Beautiful Bled

by Tim Dawe

 

pilgrims-progress-the-99-steps-to-blejski-otokOn my second last day in Slovenia I lost it! Literally. In recharging my camera battery I wiped clean my video tape losing all trace of my first visit to stunningly beautiful Bled in Slovenia.I spent the previous two days in perfect spring weather sizing up angles, waiting for appropriate light and climbing sheer cliffs to capture the spectacular alpine scenery. Views I did not expect to witness first-hand again.Little wonder I felt dejected the next day over breakfast at our hotel in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s charming 12th century capital.

My non-photographer wife was unsympathetic to my plight but was her usual pragmatic self. “Why not just go back and do it again? Our train for Zurich doesn’t leave until this evening,” she said.Why not indeed?

Such is the size of this tiny European country – about half the size of Switzerland – in little more than an hour a scheduled bus returned me to Bled, a 5000-strong resort town in the Julian Alps near the Austrian border. Armed with the memory of vantage points and by jogging around the lakeside track between them, I completed my photographic mission in three hours as the clock on the pretty church struck one.

Not to be confused with Slovakia, the more rural part of the former Czechoslovakia, Slovenia is tucked away between Italy and Croatia and shares its northern borders with Austria and Hungary. From the middle of the nineteenth century Slovenes emerged from generations of domination by waves of foreign powers, notably the Habsburg Empire.

The Republic of Slovenia’s independence in 1991 in the wake of imploding Yugoslavia, although not without bloodshed, was remarkably free from the territorial claims and ethnic savagery suffered by other republics.

In communist days it was said laws were made in Belgrade, debated in Zagreb but ignored in Ljubljana. Relative isolation can be a blessing.

Its booming economy and stable government make it the envy of other former Eastern Bloc countries. The reward is full membership of the European Union. Today liberated Slovenes are a proud, practical and industrious people using their own language and rediscovered culture.

Slovenia promotes itself as the ‘green piece of Europe’, without any hint of irony. From north to south it boasts picture-postcard, alpine scenery, quaint rural villages amid rolling green hills covering some of the world’s best cave systems, and charming fishing ports along its tiny toehold to the Adriatic Sea.

As a tourist destination, Slovenia’s Lake Bled is well known to Italians, Germans and Austrians who take winter and summer holidays at a fraction of the cost of comparable Swiss resorts. But Slovenia has been off the beaten track for Australian tourists and largely ignored until very recently.

Simply, its scenery is breathtaking.

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The picturesque, emerald-green Lake Bled on one side is bound by the town, woodlands and grand houses, and on the other by steeply sloping forest, a soaring rocky outcrop and distant snow-capped mountains.

Like something from a romantic fairy tale, a church sits high atop a tiny wooded islet at one end of the 2km-long oval lake, while Blejski Grad, a 16th century medieval castle in full working order, dominates the landscape clinging to the edge of its vertical rocky cliff base, 120m above the lakeside.

It’s impossible to be immune from Bled’s ‘wow factor’, whether viewing the many canopied gondolas (pletna) and the stately white swans gliding on a summer lake, or the groups of skaters dashing across a frozen winter lake to the islet with its ancient church dusted with snow.

Bled Castle, first constructed in 1004, is the archetypal medieval fortress with towers, ramparts built for boiling oil, drawbridges and moats.

Now used as a museum with guides resplendent in period costume, the castle’s large terrace offers the weary cliff climber the most spectacular views of the lake and surrounding countryside.

The tiny tear-shaped islet, Blejski Otak, is the only island in Slovenia. There has been a Christian church here since the ninth century and excavations of a pagan temple indicate people have worshipped here for more than a thousand years. Visitors to the 15th century church are invited to ring the bell to make a wish.

Pious pilgrims in medieval days climbed the 99 stone steps from the lake – on their knees!

If you yearn to be immersed in Europe’s chocolate-box scenery but without the exorbitant costs and tourist hassles try Slovenia – and visit Bled.

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