Bled, Slovenia: A Picture-Postcard, Fairytale, See-Before-You-Die, Bucketlist Kind of Place

Church of the Assumption with Bled Castle in the background

In writing about Lake Bohinj, in Slovenia, I left out nearby Lake Bled for the sake of brevity, but it’s an incredible destination in its own right.

My wife and I have often discussed the double-edged sword that is internet research – you’re better able to plan your holiday and so lessen the chances of unpleasant complications, but much of the surprise and spontaneity of travel is eliminated when you’ve spent hours reading reviews and looking at images of your destination. When we first visited the lake, nearly ten years ago, I had never seen a photograph of Bled.

I was bowled over. My heart swelled and my eyes glistened and I reverently murmured a stanza from France Prešeren, that greatest of Slovenia’s poets:

The vintage, friends, is over,
And here sweet wine makes, once again,
Sad eyes and hearts recover,
Puts fire in every vein,
Drowns dull care
And summons hope out of despair.

Don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t know who the hell France Prešeren was, and even if I had I certainly couldn’t have recited any of his poetry. What I said, if I recall correctly, was “Holy shit!” Yes, Bled is stunning, and alas, that’s the best I could come up with.

Island church and Bled Castle, April

An azure alpine lake ringed by jagged peaks, a perfectly-preserved castle perched on a sheer cliff rising from the water below, a Baroque church occupying Slovenia’s only island – if you’ve ever done a Google image search for ‘Slovenia,’ you’ve seen the photos. And while there’s a fair number of unsightly 1970s-style buildings marring the town itself – the grim Hotel Krim stands out lakeside – they can’t detract all that much from the natural beauty of the setting.

The castle, which recently celebrated its 1000th birthday, was begun at the start of the 11th century and altered and enlarged many times after. It now houses a small but excellent museum on the history of the region, a restaurant with outrageous views, a small chapel, printing works, and an herbal gallery. The castle can be approached either by a steep walk up from the lake or by an access road just outside of town.

The island in the lake, with the 17th century Church of the Assumption thereon, is the other iconic image of Bled. A popular way to reach the island is to be rowed in unique wooden boats called pletna, or you can rent your own boat at several points around the lake.

There is a public swimming area, Grajsko kopališče (“Castle Bathing Area”), which has two waterslides, a trampoline, a climbing wall, four outdoor swimming pools, a diving board, swings and a sandbox for the kids. You can hire an umbrella or find shade beneath the towering chestnut trees. Bring a picnic or grab lunch at the Grajska Plaza restaurant right next door.

As we wrote in a previous post, the nearby Vintgar Gorge is gorgeous but crowded in the high season – get there early to avoid the throngs. You can drive directly to the trail head at the upstream end (out and back 2 km, about 1 hour), or hike from the town of Bled (total 10 km (6 miles), about 3 hours).

Bled has loads of accommodation, everything from 5-star hotels to organic farms. The town’s official website has extensive listings, as does the Slovenian Tourist Board’s site.

While Bled can get crowded in the summer months, the natural setting makes it, I think, one of the loveliest places in Europe. Hit it in the off-season, and you can experience the lake in splendid solitude.

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