A cliff-top castle, an island monastery and alpine surroundings add to the wonderment of Lake Bled. The enchanting scenery of this placid lake, under the colossal presence of the Julian Alps, looks stolen from fairy tale. Visitors from all over the world come to Bled for a day of hiking in its forests, boating to its island, and bathing in its thermal waters. The mineral springs at the north-eastern section of the lake are famous for their healing abilities and have attracted many wealthy tourists over the centuries. All in all, Lake Bled is one magical place.
We arrived at Lake Bled during the low season in the early spring, so although there weren’t massive hordes of tourists cramping our visit, a gentle mist hung over everything like a shroud. It was also a bit too chilly for swimming, but we had plenty of other adventures to keep us occupied. Bled was one of the stops on the Westphal family’s road trip that we were so lucky to be a part of, and as we drove down to the shore in what should legally be classified as a bus we were all itching to get out on to those crystal-clear waters.
Even though it was technically the low season there were still several people along the shore renting out row boats for the day. While Ashleigh’s parents and sister jumped into one of the romantic Pletna boats, I wanted to row, so Ashleigh, her brother Braeden and I rented a wee dingy. After a bit of fiddling I finally managed to get the row boat pointed in the right direction and we were skating across the water with all the grace of a one-legged swan. Our destination was the only real island in Slovenia, whereupon the Church of Assumption rests in isolation. After swiftly ramming into the docks, we tied up our sea vessel and began exploring the island. Many Slovenians get married at the Church of Assumption, and as per tradition it is the burden of the groom to carry his bride-to-be all the way up the 99 steps to the chapel. For us, it was a nice way to stretch out our legs after being scrunched together like canned sardines on that dinghy. From the top of the hill, in the distance we could still see Fred, Cindy and Katrina lounging on their canopied Pletna boat while their driver nonchalantly paddled to the island. Ha, beat ’em!
There has been evidence found on Bled Island of settlements as early as the 11th century B.C., and according to legend there was once a temple there dedicated to the Slavic goddess Ziva. In the 15th century a church was built on the island which consequently collapsed during two different earthquakes and had to be rebuilt. The Baroque-style church you see today dates from the 17th century and contains beautiful frescoes and golden altars. Also inside is a magic bell that grants you any one wish if you give it a ring (I know, just one wish? What a rip-off!). Even though the church isn’t particularly interesting, the island is a nice place to wind down and enjoy the serenity of the lake. By the time Ashleigh’s parents arrived in their special Pletna boat, we were already off again on a treacherous voyage back to the mainland, this time with Braeden at the helm. If it was a race, we totally would have won (in my mind we bloody well did)!
After regrouping in town, as a family we began our climb up to Castle Bled, and by climbing I mean we drove most of the way to the top. Bled is your typical looking, Slavic castle on the edge of a sheer precipice, normally backdropped by ferocious lightning strikes. It is the oldest castle in Slovenia, first mentioned on record in 1011, and been an important venue for high–level political and other official meetings for centuries. Within Bled Castle’s fortifications there are a few interesting rooms such as the printing press, the smithy and the chapel, but the terrace makes it all worthwhile. From the terrace you can see the whole Bled area below in all of its beauty: the lake, island and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Although we didn’t have the time or money to spend at the spas, it was those “wellness centres” that put Bled on the map as a major tourist attraction. In the mid-19th century a Swiss man named Arnold Rikli came to Lake Bled after he heard about its thermal mineral springs. In 1855 he founded a natural health institute, an enormous complex with 59 huts, 3 large baths, a kitchen, dining hall, a private villa and a park and recreation area. Though the focus of his treatments was bathing in the thermal pools, it also included massage, vegetarianism, sunshine and nudity. Rikli was one of the best-known healers of his time and his concept of well-being became known religiously as Riklianism. Rich Europeans from all over came to Lake Bled to experience the “Sun Doctor’s” sublime spa treatments, and since then there have been a panoply of spas and resorts popping up in the region.
It was a shame the sun never came out for us, to pull back the grey curtain, revealing the true blueness of the lake and the vastness of the Julian Mountains. I can imagine in the summer time just how perfect this corner of Slovenia would be. Before leaving the enchanting Lake Bled behind forever, we couldn’t help but try their traditional cream cake, Kremna rezina. I’m not really a cream cake person but sitting down with this giant block of sweet mush, sipping espresso and breathing in the amazing scenery around us was a nice finish to the day.