Route: Lake Bled circuit with detour to Osojnica viewpoint
Approximate distance: 10km
Start / Finish: Anywhere from the lake shore
Highlights: Continuous chocolate box views rounded out with an optional climb for a lofty, jaw-dropping vista
Slovenia regularly features as a reliable low scorer on the TV quiz show Pointless. Countries with a border on the Mediterranean Sea. 2014 Eurovision finalists. Countries ending in A. Choose Slovenia and you are virtually guaranteed a single-digit score to propel you into the next round to do battle over anagrams of types of cheese.
Slovenia is never pointless, but it’s fair to say that it rarely features on the radar in the way that – say – Italy, Greece or even Croatia and Bosnia do. Which is either a shame or a good thing, depending on your preference for relatively undiscovered corners of Europe. From snow-capped mountains to coastal resorts, white-water gorges to wide farmland plains, timeless hamlets to vibrant cities, Slovenia packs a decent punch for a country lacking renown.
Probably the most touristed part of the country is the area around Lake Bled, which is justifiably popular as the top thing to see in Slovenia. That is assuming Slovenia enters your consciousness in the first place. Which it did for me, somewhere, somehow, sometime.
And so, I found myself staying in a small guesthouse in Mlino, eating that deliciously continental combination of fresh bread and eggs and cheese and ham for breakfast. Outside my window, the beautiful waters of Lake Bled reached out into murky low cloud and drizzle, softening the sights and surrounds witnessed in strong sunshine the previous evening. Hardly the picture postcard, but at least a scene ripe for a dreadful pun: breakfast in Bled.
Such cool and cloudy air proved perfectly suitable for a gentle amble around the whole lake, waterproof in hand. As ambling implies, the lake circuit is pretty easy going, with plenty of scenic distractions and potential detours along the way. Throughout it all, from every angle, the tiny island in the middle of the lake – Blejski Otok – grabs attention. Cloaked in conifers, the snappily translated Church of the Mother of God on the Lake nestles harmoniously, its understated grace rising above the trees and framed against a distant mountain backdrop. When the bells ring out over the water, serenity is complete.
Of course, you can start and finish this walk anywhere and go in either direction; I headed anticlockwise from Mlino, passing fancy lakeside villas and leafy forests drifting into autumn on this cool October day. In the main town of Bled, a little more activity bubbles away but it remains a long way short of frenetic. I suspect in midsummer things are a little more hectic here but today a few cafes and shops cater to passing wanderers keen for a coffee and the opportunity to try the local Bled Cake.
A fairy tale setting such as this naturally requires a castle and, continuing out of town, the rectangular walls and rounded turrets of Blejski Grad fits the bill. While again quite understated, its position high upon a precipitous chunk of rock emphasises its presence, as well as offering a surface down which all sorts of hot oil and flaming goat intestines could have been unleashed on marauding invaders. You can detour up here for a nosey round should you wish, confident that flaming animals and dismembered bodies are unlikely to tumble down upon you in this age of peace.
Back beside the lake, the northern shore is perhaps the most tranquil, the path undisturbed by road traffic and encased by deciduous forest lapping at the water. The colour and clarity of this water is quite something, like a blue polarising filter has been applied to one’s eyes. Or some of those blue toilet blocks have been added to the inflow cistern. Either way, it is mesmerising, with only the occasional appearance of carp breaking the hypnotic spell.
Nearing the end of my circuit at the western end of the lake, some of the very best picture postcard views emerge, taking in the island, castle and whole of the lake set amongst the mountainous tops running along the border with Austria. It’s a view I encountered the previous evening and captured under sunnier skies. And it’s a view I just couldn’t get enough of…
A couple of days later – after some wonderful walking in the Lake Bohinj region – I made a hasty decision to head back once more to Lake Bled as the day neared its end. There was, you see, one detour I had opted to miss on the previous amble of the lake’s shores, with clouds thickening and the rain setting in. From the western end, a little distance from a camping area, a track leads up away from the water to a couple of lofty viewpoints. While this transitions an amble into a hike, the detour up to Osojnica lookout would be a shame to miss.
With every step up, the picture postcard expands as if you are some kind of slow-motion drone and your eyes are the camera. The shape of the lake becomes clearer, the colour of the water deeper. The church-capped island shrinks in size but becomes an even stronger focal point in the midst of an expanding landscape. The castle, too, stands out upon its rock in a sea of forest. Beyond, the green valleys come to a halt against the mountainous horizon of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps.
It is a scene of pleasing aesthetic, impressively adorned, of scale and prominence. Far, so far, from pointless.
- Another worthy – but significantly longer – detour is to walk to Vintgar Gorge. Here, you can follow a chasm along gravity-defying wooden boardwalks and bridges over the most astonishing blue green water. It’s a good 4km jaunt from the town of Bled or there are multiple bus / self-drive / taxi options.
- If, like me, you feel a walk can always be elevated by a sweet treat, then a requisite is to try Bled Cake. Along the lake there are several cafes, all of which will have this on the menu. I think I had it twice – it’s a creamy custardy concoction wedged between two layers of sweet, flaky biscuit.
- Not a million miles away is Lake Bohinj, which is larger, wilder, cheaper and generally quieter than the captivating fairy tale charms of Bled. Numerous walking trails and quiet roads traverse the countryside around here, which is populated by wild rivers, pristine forests and cutesy, ramshackle wooden huts.
- Bled is only around a 45-minute drive from Slovenia’s capital, the often low-scoring in Pointless Ljubljana. It’s a compact city but full of European charm and even has its own castle atop a rock, reached by funicular. The airport is even closer, situated between Bled and Ljubljana.
Bled tourist information: http://www.bled.si/en/
Bled castle: http://www.blejski-grad.si/en/about-bled-castle
Vintgar Gorge: http://www.vintgar.si/?lang=en
Hiking in Slovenia: https://www.slovenia.info/uploads/publikacije/en/POHODNISTVO_2016_ANG__pub.pdf