September 13, 2018 – September 16, 2018
Upon discovering magnificent pictures of Lake Bled via Instagram, this increasingly popular destination moved up to the top of my travel bucket list. As the temperatures and crowds can be quite high in the peak tourism seasons of July and August, we waited until September to make our trip, hoping for still decent weather and less people. A few days before we left, my weather app said that it would be rainy the whole time we were there, which was not ideal since the whole trip was planned around outdoor activities. However, we were blessed with incredible weather almost the whole time, which can definitely make or break an adventurous trip.
Because of the limited options for direct flights from Amsterdam to Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) we arrived pretty late on Thursday night. Luckily picking up our rental car was pretty seamless and we made it to our cute B&B, Carman Guest House on Lake Bled before 10pm. Because it was after hours, no one was there to greet us, but they saved us a parking spot via a cone and left the key to our room in the door.
After hearing not so great reviews from our friends about the crowds in the places we planned to visit, we made a plan to leave the B&B by 8am.
Most of the cafes were still closed by the time we planned to leave the Carman, but luckily there was a supermarket next door so we could load up on breakfast and snacks to get us through the morning. First up on the agenda was visiting Vintgar Gorge, only a 10 minute drive from the Lake. If you don’t have a car, you can also get there by bus or on foot (45 minutes walk).
We pulled up to the parking lot right in front of a huge tour bus of older people, and hurried into the entrance to not get stuck behind the group. Our efforts of getting there early paid off and we had great views of the gorge without all of the crowds. The stream running through the canyon is a beautiful vibrant blue hue, which kind of looks fake. The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom in the areas where it is still.
A boardwalk runs alongside the stream so you can view the water from every angle. I especially enjoyed the parts where there were mini water falls or rapids which contrasted with the still pools of glowing water.
There’s a relatively new trend that we’ve seen while we’re out and about in nature of people stacking rocks on top of each other. Once we got to a part of the river that you could actually get down into, the rock stacks were everywhere. I don’t know how I feel about this.
The hike isn’t very long, and even with stopping to take several pictures, we made it to the end of the gorge in about 45 minutes.
Once at the turnaround point you had a few options: 1) continue hiking in the park 2) turn around and head back the same way you came, likely elbowing your way through fierce crowds as there is only one narrow path (30 minutes) 3) walk through the forest and along a ridge through the meadows back to the car lot (1 hour). Because we had some time and were not all about the crowds, we took the road less traveled through the woods and hills.
Although it took a bit longer, I was very happy with our decision. We didn’t end up seeing very many people and it felt like we were truly on our own, hiking through the forest. Once we got to the meadow, we could see views of the town from above which was beautiful. The path was through what kind of looked like farmland and we had to keep opening and closing gates along our way.
At one point we thought we were going the wrong way through a farmer’s field when we stumbled upon massive piles of what appeared to be cow feces. Going a little further we saw said cows, but then also saw the parking lot and oriented ourselves.
Because the forecast called for rain in the afternoon, we quickly hurried back to the B&B to rent a rowboat and visit the island in the middle of the lake. All of the pictures I had seen so far of Lake Bled were of this island with the church in the middle, and I must say it’s even more spectacular in person. Again, the water is just so blue and clear and you can see all of the fish in the lake and the rocks at the bottom. I put Tyler to work rowing us out to the island.
He’s done his fair share of canoeing/kayaking/rafting, but rowing requires a little more coordination since you have to row backwards and can’t see where you’re going. Thus, I was the navigator. After getting off track a few times, he got the hang of it and row, row, rowed his boat gently to the island.
I also took a whack at it for a few minutes and immediately regretted my decision.
On the island there is a big church and a restaurant, and that’s really it. We sat down for a coffee and listened to the church bells ringing. Not going to lie, it was a little boring, and I preferred the view from the edge of the lake looking to the island rather than from the island looking back to shore. We made a loop around the small island and headed back to the shore since we were ravenously hungry.
