Do you think it’s possible that there could still exist a place on this planet that is so achingly beautiful but only the locals know about it? And where their secret life goes on as normal with no tourists to wreck the joint until instagram will inevitably discover it one day in the future? I’m pretty sure that’s where Lake Bled was 5 years ago, apart from the odd intrepid explorer. You never heard about the place, and, Slovenia – where’s that?
Well, with our final destination choice being Croatia on this summer’s road-trip, and our ongoing devotion to visiting as much of the world as possible, it seemed only sensible that we cut through this new country to see what the crack is.
Lake Bled – Slovenia
For a couple of years now, I have been reading lots of articles about this beautiful lake in this supposedly beautiful country but would never have considered booking it as a weekend break because, well, it looked SO darn pretty and was SO well photographed – the crowds must be massive right? And that’s me, a travel blogger : someone who never likes to feel like I’m missing out on a must-see beauty spot. So I can only imagine how this could put off a less acquisitive traveller. And all I was reading about Slovenia was mostly about hiking and getting out into nature – but I can do that on my own doorstep, I travel to meet the people, get a feel of a place and learn about its history, washed down with the best local food and wine (besides, 1 pair of hiking boots = the space for 2 pairs of pretty shoes!). So what was the point of Lake Bled if it was just going to be an exercise in crowd-control and an excuse for gift shops and overpriced restaurants? Well, I’m here to give you the low-down on Bled, the truth about its shores and how you can totally nail an epic trip to this attractive little Slovenian lake : my Lake Bled tips…
Where To Stay On Bled
The main road into Bled drops you straight onto the lakeshore and my brain started racking, trying to recall something, anything, about the hotel we had booked. I remembered it hadn’t been an easy search as the cost of all the lakeside hotels needed you to sell one of your kidneys if you wanted a view, but the sat nav was saying we were nearing our hotel and it didn’t require turning off onto a side road. Bingo – we’d hit gold with this one, I could just feel it!
Villa Istra was pretty much the only hotel we could find on the Lakefront that didn’t look like the rooms were out of Communist Europe. Slovenia hadn’t really blown us away with its aesthetics yet : bland little towns with not much in the way of ‘old’ and plenty in the way of cheap housing, but Villa Istra is a traditional villa which nicely offsets its surroundings and doesn’t have to fight too hard to compete with the other Lake Bled landmarks. Take a look…
The whole hotel was refurbished a few years ago and the owners have taken care to choose their interiors carefully with some beautiful antique furniture. Inside the rooms the decor is sympathetic to the Villa’s era and has the added bonus of newly fitted bathrooms with some modern touches, like the white metro tiles and L’Occitane toiletries. Everywhere was scrupulously clean and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful at this Boutique style hotel. Unfortunately the hotel sits back from the lake and the view is partially blocked by one of Bled’s many tree’s so I’m not sure the ‘room with a view’ would warrant the extra charge as it seems like it must be a restricted view at best. However, the location is absolutely perfect and you only have to cross the road before you are sat upon the banks of the lake itself. We were very content we choose to forgo a view from our room in exchange for the most loveliest of hotels at a much reduced price when the lake was so close. I cannot recommend Villa Istra highly enough. And, if you didn’t want to pay the extra for breakfast there is a little lakeside coffee shack just 50 metres away that does a perfectly acceptable croissant and cappuccino for a couple of Euros. For the best deals on Villa Istra, click here.
Doing Lake Bled Like A Boss
I totally get why someone would book Lake Bled for a week’s holiday for a bit of R&R and views that refresh the soul : easy paced strolls, cheap Slovenian wines and mid-day dips in the tepid thermal-fed lake itself. It must be idyllic and easy to whip through a few Mills and Boon whilst you’re at it, but honestly – a weekend is all you need to absorb everything glorious about Lake Bled, even just one day if you’re at a push. For starters it only takes 1.5 hours to walk around the perimeter and if you’re really lazy and don’t mind the risk of looking like an overgrown child, there is also a toy train that does the full loop.
Lake Bled must be admired from all angles and in all lights but especially dusk and dawn. The crowds tend to arrive as day-trippers from about 10am and leave en-masse in time for their tea at 5ish so it’s not as frantic in the evening and the Lake seems to absorb the rest of the ‘overnight’ tourists anyway. Traffic can be a bit heavier during the day but I’m not talking ‘chip shop on a friday night’ kinda heavy, more just a steady trickle on the one road in and out. And if you are staying overnight and enjoying an evening ramble you may find yourself mixing with local dogwalkers in lycra Speedo’s and teen’s larking around on rope-swings, impressing their girlfriends with kamikaze vaultings into the water – oh to be young and in love! Regardless, it’s a wonderful thing that in this top Slovenian beauty spot, probably their main tourist attraction after Ljubljana, you can still spot a local.
