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Travel Guide: Visiting Lake Bled, Slovenia

12th Oct 2011 1:55am | By Editor

Sitting almost perfectly centre in the lake was a tiny wooded island upon which perched a pretty white church. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.

“The Brazilians were mistaken,” announced Carlos our driver from the front of the bus. “God took six days to make the world and then he made Bled.”

The 27-year-old South African couldn’t have been more rabidly enthusiastic about the place if he’d been employed by Bled’s tourist board to do the town’s PR.

“I tell you, if you ever want a romantic city to propose to your girlfriend then forget Paris — this is the place.”

On arrival we were introduced to Jani, self-appointed tour guide, host and all-round nice guy, who showed us to our comfy rooms while Carlos continued to regale us with the lake’s many uses.

“You can swim in it in summer, skate on it in winter,” he said.

As if to hammer home the point our first port of call was the 3glav Adventure travel centre in town, manned by a tall handsome Slovene called Ziga who talked us through the myriad activities on offer around Bled and in the nearby Triglav National Park.

All of them involved variations on the adventure theme: white-water rafting, horse-riding, hiking, kayaking, cycling and something called ‘The Emerald’, which seemed to combine all of the above.

That evening we ate extremely well at the Gostilna Murka and retired to Jani’s jazz bar for pivos, excited about the day ahead.

However, the next morning we woke to find all our activities had been cancelled because — you guessed it — it was still raining.

To make up for this letdown, the ever accommodating Jani hastily arranged an excursion for us to the Vintgar Gorge, which even involved a round trip to his father-in-laws’s farm to see newly born twin foals.

As we trudged through the drizzle along a wooden walkway, a terrifying volume of water thundered through the 1600m gorge beneath our feet. Who needs adventure sports when you can be perched on a rickety path above class-six rapids.

Later that afternoon it was time to “do” the lake. It takes an hour to walk around, but is worth it to appreciate that Lake Bled is not just a pretty face. It’s also a renowned rowing centre used for regattas and as a practice arena for world-class rowers (the rowers who won Slovenia’s first gold medal at the Sydney Olympics practised here).

But of course the big drawcard is the boat trip to the island (or otok as it’s called in Slovenian) to visit the Church of the Assumption and give its bell a ring for good luck.

We paid the 12 euro fare for a ‘gondola’ (or pletna, as they’re called here) and jumped aboard. The ride across was a smooth, tranquil experience except for the pitter patter of rain on our gondola’s plastic covering (it was still pissing down) and the erratic clanging emanating from the church’s bell, which got louder and louder on our approach.

The stop-start way in which it rang out hinted at the ineptitude of those tugging on the bell-rope. Sure enough, I entered the church to find not one but three Japanese tourists bungee-ing up and down in a rather alarming fashion. It’s a miracle the bell didn’t crash through the ceiling.

When it was my turn I couldn’t do any better, though, and suddenly appreciated what a tough job poor old Quasimodo had at Notre Dame. Oh, and I made a wish — that it would stop raining once and for all.

» Alison Grinter travelled with Eastern Trekker (0845-2578345; www.easterntrekker.com). The seven-day Bohemian Trek is 479 euros.

Bled dry: Things to do outdoors

Hiking

A hike to Velika Osojnica, the 756m peak at the south-western corner of the lake, offers pretty views, but those looking for some serious hiking should head to the nearby Triglav National Park.

Fishing

Lake Bled is teeming with catfish, pike, carp and trout so try your luck. But make sure you get a permit from the tourist office in town first.

Horse riding

Slovenia’s natural beauty makes it perfect for cross-country horse riding. The hippodrome between Bled and Lesce also offers riding and lessons.

Cycling

The ride around the lake is nice and flat — not too taxing. Serious mountain bikers, however, should head for the dense network of forest roads outside town.

Swimming

The bathing area below the magnificent castle is the only designated outdoor bathing area on the lake, but is a picturesque one.

Kayaking and rafting

The lake is a hive of boating activity so hire a kayak to get amongst it. For proper white-water rafting you’ll need to head to Triglav National Park, but the 3glav crew can sort you out. See www.3glav-adventures.com.