A businessman has pledged that part of a remote European city will be forever England.
The Central European entrepreneur is
transforming part of the tiny city he
rescued from poverty into a monument to English-ness.
Poprad, at the foot of Central Europe’s
High Tatras mountains, had been devastated by decades of communism. Slovaks
were leaving the country in their droves looking for a better life. Many headed
to the UK.
Dr Jan Telensky was one of the first. He
fled in the 1960s after Russia led the Warsaw Pact countries in the bloody
invasion of his homeland, Czechoslovakia, now called Czech Republic.
As a teenager he’d fought the invaders and ended up being sentenced in his
absence on his head. Dr Telensky was exiled for more than two decades.
Now half a century later the hotelier
and property developer who is credited with building the world’s greenest hotel
is seen as just the business in Slovakia.
And as Brexit looms, he is honouring the
country that gave him back his life.
Creating his living monument is a
dramatic endeavour for Dr Telensky. It takes him back to when he was a teenager,
camped in a graveyard in Dunstable. It also takes him back to the awful night he tried to call his family,
2,000 miles away.
He lost the last of his money when he
accidentally pushed Button B instead of Button A in the old red telephone box
outside the cemetery gates.
But Dr Telensky recalls later saving
enough to send a Christmas parcel home and a letter to his parents, telling
them he was safe. He had built up a sandwich round at the local Vauxhall car
factory and was finally eking out a living.
first things he shipped back to Slovakia five years ago were a red
telephone box and an old pillar box which tourists now use to send letters and
It was these two items that began his
museum of memories in the mountains.
But it hasn’t stopped there and he has
had a 40 year old London black cab in pride of place outside his flagship
But his ambitions kept growing and he
decided to turn a nearby decrepit fishing ‘hole’ into a duck pond based on
those you see in Britian’s leafy parks.
The next idea was to mark the game of
football too – many UK teams were already flying out to use AquaCity’s
facilities for training.
So, he festooned the walls of the hotel
with an amazing collection of signed football shirts.
Then in 2006 the Queen and Prince Philip
paid a whistle-stop tour to Central Europe and stopped off at AquaCity, by then
regularly voted the world’s greenest hotel. Dr Telensky says he was so proud
that he immediately commissioned a portrait of the Queen.
That now hangs proudly in reception.
But one of his most ambitious projects
was to help build the city’s new multi-million football stadium as a replica of
an English stadium.
Dr Telensky, who has office in Luton,
said: “Football fascinates me, it’s the will to win and the strategy you need
to make it happen. But I can’t always be there, so it made sense to build
Poprad’s disintegrating stadium in the image of footballing excellence.”
And for good measure, in each of his
five hotels he has installed a Victorian-style gentleman’s club where cigars
and brandy are the order of the day.
He also uses his 2,000 acre farm on the
outskirts of the city, to produce Cumberland sausages for traditional English
breakfast at his five luxury hotels.
He said: “England helped me realise my
dreams. Now I want it to remain in a small enclave of Europe forever, no matter
what happens with Brexit.”
And he is particularly fond of the
statement his red telephone box and post box make.
“They were just something else that I
learned to love and I want my guests from all over the world to experience them
too. People really like the idea of using the post box to send their cards and
letters home,” he smiled.
There were many times in the
life of Dr Telensky that he thought he might never be able to return home
He was born into a
family with a military background but wanted to be a concert violinist. The
thunder of invading tanks and troops however, forced him to go to ‘war’.
He said: “At 21 years
old I’d nearly gambled my life away over the freedom of my homeland. I fled to
Britain before they could shoot me and I learned to never be afraid of anything
However, for the next
20 years he was a true exile, not even allowed to return for his father’s
He said: “I slept in a graveyard, but the
opportunities were there and I could see them and. The UK helped me build a
life for myself, like it has for so many from my homeland. And I want to be
remembered no matter what happens with Brexit.”
Poprad is known as the gateway to the mysterious High
Tatras mountains. But when Dr Telensky
arrived there all that time ago it was more like a creaking gate.
He met his wife, Alenka, in
Poprad and it was because of her family that he first saw his ecological vision
of the future. They had showed him the blow-hole of the subterranean thermal lake which was about to
buoy up his future.
He was about to create one of
the most ecologically sound hotels in the world …
AquaCity powered by a
Dr Telensky said: “When finally I could return I was
deeply disappointed by the consequences of 40 years of communism.
Something had to be done and I dedicated myself to the transformation of the
region and I am very proud to be part of her progress.
“I believe in the tremendous
potential of Slovakia and its role in
the future of Europe.”
And now this tiny
corner of the High Tatras will be forever England with all its memories,
charm and intrigue.