A common theme arose every time I mentioned I was heading to Slovenia last summer:
‘Oh, you must visit Lake Bled.’
I’ll admit, the more people trotted out this line, the more wary I was of visiting. Because I’m not a fan of overcrowded tourist spots, regardless of how beautiful they are. Plus, there’s nothing worse than building a place up in your mind, then arriving and feeling a little… meh.
But at the same time I was curious. Because dammit, I’d seen those pictures. And I’m a sucker for a good view.
Although Slovenia is a fairly small country, I’d put off visiting while I was in Maribor. Money was tight after having three weeks off during the summer to dance on a beach in the South of France and get my travel blogging head on in Stockholm. So I couldn’t really afford an overnight stay in Bled when I’d paid for two months accommodation elsewhere.
But when friends decided to visit me in Slovenia at the end of my stay, I was determined to mastermind a trip to Bled. We met in Ljubljana but managed to slip away to see Slovenia’s most famous landmark, where we had less than 24 hours to explore.
Our trip to Bled didn’t exactly begin on the right foot.
I’d left Maribor the previous day in brilliant sunshine and arrived in Ljubljana just as heavy rain set in. I lugged awkward, heavy bags. I’d crammed in extra stuff as I didn’t have to fly, forgetting this trip involved five separate transfers with lots of walking. (Although on the plus side, I kept my delicious pumpkin seed oil and had two bottles of Slovenian wine to share with my friends.)
We arrived at the bus station, feet squelching in our shoes, only to discover the bus was already full. So we lounged in a nearby café, where I nibbled an expensive panini that left my mouth as dry as my hair was wet.
When we arrived in Bled, an hour later than planned, I wasn’t instantly wowed by stunning views. My friend, an iPhone zealot, insisted we use his phone (without data) to reach our accommodation, over my Samsung (with local sim and lots of data). Yep, he took us in totally the wrong direction!
So when we finally traipsed into our hostel, it was already early afternoon. My shoulders ached and there was a dull throb creeping up the base of my skull.
It quickly evaporated when I stepped onto the balcony of our room at Hostel Garden House Bled. Although Maribor is a green city and my apartment was slightly out of town, there had always been a hum of background noise. At Bled this was absent, replaced with the gentle twittering of birds. The air was cool, with a crisp freshness unique to the mountains. Patches of blue sky appeared, and the only remnant of the earlier rain was the lingering, musky smell of damp earth.
Lake Bled is the picture-postcard view of Slovenia. The emerald-green glacial lake nestles amongst some of the tallest peaks in the Julian Alps, with its romantic medieval castle clinging to a tall rocky outcrop at the lake’s edge. There’s one tiny islet in the middle of the lake, topped by the Baroque Church of the Assumption. We agreed this would be our first port of call.
There are several ways to get to Bled Island. You can swim (though I only recommend this in the height of summer), jump in a traditional wooden boat known as a Pletna, or hire a boat and row over. We chose the latter, and cried with laughter as we lurched across in an uneven zig-zag pattern. Though kudos to Sophie and Paul for putting in the arm power!
Because we were short of time we didn’t go inside the church, so missed ringing the famous wishing bell. But we found time for ice cream (there’s always time for ice cream, right?) and this was the delicious, thick, creamy, homemade variety. I choose a scoop of classic chocolate topped with a walnut and pumpkin seed special. I developed an addiction to the intense, nutty taste of pumpkin seed oil while in Slovenia, and this combination of flavours made my tastebuds sing!
We wanted to hike around the perimeter of Lake Bled, but daylight hours were fading fast. Instead we wandered about halfway, heading for a viewpoint at the far end. Swans glided past peacefully, unperturbed by the distant squeals of tourists trying to steer their boats back to shore, and I lagged behind my friends, unable to stop taking photos. Then we turned away from the lake to scramble to Ojstrica, the lowest of the three viewpoints.
I almost didn’t make it. It’s a fairly short climb, but the final piece of track required clambering up slippery, muddy rocks, sometimes on all fours (ahem, apologies to my friends for my short skirt!). Plus my eyes struggle in dim light, so at times I groped uncertainly for a hand or foothold. But holy shit, the view from the top was A-MAZ-ING!
