Lonely Planet describes Lake Bled as a magical place, one that everyone should visit at least once. I’d go one step further – with its fairytale lake/island/castle and mountains setting, it’s so magical everyone should visit at least once a year. Walking around the lake is a given, but once you’ve done that follow these seven tips to make the most of heavenly Bled.
1. Row, row, row your boat
Slovenia’s only island is located in Lake Bled – you can hire a boat from various places on the shore to row there. If, like me, you’ve never rowed before, expect achey arms the morning after, and parking (if that’s the right word?) the boat is one of the hardest things you will ever do on holiday.
The island is tiny, but is home to the Baroque Church of the Assumption of Mary which is worth a wander around to get your breath back for the return row to dry land. Ringing the church bells is supposed to bring luck, so there is a constant pealing noise as visitors hope for the best.
The less energetic can be taken to the island in a pletna – a wooden gondola that carries up to 20 people. A return trip,with 30 minutes on the island, costs €12.
If you want to see how rowing should be done, watch the athletes from Bled Rowing Club in action when they come out to practice around 5pm. Lake Bled hosted the World Rowing Championships in 2011 and it looked absolutely stunning.
2. On your bike
There are a few places on the main street (Ljubljanska cesta) where you can hire bikes and see the best of the countryside around Bled – we chose 3glav Adventures at number 1 for good quality mountain bikes.
It’s a gentle 6km ride around the lake on the flat and mostly pedestrianised path- keep an eye out for the tourist train which trundles past every hour. If you fancy something more high-octane, get a map from the tourist information office and head to Lake Bohinj, 20km to the west. There is no cycle path, so you’ll share a busy road with some very fast and inconsiderate drivers – just about worth it for the views on the way.
A more cycle-friendly route takes you from Bled to the towns of Lesce and Radovljica to the east.
3. King of the castle
Bled’s 11th century castle is perched 100m on a steep cliff directly above the lake shore. It looks pretty good from ground level, with its red-roofed watchtowers and ramparts, but is well worth the €8 fee to get up and inside it, across a moat.
There are several numbered walking trails around the lake, and number 9 takes you to the castle (Grad in Slovenian). It’s not an easy walk through the woods – at times it’s almost vertical – so wear some decent shoes and take a bottle of water with you.
Once there, the views are amazing of the teardrop shaped island in the lake, surrounded by lush green forest with the mountains of the Julian Alps in the background. Do yourself a favour – give the museum a miss and try to grab one of the tables on the terrace overlooking the lake.
4. Say cheese
God knows how casual photographers coped at Lake Bled in the pre-digital camera era. The place is so photogenic, I took literally hundreds of photos on my last visit there, all safely stored away on my memory card. Would I have been so snap-happy in the days when every compact camera needed a roll of film that could take 24 or 36 photos? Too right – and I’d have spent a fortune getting all my pictures developed at Snappy Snaps!
5. Gorgeous Vintgar Gorge
One of the best half-day trips leaving from Bled is the five kilometre up-hill hike north to Vintgar Gorge, one of the most beautiful spots in Slovenia. Here, the River Radovna cuts through sheer limestone cliffs creating rapids and waterfalls, while a rickety (and slippery) wooden walkway criss-crosses the river for 1.6km. Entrance to the gorge is €4, and it takes around 45 minutes to get to the end of it, which is marked by the spectacular Sum waterfall.
You can then retrace your steps and head back to Bled the way you came, or go through a deserted forest and climb a steep hill called Hom from where you will see the lake and the castle below you.
6. Have your cake and eat it
After all that activity, you deserve something sweet and calorific, and that is something Bled does well. The town is famous for its Kremna Rezina, or cream slice – thick layers of vanilla custard and fresh cream, sandwiched between two crispy layers of puff pastry and covered with a dusting of icing sugar.
The Park Hotel’s cafe claims to have made the first cream slice in Bled in 1953, but now you can see them in every bar, cafe and shop. We became Kremna Rezina connoisseurs after a few days, and found the best ones at Slaščičarna Šmon – a magical little cakeshop tucked away in Bled’s quiet Old Town streets. Šmon’s slices are sweeter, crispier and have tastier vanilla custard than its rivals – it’s well worth hunting down if you’re in town.
7. Bed down in Bled
Bled gets its fair share of daytrippers from Ljubljana (the capital is only an hour away by bus or train), but so few of these stay over. I’d definitely recommend you stay at least one night here to see a different perspective of the lake and to enjoy the chilled-out nightlife.
There’s a variety of accommodation choices ranging from a campsite and hostels to luxurious five star hotels, such as Vila Bled. This was the summer palace of the dictator General Tito when he ruled Yugoslavia, and is where we’ll stay next time we’re in town (assuming we’ve saved enough pennies). On the opposite side of the lake to the resort centre, it has its own private gardens, fine-dining restaurant and prices to match.
We stayed at the 4* Best Western Lovec (www.lovechotel.com;Ljubljanska cesta 6) on the main drag, where doubles with breakfast and balconies were around €65 a night. There’s a pool and jacuzzi in which to relax and recover from your exertions, before hitting the bright lights of Bled for a night out.
There are some pretty good restaurants in town – we liked the look of the food we saw at the Panorama when we had a cake there, so went back for some tasty local trout. And the restaurant opposite it (Ostarija Peglez’n) is always busy – a good sign – so we booked up there for our next night and had an excellent John Dory dish.
After 9pm, most of the elderly visitors to Bled have gone to bed, so you’ll have the lake almost to yourself if you fancy an after-dinner stroll (although watch out for the daring swans, who sleep on the grassy areas by the footpath and don’t like to be disturbed). You will not believe how peaceful it is here at night.
Bled has a fairly large student population thanks to its Management School, so there are a smattering of bars that stay open into the small hours. We fell in love with the huge Devil Bar at Svobode 15, with its big screen football, selection of scrumptious Slovenian wines and 4am bar.