Nested in the pine forest on the Croatian island of Krk, Haludovo Palace was a Cold War-era hedonistic paradise where celebrities, the wealthy and the mighty came to spent lavish holidays.
Nowadays it is abandoned and looks like an eerie ghost town. The complex is still standing, as a stark reminder of the golden years when it looked like a filming location for a James Bond movie. Instead of crystal chandeliers and poker tables, garbage and parts of the ceiling are everywhere.
The story about a place known as a “resort of sin” started with a visit to a Croatian island of Krk by a man with a vision.
That was in the late sixties and the men were the founder of the Penthouse magazine Bob Guccione. His idea was to turn this beautiful destination into a lavish oasis, a place that would connect the West with the East by uniting the seemingly incompatible concepts of a socialist country and a luxurious destination.
Through tourist attractions, Guccione reasoned, better relations could develop between the United States and Yugoslavia. While Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito may have been a highly restricted and regulated society, foreign tourists were given a pass and allowed to gamble at the casino. Yugoslavia even banned the visa requirement in 1967. and in 1970. a new international airport on Krk started to operate.
Guccione chose the town of Malinska to build the new resort, one that would be composed of luxurious hotels and a grand casino, catering to guests every need imaginable. A place that would later attract the rich and where athletes, actors, dignitaries, and leaders from all over the world would meet.
The Penthouse owner invested 250 million US dollars in the project ( about 45 million today) and in 1971. under the supervision of famous Croatian architect Boris Magaš, Haludovo was completed.
Penthouse magazine introduced their newest venture to the world in June 1972 and powerful men like Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and politician Silvio Berlusconi rushed to the island of Krk to get their fill of pleasure.
Famous persons bring stories, and some of them are retold by former employees who used to work there. They say that Saddam Hussein on his visit to Haludovo in the 1970s left a 2,000 USD tip to the waitress. One time his son had forgotten a revolver in a hotel room which delayed the departure of the entire Iraqi suite from leaving this world of wild entertainment.
Champagne flowed as guests partied under hanging gardens in the Great Lounge and threw dice in the high-class casino. They were served by a woman dressed like bunnies called “cocktail waitresses” and could enjoy constantly scheduled entertainment, or even take a swim in the special pool filled with champagne.
Haludovo was soon considered as the most extravagant resort on the Adriatic. So extravagant that during one average day, it was estimated that the guests consumed about 100 kilograms of lobster, 5 kg of caviar and drank hundreds of bottles of the finest champagne.
It had almost 1,800 beds available and apart from the casino, there was a golf course, a bowling alley, a fishing village, and a sports bar. You could also find a beauty center with a masseuse ready, pools, beaches, saunas, and a medical facility.
Even after the casino went bankrupt just a year after the opening Haludovo remained a top destination for the rich, mighty and wealthy. It was a socialist environment where apparently everything was allowed, and it remained so through the decades. Businessmen and industry leaders were regular guests. Some of them even got shipwrecked nearby and were saved by the receptionists.
At the time, the global tourism industry didn’t yet know the concept of resorts, so Haludovo was called a hotel town. The complex consisted of the main Hotel – Palace, detached villas, Hotel Tamaris (lower tourist standard), small fishermen village with harbor and houses.
It could proudly stand alongside the most distinguished pieces of modernist architecture in Europe.
The story took a twist in the early nineteen nineties when refugees of the wars fought across ex Yugoslavia were sheltered inside the resort. The war in Croatia raged and every bed was necessary for the people and Haludovo was not an exception. When refugees left, the hotel was privatized.
Corrupted management soon took over and used Haludovo as a vessel for various embezzlements. The complex changed a few owners and none of them managed to lead Haludovo back to greatness. It hosted its last guests in 2001. and has been decaying ever since.
The post-apocalyptic scenes that one might find walking through the resort might be something to expect to see in Chernobyl, but definitely not on a highly tourist-oriented island that exceeds one million visits each year. Even today, Haludovo is still acknowledged as a part of the cultural heritage of special architectural value.
It remains a vast and open space where one can imagine the excitement of the guests when they entered the grand lobby. Pools are now empty and mostly used for graffiti displays. Since the whole complex is situated by the beach promenade between towns of Malinska and Njivice, it if often explored and visited. But, it still remains unsafe to visit.
In October 2018, it was announced that an investor had plans to redevelop the venue into a closed resort with outside investment. Until now, however, nothing has changed and there are talks in the local community that the whole story about a savior of Haludovo was just another political trick.