Slovenia is a country with natural wonders a plenty. It has lakes, mountains, waterfalls, caves and beautiful vistas wherever you look. Looking out at the landscape as we sped along in the car, it was reminiscent of Switzerland or Austria with little villages of red roofed houses clustered around a small church with a slate roofed spire, surrounded by green forests and meadows and backed by majestic, snow capped mountains. And they obviously get a lot of snow here because the roofs have metal snow guards or spikes on them to prevent the snow and ice sliding off. Everywhere we went we also saw wooden structures that were simply horizontal rails with a little pitched roof over them and we couldn’t work out what they were for. We soon discovered their purpose though – they are used for stacking firewood near to your house or for hanging long grass or hay on to dry out in the fields. The wood is cut to the width of the roof and then balanced across the poles and packed in tight so it doesn’t move or fall. We also saw that sometimes they had extended the sloping roof down to the ground to create additional storage underneath. They were an ever-present feature in the landscape.
What we didn’t see anywhere in the landscape or towns of Slovenia was any sign whatsoever that it had ever been a communist country, let alone as recently as the early ‘90s. I’m not sure what I thought we might see, maybe some eastern bloc style grey concrete apartments or old infrastructure or something, but everything seemed so modern and new, so clean and so tidy.
Although the roads in Slovenia were very good, it is very mountainous and once you are off the main road access can soon get very steep and narrow, which is not ideal for towing a large caravan. So we based ourselves at a campsite just outside Ljubljana – Ljubljana Resort Hotel and Camping – from where we could easily access the city but also explore the countryside around it.
After Ljubljana, one of the best known places to visit in Slovenia has to be Lake Bled. About an hours drive north west of the city, it is a stunningly beautiful lake of crystal clear water, surrounded by forested hills and imposing mountains and overlooked by a fairytale castle. In the centre of the lake is an island with a tiny church and you can take a ride out it it on a pletna boat, which is rather like a large gondola, propelled from the rear by a standing oarsman with two oars. It looked like tremendously hard work for them, especially with a boat load of tourists on board.
The weather was mixed on the day we visited and unfortunately the clouds never did clear, meaning it was overcast all day so we didn’t get quite the typical picture postcard views of the emerald green lake with the deep blue sky beyond, but it was still a stunning place to visit.
The lake is only about 2km long and 1.5km wide, so you can easily walk all the way around it, but we really wanted to get a view from above, so we headed for one of the high points around the lake – Bled Castle. Perched on clifftop about 100m above the lake, it is a small but perfectly formed medieval fortress with towers, ramparts, a moat and a drawbridge. It dates from 1011 and is one of the oldest castles in Slovenia.
We weren’t planning on paying to go into the castle itself but having slogged up all the steps to get there, we discovered that views of the lake could only be had from within the castle grounds, so we stumped up our entrance fee.
It was worth it too as the views from the castle courtyards over Lake Bled and the countryside beyond were breathtaking. The rest of the castle wasn’t that exciting: most of it seemed oriented towards making money and servicing the big tour groups who come this way, with most of the ‘attractions’ inside being shops and cafés.
However, there was a fairly interesting small museum telling the history of the Bled area from the Bronze Age to the present day, where they had models of people from different times, reconstructed from bones found at archaeological digs and it really made the history of the region come alive.
We ate our picnic lunch sitting on the steps in the upper courtyard, enjoying the views and then treated ourselves to a local speciality – a slice of Lake Bled cream cake – in the café. This delicious delicacy of puff pastry, thick custard and cream, was apparently first created in the Park Hotel restaurant on the shores of the lake in 1953 by chef Ištvan Lukačević and people have been enjoying its combination of soft filling and crispy surrounding ever since.
There are other walks you can do up onto the hills surrounding Lake Bled, and there is another lake (Lake Brohnji) that is about a half hour drive further on and is also meant to be really beautiful, and slightly less touristy, but for us we had seen enough. We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Lake Bled, but we didn’t feel the need to see or do any more. There is a terrible tendency when you start reading reviews and searching online for information about different destinations to get drawn into a sort of ‘competitive tourism’ where the mindset is that if you haven’t seen this particular sight or that particular view then you have somehow missed out. Lots of accounts I read of visiting Lake Bled referred to walks that would get you ‘the’ view of the lake, as though all others were inferior. Maybe the writers were just conveying their enthusiasm for the area, but it sure felt like one-upmanship as I was reading them! (I also made a mental note to try not to fall into that way of thinking when I write this blog!) We decided that we didn’t need to put his sort of pressure on ourselves, so we headed back to the campsite to chill out for the rest of the afternoon with a glass of wine. 🙂