Lake Bled is utterly beautiful...beyond words...simply breathtaking!
It's easy to see how this is one of the most visited destinations in Slovenia. Thankfully, I visited in late October when tourist buses were non-existent and crowds were low. At first glance entering Lake Bled, it may appear the area has become overly commercialized with post-war communist era architecture, a casino, an Irish Pub, a Mexican restaurant, and a tourist train. Round the corner and looking in the opposite direction, you are rewarded with storybook scenes: snow covered Alps, emerald green water, a small island with a church spire peeking above the trees, and a medieval castle overseeing it all from the cliffs above.
While many well-travelled people consider Lake Bled very touristy (and in some ways it is), its stunning beauty is worth a visit. My greatest disappointment was the dense fog that lay over the area preventing views of the Alps in the background...reason enough for a return visit in my opinion!
As with so many ancient sites, there is a legend to be told. According to one legend, Lake Bled was once a valley of green pastures. In the middle of the valley was a rock cliff that fairies would dance on. When shepherds began bringing their sheep into the pastures to graze, the fairies became angry. The disturbed fairies called for water to come down from the mountain to flood the valley and form a lake. The only thing that remained visible was the fairy rock--Bled Island.
Aren't legends fun? In reality, Lake Bled was created from glaciations dating 15,000-20,000 years ago.
I started my visit at the castle. Word of warning: the walk is a steep one, but well worth it for the views.
The castle dates back to 1004. Rooms are displayed with its history and furniture characteristic of those times. One of the most interesting experiences is in the print shop. Here, you will see how traditional ancient printing was done and can have personalized pieces printed as a unique memento. A walk around the exterior of the castle provides some of the most dramatic views of the lake, island and Julian Alps. Top of the visit with a slice of Bled cream cake on the terrace (more on that in a later post).
After making your way down from the castle, head to the other side of the lake for a visit to the island. The only way to reach the island is via pletnas--traditional wooden boats that have been taking visitors to the lake for centuries. They are operated by standing rowers known as pletnars.
At the landing, there are 99 stone steps (go ahead, count them!) to reach the Assumption of Mary church. As you can imagine, many weddings take place in this magical place. It is tradition for a groom to carry his bride up the 99 steps for a happy marriage!
Once you've caught your breath from walking up all those steps, take time to walk the path around the island to enjoy the lake from all sides. End with a visit inside the church. Here you can ring the church bell which legend says (yes, of course, another legend!) ringing the bell three times will make your wishes come true. According to another legend, a young widow decided to dedicate a special memorial to her husband who had been killed by bandits and had his body thrown into the lake. She had all her gold and silver melted to create a bell for the church on the island. Unfortunately, the boat delivering the bell capsized in a storm and the bell sunk to the bottom of the lake. Distraught, the woman joined a monastery in Rome. The story continues with the Pope sending a replacement bell which became the town's famous wishing bell. Locals still claim to hear the bell in the lake ringing late at night.
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