It seemed that most of the restaurants around Lake Bled were fine dining which wasn’t what we were interested in for lunch. We walked towards the city and found the Ostarija Peglez’n which had a lakeside view and went in. Here we had a lovely lunch of truffle pasta (me) and sausage (Tyler) along with some delicious bread and wine. A perfect lunch.
And perfect view from lunch.
Since the rain that was supposed to soak us in the afternoon ended up diverting its course, we were able to do a hike recommended by a friend from Slovenia. The viewing point at the top of the hike was called Ojstrica and although it only takes about 25 minutes to get to the top, it was strenuous.
First you have to walk through this dried up creek bed making sure not to twist your ankle on all of the rocks, oh and the incline is super steep.
Once we got to the top of this, we had to basically climb over huge rocks to get to the top. I think it was worth it even though we were so out of breath by the top.
Going down was much much easier, but you still had to be aware of slippery rocks that could cause you to take at tumble.
The last item on the agenda for the day was swimming in the lake. I was actually annoyed that it took us this long in the day to get to my #1 priority agenda item, but was so happy once I finally got to take a dip. The water was surprisingly warm and so clear and blue. We sat on the shore and swam for about an hour before heading back to the Carman to get ready for dinner.
Along the path on the way back there was an old man selling small watercolors of the lake. We walked by and then I decided that actually I did want a painting. We went back to him and he asked our names so that he could sign the back of the picture for us, or so I thought. Then he told me to be still and he started painting us in watercolor. He might have been half crazy and was talking and laughing to himself as he painted, but he wasn’t bad. This is how we got a nice watercolor of the lake and a portrait all for EUR 4.
Before dinner we had a few minutes to admire the view of the lake from our balcony before it got dark.
All of the sudden, the rain that had stayed away was suddenly here with a vengeance. Luckily the restaurant was only next door so we didn’t get super soaked on the walk there.
I would definitely recommend dinner at the Sova while staying in Bled. The food and wine were delicious. There’s a certain type of cake that is popular in Bled called the Bled cream cake, but it was not on the menu so we settled for some creme brulee and tiramisu, which happen to be both of our favorites. After a jam packed day of seeing beautiful things, we slept easy.
I have to admit, this was probably not the most relaxing vacation, because the next day was an even earlier wake up call and was also very full. We started out the morning the same way, by going to the grocery to get the fixing for a nice picnic in the Triglav National Park, named after the highest peak in the country. We did some hefty research before this trip and consulted several blogs describing the best way to see the park. Unfortunately, there was a half marathon in Bovec where we would be white water rafting later in the day, so we kind of had to tweak our plans, but we still got to see almost everything we wanted.
From Bled, we headed northwest towards Kranjska Gora, a small fishing village. Most of the route to this point was highway and thus not very interesting, but once we got off the main road, the beauty appeared everywhere. We could see the Julian Alps all around us and also some small and vibrant streams.
From Kranjska Gora, you can enter the park through Vrsic Pass, a road topping out at an elevation of 1,611 meters, featuring 50 hairpin turns that are conveniently numbered and also show the elevation.
From Kranjska Gora, the first half of the path is uphill and then you reach the precipice around serpentine 26 and then head back down for the rest of the way. The blogs that we referenced pointed out some cool things to see along the way, as well as the corresponding turn number so you really couldn’t miss anything.
There are many hiking paths that you can take throughout the pass, but since we were on a short time frame due to people who want to run 26 miles at a time, we didn’t have a chance to stop. Here are some of the things we saw along the way:
Before you even get on the path: Lake Jasna
8th switchback – waterfall
16th – a mountain with a natural window formation and also a pagan girl on the side
17th – chapel to remember the Russian prisoners who died building the path
28th – viewing from the top of the mountain (very crowded, but a good place to eat a sandwich or go on a hike)
37th – More World War I memorials
Once you make your way all the way down the pass, you end up in the Soca Valley featuring the beautiful light blue Soca River. Even though I was driving, I still made sure to admire the beauty from the driver’s seat.
