Hotel Diana. The bed was comfortable, the water was hot and there was no noise during the night. But I could say that of much cheaper places I've stayed in. Perhaps if I'd have had my swimming gear I'd have felt I'd got a bit more for my money. I even put the television on and scrolled through the channels twice until I found some Premiership football. I even considered reading the bible but I was too tired.
It was, then, up to breakfast to restore my faith in expensive hotels. Hotel Diana's breakfast had to be Euro30 better than breakfast at the purple hotel. In my experience in Slovenia you'd have to go a long way to beat breakfast at Maribor's Hotel Orel - they even have a waffle machine that they let you use UNSUPERVISED! It's an excellent breakfast but I wouldn't say it's worth Euro15 a pop. Hotel Diana lays on a reasonable spread but it's much more restrained than Hotel Orel; there are no fancy gimmicks like waffle makers here and although it offers cereal, hot foods, yoghurts, pastries, cheese and cooked meats, the choice is much smaller. Slovenian hotels tend to have a coffee machine and you make your own coffee; I've never understood why Slovenians who love coffee and who will stop for one at every verse end tolerate this machine arrangement in hotels. Whatever you ask the machine to make, it makes the same drink. I decided to minimise my disappointment and poured myself a cup of the bog standard filter coffee which was pretty good anyway. The juices were a little watery for my liking but fine. The teeny sausages were tasty as were the eggs though veggies should be aware that the scrambled eggs contained little pieces of ham. There were three different flavours of yoghurt, including natural, but none were low fat.
Hotel Diana IS a good hotel. The staff are friendly, the place is spotless and the rooms are comfortable but I just can't get my head round the excessive price tag. Other than the pool and sauna guests must pay for use of the facilities so one must judge the deal on the basis of the rooms and, although they are good, they aren't really much better (ony in terms of size) than a bed and breakfast I paid Euro50 for in Velenje, a town of a similar size. Diana has plenty of outward pzazz that portrays an upmarket image but when you come down to the basics they are really just that - basic.
The moral of my tale - if it must have one - is that you should go with your instincts - if you think a town has a purple hotel, find it: don't just stop at the yellow one, even if it has a free pool.
And if you ever think of hitching from Keszthely to Maribor, be sure to set out early to make sure you can pick up the 14.10 bus from Lendava!