Believing the hype of Bled

Travel is completely subjective. So many people love Salzburg; I hate the place. I raved to my parents about Munich, but they couldn’t see its charm. I don’t particularly care for Belgrade and said so on this blog; never have I received so many messages and emails telling me how wrong I was.

The small town of Bled, Slovenia is different. It’s probably the only place I’ve ever heard about that everybody simply adored. As such, my excitement for seeing Bled and its famous lake for that firs time was sky-high, and I was completely convinced that I would love the place.

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Bled Castle on the left, and the Karavanke Mountains on the right.

I didn’t do much research before I headed to Bled that first time. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t, because on paper Bled really isn’t my type of place. I adore big, bustling cities with street food, public entertainment and warm air. Sure, I don’t mind a bit of nature, but I’d rather experience it all on a day trip and tuck myself into bed later on in a nearby city with neon lights and people on the street. Scoff if you want, but that’s what I’ve learnt about myself over the years.

Bled does not fit my perfect mold. It ain’t a Bangkok, Barcelona or Berlin. Instead of street food it boasts a sophisticated creme cake, its public entertainment comes in the form of natural scenery and its air is crisp and chilly at night.

bled lake 1024x685 Believing the hype of Bled

It was slightly cloudy on this occasion, but still beautiful. This is the view from the castle.

But I got it straight away. Within the first ten or so minutes, in fact. Bled is special, in that it is probably the most timelessly beautiful place I’ve ever seen. When it comes to most places that are known for their natural beauty, buildings and anything man-made are generally seen as detrimental. As things that should be bulldozed.

In Bled, that’s not the case at all. The simple church on the island in the middle of Lake Bled, plus the castle overlooking the scene below, look as if they have always been there. They compliment the brilliantly blue water, the forest-y green surrounds and the snow-capped Alps in the distance, rather than taking something away from the picture. I would just look at the scene and stare.

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Slovenia’s only natural island, right in the middle of Lake Bled.

Bled is roughly a three-hour drive away from Venice, Munich and Vienna, placing it in an extremely convenient spot for people undertaking trips through central and southern Europe. Slovenia’s in the Schengen Zone, so there aren’t any passport controls to get into the country by land (except with Croatia, which isn’t in the Schengen Zone yet). It’s even on the euro; it was the first of the former communist countries (Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia until 1991) to make the change.

I therefore expected Bled to be overrun with tourists, especially as I’d just come from Croatia. I expected high-rise hotels jostling for views of the lake, touts offering expensive boat rides and tacky souvenir stores lining the main street.

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Wooden boats ready to take you to Bled Island.

Bled has none of these things. It has a few medium-rise hotels which all look tastefully refined, boat prices are fixed (I actually had to wake up one of the nearby owners once to get him to take our money) and the main street is filled with little boutiques, cafes selling borek and adventure tour agencies. (There is a little casino, but thankfully it’s tucked away at the end of the street.) There are no obnoxious touristy bars; locals and visitors alike all drink at the cosy George Best Bar.

You have to give massive, massive credit to the Slovenians for this. Surely it would have been easier to sell the land around the lake to the likes of the Sheraton, the Hyatt, Louis Vuitton, Prada and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. And nobody would have really blamed them for it, particularly as they’ve been setting up a post-communist economy. But they haven’t done that at all; most of the land surrounding the lake is completely undeveloped and the only mansion visible belonged to Marshall Tito. In town, almost all businesses seem to be locally owned. The L’Occitane store near the Park Hotel sticks out like a sore thumb.

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Looking back at the town of Bled from the island.

So what does that mean, in reality? To me, Bled feels innocent and uncompromised. Walking around, I would sometimes feel as if I was a tourist in the glory days of the 1920s, when Coco Chanel headed to the French Riviera and holidaying women would wear giant floppy hats, red lipstick and giant sunglasses. It was just so classy and sophisticated. You don’t hear about Hollywood stars holidaying in Bled, and that’s the way I like it. It’s too nice for the Kardashians.

