Bled Slovenia, possibly one of the most photogenic places in the world, is a resort village in the foothills of the Julian Alps. It is Slovenia’s most popular resort town. Even with this popularity, we visited Bled during peak season and yet it was not swarming with tourists. Bled’s backdrop is the glacial, bluish-green Lake Bled. Once you visit Bled Slovenia, the beautiful image will stay in your memory forever. If you are visiting Slovenia, you really must visit Lake Bled.
We did our visit of Bled Slovenia on a private tour with Ride Around Tours. You know by now that Keith and I prefer private tours to the group ones because you get so much more out of them. The ability to change up the Itinerary a bit, like if you want to stay someplace a little longer is appreciated plus you get the full attention of the guide. These are so valuable for the best experience while exploring new places. After a full day of touring, we have three suggestions for a perfect visit to Bled, Slovenia.
Visit the Town of Bled and Bled Castle
First, visit Lake Bled. It is almost overwhelming to stand on the cliff in Bled and gaze upon the church on this tiny island. Perched atop this cliff that is 130 meters above Lake Bled is Bled Castle. Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia. The entrance of Bled Castle has a Gothic arch, and drawbridge. On the grounds of Bled Castle are many things to do. There is a small chapel, a restaurant that overlooks the lake, and a wine cellar with wine tasting. Also, there is a museum, a blacksmith shop, and a print shop. The castle, reached by way of a fairly steep 15-minute climb, is worth the muscle burn. For the history lovers, Bled Castle dates back to 1011. Bled castle is open year round for touring. There is an entry fee.
The town of Bled Slovenia is quite charming. There are interesting shops, cafes, bistros, and restaurants. Food wise there is something for everyone from traditional Slovenian food to vegan food. We recommend taking some time to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy the sights of the town.
Visit Bled Island and the Pilgrimage Church
Lake Bled itself is a picturesque lake, surrounded by mountains and forests. The lake surrounds Bled Island. Atop of the island in the lake’s center is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. Even from afar, you can see the churches steep Baroque staircase and bell tower. And in case you are wondering how many steep steps there are to climb, 99 stone steps lead to the church. Bled Island with this small church is a perfect postcard sight!
Take a ride to Bled Island on a Pletna
Bled Island in Bled Slovenia is the focal point of Lake Bled. The only way to get there is by boat. We got there by Pletna, a traditional boat made by locals. This boat developed in 1590 equipped with a colorful awning, which protects passengers from the sun, rain, and maybe even snow is unique to Lake Bled. To me, it is like a larger version of a gondola. The Pletna boat is a wooden flat-bottom boat with a pointed bow and stern. The boat moves through the water by standing oarsman rowing with two oars.
An oarsman, a highly respected occupation in Bled, operates the boat. The title of the Pletna oarsman is handed down generation to generation, so Pletna Oarsman have remained in the same families for centuries. Near the edge of the lake in the town, a 6 km path allows you to walk all the way around the lake. The views from this path are amazing. As you walk this path, you will see where the Pletna oarsmen wait with their boats for passengers. The boats leave when the boats are full, so you may have to wait a bit for more passengers to arrive. There is a small fee to take a Pletna to Bled Island.
Ring the Bells
As you approach Bled Island you will probably hear the church bells ringing, we did. That is because when you reach the Pilgrimage Church, you will have the opportunity to ring the church bell to have your prayers or wishes come true. Legend has it whoever rings the bell will have their prayer answered. According to the legend 500 years ago a widow had a bell made of the church in memory of her husband. While the bell was traveling across the lake, a storm came upon Lake Bled and sank the boat along with the bell and everyone on board. Because of this, the Pope consecrated a new bell that is the bell that hangs in the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. Supposedly when you ring the bell, you are honoring the Virgin Mary, and thus your prayers are answered.
Indulge in Bled Cream Cake; You Won’t be Disappointed
A visit to Lake Bled is not complete without trying a piece of Bled Cream Cake. Bled Cream Cake is the regional dessert and believe me it’s worth trying. There is only one Original Bled Cream Cake! The cake originates from the cake shop of the Hotel Park at Bled in 1953.
So what is this cake? The cake is a puff pastry and custard. The layers of the cake beginning at the bottom going to the top are as follows: puff pastry, custard, whipped cream, puff pastry, and icing sugar. The puff pastry is made by hand there as well. The Hotel Park does not use any preservatives, so the cake is made fresh several times a day. The taste of this wonderful combination of crunchy puff pastry and cream cake is something you must try for yourself. We had just eaten lunch, and we planned to get a couple of pieces to go and eat back at the hotel. We were a little rushed for time getting back from Bled Island, but to our surprise, our guide already purchased two pieces while we were on the island and had them waiting for us. You have to love private tour guides.
A new travel trend in Slovenia is apiary tourism or bee tourism. An apiary is a location where beehives of honeybees reside. Apitourism gives a fresh approach to eco or sustainable travel. It invites you on a journey into the fascinating world of bees, offering you part of Slovenia’s cultural heritage and natural beauty. You probably have never heard of bee tourism, but it is popular in Slovenia. Slovenians take beekeeping seriously and see it as a traditional agricultural activity. Slovenians know the important role bees play in maintaining a healthy environment. Learning about the world of bees is fascinating. We learned that roughly one out of every 200 people in Slovenia now takes part in keeping bees.
