There’s something a bit more exciting about traveling off the beaten path. The idea that you are going somewhere that everyone you know has not already visited certainly carries its own cache. Slovenia is one of those places. It has so much to offer from gorgeous medieval cities to the pristine wilderness where wild bears still roam free. In the center of Slovenia is its most magical treasure, an emerald-green lake surrounded by the Julian Alps and dotted with an little island at its center. This is Bled and simply one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The wanderlust traveler is often subject to become obsessed with their next destination just from seeing a photo. The reaction is instantaneous with where is that and followed by I’ve got to go there. With the first sight, Bled has that beguiling effect. That photo of the islet in the center of an aqua blue lake with the church and towering steeple, for many, is simply too much to resist. Yet Bled has so much more to offer beyond the lake and Slovenia’s most iconic image. Overlooking the lake is the medieval cliff-top castle as well as woodlands to explore, decadent local treats to try out in addition to pampering hotels to accommodate their guests.
A visit to Bled is first and foremost about visiting this magical little lake that looks like it came right out of the pages of a children’s fairy tale book. The aqua blue glacial lake is not particularly large and one can walk around the entire lake in a few hours. What makes it so special is just how stunningly beautiful it is, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and forests. It is even more beautiful in person, more so than the millions of Instagram photos that fall short of capturing its surreal beauty. Second to the glacial lake is its next sublime attraction, a medieval castle, perched high on a high rocky bluff with panoramic views over the lake and mountains.
In the center of the lake is a small stony island with a church that dates back to the 12th century. Inside, the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church is gorgeous with an ornate gilded altar, religious works, exquisite statues and frescoes and, a belfry that rises 175 ft. You’ll often hear the bell ringing where rumor has it that ringing the bell three times that a wish will be granted. Another must-do experience is climbing the 99 stairs to the top of the steeple for a lookout around the island.
Beyond the church, guests can spend hours on the island exploring the well-curated museum with ancient artifacts and historical information or visit the provost’s house, small hermitage building as well as artisan shops selling local crafts from around the region. There is also a lovely café there for light meals or to sample their irresistible ice cream. Beyond that, guests can walk around the island, go for a swim or just pause and relax while taking in the natural beauty of the area.
Lake Bled is a glacier lake that is only 1.3 miles long and .6 miles wide with its deepest point at about 100 feet. Wildlife is abundant in this clean water lake with 19 types of fish including carp and trout. Birdlife is plentiful as well with all manner of fowl and countless ducks and swans.
Getting to Bled Island is just as enjoyable as time spent visiting. Some will rent a rowboat for a romantic time with a loved one but the most popular way to get there is by the plentas which are wooden boats with a colorful striped canopy. One family owns this exclusive service with only 23 of these iconic boats in service. The boatmen or Plentars have an unusual and skillful way of rowing two large oars while standing to propel the boats around the lake in a tradition that’s been passed down since the 16th century.
One would say that the supporting cast member of the iconic Lake Bled is the area’s second most recognizable attraction, the Bled Castle. Sat far above the lake on a rocky outcrop, the well-preserved castle features a top-notch restaurant, two large courtyards, a museum, a chapel, and souvenir shops. The medieval fortress dates back to 1004 and is the oldest castle in Slovenia with crenelated rock walls, towers, a moat, and a terrace with stunning views over the lake. A must while visiting Bled is to have lunch on the terrace. The menu features well-prepared Slovenian dishes with equally as delicious views over the lake with the Karavanke mountains and the Julian Alps in the distance.
Bled is famous for much more than its lake, landscapes, and castles. Cremeschnitt is its most delicious invention and is better known as Bled crème cake. It is as decadent as it is calorie-rich and worth every indulgent morsel. The creamy delight is made from several layers of puff pastry made with butter, vanilla custard cream, and whipped cream and topped with icing sugar. The cake was created by a local chef and is now a favorite throughout Slovenia however, most relish the idea of having a slice in the town of its origination.
Many visitors to Bled will make is a day trip from the capital Ljubljana which is about two hours drive away. However, to fully explore Bled one would need a day or two to explore all that this area has to offer. There are several exceptional hotels in the area that make great options to fully enjoy Bled.
One of the prettiest hotels is Villa Adora. This Victorian-era mansion sits grandly on a hillside situated a stone’s throw from the lake’s shore. It’s made for romantic couples who spend time on walks around the lake, exploring the island and castle, and then retiring to its plush accommodations and amenities. The hotel has vibrant flower beds and well-kept gardens to stroll through or perhaps take your tea or glass of wine. A lovely pavilion awaits with plush furnishings and coffee-table books making it the ideal respite to relax in between explorations around the area.
Built in 1878, this gorgeous bed and breakfast is intimate with only eight well-equipped rooms. The design and décor are a standout replete with period antiques, gorgeous objets d’art, and rich oil paintings throughout. Accommodations feature tastefully designed rooms filled with natural light, classic furnishings, and modern bathrooms, many with deep soaking baths made for two. Several of the rooms offer exquisite balconies with sitting areas and views of the lake where one can sit for hours while relishing the moment. Villa Adora also offers a delicious morning breakfast to start the day with eggs to order and fresh juices and artisan produce from local producers.
Hotel Rose Bled
Another ideal option when visiting bled is the Hotel Rose Bled This hotel is bold and brash with a decadent décor complete with ultra-modern design elements such as a wall filled with rose flowers. Beyond the stylish décor, the hotel is ideally located in the center of town and close to the lake and rose gardens and park. Facilities include a fitness center, large pool, Turkish steam bath, and SPA with VIP rooms with their private whirlpool and sauna.
Guest rooms are spacious and well-appointed with all the amenities required by today’s travelers. Most rooms feature a balcony as well with exquisite views over the lake. Hotel Rose Bled offers an exceptional dining experience focused on freshly prepared and locally sourced Slovenian and international cuisine. There is a full-service bar and lounge as well serving some unique specialty cocktails such as their Bled Rose slice with fruit caviar and rose petals. Guest will not want to miss the action on the weekends with their Jungle Brunch with lively music and unlimited mimosas.
Beyond sightseeing, Bled offers plenty to do for those seeking to immerse themselves in nature. The forests around the lake are pristine with well-marked trails that lead to sweeping views of the lake and the surrounding mountain peaks. The lake is ideal for recreation on the water from swimming to stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and rowing. Many visitors will also want to spend the day at Grajska Bathing park, a swimming area with facilities for sunbathing or taking the plunge with their waterslides. Bled is also a good base for exploring the Triglav National Park for more breathtaking scenery with waterfalls, gorges, and stunning valleys.
Bled is one of those places that seems to fit better in a dream than in real life. The surreal beauty cannot be overstated, from the blue water, the charming island and church as well as the natural beauty that surrounds it. Bled is nothing short of a world treasure and the perfect place for those looking for their next unmissable and unforgettable destination.