I was on my best tourist behaviour on the three occasions I visited Bled last year. I was very active and outdoorsy. On one occasion I climbed up to the castle and simply enjoyed the view of the lake below. One other time I spend a long, lazy afternoon walking around the lake, particularly enjoying seeing the Bled Rowing Club on the opposite side of the lake to the town. The club is one of the most successful in the world, boasting six Olympic medals and hosting the World Championships four times.

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Rowing – very popular in this part of the world.

I got a boat out to the island a couple of times, which is an experience in itself. The island is nice to look at, yes, but in reality it’s all about the boat ride. The water is so clear and the boats cut through it like melted butter. I can hardly recommend something more relaxing than this, anywhere in Europe.

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The famous ninety-nine steps on Bled Island, leading up to the church. Tradition states that a husband must carry his new wife up all of these stairs – and she can’t speak the entire time.

My favourite activity in Bled, however, has got to be the toboggan. It doesn’t always run (don’t count on it in the cooler months or on windy or rainy days) but when it does, wow. It’s about a ten-minute walk out of town, and after a tiny hike up to its base, you get to catch a chairlift up the rest of the way.

At the top, you’re rewarded with the most magnificent views, and the chance to fling yourself back down to the bottom on a metal track. Ignore the signs to brake at the turns – this non-adrenaline junkie says you don’t have to. It is wildly fun and something I did most times in Bled.

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The view of Bled and its lake from the top of the toboggan track.

The activity that takes the cake though – both figuratively and literally – is enjoying Bled’s famous creme cake right by the lake at the Park Hotel. Locally termed ‘kremna rezina’, it’s a bit like a giant vanilla slice, with cream, vanilla custard and puff pastry. It’s sold all over town, but you have to eat it at the Park Hotel – that’s where it’s from, and it has the most beautiful deck overlooking the lake and castle.

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A gigantic piece of Bled creme cake.

There is nothing better than sitting back, with the sun on your face, and taking in the view of Lake Bled and creme cake right in front of you.

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And a spritzer. Don’t mind if I do.

I don’t usually make accommodation recommendations as they tend to come off sounding like an advertisement, but I’m making an exception with Bled. Jazz Apartments is located just on the edge of town and on the road up to the castle, and is one of the best hostels I have ever visited. It’s run by a couple called Jani and Urska, who are quite possibly the happiest married couple in Europe. I’ve never seen Jani without a gigantic grin on his face, and he and his wife will do anything and everything for you.

I’ve witnessed Urska driving guests to the train station at the crack of dawn, and Jani, upon hearing that a departed guest had left her camera at a restaurant in town, running there and back to retrieve it and then posting it, without charge, to the UK. The two of them are one of the main reasons why I am a little bit in love with the Slovenians and no trip to Bled is complete without meeting them.

So believe the hype, people. Bled, and Slovenia more generally, is the best-kept secret in Europe. Yes, it is still a secret. And you know what? Everyone’s in agreement with me on this one.

Each Sunday I’ve been connecting with some other travel blogs through #SundayTraveler. Click the below link for some other great stories through chasingthedonkey.com.

sunday traveler small white Believing the hype of Bled

46 Responses to Believing the hype of Bled

  1. Emma March 16, 2014 at 11:08 AM #

    We have yet to make it to Bled but based where we are it’s not altogether that far! I would love to see it! I also feel the slightly the same way about Salzburg by the way, give me Vienna instead anyday! 😀
    Emma recently posted..Silent SundayMy Profile

    • Rachel March 17, 2014 at 3:45 PM #

      Salzburg is the greyest, most depressing city I’ve ever visited, and I always feel a bit mean saying this, but for some reason I really loathe the place.

      I visited Bled one cold autumn weekend a couple of years ago, and was completely taken with it – so charming, so olde worlde. Ljubljana was also beautiful!

      • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:55 PM #

        Haha, I definitely share your views on Salzburg, Rachel! I find it just too overtouristed, everything has a Mozart or Sound of Music label on it. Blegh!

