What it was like to return to the scenic alpine resort after 13 years.
This small mountain resort (population 5,500) in northwestern Slovenia has been a popular year-round destination since the mid-1800s.
Located alongside glacial Lake Bled in the Julian Alps and near the Triglav National Park, it draws an active crowd: athletes, water sports enthusiasts, hikers. It’s also in demand with families and couples looking for a peaceful getaway.
One of Bled’s main attractions is an island in the middle of the lake, accessible by a wooden boat (pletna in Slovenian).
Visitors can climb 99 stone steps to the top and tour the Gothic/Baroque Church of the Assumption, which up until the 8th century was a temple of the Slavic goddess of love Živa. Legend has it that ringing the bell inside the church brings good luck.
For panoramic views of the town, lake and surrounding countryside, go up to the medieval Bled Castle.
Expanded and restored over the centuries, the complex includes a Romanesque Tower, two courtyards, a history museum, chapel, and restaurant. Several rooms are decorated with frescoes. The castle also hosts seasonal cultural events, such as archery tournaments, and is a popular wedding site.
Bled’s proximity to a protected, national park area means the shoreline avoids over-development. Most hotels are concentrated in the center of town, on one side of the lake. That’s where you will also find shops, restaurants, and places that sell kremšnita, Bled’s renowned vanilla cream cake.
I first traveled to the area in 2001. It was a winter getaway with a group of American expats living in Poland, including Mr. JA. As we were tight on funds, we took public transportation from Ljubljana.
I vaguely remember waiting for what seemed like hours at a rural train station. We finally hopped on the first bus that had Bled written on the sign. I also recall being happy to have found a British Pound coin on the bus floor – at that time, the Pound had a very favorable exchange rate to the Polish Zloty. Every bit counts in the travel budget…
We walked up to the castle hill and caught a glimpse of the scenery, but unfortunately didn’t have time to go inside. It was getting late and we wanted to take a boat to the island. Once there, we hiked a trail to the church and took turns ringing the bell.
I don’t know how much luck it brought us, but it sure sounded good.
My 2014 trip to Bled was quite different. This time around, I was on a small-group tour with Roundabout Travel, a Ljubljana-based company offering outings in Slovenia and neighboring countries. I opted for the half-day Alpine Fairytale, which included a visit to the castle and a choice between the island and Vintgar Gorge.
The van arrived in the morning to pick me up from a downtown Ljubljana hotel. Our guide Tomo greeted me and introduced the other passengers. I was glad there was no awkward silence, which can sometimes happen when you’re sharing a small space with strangers. We started chatting about where we’re from, what brought us to Slovenia, and where we were going next. The roughly 40-minute ride to Bled went by quickly.
Throughout the tour, Tomo shared a lot of information – about the town, lake, and history of tourism in the region. He also didn’t mind answering questions about his country, e.g. regarding popular sports (skiing, basketball) and language (he can understand Croatian friends quite easily).
Before we made our first scheduled stop, Tomo drove around the lake so that we could see more of the town, such as a 1907 railway station and Valvazorjeva Street – winner of a local competition for the most beautiful street in Bled.
I wanted to see the gorge, but it was important for me to revisit the island. Coincidentally, it was my wedding anniversary and I began to feel sentimental.
The surroundings hadn’t changed, but I was disappointed with the commercialism that had taken over the experience. The boat ride was a little pricey, you could no longer go inside the bell tower for free, and I couldn’t recall seeing a gift shop on my first visit. Then again, I was able to catch Wi-Fi inside and send a message to Mr. JA…
After circling the church a couple of times, I decided to hike back down and sit on the shore. For a few minutes, it felt like 2001 again.
If you go:
- Roundabout Travel operates half-day Alpine Fairytale tours Monday-Sunday, all year round
- Price (39€/person as of September 2014) includes transportation and an English-speaking guide
- Optional fees: Bled Castle 9€ (with museum access), boat ride 12€, bell tower 6€, Vintgar Gorge 4€.
I traveled to Slovenia as part of the #TasteLjubljana project, organized by The Travel Mob blogging team and Visit Ljubljana (more about the trip here). All thoughts and opinions expressed on Jetting Around are mine.
About the Author (Author Profile)Pola Henderson is a travel writer and city explorer. Besides Jetting Around, her writing credits include CNN, Yahoo, Expedia, MasterCard, among others. She also runs JA Media, a boutique agency specializing in content writing and event production. Happily multicultural, Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for 13 years, and is currently based in her soul city Paris.
Sites That Link to this Post
- City Guide: Ljubljana, Slovenia - Jetting Around | September 22, 2014