“With an emerald-green lake, a picture-postcard church on a tiny island, a medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff, and some of the highest peaks of the Julian Alps and the Karavanke as backdrops, Bled seems to have been designed by some god of tourism.”
At first I was doubting if I should use one of only two planned days in Slovenia to visit a small mountain town, possibly at the cost of seeing the capital city itself, but the above description pushed me over the edge. Thank you again, Lonely Planet. You never let me down.
The first thing I did after stepping off the bus and into the warm mountain air was rent a bicycle and descend through the town center towards the lakefront. Here I stopped at the Park Hotel restaurant and ordered a slice of kremsnita – I had no idea what it was, but a Slovenian reader recommended it as a “must try” when he heard I’d be traveling in the area.
What it turned out to be…absolutely blew my mind. Kremsnita is the exact dessert my grandmother used to rave about – and go to great lengths to find. I hadn’t tasted one for probably fifteen years, and didn’t recognize the name because she used to call it something different (“Kray-mesh”). But the moment I laid eyes on that little slice of pastry I knew exactly what it was. Talk about a flashback.
Apparently the chef who invented it – a Hungarian – did so at this very hotel, which is why it’s the most famous (and purportedly the best) place to have one. I have to admit, it was pretty damn good. And the view over the lake and its hilltop castle, combined with the flawless weather, even better.
After my “healthy” little breakfast I headed off by bike for a quick 6km loop around the lake, followed by a hike to the Osojnica (pronounced “oh-soy-knee-tsuh”) overlook for some fabulous panoramas of the surrounding mountains.
Seriously, picturesque simply does not do this place justice. Especially for such a quick day trip from the capital city – and it really can be done in a day – Bled is simply not to be missed.
Back down at the lake I hopped on a gondola to the island, joining a group of catholic (?) pilgrims who sang religious hymns the whole way there. It was a pleasant enough ride, but the island itself was tiny and had little to see – with a hefty 12EUR pricetag for the quick 15 minute ride, it’s something I would probably skip.
For lunch I grabbed a “Slovenian” hamburger at a local fastfood restaurant, which turned out to be an interesting little experience: the patty was flat and enormous, like an IHOP pancake, topped off with the usuals (lettuce, tomato, etc) – plus CORN.
As I waited for the woman to fry up my pancake – er, burger – we chatted about my travels. Her first question was “So your family is Slovenian?”
Apparently almost no young Americans come here for pure tourism, and the only ones she’s met have been here on a sort of family-history pilgrimage. It seemed to make her happy when I told her I’d come just to see the country, and that I was loving it so far.
Next I started a leisurely 4km ride out of the town towards Vintgar Gorge, one of the more popular nature hikes in the area. It wasn’t until I’d been riding for 15 minutes or so that I realized I might’ve been riding in the totally wrong direction: I’d been following the signs towards “Gorje,” simply assuming that it meant “Gorge.” It didn’t. Gorje is actually the name of a small town just next to Bled.
…A town which by total coincidence happens to be in the exact direction of Vintgar Gorge! How lucky 🙂
The last few minutes of the ride was in my opinion almost as pleasant as the hike itself: it brought me through some very peaceful, rustic, pristine little residential communities in the foothills of the Alps. The homes continued right up to the trailhead, where I locked my bike and began a short 30-minute walk that zigzagged alongside and over a whitewater stream set between two towering cliffs.
The highlight was without a doubt the plank pathways affixed to either side of the gorge, which crossed back and forth above the water running below. At times it reminded me of the plank path at Huashan, though of course it was only a few meters above a small river rather than a kilometer above a mindbending dropoff 😉
By the time I finished the hike I had just a few minutes until the 6:30 bus back to Ljubljana, the second-last bus of the day. Since I didn’t want to get stuck waiting two hours for the 8:30pm bus I cycled as fast as my legs would carry me – arriving just a few minutes too late. Or so the clock said. It turned out that the 6:30 bus had never even come, and there was a large group of tourists who’d been waiting for nearly an hour – so we all ended up just chatting at the station until 7:30 when it finally did come.
Weird, but fine by me! I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait the full 2 hours, and could make it back just in time for the hostel’s Monday night all-you-can-eat BBQ 🙂