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:44 PM #

      I think you are in the perfect spot, Emma! And totally – Vienna won my heart too :)

  2. Ellis Shuman March 16, 2014 at 11:10 AM #

    Bled is really a very special destination = I’m so glad that my wife and I had a chance to visit and stay there a few years ago.
    Ellis Shuman recently posted..A Taste of Bulgaria in Tel AvivMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:45 PM #

      Thanks Ellis! It definitely leaves an impression on people.

  3. Dave Cole March 16, 2014 at 1:02 PM #

    Bled looks like a great place for a weekend getaway. I’m sure the George Best Bar lives up to its namesake!
    Dave Cole recently posted..This Week’s BestMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:45 PM #

      Oh, you bet! It can be a dangerous place…

  4. Meggie Kay March 16, 2014 at 4:37 PM #

    Slovenia has been near the top of my “To Travel” list since I was 19. This really just makes me want to get there even more!!
    Meggie Kay recently posted..Singapore Fine CityMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:47 PM #

      Glad I could contribute to the wanderlust!

  5. Phoebe @ Lou Messugo March 16, 2014 at 6:47 PM #

    Your enthusiasm for Bled comes shining through in this lovely post. I’ve been once a couple of years ago though we didn’t actually stay there. I loved it too though I wish I’d known about the toboggan ride, my boys would have loved that!
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted..Silent Sunday -16 March 2014My Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:47 PM #

      Thanks Phoebe! And you’re never too old for a good old toboggan ride :)

  6. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey March 16, 2014 at 8:04 PM #

    Oh by gosh, I was getting scared you were going to say you did not like it…. PHEW crisis averted. We love dout few days there (we stayed on a farm) and we too LOOOOVED that creme cake. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler again.
    SJ @ Chasing the Donkey recently posted..Kaštel Lukšić: The tragic #Croatian love storyMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM #

      Haha don’t worry! I LOVED the place, how can you not?

  7. Syd March 16, 2014 at 9:29 PM #

    I’m hoping to go to Slovenia this fall, so I will definitely be checking out Bled. On paper (or, uh, internet) it really DOES sound like my kind of place so hopefully it will be in reality as well. My family is Slovenian but I’ve never been so I’m really looking forward to traveling there. Thanks for the post!
    Syd recently posted..Falling in Love with Rotorua (Indie Edition)My Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM #

      Good luck Syd! I’m sure you’ll love the place, the family connection can only help :)

  8. Jess March 16, 2014 at 10:26 PM #

    It looks really too pretty to be real! It’s the kind of place I would expect to become totally overdeveloped and touristy by the time I got to see it – it’s great that they’re preserving the character of the area and not letting mega resorts build everywhere.
    Jess recently posted..Gonna party like it’s my birthdayMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM #

      I know! It’s one of those places you just have to see to believe :)

  9. Sammi March 17, 2014 at 12:07 AM #

    I saved this post until the end of the day to read, because I had an idea what you were going to say. :)

    Of all the things I have booked this summer, I can’t wait to get to Bled, I have the Busabout Bohemian video saved in my favourites so on crappy days I can just look at that and know it won’t be long ’til I’m there! I’m a total non- adrenaline junkie, too, didn’t go near the toboggan in Zakopane, maybe I’ll think about it in Bled… if you think it’s okay haha :)
    Sammi recently posted..Cyprus; an Entirely Different HolidayMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:50 PM #

      You didn’t go on the toboggan in Zakopane?! Don’t worry, this one is even better!

  10. Agness March 17, 2014 at 2:31 AM #

    Wow, wow, wow! I though the places like this one don’t exist in Europe.This is totally amazing. I would love to take a boat and get around the lake. This beautiful scenery would surely take my breath away.
    Agness recently posted..Stunning Scenery of Rice Terraces in Banaue, the PhilippinesMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:52 PM #

      Isn’t it crazy that it’s still relatively unknown? It is just wonderful :)

  11. Lauren March 17, 2014 at 3:28 AM #

    Bled…oh my goodness. I have never heard of this place until now and I am dying to go there. It looks so beautiful, just my kind of place to visit…breathtaking scenery! I would love to spend some time here!
    Lauren recently posted..The Forbidden City Exhibition at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), TorontoMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:53 PM #

      It is definitely worth it Lauren!

