Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge
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Simply put, I absolutely love Lake Bled, and would recommend it as part of anyone’s European itinerary. With miles of Mediterranean coastline, it is interesting that Slovenia has only one island…and it is nowhere near the coastline. Set inland high amongst the Julian Alps, the island in the middle of Lake Bled is nothing more than the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage church situated peacefully in the center of the lake. Speaking of the lake, its the main draw to this tourist region in northwest Slovenia, where time stands still and a gentle bike ride or stroll around the lake is the most strenuous task on the menu.
Arriving by train from nearby Klagenfurt, across the border in Austria, I actually missed the stop for Lisce-Bled and continued on to the next town, which was a bit of an adventure given my limited handle on the Slovenian language. Riding back the other direction, I asked a man next to me–in broken Slovenian–if this was the stop for Lisce-Bled, and he just shrugged his shoulders at me in a curious fashion. Turns out he was some American businessman and he thought I was Slovenian! The chances. Either way, it turned out to be the right stop, and from the train station it is only a short walk into town.
Once in town I chose to spend the evening in the most fantastic way imaginable at the moment , which was to buy and enormous pizza and sit down by the lakeshore and watch the daylight disappear over the multi-hued water. While many consider Italy to be the home of the world’s best pizza, I actually have to hand the crown over to Slovenia for the best pies on the planet.
The following day was my adventure day around Bled. The best form of transportation around Lake Bled is to explore the entire region by bicycle, as there are many sights within a short ride of each other. Plus, the scenery is gorgeous and its amazing territory for mountain biking. Prior to hopping on the bike however, I ascended the steep hill up to Bled Castle for a birds eye view of the entire region. And what a view it was. Set atop a 130m cliff overlooking the lake, the Castle is one of the most scenic I have seen in all of Europe, and it is definitely worth the visit if for nothing more than the view.
Once hopping on the bike, I made a quick circle of the lake and headed 4km or so out of town to go and explore the famed Vintgar Gorge. Situated just outside the village of Podham, the Vintgar Gorge runs for 1600m along an incredibly narrow canyon, finally terminating at 26m Sum waterfall. The moss and greenery simply drip off the walls of the gorge, with the entire scene being amplified by the rushing turquoise waters of the Rudovna River. It is actually possible to swim in the lake under Sum waterfall, and it is a refreshing dip after a long bike ride from town. I had to walk the bike for a large portion of the gorge though as it does get incredibly narrow and craggy.
On the hike back through the gorge, a large group of schoolchildren keyed in on the fact that I was an American, and they all boldly took turns practicing their English on me as we walked through the walls of the gorge. I have found that in many countries in the world, regardless of continent, schoolchildren are always very eager to practice their basic English skills, and are incredibly proud of the level of progress they have achieved. If only Americans could offer the same passion for acquiring other languages.
That next morning, I was a casual witness to one of the more genuine events I have ever witnessed while on the road. Tucked away in a tiny hostel in Lake Bled, while eating breakfast in the community dining area, I was privileged enough to overhear the conversation at the next table between an old American man and two German youths. The man, who was traveling with his wife, was giving the two young Germans an emotional recollection of what it was like to be fighting young boys who looked just like they did nearly 60 years prior during WWII. What was interesting to me, was the degree of willingness to share the old man was offering, and the rapt attention of the two Germans who were enthralled to hear such a first-hand account on the history of their country, and from such an unlikely source. It just goes to show that sometimes you can just be squirreled away in a corner having breakfast, and you never know when a memorable moment is going to present itself.