Cradled within the eastern most parts of the Julian Alps, sheltered by its picturesque peaks, lies the charming Lake Bled. The town that grew around the lake finds it’s origins as far back as 600AD during the Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps, changing names as it changed hands from Slavic Carantania to Frankish Ueldes then Veldes and finally modern day Bled.
Floating in the middle of the lake is Slovenia’s only real island. Named after the lake, Bled Island is what remains of an Ice Age limestone moraine, where over time glaciers rubbed down on a giant rock, forming both lake and island when the ice melted.
In the 17th century the Church of Sv Marika Božja dedicated to the Assumption of Mary was built. The pilgrimage church with its prominent bell tower and 99 stone steps rising up from the waters is built over the remains of a pre-Roman temple. It is said that a bride carried up those stairs on her wedding day, will have her wishes come true. The only way to reach the island is by boat, whilst a popular way is having an oars man chauffeur you across in a Pletna (traditional dual-oar gondolas €12). Renting your own boat is also possible.
Atop a cliff, on the banks of the lake, stands medieval Castle Bled. First mentioned in 1004 in a deed issued by Emperor Henry II, it is the oldest castle in Slovenia and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country (entrance €9). Within the castle walls there is a restaurant where you can dine amidst the panoramic views of Lake Bled.
A pedestrian path rounds the lake. The circular walk is among the most popular walks one can make in the Bled area. The route uses pathways and pavements wherever possible and on the northern shore, it runs along a lakeside road closed to traffic. Along the path there are a number of tiny footpaths leading to isolated hills, offering more vantage points to the vistas of Bled.
In summer the lakes and its surroundings draw the tourist hordes. The wider area around Bled with its larger cousin, Lake Bohinj come alive with outdoor activities. From watersports to rock-climbing cliff faces to trekking the trails snaking through the Alps, or simply relaxing in a hot-spring hotel, Bled offers something for everyone.
But I was there in Winter. Hopping on a bus from Ljubljana bus station the journey took 75 minutes and cost me €6.30 (tickets can be bought from the station). Buses left Ljubljana on the hour mark and return buses from Bled on the half hour.
As the tourist hordes had departed before the winter fogs, the town wasn’t half as suffocating as the travel sites warned. Instead, in place of the crowds revealed the other face of Lake Bled. A misty, magical, island rolling upon a tranquil lake. A castle perched on a cliff reaching through the vapors, on a backdrop of ice white peaks. It had all the ingredients for a memorable visit.
On colder winters the surface of the lake freezes over, turning the waters around Bled Island into a giant, magical skating rink. Outdoor activities retreat higher into the mountains, with sports like alpine skiing, snowboarding and ice climbing taking center stage.
My stroll around the lake left me in awe. A lonely fisherman enticing a bite, floating sofas practical or art installation, parked Plentnas snobbish in the cold. Across the frigid waters, Bled Island rotated as I walked, every yard revealing another angle of her façade. Before long I had returned to the start and rather reluctantly I turned my back on the scenery, unwilling to let go. I headed into a bar, lenses fogging up and asked for a hot cappuccino before asking if they served food.
“Only finger foods” she replied and handed me a laminated menu.
I told her I was looking forward to a heftier meal and she came up with a brilliant plan. Her friend was working at the pizzeria a few paces down and if I told her what kind I wanted she’d get him to whip it up. I could wait with my coffee and when the pizza was done, I’d collect it and she’d allow me to have it right there in the bar.
Hvala Katja! (Thank you Katja!)