Bled Island on Lake Bled
We have another 5 days in Slovenia and so we visit its leading Alpine tourist resort, the resort that everyone talks about, the ‘crème de la crème’…. Lake Bled. Bled is special and it’s not just the church topped island where the wishing bell chimes, or the imposing Blejski Grad (Bled Castle) perched atop the towering precipice overlooking the aqua blue lake, it’s the welcome that awaits you. It’s very busy now, peak holiday season, and the campsite is fully booked till the end of August (so glad we booked in advance), nevertheless the staff welcome us with a friendly smile and enthusiastically tell us all that’s on offer in this fantastic resort. As we are staying more than 3 nights, we are presented with our Juliana Alps card (https://www.bohinj.si/en/soft-mobility/julian-alps-card-bohinj/) which allows you to travel for free using the shuttle bus and to explore the surrounding area with the daily hop on hop off bus tours. What a great idea to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment and to open up the neighbouring towns and villages to tourists who would otherwise have passed by. Thumbs up for Green Lake Bled.
We walk round the lake and take a Pletna (a wooden flat bottomed) boat to Bled Island.
Lake Bled on a Thundery afternoon
Legend has it that a temple to the ancient Slavic goddess of Love, Živa used to stand on the location of today’s glorious Gothic church, Church of the Mother of God, built in 1465. The wishing bell, allegedly donated by the Pope, following the death of a local nun, is there for those visiting the church to chime. It is said that anyone who rings the bell three times and believes in God will have their wishes granted.
In World War II, Lake Bled was occupied by the Germans and became an important communication centre for the Nazi’s. There are stories of the Enigma coding machine and large quantities of Nazi gold being disposed of in the lake following the end of the war. Despite many expeditions however, neither treasure have been found, although a gold applique dating back to the bronze age, the oldest gold object in Slovenia, has been excavated, and is now exhibited in the castle’s museum. Whist visiting the area we hear more stories about Hitler’s love for this area, and that he too had plans for bled island… to flatten the church and build a temple to the Third Riche. I have my suspicions’ that this may be more of a local legend and after a quick Google search, I find no evidence. Whatever the rumours I think we can all be thankful that the Church of the Mother of God is still standing today.
We climb to the eyrie where the Castle is perched.
Don’t underestimate the climb – I recommend the shuttle bus for those with dodgy knees! The view over the lake on this bright sunny day is spectacular. The castle dates back to 1011, but its structure and purpose has evolved over many centuries. Today one can take a glimpse into those early Medieval days, by visiting the printing room, castle wine cellar, iron works and museum’s collection. And don’t forget to order a cool drink and take a moment to savour the finest view of the lake.
View of the lake from Bled Castle
Lake Bled is a hive of activity and in the few days we are here we get a taste of what’s on offer; the Bled open water swimming event (the next one is in February…I think I’ll definitely give that one a miss), the 24th international children’s music festival, Bled days (a festival which promotes local arts and crafts, and traditional Slovenian Cuisine) and Bled night, where 15,000 candles floating in eggshells (supplied by the local cake shops) light up the lake as the sun goes down.
Lake Bled as the sun goes down, Bled Night (with 15,000 floating candles)
We take advantage of one of the hop on hop off tours and visit the nearby town of Tržič, surrounded by hills and mountains. Legend has it that the town was created by a dragon who shattered the rocks of the Kosuta ridge during its rambles across the Karavanks mountain range, driving the mountain people into the valley below. Our first stop is at the Tržič museum (http://www.trziski-muzej.si/?lang=en ) which hosts interactive exhibits about the towns traditional trades, crafts and industries; shoe and sock making, textile dying, tanning (that’s leather, not skin!) and ski making. I can honestly say that this is the best small museum I have ever visited, so if you are in the area, I would recommend a visit. After a lovely walk around the outskirts of the town we found a charming coffee house and polished off a famous ‘Bled cream cake’ before ‘hopping’ back on our bus back to Lake Bled.
On a particularly sweltering day, we do a quick turn up the Straza Bled cable car
View from Straza Bled cable car
(https://www.straza-bled.si/en/Summer/Introduction/Adventure-park-Bled ) and whizz down the summer toboggan slide ( well I did….we reckon it wasn’t a good idea for John who’s still nursing a broken clavicle!) and then take a local bus to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-blyah- nuh). Car traffic is restricted in the city’s historic centre leaving the leafy banks of the Ljubljanica River, free for pedestrians and cyclists to explore. Cafes line the terraces along the riverbanks, and we head for a late lunch, devouring one of the best veggie burgers I have ever eaten (another surprising find in Slovenia, the food is remarkably good), washed down with a local ale.
Thunder is threatening, but not before we manage a whistle stop tour of the old town
The old town of Ljubljana
(it’s very compact, photogenic and colourful) and a boat ride along the emerald green waters of the river. There are dragon’s here too, in fact they are the symbol of the city. They are everywhere; on bridges, railings, graffiti and there’s even a dragon shop! Legend has it (here we go again with legends) that the city was founded by Jason of the Argonauts, who stumbled across a dragon on his way home with the golden Fleece in the marshy swamps of which is now Ljubljana. He fought and (of course) killed the dragon, leaving the dragon as the symbol of the city.
Stories and legends, just like our language and landscape help to define our identities as a nation. And now as we leave Slovenia with its caves, castles, lakes and legends and head North into Austria, I can’t help but feel that there is so much more to explore in this small and beautiful country. I will definitely return to Slovenia and next time I will be donning my walking boots and cycle helmet and heading to the hills and forests to discover more of its stories and legends. And who knows as I walk through the forest, amongst the brown bears, wolves and wild boars I might even stumble across a dragon!
Giant pottery snail, locally crafted