Lake Bled is surrounded by tree-lined hills. But they pale into insignificance when you see the soaring peaks of the Alps stretching into the distance, their crests floating above low-lying strips of cloud. The church on Bled Island and gravity-defying castle appeared straight from a Disney movie. I fell gratefully onto a small bench, gulped a few lungfuls of air while my thighs burned, and tried to commit the image to memory (and capture it on camera, though I’m sure I didn’t do it justice).
We dragged ourselves away from the view, as we had to get down before it was too dark to see. And it wasn’t pretty. We scrambled down some sections like inelegant crabs, trying to avoid sliding to a heap at the bottom. But once down, we wiped our muddy hands and agreed it was totally worth it. Though if you’re going, try to go while it’s still daylight!
There’s only one way to top off a day like that: with a hearty meal and bottle or two of wine over a good ol’ natter with your mates. After travelling alone for a long time, it felt good to chill with friends.
I’d love to say the next morning dawned bright and beautiful, but storm clouds were gathering in the distance. We only had a few hours before we needed to return to Ljubljana, so jumped in a cab for the 10-minute journey to Vintgar Gorge.
The trail through Vintgar Gorge is a mixture of stony paths and wooden platforms that hug the dramatic limestone cliffs, occasionally swapping sides. Crystal-clear turquoise water snakes through the gorge, passing over cascades and rapids. Moss clings in lush, thick layers to the rocks and verdant green trees drape over the path, their tips teasing the rushing water. The trail culminates at the Šum Waterfall, where a tall stone bridge straddles the gorge and a large tree had toppled over and lay like a giant slingshot, abandoned after a play fight.
It took a little less than two hours to walk to the waterfall and back, and I walked slowly, pausing to take photos, drink in the view, and inhale the cool, fresh air. The rain returned as we walked back, but it only added to the dramatic feel of the gorge, channelling the water with added intensity. This really is nature at her finest.
Lake Bled is the polar opposite of ‘meh’ and I’m grateful I managed to fit in a whirlwind visit. Slovenia was undoubtedly my favourite country in 2016 and Lake Bled was one of the highlights. Visiting at the end of off-season was a great move. I could tell it was a touristy spot, but it was by no means spoilt by hordes of people. A return is definitely on the cards, as I never made it up the castle and I’d love to walk around the lake’s perimeter and explore some of the surrounding hills and woods.
But my Slovenian friends all whispered in my ear that while Bled is unmissable, there’s a smaller, lesser-known lake just down the road. Lake Bohinj is said to have all the beauty of Bled with fewer people. So I’ve filed that snippet of knowledge in a safe place for my return to this delightful part of the world.
Our flying visit to Bled was possible thanks to the generosity of Andrej, the owner of Garden House Bled, who I met in Maribor. He runs the charming Piramida Bar and has just opened a luxury glamping site at Chateau Ramšak, which I reviewed in one of my Maribor wine adventures posts.
Garden House Bled is another of his recent projects and it’s a work in progress. The idea is to trial the hostel while work is being completed, so they know what works and what doesn’t by next summer and the rough edges can be smoothed over in time for high season.
They’re doing a grand job. The hostel is deliberately rustic, with charming touches like the big wood-burning stove and metal-bucket sink in the kitchen, yet it’s cosy, welcoming and well equipped. It’s set back from the main tourist road on a quiet street, and there are lots of comfortable nooks for visitors to chill out.
The staff, led by manager Manca, are super friendly and helpful, and they gave us lots of tips for how to spend our short time in Bled and where to find the best food and drink. The only thing I wasn’t particularly keen on was the glass bathroom door, because seeing your mate on the toilet just isn’t the done thing for us Brits, even if the glass is mottled! But hopefully, they’re just waiting for the curtains to arrive…
I’m sure Garden House Bled will be a roaring success by next summer, and I wish them lots of luck in their new venture. Huge thanks to Andrej and Manca for inviting my friends and I to visit, and gifting us a delicious bottle of Chateau Ramšak Chardonnay.
I received a complimentary stay at Hostel Garden House Bled in return for a review, but my views are entirely my own.
Check reviews and book your stay at TripAdvisor or pick your own room on Airbnb ( if you haven’t signed up to Airbnb yet, sign up via my link for a small discount off your first stay). For alternative accommodation in Bled, see Agoda.
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