We left Trend Hotel in Ljubljana at about 9am and arrived at Lake Bled after 1 and a half hours by coach. It was a cold morning with temperatures hovering around 11°C and the skies were overcast. It is late-Autumn and I was not ecstatic when told that it rains quite a bit in Slovenia during this time of the year.
Lake Bled lies within the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps which is part of Upper Carniola (Gorenjska) region in North-western Slovenia and is about 55km away from the capital city of Ljubljana. I prayed for a fine day with clear skies but it turned out to be dreary as it had been drizzling the whole of yesterday. I had earlier congratulated myself for going away on vacation escaping hazy Singapore and here I am, greeted by misty Slovenia on the second day of my holidays!
An enjoyable way to get to Bled Island or to do an excursion around the lake is by taking a Pletna boat. A Pletna is a wooden flat-bottom boat with a pointed bow and a widened stern with a step for passengers to board easily. The origins of this boat dates back to 1590 and has a comfortable seating capacity for about 15 passengers. They are easily recognizable by their colourful roof awnings, which protect passengers from the sun and other elements.
This quiet, gentle ride across tranquil Lake Bled in this foggy weather is nothing less than surreal, relaxing and such a sensory treat. The Pletna is propelled by a special “stehrudder” technique where the oarsman stands at the stern and rows with 2 oars. A Pletna oarsman or “Pletnarstvo” is a respected professional and this position is handed down from generations before keeping it within individual families.
On a sunny day the lake is really lovely with its exquisite blue-green waters shimmering in the light. It is difficult not to like Lake Bled as it is beautiful from almost any vantage point; which explains why it is a popular destination for honeymooners, holiday-makers, tourists and even adventure seekers.
There are several activities you can do around Lake Bled like rowing a boat, riding a bicycle or walking 6km around the lake. If you are feeling energetic you can visit Bled Castle and follow the signs marked “Grad” or walking trail No. 9 but be prepared for this challenging 15min, steep climb. The World Rowing Championships have been held here several times in 1966, 1979, 1989 under Yugoslavia and most recently in 2011 under Slovenia which gained independence in 1991.
The lake was formed after the last Ice Age, when Bohinj Glacier moved away deepening the natural hollow that tectonic movements left, creating this U-shaped glacial valley. Lake Bled is about 2.12km long, 1.38km wide with a maximum depth of 29.5m and it is situated in a picturesque environment surrounded by mountains and forests. Unfortunately the amazing view has been obliterated by the mist, otherwise a panorama of the Julian Alps, Lake Bled and Bled Island would definitely leave you spellbound.
There is this interesting local tradition, where a groom would carry his new bride from the dock up these 99 steps in order to get married in church and they would live happily together.
During the course of archaeological research conducted on Bled Island in the 1960’s, archaeologists have discovered traces of prehistoric (11th – 8th centuries B.C.)and Slavic (9th – 10th centuries) settlements. A small church dedicated to the birth of Mary was built on the island as early as the 8th century. Initially a wooden chapel, it was expanded into a church and rebuilt many times over the centuries.
The 52m high Belfry of the Church of Annunciation of Mary houses one large and two smaller bells. The lower part of the tower dates from the Gothic period whilst the middle section was rebuilt after the 1511 earthquake and this present structure was renovated in 1680. The Provost House on your left was formerly used to house the priests, sexton and visiting pilgrims. It is now a small museum.
The original Romanesque style was replaced by Gothic features during mid 15th century but major restoration projects had to be carried out after 2 earthquakes in 1511 and 1622 caused considerable damage. The Baroque features that we see today were added in the late 17th century. The pipe organ was built in 1639 and the beautiful frescoes on the southern wall of the church depict scenes from the life of Mary.
The present form of the church dates from the 17th century when it was renovated after an earthquake. The gilded main altar carving dates from 1747. Close to the main altar where the tug-rope of the Wishing Bell hovers, there is an area on the floor covered with tempered glass. Peek through this glass flooring and you will see the remnants of a stone wall. Pull thrice and you will hear the pealing bells faintly.
The statue of Mary is the only Gothic artefact remaining from the 15th century, everything else including the paintings and pulpit are 17th century additions.
Legend has it that that there once lived a young lady at Bled Castle whose husband was killed by thugs and thrown into the lake. In his memory she took all the silver and gold she had and made a bell which was to be offered to Mother Mary on the lake. Unfortunately during transportation to the island a violent storm struck which sank the boat and the bell was never recovered. In great sadness, the widow donated her entire fortune for the construction of the Church dedicated to Virgin Mary on Bled Island and retreated to a convent in Rome. After her death, the Pope installed a new bell on Bled Island in her remembrance and people have been making wishes and ringing it ever since to seek help from Mother Mary.
If you have time to spare, why not have a cuppa at the Poticnica on Bled Island and try some Slovenian Potica. This traditional pastry is a must for every holiday in Slovenia, be it Christmas, Easter or a family celebration. Here at the Poticnica a wide range of potica pastries from the culturally diverse regions of Slovenia is freshly baked in a stone oven and the most common and popular one is the Walnut Potica.
As we were making our descent, a young couple were having a go at the 99 steps challenge. There was wolf whistles, shouts of encouragement and we were rooting for them but still it proved too much for the young man and they both fell in a heap on the 96th step. Thankfully no one was hurt!
Though I was a little disappointed at first because I wanted to see blue skies, blazing Autumn colours, alpine peaks, the highest mountain in Slovenia Mt.Triglav (2,864m), Bled Island standing out like a gem rising out of turquoise green waters with the striking Medieval Church Of The Annunciation of Mary all at one go. I left happy, as Lake Bled and the environs remain stunning even in veiled beauty. This is one magical place that would leave anyone impressed… In and Out of season!