The lake itself is a hive of activity and if you look carefully you will see a section that is cordoned off exclusively for competitive rowing. Possibly the most picturesque course in the world and home to quite a few Olympic medal sportsmen, there are people practising all day long and the lake holds several regattas throughout the year. All of this makes for interesting viewing but if you’d like to try your hand at your own bit of paddling then it’s very easy to hire a row boat, canoe or paddle board from several places around the lake – you’re going to need to if you want to visit the island, unless you take the water-bus of course.
Bled island is much to blame for the thousands of tourists who visit Bled each year, without it this lake would be a relatively boring body of water : who builds a pond and leaves out the gnome on a lily pad? A lake needs a centre piece! But this one comes with myths and traditions which draw in the romanticists and gullible.
See those steps? (above photo) Tradition still has it that if a groom could carry his bride up the 99 steps to the Church Of Assumption and she remain silent for the trip, they could ensure a long and happy marriage. Needless to say, divorce rates on Bled are exceptionally high! Add to that a bell, which if rung 3 times, will bring you good luck, you can see why thousands make the trip by boat each year. Personally, I think the island looks better from the shores or water of Bled, and just being in this spot on planet earth is enough to make you feel lucky enough without having to ring a bell, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to visit the island!
Bled Cake is another one of those things you must try while you are here. Not the most appetising sounding desert, I realise, however, I assure you no bodily fluids are used in the making of (unless of course you count your own saliva as you drool over its deliciousness). It’s what the daytrippers come here to try though so my tip for getting a slice without a half hour wait is to head on over to The Park Hotel for breakfast before the crowds arrive. This is where the cake was invented and there’ll be room on their balcony for sure, plus the coffee is good too. It’s Slovenia’s take on the British Vanilla Slice and it won’t disappoint : you wouldn’t go to Lisbon and not have a Nata de Belem so don’t even think about forgoing a Bled Cake. Alternatively, if The Park Hotel is already too busy, Slascicarna Zima (on Grajska Cesta) does a great version too.
The Best View of Lake Bled does involve a workout, but lets face it – you just ate a cows-worth of cream in your slice of Bled Cake and you need to burn off some calories. Ojstrica is the spot where postcards are made, the views are stunning and definitely worth the hike at sunrise or sunset. It can get quite busy during the day so if you’re not a fan of crowds then you may want to try the nearby Mala Osojnica hike instead : some same the views aren’t as good and the climb is a little more perilous but you’ve got more chance of getting the bench at the top to yourselves. Both climbs take 20-40 minutes and you will need to have your wits about you as health and safety doesn’t exist in Slovenia!
Bled Castle, as you’ve probably noticed, is constantly within eyeshot wherever you are on the Lake. It ticks every box of a fairytale castle and is said to be the oldest in Slovenia. Inside isn’t as glorious as some ancient castles – this place wasn’t really a home as such, more a fortification and place to stay for the feudal lords : someone had to protect their stores of Bled Cake! The views from the terraces are spectacular and the museum has some interesting displays about the historical and cultural developement of Bled. Entrance fee is €11 Adult.
Where To Eat And Drink Around Lake Bled
If you’re trying to do Lake Bled on a shoestring then you might want to consider the liquid-lunch approach : Slovenia produce some of the best wine in Europe and they keep it all to themselves! Despite the fact most restaurants around Bled produce coughing fits with their price lists, the wine remains remarkably cheap and yet is some of the best you will ever drink.
Sova and Vila Ajda are both excellent restaurants (Sova rating slightly higher) serving special sea-food and Slovenian dishes – they rate the highest on Trip Advisor and came highly recommended to us by locals too. Alternatively, Spica Restaurant and Bar serves the best burgers and Mexican dishes for extremely reasonable prices in a modern setting – something surprisingly rare around Bled – and some of the staff need to learn a thing or two about customer service, but it all added to the entertainment for us.
There are also a selection of street food vendors along the shores of Bled with some great options for informal dining but with the best views.
And there you have my synopsis, my top tips on how to get the most out of Lake Bled. The town of Bled itself isn’t worth a moment of your time – it’s a definite reminder of communist Slovenia – but that’s no worry as it’s the shores of Bled which hold the beauty. However, the streets which sit directly below the castle are nice for a wander and are home to some quaint little bars and shops. You could easily see it all in one day but there are other nearby beauty spots, like Lake Bohinj and Vintgar Gorg, which would be high on your list to visit if you were making Bled your base for a few days. Was it worth a little detour on our summer roadtrip? Without a doubt!
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