24 HOURS IN BLED
Perhaps the most well-known image of Slovenia to people around the world is the iconic vista of Lake Bled, complete with glassy blue waters centered around Bled Island with the majestic Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church atop it. Nestled at the southern foot of the Karawanks mountain range and only 40 minutes from the capital, Ljubjlana, Bled has long been a holiday destination for the nobility and is now a popular vacation spot for all types of tourists.
Plan to arrive in Bled in the afternoon. There are many places to stay on the North Eastern side of the lake, but for more tranquility and those iconic views, I recommend staying on the South or Western sides of the lake. My preferred hotel is Vila Bled, the former summer vacation home of Tito (yes, that Tito). The hotel has a variety of room types, free parking, a welcoming and accommodating staff, lovely grounds, and close up views of Bled Island. Check-in to your hotel of choice and take a bit of time to get settled and explore your immediate surroundings.
As the light begins to reach the late afternoon golden hour, take a traditional covered wooden row boat to Bled Island. If you are staying at Vila Bled they offer free rides to guests, but you can find boats all around the lake to take you for a small fee. Climb the 99 steps to the Baroque 17th century church. The entry fee will provide access to the bell tower and the exhibition space, and allow you ring the "wishing bell." The island also has a small cafe if you need a drink or a snack. Take your time exploring the island, listening to the bell and the splash of the lake's waters, before heading back to the mainland.
Head to town on the North Eastern side of the lake for dinner. Depending on your tastes there are several options in this lively part of the lake. I would recommend eating at either Berc for fine dining or Grajska Plaza for a slightly more relaxed vibe right on the lake. Off to bed now, as tomorrow you're waking up early.
Set your alarm for 45 mins to an hour before sunrise (depending on how much time you truly need to wake up). Put on some comfy walking clothes and follow the instructions for the Sunrise Hike at Lake Bled. The hike from the starting point takes about 20-25 minutes and is not overly strenuous. From this vantage point, watch as the the lake is slowly swathed in morning light. You can do this hike at any time of the day, but there is something special about the sun rising, the mountains, and the lake all coming together.
Return to your hotel for a much needed breakfast. If your hotel has a European style breakfast buffet, make yourself a mini sandwich for a snack later in the day (I make a point of doing this often when traveling so I'm never left starving). Now, to walk the lake. The whole lap around the lake takes 60-90 minutes depending on your walking speed and how many photos you take, but is a pretty flat and easy walk all the way around. Enjoy the changing vistas of Bled Island and the surrounding land as you move around the lake. Swans and boats will criss cross back and forth creating a dynamic, yet tranquil ambiance. When you near the town on your lap, pop up into the streets briefly and stop at Slasicicarna Smon and taste the famous Kremna rezina or Bled cream cake.
Hop in the car and head up the hill to Bled Castle for another dose of jaw dropping views of the lake, Bled Island, and beyond. See the historical development of Bled within the picturesque castle and its museum collection. The Castle has a small print shop where you can learn the traditional technologies of printing, a cellar where you you can seal a small bottle of wine with wax, and a forge full of various ironworks. The castle has a good restaurant as well, so grab some lunch if you so desire.
We now cruise 15 minutes out of town to the Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6km ravine discovered in 1891. Wooden pathways and bridges will take you through the sheer rock walls and over the rushing aqua and emerald waters. The walk ends with a single-arch stone bridge framing the Sum waterfall. The pathways are again mostly flat and easy for people of all ages. Entrance fees are 4 euros for adults, 3 euros for students, and 2 euros for children ages 6 - 15 (cash only). From here, head back to town or off to your next destination. In my case, back to Croatia.