The type of bees we are talking about is the Carniolan bee, which is native to Slovenia. This bee attracts attention for its non-aggressive nature and strong orientation skills. As I said earlier, there are many beekeepers in Slovenia. However, the number of bees far exceeds the number of humans. Slovenia is home to 200,000 bee colonies, amounting to approximately 10 billion fuzzy, buzzing creature in the summer.
Why Keep Bees?
Again, Slovenians realize the importance of bees, and quite possibly the survival of humans. Of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of all food worldwide, 71 need bees for pollination. Everything from fruits and vegetables we humans eat, to grasses such as alfalfa and clover fed to cattle, are reliant on bees.
Keith and I Get Up Close with Our Fuzzy Friends
Keith and I had a great time on our apiary tour at the Kralov med hives in the hamlet of Selo, near Bled. Blaz, the beekeeper, had us suit up in white beekeeping suits and bee veil, a cloth hat with wire netting to protect the face and head of beekeepers and visitors. The bees as Blaz explains are not aggressive and like a dog want to check you out, but as long as you do not injure them, they will not sting you. I am allergic to bees and wasps. Keith is not. So you will notice that Keith is only wearing the bee veil. Blaz enthusiastically educated us about the wonders of bees. Visitors can also safely view from behind the glass wall while Blaz works with his colonies.
Cautiously I make my way toward the yellow and blue painted house of hives. The buzzing increases with each step. Blaz is right; the bees come up and seem to smell me like a dog. They are checking me out to see if they need to fear me. After a quick buzz around me, they go about their business with little interest.
On an apiary tour, you will learn about the bacteria-fighting properties of propolis and the curative effects of royal jelly on high blood pressure. On some tours, you can try honey massages, beeswax thermotherapy which claims to boost circulation and treat skin disorders. This apiary tour we took, there were special beehive beds where people can reserve for a nap. They say the vibration sounds of the bees will induce a calming effect. It took a little bit of time for us to get calm while lying on the bed but the buzz was serene.
Sweet, Delicious Honey
Thanks to its rich diversity of flora and expert beekeeping, Slovenia produces a lot of great honey each year for tourists to try. They also produce sparkling wines, liqueurs, mead, vinegar, beer, and goat cheeses from honey. Most apiary tours have a gift shop that sells their honey and other products made from it. Keith and I love honey, so we picked up a few jars.
Discover Local Bee Art
While on an apiary tour, you cannot help but notice the lovely bee homes. This painting of beehive panels is a rich Slovenian folk art that dates to mid-eighteenth century. They believe the motifs help the bees navigate back to their hives. This form of folk art turned simple bee houses into true open-air art galleries. We learned that many of the very old beehive panels now have a predominant place in the museums throughout Slovenia.
Lake Bled in Bled Slovenia is one of those places that Instagramers and videographers love. But, Ride Around Tours said the lake isn’t the only beautiful spot in Bled. Only a 10-minute drive from Bled is Vintgar Gorge. The Vintgar Gorge is 1.6 km long and is a stunning natural site. The gorge carves its way through the vertical rocks of the Hom and Boršt hills and is enhanced by the Radovna River with its waterfalls, pools, and rapids. The educational trail leads you over wooden bridges and ends with a bridge overlooking the mighty 13 m high Šum waterfall.
They discovered the gorge at the end of the 19th century, and it is simply spectacular. The gorge created during the last ice age as glacial movements forced the crystal clear waters of the Radovna River to the northeast. The river slowly cut a path through the limestone rock. The gorge has a great boardwalk system. In Slovenia, they call the wooden walkways and bridges wooden galleries. These wooden walkways established just three years after the discovery of the gorge, meander through the gorge enabling tourists back then and now to visit this creation of nature.
Exploring the Gorge
The beautiful Radovna River is responsible for the gorge. It jumps across rapids and spins in pools. We visited the gorge in July, and although it was very hot elsewhere, it was quite cool in the gorge. If you get chilly easily, as I do, bring a sweater. If you want a break from the heat, this is the place to come. The walk through the gorge was very refreshing. It is also quite loud as the massive amount of water makes it way through the gorge. Near the end of the gorge, you will see a large stone arch railway bridge going over the river. Trains still run along this bridge.
If you are a photographer, Vintgar Gorge is wonderful to photograph. We visited in the middle of summer, but we came here later in the day and did not find it crowded. Early evening is also probably the best lighting of the day for photos. The walkways that criss-cross the river provide views. The observation bridges are a great place for photos. And sometimes there is rushing white water on one side but calm and emerald colored water on the other. The combination of the rushing water and then the beautiful emerald green on the other side makes for lovely photos. The walk through the gorge is short but breathtaking. This hike is definitely a must-do for anyone who visits the Bled area of Slovenia.
The name Vintgar’ supposedly comes from the German word ‘Weingarten’ (wine garden), because there used to be vineyards nearby. There is an entrance fee and a parking fee to walk through the gorge. They are open 8 am to 7 pm during the summer months. It does close during the winter so visit the official website for updated hours the remainder of the year.
The Magic of Bled Slovenia
We, as I am sure most travelers to this tiny country nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic, feel we discovered an unknown paradise. That is what Bled Slovenia does; it invokes magic with its breathtaking views. But, if you only visit Lake Bled, you will miss the unique apiary tours and natures art at, Vintgar Gorge. To get the most of your visits, work with a private tour company like Ride Around Tours. It makes getting around from place to place easy, and you really learn a lot about the places you visit.
Be sure and check out our other post on beautiful Slovenia – The Best Things to See and Do in Ljubljana