A glacial fed emerald-green lake, a picture-postcard church on a small island with local legends, a medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff, and the Julian Alps as a backdrop. Lake Bled is straight out of a fairy-tale book and built for the relaxed tourist.
Lake Bled History
Lake Bled’s history dates back to the 7th century Slavic migration, but the story of the resort town we see today starts in 1855. A Swiss hydropath named Arnold Rikli was one of the first people to recognize the value of Bled’s climate and its advantageous position for a long swimming season. He founded the Institute of “Natural Healing” and introduced a method of treatment – early to rise, walks, swimming and relaxation. The town received many visitors for the healing treatment from Austria and the Hapsburg elite. By 1906, Bled had a rail station and was officially classified among the important tourist spots in Imperial Austria.
Lake Bled continued its status as a resort destination as Tito had one of his vacation villas on the lake for the Yugoslav elite and guests. Today, the resorts of Lake Bled are still a bit faded with the lack of tourism in the breakup of Yugoslavia, but the natural elements of Lake Bled are the star and it is popular with Slovenian tourists.
A day in Lake Bled
Upon arriving to Lake Bled, your first inclination will be to go visit the island in the middle of the lake. You can take a water taxi which are called Pletnas. The design dates back to the 17th century when the Hapsburg’s gave the local Mlino residents permission to ferry visitors for extra income. The Mlino residents built the boats by hand using a special design passed down from father to son for generations. This evolved into a pletna oarsman union and they are still hand-built today. The flat-bottomed boat has no keel, so steering is for the skilled.
This girl wanted to row her own boat, so I took the loaner one from my hotel and lets just say I got my workout. But… I made it to the island and back.
The little island in the middle is called Blejski Otok (Bled Island). The main attraction is the Baroque Church of the Assumption that is at the top of a steep staircase. The Church sits on top of an 8th century Slavic pagan temple dedicated to the goddess of love and fertility. The local lore states that if you can pull the rope on the church bell and it rings three times, then your dreams will come true.
This island is also a destination for a local wedding tradition. The wedding parties row out and watch the groom carry the bride up the 99 steps to prove that they are “fit for marriage”.
Surrounding the lake is a 3.5 mile path for either walking or biking. You will probably be stopping frequently to take scenic views and photos of the lake and island which is more enchanting with every view.
Before World War II, this Villa was the summer residence of the Yugoslav Royal family. Tito took it over for the Yugoslavian government and it was renovated by the renowned Ljubljana architect, Jože Plečnik, with picture perfect views of the Monastery and the Castle. Tito entertained guests here including Indira Gandhi, Nikita Khrushchev and Raul Castro. Post Tito’s death, it was converted to a hotel in 1984 and you can stay here today. You can also stop in on your walk around the lake for a coffee to see the Socialist Realist Wall Murals in the ballroom. These tell the story of postwar Yugoslavia with the Yugoslav Partisans fighting the Nazis and the birth of the new nation with a mother and her child with the new flag of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The castle high atop the hill dates back 1,000 years to the Austrian Bishops who controlled Bled in the Middle Ages. The climb here is really for the view of the lake and the panorama views.
After rowing the boat, walking around the lake and climbing up and down to the castle, a Bled specialty dessert was well deserved. The Kremna Rezina is a Bled specialty of a thick layer of vanilla custard between sheets of a delicate, crispy crust.
Grand Hotel Toplice
This is the old grand dame of hotels at the Lake and visitors have included Madeline Albright, Donald Trump and Jordan’s King Hussein. The hotel has been restored and has the touches of Art Deco elegance. The lake-front rooms have an amazing view and even if not staying here, the restaurant will make you feel like you are in a scene from a James Bond movie.
- Castle View: If you do not choose to go in the castle, there is a FREE walkway to the right of the parking lot near the castle entrance that will take you to a view of the lake.
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