Lake Bled (as seen from the castle terrace) – its natural beauty has drawn visitors for centuries
Slovenia is a tiny country, even by European standards.  Driving from Austria to Italy?  You might not even realize that you’ve passed through another country, if not for the huge cold war era border stations – now completely empty, with no stop required – a monument to another era.  For much of the 20th century, Slovenia was a province of Yugoslavia – a post WWII communist conglomeration held together more by their leader President Tito’s charisma than anything else.  But Slovenia has been a sovereign nation since the Slovenes declared their independence in 1991.  A brief conflict ensued, but Slovenia avoided the devastation that other parts of Yugoslavia suffered as it disintegrated.  
Today’s Slovenia is a peaceful, friendly mix of baroque elegance and natural beauty.  And nowhere is that natural beauty more stunning than on Lake Bled. 
Nestled in the Julian Alps, the lake is like a scene from a fairy tale – a castle on a cliff overlooks the town, and a beautiful baroque chapel sits majestically on Slovenia’s only island.  To get to the island, you can rent a row boat or take a ride on a pletna – a special keel-less wooden boat handcrafted by local artisans and operated by local families. The pletna captains have inherited the special rights to provide this service from the time of Maria Theresa – the Hapsburg Empress who ruled Slovenia as part of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire.  During harsh economic times, the Empress granted 20 Bled families the right to not pay taxes they could ill-afford, but instead to provide a service – transporting pilgrims across the lake to worship at the island church.  Today, the descendants of those same families continue to fulfill their ancestors’ role, but sadly, they are no longer tax exempt! 
A traditional pletna, awaiting it’s next group of pilgrims.
Robert Wilfan, expert plenta captain and friendly local guide.

A journey to the island and back takes about 90 – 120 minutes (depending on how much time you spend on the island).  While you are on the island, you will be encouraged by your pletna captain to ring the “wishing bell” in the church.  Robert Wilfan, one of the pletna captains and a great local guide, loves to share the legend of the bell with tourists.  Many of the captains speak English quite well, and somehow can fit in some excellent history between deep breaths as they row and you relax!  Make sure your camera has plenty of memory – photo opportunities abound.  

Slovenia’s only island is small, but the church is grand!
 You will get a great view of the Bled Grad (castle) that clings precariously to a lakeside cliff while you are out on the water.  Don’t miss it – when you are back in the village head up the hill to the castle (a short uphill drive in a bus or car, or a steep walk!).  Commanding views await you from the upper terrace, and a visit to the Guttenberg printing press and the monk’s wine cellar, both of which are attended by museum workers in costume and in character, are fabulous parts of the castle experience.  The monk in particular has a great sense of humour, and a great passion for Slovenian wine – which is actually really good!  I have tried several of the wines he has in his cellar, and I favour the “house” white that you can bottle yourself – with the monks help.  

Wine is a spiritual experience for this Slovenian monk and his happy visitors!
 Back in the village, pop into a local restaurant or patisserie overlooking the lake and enjoy a piece of Kremna rezina – a Bled original.  In 1955, the pastry chef at the Park Hotel came up with a new recipe for cream cake – a mix of custard, whipped cream, and puff pastry.  Since then, they have served over 10
million of these delicious pastries!  You can go for the original at the Park Hotel, or get it at many other cafés and restaurants in town.  Afterwards, if you’re up for it, take a walk around the lake on the flat, well-maintained path – and during the hour or two it will take you, contemplate this beautiful little corner of the earth!
Interested in visiting Slovenia?  OneLife Tours Best of Eastern Europe will give you the full Lake Bled experience and more.  Check out our tours at
Pletna Captain Robert Wilfan and OneLife Tour Director Craig Bresett outside of the Bled castle museum.