On a chilly winter afternoon, as I sat staring blankly at my computer screen, I had this sudden urge of hunting for new wallpapers, so that I could have a new thing to stare at. Change is, after all, a good thing. This was how I discovered Lake Bled, and this was when our plan of traveling to Slovenia began to take shape. The interesting part was, we hardly had any first-hand information about this country, apart from the internet of course, since nobody we knew of had been there. We, therefore, swore to travel with least expectations.
Carved out of the former Yugoslavia, and a part of the Balkan peninsula, Slovenia is young, fresh and, quite literally, an untapped corner of Europe. And beautiful is an understatement. As the flight nears touchdown, the sight of the distant snow-kissed mountains and a quaint little village with the crimson spire of its church jutting out, make you fall in love with this place instantly. It is like one of those scenes right out of a painting. The bright and sunny weather in the month of April is like a cherry on the cake. Straight out of Ljubljana airport, our first destination was Lake Bled, since this was also the very basis of planning the trip in the first place. There are buses from the airport to the town of Bled, but for the sake of convenience, we preferred to travel in taxis for all our transfers within the country. The other convenient option is to pick a car and drive around. The drive along the vivid landscape of the countryside is like a gateway to a mesmerizing untraveled world that lies beyond.
The town of Bled is small, yet spectacular and vibrant, and surrounds Lake Bled. At the far distance, the snow-sprinkled Julian Alps stand tall, overlooking this little place. Our place of stay was a cozy guest house right in front of the lake. I have to say this that for the soul in search of some eternal bliss, this is the place to be; it a place to completely immerse oneself into its quietness and tranquillity. You can spend hours by the lake and not hear a thing. In the midst of this calmness, the intermittent resonating sound of the church bell leaves you completely enchanted. We spent a lot of time walking around the lake. A rather long walk can cover the entire periphery of the lake. There are a number of restaurants and cafes by the waters to sit back and chill. And while sipping coffee ( or beer) the Bled Cream Cake is an unmissable must have. For sports lovers, there are plenty of activities to engage in, like kayaking, rowing, hiking, trekking and tobogganing. One of the best things to do is to rent a cycle and ride around the lake. There are good pubs too for nightlife enthusiasts. We also made a visit to a flea market near the lake where artistic works and accessories were being sold by the locals. The culture of flea markets is very popular throughout Europe.
Bled Castle is a long walk up the hill. It is a medieval castle, and the oldest in Slovenia, built on a precipice that overlooks the lake. The tall door of the castle opens onto a magnificent world of its own, with stylish courtyards and terraces, and stunning views of the world that lies below. The museum is a good place to acquire more information about the history of the castle. The pristine chapel of the castle is embellished with baroque frescos, and though some parts are worn out, it is yet a delight for art lovers. And for the connoisseur of fine wines, there is a wine cellar to indulge in some excellent wine tasting. The outdoor cafe and the restaurant offer some striking views of the landscape around. Apart from exploring the nooks of this fascinating place, we also spent a lot of time at the cafe, gaping at the world below us. And since we ended up spending most of the day at the castle, we, therefore, couldn’t plan a visit to the island with the church. Also, rowing a boat is the only way of reaching the island and is the visitor’s own responsibility.
Our next stop was Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Quite like the towns, this city is laid back too. The river Ljubjlanica runs through the city, and several activities of the city are carried out along the banks of this river. Most of the modern design of the city comes from its avant-garde architect, Joze Plecnik. What Gaudi is to Barcelona, Plecnik is to Ljubljana. One of his most iconic designs is the Triple Bridge right at the city center, which connects the medieval historical town on one bank and the modern city of Ljubljana on the other. Cars are not allowed in the heart of the city center which makes the entire area very pedestrian-friendly. Our hotel was right at the city center, so much so that it was accessible only on foot. Consequently, everything was just half a minute’s walk away. There are dozens of cafes and restaurants along the river bank and hanging out at these places are a perfect way to wallow in the culture of the city. Locals are also found lazing around these banks with a quintessential glass of beer. Buskers flaunt their talents at different corners of the streets. The cathedral of St. Nicholas is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city. We visited the church on a Sunday, and I have to admit that the melody of the hymns inside the church still echoes in my ears. We kept strolling around the city center and took a canal cruise in the afternoon. Such cruises are one of the best ways of getting first-hand information from local guides about the history and culture of the city.
On our last day in Slovenia, we took a guided day tour. What I have gathered from my experiences is that tours with a local guide are totally worth it since you get to know so much about the country and its people. And these tours also take you to offbeat locations that you wouldn’t otherwise visit. Firstly, we were headed to the Karst region, famous for caves. We had an incredible walking tour of the Skocjan Caves, one of the largest underground canyons in the world. It is a world of its own inside these caves and is highly recommended for anyone interested in caving experiences. We stopped by the village of Lipica, home to the famous white Lippizan horses. Beyond the fences of lush green fields were the beautiful horses gently grazing while we watched from a distance. Throughout our drive, we couldn’t stop admiring pretty little Slovenian villages adorned with pastel-shade architecture.
We were now heading towards the Adriatic waters, to the medieval town of Piran, a visit much anticipated by me right from the beginning. This was also the last leg of our journey. Located on the Slovenian coast, Piran is the Venice of Slovenia. It is bright, jazzy, and very Mediterranian. The town square is the heart of this little place and every alley seems to lead to it. The tall bell tower overlooks the entire town and offers a striking view of the entire area. Piran was also our lunch stop, and nothing beats a lunch with a view of the blue waters of the sea on a sunny day. Being a medieval town, Piran has picturesque narrow lanes to keep wandering around. An ice cream stop is recommended here.
We drove past the resort town of Portoroz, another popular retreat for tourists in Slovenia. The dramatic Predjama Castle was our final stop for the day but since it was late already, the entry to the castle was closed. Nevertheless, we did make a photo stop, before heading back to Ljubljana, taking back quite a bit of Slovenia with us. But trust me, it wasn’t enough. We yearn for more. Without a doubt, this was one of our best trips. Hvala Slovenia for the memories.
Just for your information
- Be prepared to walk a lot in Bled, especially the walk up the Castle. Taxis are available too. Buses might be available during peak seasons, but not at other times, like April.
- Accommodations with breakfast work best in Bled.
- Kitchens of restaurants shut down early in Bled, so in case of planning a late night at pubs, have dinner prior to partying.
- Spend a night in Bled instead of taking a day trip.
- Take a river cruise in Ljubljana or a walking tour or both.
- Take at least one guided tour. Roundabout, a local travel company, is very professional and efficient and is a great value for money. We had an amazing tour guide as well.
- The Skocjan Caves are cold and can be slippery, so proper clothing and shoes are a must.
- Plan to spend at least one night in Piran.
- http://www.zup-prevozi.eu/en/home.html for transfers within Slovenia are very efficient.