I’m quite partial to pretty panoramic. I’ve marched the steps of the Eiffel Tower, fought my way through the throngs atop the Empire State Building and suffered several bouts of vertigo in any of the many bell towers throughout medieval Europe.
But now sitting in splendid isolation enjoying the mid-morning summer sunshine with coffee and chocolate tart, I had found another to challenge any other.
The location – the cobblestoned courtyard of one of Europe’s oldest castles.
The panoramic – the unadulterated beauty of the jewel of Slovenia, Lake Bled, glimmering and glistening below, amidst the protective peaks of the surrounding Julian Alps.
Bled Castle dates back to 1011 and is perched at the top a steep cliff rising 130 metres above the glacial lake.
The castle remains a symbol of Bled and Slovenia, while the castle terraces also offer spectacular views beyond the lake to the mountain ranges of the Karavanke and the Julian Alps.
The museum located in the baroque rooms of the castle takes visitors on a journey celebrating the eventful history of Bled from the time when the first settlements in the area appeared to the present day.
The descent from the castle leads to a six-kilometre walking track, which takes you on the scenic saunter around the perimeter of the lake.
Designated swimming and sunbathing spots are dotted throughout the route, which will inevitably be interrupted by the obligatory rowing boat ride across to the charming chapel that dominates the lake’s only islet.
The lake is actually a rower’s paradise and is regularly home to the world championships as the glass-like surface makes for ideal racing conditions.
It’s safe to say that my own efforts won’t be worrying the current Irish Olympic team as I huffed and puffed in vain to eventually arrive at the docking station at the base of the old church steps.
A mid-water manoeuvre didn’t inspire confidence amongst my crew and it was an achievement to make it onto terra firma in dry clothes.
And so an intimate wedding photo shoot was gatecrashed as I wandered about the impressive old church grounds. But the romantic scene resumed as we headed back to the mainland, rowing skills remaining raw for the voyage yonder.
Lake Bled formed as a result of the Bohinj Glacier’s movement after the last Ice Age. The seismic shift deepened the natural tectonic hollow and when the ice melted the basin filled with water.
The lake’s thermal springs are now captured and enjoyed in three swimming pools at the Toplice Grand Hotel, Park Hotel and Golf Hotel, while the temperature of the water reaches up to 25°C in the summer and freezes over in winter.
Hotels and holiday homes border the lake – well hidden within the scenery, thankfully – including Vila Bled, a boutique residence that was once the summer dwelling of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.
You could easily lap the lake in an hour, but with the castle visit, the longer than expected row boat ride, a leisurely lunch and many, many photo stops, it took me the best part of four hours to complete. But worth every minute, and aside from the short steep castle path, it takes little effort to complete.
Which is why I felt compelled to venture up to the lakeside adrenalin park upon completion, finishing off the detour on the probably-meant-for-kids summertime toboggan, that whizzes you back into the heart of the town.
Conveniently, my final stop on the lake tour was a visit to the Park Café to sample some important local culture.
The tasting of the Kremna Rezina is an absolute must for any visit to Bled and where better to sample this cultural icon than the Park Café, considering over ten million have been produced since its arrival in 1953.
Custard, cream, puff pastry and powdered sugar, the Kremna Rezina (cream slice) is as pretty as it is tasty and it never even occurred to me that it was my second helping of cake of the day – it was still early.
I enjoyed the local delicacy, guilt free, while marvelling at yet more amazing vistas of the lake, this time with the cliff and castle as backdrop beyond.
Bled is full of quality restaurants catering for every budget, however, do try to reserve a table on the waterside terrace of the boutique hotel, Vila Preseren. The excellent contemporary menu offers light cuisine with a touch of the Mediterranean accompanied by top-quality wines from Slovenia and beyond. A trip to Bled will only be enhanced by staying at this exquisite venue, budget permitting. www.villa-preseren.com
Lake Bled sits on the periphery of Slovenia’s only national park, the Triglav National Park. Named after Triglav, the highest mountain summit in Slovenia (2864 m), the park extends along the Italian border and close to Austria in the north-west of Slovenia. The park covers 880 square kilometres, which equates to around three per cent of the territory of Slovenia.
Lake Bohinj lies in the heart of the national park, just thirty kilometres from Bled. The equally impressive Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest glacial lake and is both rugged and dramatic compared to the calm waters of Lake Bled.
The Savica Waterfall is one of the main attractions near Bohinj. Hiking trails will take you to see the impressive 60m waterfall, which also inspired Slovenia’s most famous epic, The Baptism at Savica Falls.
In winter, the national park and adjacent Julian Alps become one of Europe’s most accessible ski resorts, such is the proximity of Slovenia’s main airport.
Bled Golf Course
The last thing I expected en route to this scenic section of Slovenia was that I’d be teeing it up amidst amazing alpine backdrops. But the Bled Golf & Country Club was suggested and an amazing afternoon was enjoyed on the very fine King’s Course, which has been recognised as one of the Top 100 golf courses on continental Europe. And it didn’t disappoint, the views alone, make it one of the most spectacular tracks that I’ve had the pleasure to play. The course’s lofty setting also made the ball travel that bit further than it does at sea level, which was a very welcome bonus. www.golfbled.com
Where to Stay
I stayed at the mid-range Jelovica Hotel, in a prime location, just a short stroll from the water’s edge of Lake Bled. The hotel is clean and modern with cable TV and wifi throughout, while breakfast can be enjoyed on the restaurant’s summer terrace. www.hotel-jelovica.si
Getting to Lake Bled
Lake Bled is located less than an hour from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. In fact, Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport is located midway between the two destinations.
For more information about Lake Bled and Slovenia, visit www.slovenia.info.