  12. frankaboutcroatia March 17, 2014 at 7:56 AM #

    Enjoyed this article thoroughly, but you made me laugh so much with the 99-steps tradition: so challenging for the both, the husband and the wife. Checked Jazz Apartments, and they really look like a good option if staying in Bled. I find the hotels in Bled a bit worn out.
    frankaboutcroatia recently posted..Konoba Stari Podrum Momjan, serving the very best Istrian foodMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:53 PM #

      Haha, that’s what they say – is it harder for the husband or the wife??

  13. Tiffany March 17, 2014 at 6:16 PM #

    I was in Bled at the beginning of winter when it was deserted, cold and bare and it still looked absolutely beautiful. I just love the place and can’t wait to go back in summer one day and do some hiking in the area as well. Did you go to the Vintgar Gorge as well?
    Tiffany recently posted..A Week in HanoiMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 6:57 PM #

      I have been told by a few people (including Jani) that I have to come back in winter, and I think I definitely have to. I didn’t go to Vintgar Gorge unfortunately – I’d heard such good things but opted for a lazy walk and cake instead!

  14. Andrej March 17, 2014 at 10:01 PM #

    There’s small mistake below first picture: behind the lake rises Stol (=chair), highest mountain of Kravanke chain.

    • Caitlyn March 17, 2014 at 10:03 PM #

      Thanks Andrej, I will fix it!

    • Andrej March 17, 2014 at 11:09 PM #

      Karavanke, typo :)

  15. Adelina | PackMeTo March 17, 2014 at 10:57 PM #

    Oh gosh, I adore this post. It perfectly articulates my love for Bled (and all of Slovenia really). I only had a day here which was not enough. There was no time to rent a boat. That would have been perfect. The whole time I was there, I was pinching myself about how gorgeous it was. I had no idea about the tobogganing. Time to go back I think!
    Adelina | PackMeTo recently posted..An Ode to the Pogacsa – A Mouthwatering Hungarian SnackMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 18, 2014 at 7:43 PM #

      It totally is a ‘pinch me’ sort of place! From what I know, the toboggan is only open in the summer – the chairlift is used for ski trails in the winter.

  16. Bianca @itsallbee March 17, 2014 at 11:05 PM #

    WOW!! This place is gorgeous! I have actually come across pictures of it before after seeing your pictures. Its beeing added to my list.
    Bianca @itsallbee recently posted..Mundesley Beach | Sun, Sea & SandMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 18, 2014 at 7:44 PM #

      The list just keeps growing, doesn’t in Bianca? 😛

  17. Samantha @mytanfeet March 18, 2014 at 5:19 PM #

    Wow Bled certainly is beautiful! I love that they keep the touristic aspect low. It just ruins the beauty and appeal of some places!
    Samantha @mytanfeet recently posted..Costa Rica Spanish Slang Part 2 – Be Careful, These Words Have Double Meaning!My Profile

    • Caitlyn March 18, 2014 at 7:47 PM #

      Yep, I sure hope they don’t change their tack anytime soon!

  18. Heather March 20, 2014 at 8:46 PM #

    As another city girl, I’m glad to hear that Lake Bled lives up to the hype. It’s very high on my list of places to visit!
    Heather recently posted..Walking With Dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural HistoryMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 22, 2014 at 12:06 AM #

      Definitely try and get there if you can!

  19. Jessica of HolaYessica March 21, 2014 at 11:03 PM #

    I haven’t gone to Bled yet, but it’s certainly high on my list. I’m a similar kind of traveler – I love big cities and nature is OK in limited quantities. :)

    It’s so refreshing to hear that it’s stayed away from big chains. It’s a bit annoying when you go to a new place and it’s filled with all the same chain shops, restaurants, and hotels as a million other cities.
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..Learning Spanish with Fun Cat ExpressionsMy Profile

    • Caitlyn March 22, 2014 at 12:06 AM #

      ‘Nature is OK in limited quantities.’ I think that should be my motto!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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