Because of the road closures, we had to make it from the pass to Bovec before 11am, so we had some time to kill before our noon rafting trip. We had a coffee at a cafe and a picnic lunch in our trunk.
After getting all of our gear (wet suit pants, wet suit jacket, wet suit boots, helmet, and life jacket) we headed to the van and down to the river. It was quite a challenge to suit up, but I was grateful for the wet suits once we stood in the water. It was super cold. The emerald green river is chock full of minerals like magnesium and zinc as is totally safe to drink! I took advantage of this several times throughout the trip and lived to tell the trail.
Our guide for the rafting adventure was an outrageous young Hungarian guy who gave us a quick safety briefing and put Tyler and I in the front of the boat when we confessed that we had been rafting before. We were the ones who had to set the pace, and the newbies behind us could follow. Because the water level was pretty low, it was not the most adventurous white water trip I have embarked upon, but it was the most beautiful. The river itself is pristine and very clear. The mountains surrounding the river also add to the overall appearance.
The first part of the trip was spent soaking up the beauty and going over some warm up rapids. Once we got to a big rock, our guide told all of us to get out and climb to the top. He made a makeshift trampoline with the boat and had us all go down: first on our bellies, second by jumping on it as if it were a trampoline and doing tricks (optional), and third lying down sideways and rolling us like a pancake over the boat. My favorite was the pancake option. It was seriously so fun!
Not too long afterwards we came to a spot where you could jump from the rocks. I did not partake in this, but Tyler did. He said the worst part was climbing up the rock because it was pretty steep and there was nothing to grab onto. I watched from down below and was impressed by how brave he was.
After the pancake making and rock jumping, we got into the more intense rapids. Because the water was so low, our guide wanted to do tricks through all of the rapids. At one point he would make all of us go to the back of the boat and rammed the raft into a big rock and we did a 180 degree turn. He also had us go backwards through a rapid. It was pretty impressive how he could maneuver the boat.
Eventually we found our way to the end of the trip and swam the last 100m back to the van. I wanted to soak up as much of the mineral goodness as I could, even through my wet suit.
To get back to Lake Bled from Bovec, we had a few options: 1) we could go north and through Italy, mainly on highways (quickest option) 2) we could go to Most na Soci and take a train through the mountain (next quickest) 3) we could go to Most na Soci and see the lake and then continue on to Lake Bohinj (definitely not the quickest option). We originally planned to take the train, but along the way to Most na Soci we found out the next train wasn’t for a few hours. We still stopped there to hang out in the sun by the lake in Most na Soci while enjoying a coffee.
After our beverages we continued onto Lake Bohinj which had been strongly recommended by a few friends.
The drive to Lake Bohinj was intense. I was even making myself carsick and that’s hard for the driver. I don’t know how poor Tyler survived without puking. Basically just hairpin turns back to back up and down mountains through small villages with changing speed limits.
The roads were not big enough to pass the other cars without stopping and it continued like this for 1.5 hours. On the way up though I don’t think we saw another car for like 45 minutes so that part was ok. We finally made it to Lake Bohinj and had to figure out parking.
The Lake Bohinj was bigger than Lake Bled and just as clear. It was nestled in between a few mountains. I would say that I do prefer Lake Bled though, but Bohinj wasn’t as crowded which was nice. I think it would be a good place to go swimming, but it was a lot colder than Lake Bled and we just put our feet in. We sat and had a drink while watching the sunset over the mountains before heading back to Bled.
Since we got back after dark, we didn’t really get a chance to enjoy our balcony, which is probably my regret of the trip. In hindsight, I would have rather gone back through Italy and made it back to Lake Bled with time to enjoy the views.
For dinner we went to Penzion Berc, a restaurant inside of a hotel. It was a weird vibe in the place because the music was so low that you could hear the other guest talking. I think the couple across from us was on a first date. We enjoyed some good food and thought we were finally going to experience the Lake Bled cream cake, but it came out as a deconstructed dessert and was disappointing.
