My last stop before Italy could not have been more perfect. Unfortunately I only had one night there but it was definitely enough time to take in the beauty of the place. How do I put this without sounding cliché and cheesy? Bled was an absolute fairy tale. I have used that comparison a lot during my travels this year but how else do you describe a place that is so perfectly beautiful, peaceful and tucked away that you cannot believe it hasn’t been corrupted?
It is tiny. And I mean miniscule. And it is definitely a tourist town. But strangely, it still maintains a storybook aspect despite the fact that most of the town is covered in apartment rentals, hostels and ski chalets. But as soon as you reach Lake Bled, that melts away and you are left with probably one of the most beautiful mountain lake views in the world. Nestled in the Julian Alps, the lake is still, serene and stunning to say the least. To add to this natural beauty, overlooking the lake on the edge of a cliff is Bled Castle. The medieval stone castle complete with turrets topped with an orange-red roof is a pretty spectacular sight from the lake’s edge.
But what truly captures the eye and the imagination is the small island in the middle of the lake, which is home to the seventeenth century Church of the Assumption of Mary. The church is built on what is thought to be possibly the site of an old pagan Slavic temple. The first church dates back to the medieval period but over time the church had to be renovated and rebuilt several times because of damage caused by earthquakes. The island and the church have unsurprisingly given birth to many legends, one surrounding the bell of the church which also dates to the sixteenth century. Supposedly, a widow had a bell cast for the church in honour of her deceased husband but a storm sank the bell, the boat and the crew on the lake before it could reach its destination. The bell is said to still rest at the bottom of the lake and the pope himself later sent a new bell. The bell now operates as something like a wishing well. Those that ring the bell will be granted their wish. The church is also a popular wedding destination. Traditionally, the groom is meant to carry the bride up the ninety-nine steps to the church for luck – after all, what fairy tale wedding isn’t complete without the groom carrying the bride, all that is missing is a white horse.
Bled is a hotspot for visitors. Tourists can enjoy relaxing by the lake and touring the castle in warmer months and many come to ski in the colder months. Rowing boats called Pletna boats take visitors out to the island. The boats with their bright coloured awnings and standing oarsmen are unique to Bled and an unmissable experience in their own right. Boats are also available to rent to row yourself though you certainly wouldn’t catch me doing this – it’s a lot more work than it looks! And there are activities like stand up paddle boarding available. There aren’t a wide variety of things to see and do, but Bled is less than an hour drive from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, so there is always something to enjoy. Bled itself certainly doesn’t necessitate a long trip; a long weekend is plenty of time to thoroughly enjoy this storybook town, but I wish I could have spent more time there. Just being there, cut off from the outside world, forces you to clear your mind of anything troubling or preoccupying. It is so peaceful and beautiful, how can anyone be anything but calm and content? Something I certainly could use more of in my day to day life!
Top: Bled Island with the Church of the Assumption of Mary
Photography by Savannah Hayes