July 29-31, 2022
After a two-month whirlwind of traveling and/or hosting guests every single weekend, we finally were able to spend back-to-back weekends in a row relaxing and catching up with friends in London. The time we spent recharging got us even more excited for our next trip: a quick getaway to Slovenia during the last weekend in July.
Lake Bled is on basically every “most beautiful places in Europe” type of list and I had been dying to visit it for years, even though we really knew next to nothing about Slovenia before our trip. We were pleasantly surprised by (and now are kind of obsessed with) this tiny, mountainous, and incredibly green country, which has historically been at the crossroads of Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages and cultures given its location surrounded by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and the Adriatic Sea. This interesting mix of influences has created a uniquely welcoming and charming culture all its own despite only being an independent state for the past 30 years, and Slovenia is currently ranked in the top 25 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index—it was also the first former Yugoslavian country to join the EU and adopt the euro as its currency.
Although Lake Bled is only about 30 miles outside of the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, we flew into Zagreb, Croatia because we were able to get unusually cheap tickets with British Airways. It took us ~2 hours to drive from Zagreb to Bled, which was really quite easy and ended up being a very nice way to see more of the beautiful Slovenian countryside. Slovenia is known for being one of the greenest countries in Europe in terms of sustainability practices, but it’s also literally very green—we felt like we were in the middle of a forest as soon as we crossed the border. In addition to the natural beauty, Slovenian homeowners clearly take a lot of pride in their heritage, and the majority of the homes and farms we saw incorporated traditional architectural and decorative components, including flowerboxes with brightly colored flowers under each window, bee-friendly gardens (beekeeping is a very important part of Slovenian culture), and special freestanding structures for drying hay called kozolci.
Lake Bled lies at the foot of the Julian Alps in the northwestern corner of Slovenia, near the borders with Austria and Italy, and we started exploring as soon as we arrived on Friday afternoon. The crystal-blue lake surrounded by mountains would be incredibly picturesque in any circumstances, but it’s most notable for the 11th-century fortress looming 100 meters over the shore and the tiny island at the center of the lake containing a beautiful Baroque church and bell tower. We grabbed a quick lunch and strolled along part of the four-mile footpath surrounding the lake before making the steep walk up to Blejski Grad (Bled Castle) and then back down for a lovely dinner at Gostilna Pri Planincu, a traditional tavern with excellent local craft beers and regional specialty dishes.
The adjoining town of Bled wasn’t very traditional or charming on its own—it’s always been a tourism-focused town and therefore has quite a bit of larger hotels and resorts—but we booked a room in a lovely guesthouse that was just far enough away from the main part of town while still being able to walk everywhere. However, if I were to do it over again, I would have probably tried to stay near Lake Bohinj, which was just as beautiful but MUCH less developed despite being just a 30-minute drive from Bled.
We spent most of Saturday exploring the Bohinj Valley and the surrounding Triglav National Park, and the experience really rivaled some of the national parks we’ve visited in the U.S. Slovenia’s only national park makes up 4% of the country in terms of total area and contains the nation’s highest peak, Mount Triglav, which is also one of Slovenia’s most beloved national symbols. We had such an incredible day and overall weekend, and I can’t stress how much we enjoyed absolutely everything about this beautiful, friendly country. It was so easy to get around and everyone spoke English—I truly don’t have anything but wonderful things to say about our experience in Slovenia and I would highly recommend the area to absolutely anyone, regardless of how much time they’ve spent in other parts of Europe.
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Bled and/or Triglav National Park, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in Slovenia and Croatia.
Food & Drink
- Restavracija Julijana: Dinner at Restavracija Julijana, a beautiful waterfront restaurant at the elegant Grand Hotel Toplice, was definitely the culinary highlight of our trip. The tiny restaurant only seats ~20 guests on a terrace overlooking the lake and it’s well known for its use of high-quality local ingredients. We both had the “Gorenjska selection” tasting menu, which exclusively featured regional ingredients and specialties like homemade tagliatelle with morel mushrooms, trout soup with apples and dried pear sorbet, and bacon-wrapped rabbit with buckwheat gnocchi. Everything we ate and drank was exquisite and the private terrace was really quite romantic, especially as the sun set over the lake.
- Gostilna Pri Planincu: We had dinner at this traditional, pub-style restaurant on Friday night and it was the perfect introduction to local craft beers and the regional cuisine, which was a lovely mix of Italian, Austrian, and eastern European cuisines and involved lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. Although it looked kind of like a dive bar when we walked in, the restaurant seating was on a fantastic terrace tucked away between buildings. There was also a pizza restaurant in the back that looked (and smelled) amazing.