The next morning we were heading to the capital, Ljubljana to do a walking tour, but first we finally got our the infamous Lake Bled cream cake. We drove to a little cafe that served the delicious dish and it did not disappoint. While enjoying our cake, we let a couple sit at our table because the rest were full and it turns out they were from Atlanta. It seems like we’re always meeting fun people when we travel!
After saying goodbye to the beautiful Lake Bled, we made the 45 minute drive to Ljubljana in time for our 11am walking tour.
We parked in a parking garage close to the walking tour and only subsequently learned that on Sundays you can park for free in the marketplace at Ljubljana. A few years ago the city center turned into pedestrian only walkways, so parking can be difficult.
The walking tour started in the Preseren Square where there were some brightly colored buildings and a few statues. This big pink church is not the main cathedral in the city, although you might think it is, because it’s more impressive than the actual cathedral. It’s just a regular church.
Because the country is relatively young (est. 1991), most of their statues were not of great military leaders, but statues of great artists, like this statue of a famous Poet. Here he is looking off into the distance at his much younger wannabe lover Juliet. This was no Shakespeare story, though, and in the end he did not get the girl.
I was hoping the tour would focus on more of the history of the country, but apparently you had to take a non-free walking tour if you wanted to get the down low there. We did learn that throughout most of the history of Slovenia, they were under foreign rule, including the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburgs, and Yugoslavia. When Slovenia broke off from the former Yugoslavia to become a free country, they were the first country to do so and did not have the same drawn out war as other countries like Croatia and Bosnia.
As with many cities, there was a big earthquake in 1895 that destroyed basically the whole city and everything had to be rebuilt. Because of the influence of the Habsburgs, many buildings were built in a kind of Viennese style. You can still see the Austrian influence today.
Because the Ljubljanica River runs right through the middle of the city, there are many bridges connecting the two sides. One bridge was left standing after the big earthquake and an architect who studied in Vienna named Joze Plecnik was brought in to help with the design of a new bridge. He wanted to keep the original bridge because he thought it was beautiful, but he made two new bridges on each side to flank the old bridge and it became known as Triple Bridge. For several years the bridges were divided into pedestrian and horse (then later on car) bridges. Once the city became pedestrian only, all bridges could only be accessed by foot.
Another famous bridge in Ljubljana is called the Dragon Bridge. There is a legend that Jason was the founder of Ljubljana and his Argonauts killed a dragon. One of the dragons on the bridge represents the dragon that Jason killed. The below picture might or might not be of that dragon.
The last bridge that I took a picture of was this bridge with a lot of locks on it. If you’ve traveled anywhere in Europe, you’ve probably seen one of these where you buy a lock with your partner and lock it and throw the key into the river. The lock is supposed to represent your commitment to each other. I’m not the romantic type, but I think it’s nice.
The walking tour also went to the real Cathedral in the city. It was not very pretty, nor exciting, except for this big door. The door was built in the 90’s before Pope John Paul II’s visit to the city and depicts scenes throughout the history of Slovenia. The scenes include a few Popes, the people, some rulers, conquistadors and has a spot you can rub for good luck. Guess where that part is…
The rest of the tour doesn’t stick out to me much, but we did pass some beautiful views of the river and some interesting buildings. We ended the tour at the Congress Park where a homeless person proceeded to harass our tour guide for money. She bribed him to come back after the tour was over, but I hope she didn’t have to give him too much money.
After the tour, we grabbed a quick bite to eat while sitting on an outdoor terrace since the weather was just beautiful. We didn’t have much time to walk around the rest of the city because we had to drive back to the airport and drop off the rental car. I’m glad we gave ourselves additional time because we couldn’t figure out how to get back into the parking garage because only one door was working, and we found it after trying about 8 of the other doors. Also, you could only pay cash for the ticket and after pooling together all of our loose coins (thankfully I brought my coin purse), we scrounged up enough dough for the EUR 6 fee.
Although I was definitely more impressed with Lake Bled and all it had to offer, I finally learned how to pronounce Ljubljana and enjoyed walking around the city and experiencing the culture.