Bled, A Fairytale Slovenian Lake

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September 3rd 2013
Published: September 3rd 2013
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I ought to be writing about Plitvice Lakes following our visit to Zagreb, as we travelled down to central Croatia to a campsite in the Plitvica Jezera national park with the intention of visiting the awesome lakes and waterfalls but once we pitched up the weather turned and we sat inside our van looking out at some torrential storms, the hailstones were as big as marbles (and as loud, hitting our roof!) so, after a couple of days of this we packed up and headed back up to Slovenia for our next planned stop at Lake Bled.

Bled is situated in the North Western corner of Slovenia where the Julian Alps begin to rise higher, to say the scenery and the lake is the stuff of fairy tales is an understatement! The lake has a circumference of around 6 kilometres, with beautiful clear blue-green water, forests of pine trees from the banks up in to the hills surrounding, a tiny island and church in the middle of the lake, a castle high up on a hill and topped off by the distant Alp peaks. It is breath taking! There is just a few man made mistakes in the shape of box like hotels in the town of Bled but this is the only little blot on the landscape.

We collected a map at the campsite reception and decided on an easy going bike ride, for our first day, around the closest villages to the lake. However, once on the road, we spotted a little sign with a bike on it pointing up a hill; our map was discarded as we followed these signs instead. Heading up towards Bled castle and beyond to a village called Podhom was a real challenge: steep, and we had no idea where we were going until I saw a sign for Vintgar and vaguely remembered info glanced at in the campsite reception, wasn’t there something at Vintgar to see? So we followed these signs travelling up a little further until I remembered it was a gorge. From the parking area a wooden walkway has been erected against the face of the rock, this leads down the gorge for about a mile, crossing the River Radovna at points and offering views down the centre of the fissure. In places the water is shallow and clear, flowing gently over flattish beds of pebbles, then suddenly, further down the river the water foams and crashes over the rocks, in to deep blue pools with a roaring noise that eclipses conversation. The rain began to fall as we walked through the gorge but luckily by the time we reached our bikes to start back to the campsite, the sun had come out and this, coupled with the fact that it was a fast, easy ride downhill all the way back, ensured that we’d dried out nicely by the time we reached our van!

Early morning, later in the week, Steve got up to take some sunrise photos of the lake and we’d planned to meet up for a lakeside breakfast at around 8am. I’d found a wooded climb to the castle the day before so once breakfast was done, Steve and camera and I, set off up the track to the castle. Bled Castle is a medieval castle built on the cliffs above the lake, there’s a restaurant and café at the castle (naturally!) but also a museum depicting the lives of Slovenian people since they first settled in the area. A local Blacksmith works from a small forge located at the castle and there is a little shop that sells his work: door knockers, candle holders, large iron keys, coat stands and models of the Ljubljana dragon to name a few examples. We also discovered a wine shop, the proprietor a monk! It goes without saying that there are some fantastic views of the lake, of Bled town and beyond from the top of the castle. The day was topped off by a lovely meal at Vila Ajda restaurant, some roast beef and onions for me with a potato and courgette mash and a plate full of mixed grilled meat and roast potatoes for Steve, followed by some local puddings including a cinnamon ice cream, cherries and dark chocolate sauce and an apple strudel (it was a taster plate of puddings, we didn’t order three, honest!), after our bill was paid two glasses of desert wine and a white rose were brought out, the rose was for me… I think!

Following our huge dinner the previous evening we embarked on bike ride number two, altogether tougher and lengthier than the previous one (see the map), the ride through neighbouring villages took us around 15 kilometres and up an elevation of 400 metres. This put our previous cycle ride into perspective, difficulty wise but the weather was beautiful, the little villages picturesque and there were some wonderful views of Bled from the highest points in the village of Kupljenik.

Bled is a beautiful place and our 6 days there wasn’t nearly long enough but we had to move on as we were headed for Italy. I found a little campsite called Saksida in a Slovenian camping brochure, which was very close to the Italian border so I contacted them to see if they could fit us in for a few nights. They replied to say of course, the price was 18 Euros per night for the two of us (bear in mind that some of the Croatian coast sites are charging nearly 50 Euro’s per night at this time of the season!) and this included the electric, showers, free Wi-Fi and wine tasting! Sold!! We were on our way.

Saksida Turisticna kmetija is a ‘tourist farm’, basically it’s a vineyard business, they produce a range of red, white, rose and sparkling wines, they have a restaurant and space for 10 camping pitches. The campsite is small but perfect, set in amongst the vines and terraces, in the peaceful Vipava valley. The family have been making wine since the mid 19th century and they combine this with the restaurant that offers traditional dishes with a modern twist. They offer a tasting menu, which includes five courses and a glass of six different wines to compliment, for the price you would probably pay for one main course dish in some restaurants in the UK! The meal and ambiance was absolutely wonderful.

To work off our food the following day it was time for another bike ride around the valley. We assumed the area would be flatter than the further north west of the country as we had left the higher peaks behind us and using a map that the campsite owners had given us we set off on a ride of about 22 kilometres. We soon realised that each of the little villages were perched on the top of hills and I spent a lot of time pushing my bike up the steepest parts. We made it nearly all the way around the route but by the time we got to the second to last village we had drunk most of our water and I suggested to Steve that if we found a shop or a bar open we should stop and get a cold drink. In Crnice we found a bar and with hardly any energy left, we collapsed in to chairs to enjoy glasses of water and a beer each. There was a very jovial, if noisy, man sitting at a table near to us, singing and shouting over to other patrons, a big grin under an even bigger bushy moustache, I think he’d been enjoying the beer for some hours. One by one all other customers left the bar and once it was just the three of us left we made a hasty retreat to collect our bikes and complete the journey. As we consulted our map, the man from the bar strode towards us asking where we were going (at least we assumed he was asking us this), we explained we were heading back to Batuje on our bikes and were just checking the map for our directions, he cried ‘Ah! Batuje! Follow, follow’, he walked towards an ancient red moped and waved for us to follow! Steve and I exchanged a look that said ‘he can’t possibly be getting on a moped in his state?’ but on he hopped, minus crash helmet, and weaved off down the hill. So, in for a penny, as they say, we followed. The man took us on a short cut to Batuje where he left us to pick up our trail and we cycled off to the sound of his voice singing loud goodbyes and good lucks! What a great guy, I hope he managed to remain on his moped!

Our last evening at the Saksida camp was spent with an English couple we’d met and a couple from East Germany, pooling our food for a bbq. We had a lovely evening of drinks, food and chat that rounded off our stay in Slovenia perfectly.

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