(Bled Island, Image: Bigstock)
LAKE BLED, SLOVENIA | THE LEGENDS & THE MAGIC
Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful areas in Europe. Situated in the northwestern part of Slovenia, the lake is not far from the city of Ljubljana so it is a great place to visit as a sole destination, as a day-trip or on a pre or post river cruise or Croatian cruise extended stay. There is a lot to do and see for families too.
Legends say this extraordinary lake started as a green and fertile valley inhabited by faeries and sheep herders with their flocks. Because the sheep were eating all the grass as sheep will do and the herders invaded the faeries’ privacy, the little ones decided to flood the valley to keep the intruders away. Counter–productive? No. The faeries kept their little rocky upland, now Bled Island, as a place to gather and dance without being disturbed. Entirely successful? No, as this still beautiful lake and island has been attracting visitors for centuries. Its popularity has made it unfortunately quite “touristy” but Lake Bled still manages to enchant.
The faeries dance hall, Bled island, has legends of its own. Years ago they say that a young woman lost her husband, murdered and thrown in the lake, and to commemorate his life ordered a special bell to hang in the church there. En route to the island, the boat on which the bell was being transported capsized and sank. The bell was lost forever. A second bell was commissioned and blessed by the pope of the time and now hangs in the Church of the Assumption of Mary. Ringing the bell three times and pleading your case “guarantees” your wish will be granted.
If you are to be married at the Assumption of Mary church beware the local tradition of the groom carrying the bride up the steps to the church. Seems quite charming and doable until you learn there are ninety-nine stone steps!
So how do you enjoy this magical place? You can walk around the lake taking in the views as it is not a formidable hike, about six kilometers ( 3 ¾ miles) or you can rent a bike instead. Hint: if you are staying in the area for at least three nights at a Tourist Board partner, you get a free card for transport on the summer shuttle, the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, an Infocenter mountain bike rental and the chairlift at Straza. Alternatively, you can hire a horse-drawn coach for a leisurely, effortless journey. The coachmen are known as fjakers. Paddle boards and row boats (both available for rent) are also great way to explore from the water. Probably the two best viewpoints of the lake are from Castle Bled and from the Straža hill.
Perched high above the lake, the castle’s history stretches as far back as 1004 making it Slovenia’s oldest castle. As with all ancient buildings it was added onto and changed to fit the needs of the current occupants. As a primarily defensive structure, it attained the various walls, towers and living quarters over the next five centuries. Unfortunately, it fell victim to an earthquake in the 1500’s but has since been restored to what is seen today. The castle is a recommended visit not only for the view, but it also houses a museum, an active original-era printing shop, a smithy, a traditional wine cellar, a restaurant and more. Take in the view of the lake, Bled island and the distant Julian Alps from a terrace table whilst eating the local famous Bled cream cake. This delicious confection, now a designated dish with certificate of national origin, is only available from the patisseries around the Lake. You will probably need sustenance after climbing the 895 steps to the castle! Of course, the castle is accessible to car, bus and taxi too. This place is one of Europe’s premier wedding destinations.
The walk up this hill on the far side of the lake takes about an hour and a half or, if you wish to conserve your energy if walking around the lake, there is a chairlift (free if you have the afore-mentioned pass). At the top you will be rewarded with stunning views. It is perfect for kids too boasting an adventure park. Over eighty climbing activities await you suitable for all levels of climbers. Or, once you’ve drunk in the incredible views and taken many photos, you can ride the toboggan track which zooms back down the hill along five hundred metres of track at 40 kph.
You cannot visit this area without exploring Bled Island. You can hire a rowboat to row out to this small island in the middle of the lake. It can be a bit strenuous if you are not used to rowing and takes about fifteen minutes or so; however, it is an adventure and can be romantic for couples as well. Many people opt for the traditional pletna rides with their colorful canopies and standing rowers called pletnars. These boats hold up to twenty people. You can relax and enjoy the scenery and the graceful swans that make this lake their home. Upon arrival you are greeted by the 99 steps up to the church, the island’s feature attraction. The original structure was built on this spot in the eighth century, replaced by the current one in 1465 with baroque overtones added later. The church’s main feature that can be seen for miles around is the high bell tower which holds three bells including the wishing one which rings all day long as visitors make wishes. You can climb to the top of the tower (52 metres or 170 feet) but the view is not as spectacular as that afforded from the castle or the Straza hill.
If you like to explore churches, the area around the lake abounds in churches of many different architectural styles and most are dedicated to saints: St. Andrew, St. Catherine, St. Martin, St Nicholas, St. Margaret, St.Jacob, St. Stephan to name but a few.
There are swimming beaches and thermal springs scattered around the lake.
An interesting hike nearby takes you through the one and a half kilometer Vintgar Gorge with waterfalls, rapids and pools on the Radovna River. You can follow a well-worn path carved by the river between the high stone walls, traverse the river on sturdy wooden bridges, and stop to take a photo or soak up the view in the many galleries along the way. Your ultimate destination would be the Sum river waterfall, 13 metres or 42 feet high. The trail is nearby the entrance to the Triglav National Park.
Legends aside, the Lake Bled region of Slovenia is magical and worth a visit any time of the year. It is a perfect destination for those who enjoy soaking up local culture, seeking photographic inspirations, or enjoying the pleasures of leisurely hikes.
Bled Town on the shore of Lake Bled (Image: George Bakros on UnSplash)
Bled Castle aerial view (Image: Bigstock)
The famous Bled Cream Cake (Image: Bigstock)
A traditional pletna (Image:Jason Thomas on UnSplash)
The 99 steps to Assumption of Mary Church (Image: Bigstock)
Biking around the lake (Image: Bigstock)
Vintgar Gorge trail (Image: Dimitri Anikin on UnSplash)