Most people couldn’t point to Slovenia on the map, but there’s a chance they’ve seen its famous town, Bled, in photographs.
Those photographs don’t lie.
After spending more than 20 days hiking the Alpe-Adria Trail, we eagerly rented a car and drove from Ljubljana to spend a day in Bled (about a 40-minute drive).
Tucked in the foothills of Julian Alps and surrounded by forests and countryside, Bled is heavily visited but exceptionally lovely. Life centers around Lake Bled, with its aquamarine, clear, and impressively clean water. On one side of the lake sits the 11th-century Bled Castle. On a small island in the center of the lake is Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria.
Even though we’d just hiked hundreds of miles, the day was perfect for walking. We bought picnic fixings at a small market and headed off for the five-kilometer stroll around the lake.
Lake Bled is surprisingly serene given how popular it is.
Cyclists and runners slipped between walkers on the path. Ducks waddled along the sandy banks. People of all ages slipped in and out of the water, splashing around and tossing balls back and forth. We passed a couple old men fishing far from the swimmers. We saw a couple others playing cards on a makeshift table set up on the bank.
If we’d had enough foresight, we would have brought swimsuits to change into. The day was slightly overcast but hot and humid, and the lake looked refreshing and pleasantly warmed by the summer sun. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we made a mental note for next time.
We dropped our picnic blanket, kicked off our sandals, and let our feet rest in the dirt cooled by overhead tree shade. (After 22 days of hiking boots, a long walk in sandals was heavenly, and being barefoot was even better.)
Lots of people take boats to visit the lake’s cathedral, known for its steep staircase and bell tower. However, we opted to simply enjoy it from a distance.
We took our time strolling around Lake Bled. At times, the path pulled back from the water’s edge. At others, it turned into a boardwalk hanging over the water.
Though we didn’t visit the church, we did make our way to Bled Castle. Perched high on a cliff overlooking the lake, it arguably offered the best views of the whole area. In fact, we admired the view before our self-guided tour, and then we stopped for one more long look before heading back down the cliff afterwards as well.
Our castle visit was well worth the entrance fee. With written records back over a thousand years, the medieval castle is one of the oldest in Slovenia. Its buildings are well-preserved, and the walking tour — including a visit to the museum — was interesting. We wandered in and out of various rooms — a chapel, residential buildings, a wine cellar. Parts were like a living history museum: We watched a blacksmith and print maker at work.
No visit to Bled is complete without a piece of Bled cream cake … and it didn’t disappoint! Even Cory, who is lactose intolerant, ate a few bites. We both decided it deserves its delicious reputation.
So, here’s the thing: There are places like Bled that are on all those “must visit” and “most beautiful” lists. I have a short list of places I’d like to visit in Europe, and it was on my list. Sometimes these destinations do not live up to their hype (I’m looking at you, Barcelona). And sometimes, in the case of Bled, they absolutely win over your heart.
Bled was beautiful in every sense of the word. The lake town, like its famous dessert, has earned its reputation.