Before visiting Slovenia earlier this year I had no idea just how lovely a country it is. It may be small but its compactness makes it a superb place to explore with no end of stunning mountain scenery and beautiful lakes, raging rivers and pretty towns and villages all within easy reach of each other. Two places that I believe are a real ‘must visit’ are Lake Bled and the lesser-known but some say even more lovely, Lake Bohinj.
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Top 5 Reasons to Visit Lake Bled
The only place in Slovenia that I had really heard anything about before was Lake Bled in the Triglav National Park and I was really excited to be going and thrilled at the prospect of glamping on its shores. I’m pleased to say that it lived up to the hype and it is just as beautiful as I imagined. And to help prove the point here are 5 great reasons why Lake Bled should not be missed off your Slovenian itinerary.
1. The view from Bled Castle
From a regal clifftop advantage point, Bled Castle has looked down upon the lake and surrounding countryside of Gorenjska for many centuries. Built as a defensive structure in 1011 you’ll find no grand halls here but it is never-the-less a fascinating building to explore. It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1511 and later restored to how we see it today.
Interesting exhibitions include the printing shop and small art gallery and there’s also a wine cellar worth visiting. But the highlight of my visit was the upper courtyard (home to a museum about Bled’s history and an interesting Gothic chapel as well as the restaurant) as it is from the courtyard and restaurant terrace that you’ll see the most stunning views of the lake.
2. The enchanting Bled Island
The most iconic images of Lake Bled always include the island with its Gothic church, built where once stood an ancient Slavic temple to Živa, the goddess of love. When the locals were converted from paganism to Christianity in 745, they were forced to replace their goddess with the Christian Virgin Mary. The temple was destroyed and a church built in its stead. The current church was built in 1465 with a striking 52m high free-standing bell-tower. In the middle of the 17th century the Chapel of Virgin Mary and a 99 step stone staircase were built. Tradition has it that a groom must carry his bride up these steps before they may get married on the island. We didn’t have time to visit the island but it sounds enchanting and is on my wish list for a return visit.
3. The traditional Pletna Boats
For anyone visiting the lake they will see pretty little boats carrying passengers on a cruise around the lake or over to the island. These traditional flat-bottomed wooden boats dating back to 1590 are only made in Bled and can only be rowed by the Pletna oarsman, the title of which has been handed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries. It is said that you haven’t really visited Bled until you have ridden in one of these boats.
4. A walk around the lake
There’s a wonderful 3 and a half mile walk around the lake, the shores of which the lake-side hotels have not been allowed to privatise. There are benches every now and again allowing you to sit down and enjoy the view from many different vantage points both at the level of the lake itself and from a number of hills.
5. Bled Cream Cake
Beneath a golden crispy crust made from butter dough dusted with icing sugar, whipped cream sits atop a layer of delicious vanilla custard. This is the famous Cream Cake of which the citizens of Bled are very proud of insisting that the only true cream cakes are made in Bled. The very best are said to be made by Ištvan Lukačevič at the Hotel Park patisserie and sold in the café opposite the hotel. I couldn’t vouch for that as I didn’t make it to that cafe but I did try one while visiting Bled Castle. Slovenia food is generally pretty hearty but this was as light as air, melting in the mouth one sumptuous bite after another. I can’t imagine any others being any better but who knows; another reason I need to go back, just to make sure which one really is the best.
When to visit Lake Bled
Bled get s very busy in the summer months and I would personally avoid going there in July or August because it’s simply too crowded. Spring or Autumn is ideal, when accommodation prices will also be cheaper. In April and May and again in September and October the weather is usually lovely and warm with fewer crowds. Christmas and New Year are extremely busy periods too.
Whatever time of year you go, you’ll find everywhere less crowded first thing in the morning so it’s advisable to visit the top tourist attractions like Bled Castle and Bled Island, which you can catch a boat to, as soon as they open. When it is really busy head out for a walk around the lake and you’ll mostly be able to find a quiet spot somewhere. The longer walking trails are less popular and therefore quieter too.
Where to stay by Lake Bled
We stayed in the wonderfully quirky the Gozdne vile huts at Camping Bled right by the shores of the lake. I couldn’t recommend them more for a short stay although they are a little cramped for a weeklong holiday for example. You can read my review of the campsite in full A memorable night glamping by Lake Bled.
Looking for a hotel in Bled?
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Lake Bohinj
Just over 17 miles south-west of Lake Bled is the equally lovely but not so well-known Lake Bohinj. It is the largest permanent lake in Slovenia, covering 318 hectares in the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps in the Triglav National Park. We stayed a night in nearby Bohinjska Bistrica at the smart hotel, Bohinj Park Eco Hotel.
1. Picture-postcard Church of St John the Baptist
At the head of the lake by an old stone bridge in Ribcev Laz, this quintessential medieval church is in the most picturesque of settings. It’s worth popping inside as many of the walls and ceilings are covered with exquisite 15th and 16th century frescoes.
2. Boat rides on the lake
From a jetty near the bridge we caught a scenic boat cruise that gave us fabulous views of the lake.
The forests and mountains reflected in the water were mesmerizing.
3. Walk around Lake Bohinj
The walk around lake Bohinj is some 7 and a half miles. People generally start in Ribcev Laz by the stone bridge and walk along the northern shore until reaching the far end at Ukanc. Here you can cross the Savica river and head towards the Vogel cable car station. On the southern shore the trail runs up above the road bringing you back to Ribcev Laz.
4. Ride the cable car at Vogel
More spectacular views can be seen from Mount Vogel which towers above the lake at 1800m. It’s Slovenia’s premier ski resort in winter but it’s worth riding the cable car up anytime of year for the stunning views of the Alps (below) and Lake Bohinj (above).
5. They sell a pretty darn good cream cake
In Ribcev Laz in a cafe near the lake I had another cream cake. What can I say… It was delicious (but don’t tell the people of Bled that I said so).
When to visit Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj is stunning and often underrated. It’s not as well-known as Lake Bled and therefore less crowded and touristy, so it’s no surprise that some people prefer it to Lake Bled. The same rules apply to Lake Bohinj as they do to Lake Bled but to a lesser extent. The summer months are a fabulous tie to enjoy swimming in the crystal-clear waters, while kayaking, cycling and walking are all great options throughout the spring, summer and autumn. I might skip the kayaking in the winter though.
Where to stay by Lake Bohinj.
The name Bohinj refers to the region rather than an actual town. To the north eats of the lake there are three picturesque viallges. To the northeast is a string of idyllic villages: Stara Fužina, Studor and Srednja Vas, while Bohinjska Bistrica, 6km east of the lake, is the largest town in the area. Ribčev Laz, right on the lake, is another option.
Looking for a hotel in Bohinjska Bistrica?
Brought to you in association with Expedia.co.uk. As always my thoughts, photographs, memories and calories consumed remain my own.
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