- Restaurant Triglav Bohinj: We were absolutely ravenous after hiking at Mostnica Gorge and probably would have eaten anywhere, but we somehow lucked out by randomly stumbling upon this fantastic restaurant and wine bar overlooking Lake Bohinj. Restaurant Triglav Bohinj follows the guidelines of the regional “Bohinjsko” brand certification, which guarantees the authenticity of top-quality local products and services operating in a sustainable manner. Our waiter was also the restaurant’s sommelier and he provided fantastic recommendations for local wines to pair with our incredibly delicious and creative lunch.
- Market by the Lake: This spacious shop on the shores of Lake Bled was a cross between an upscale convenience store and an artisan sandwich shop…so it was absolutely perfect for grabbing a late lunch before taking a lap around Lake Bled and hiking up to Bled Castle. The staff was super friendly and the takeaway food was solid, but the best part about the shop was its excellent selection of local wines and craft beers.
- Kavarna Park: The Hotel Park cake shop on the shores of Lake Bled is recognized as the official birthplace of Slovenian kremna rezina, a cream cake made with layers of puff pastry, custard, whipped cream, and powdered sugar and served in 7×7 cm slices. The town is VERY proud of the decadent dessert commonly referred to as kremšnita, and it’s definitely one of Bled’s (and perhaps Slovenia’s) most famous traditional dishes. I personally found it way too rich for my tastes, but I’d still recommend trying it while in town.
- Hitri Kruhek: This tiny, cash-only bakery down the street from our hotel was absolutely packed both mornings we were in town, but was perfect for grabbing takeaway breakfast and coffee before heading out on a hike.
Activities & Attractions
- Blejski Grad (Bled Castle): The medieval fortress overlooking Lake Bled dates back to the beginning of the 11th century and is allegedly the oldest castle in Slovenia. It was a steep walk from the Castle Lido swimming area up to the castle, which sits on a precipice towering more than 100 meters above the lakeshore, and the history museum housed in the castle was nothing to write home about, but the stunning views across the lake were well worth the climb and entry fee.
- Blejski Otok (Bled Island): The lake surrounds a tiny and picturesque island with a pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, and the traditional way to access the island is on a flat-bottomed wooden boat with colorful awnings known as a pletna that is still made by hand and operated by oarsmen descended directly from 22 local families that Maria Theresa of Austria granted exclusive rights to ferry religious pilgrims across Lake Bled in 1740. Since the only other ways to access the island were swimming or rowing our own boat, we opted to take a pletna, which was a lovely way to soak up the beauty of the area and only took ~10 minutes to reach the island. A Baroque stairway leads from the pier up to the 17th-century church and it is traditionally considered good luck for a groom to carry his bride up the 99 stone steps (!!) on the day of their wedding before ringing the bell and making a wish inside the church. We actually were able to see two couples celebrate this tradition while we were on the island, including a lovely older man and his wife who were at least in their 60s and attending the wedding taking place that day.
- Bohinjsko Jezero (Lake Bohinj): Although Lake Bled was just as beautiful as we had hoped it would be, we were perhaps more impressed and enamored by Lake Bohinj, which was just a 30-minute drive from Bled. The largest lake in Slovenia (790 acres), this glacial lake is part of the absolutely stunning Triglav National Park, and its crystal-clear waters were perfectly framed by the jagged peaks of the Julian Alps. Bohinj Valley was much less developed (and therefore much less crowded/touristy) than Bled and if we were to go back to the area, I would likely try to stay in one of the cabins on Lake Bohinj instead.
- Slap Savica (Savica Waterfall): The beautiful double waterfall in the heart of Triglav National Park is one of Slovenia’s largest and most beautiful. It was an easy hike along a well-marked footpath to reach the 78-meter-high waterfall shaped like an “A” and although the trail was a bit crowded, it was a lovely experience and well worth the hour or so (and €4 entrance fee) that it took to make the full loop.
- Korita Mostnice (Mostnica Gorge): Just a few minutes away from the shores of Lake Bohinj lies Mostnica Gorge, a 2-kilometer-long gorge in the picturesque Voje Valley. We spent a wonderful couple of hours walking along the rock formations and soaking up all of the incredible natural beauty surrounding us…and enjoying the shaded escape from the mid-summer heat.