Project Description

Right in the heart of Europe, Slovenia has retained traces of its glorious passing neighbors. Covered by thick forests, this land offers landscapes of unparalleled diversity: from alpine peaks to lakes and glacial valleys, from its bucolic countryside to the thousands of caves and underground rivers, not to mention the multitude of medieval cities with an undeniable Slavic charm.

Today, I leave Ljubljana for a day tour entitled “Alpine Fairytale” which includes a short visit of Skofja Loka, a lovely walk through the Vintgar gorge, a splendid panoramic view from Bled Castle with a boat ride on the eponymous lake, and finally a trip to Bohinj. I am using again the services of Roundabout, specialized in tours and excursions in Slovenia and currently #1 on TripAdvisor. Let’s hit the road!

Skofja Loka

We start the day traveling through the Slovenian countryside with our guide and driver, as well as my traveling companions for the day: a charming Bangladeshi family enjoying their journey in Europe. We have the occasion to get to know each other a little bit better along the way that takes us to Skofja Loka, one of the oldest towns in Slovenia and our first stop. Located at the confluence of the Poljanska Sora and Sora Selška rivers, it was the center of power held since the year 937 by the bishops of Freising who have let their influence on the city. Mentioned for the first time as a market town in 1248, Skofja Loka received the status of city in 1274.

Once there, we leave our minibus and go to discover the heart full of charm of this medieval city, ideally located between an imposing castle and a very old monastery. The city is surrounded by walls and had five towers, each with different gates allowing access to the city. Some are still present today and it is through one of them that we enter the old town. The latter has many points of interest dating from a distant past, including the picturesque and colorful facades of the houses that have earned the nickname of “multicolored Loka”.

The high and low squares, dominated by the powerful Loški grad castle built before 1202, give the old town a typically medieval aspect that I particularly enjoy. It is also considered one of the best preserved of its kind in Slovenia, as its rich cultural heritage and its title of “open air museum” testify. During the earthquake of 1511, the city and its castle were partially destroyed, but later restored on the initiative of Bishop Filip. Since then, the appearance of the city has not changed so much and it is with pleasure that we discover it through some old streets and alleys. After an hour walking there, during which our guide has told us a few stories and anecdotes of all kinds about the area, we get back to our vehicle and hit the road again.

Vintgar Gorge

Our next visit is the first of three major spots of our day, the famous Vintgar Gorge. Just next to Gorje and 4 km northwest of Bled, the gorge was discovered in 1891 by Jakob Žumer, then mayor of Gorje, and Benedikt Lergetporer, cartographer and photographer. It is from Spodnje Gorje that they went to explore the surrounding area towards Blejska Dobrav. There, they found a splendid and unspoiled nature, so they decided to found a site development committee. The gorge was then accommodated to welcome visitors, mostly guests from Bled, and a public inauguration took place on August 26, 1893.

Vintgar Gorge is 1.6 km long and was dug between two steep mountains, Hom and Borst. The Radovna river with its waterfalls, quiet and deep parts and rapids add a great charm to the area. Normally, travelers begin on one side of the gorge (“main entrance”), reach the other end (“exit”) and then return to their starting point by the same way. But for us, we will do this in a much more convenient way. To start, our driver and guide tells us that there is often a lot of people on the main entrance side and the waiting time is sometime very important, especially in summer. Yes, I did say “waiting time”, because the entrance isn’t free and there is only one cash register whose desk is shared with the small shop next door, not so practical…

So we begin our walk from the other end of the gorge, the “exit”. Much less crowded and less vehicles here as there are no large parking lots, and only a small road allows access to the entrance of the gorge, so no buses full of tourists neither. After having paid the entrance fee of EUR 4.-, our guide tells us that we have to cross the gorge to the other side, where he will wait for us. Indeed, the time for us to walk through the gorge, he will have time to drive to the “main entrance” and waiting for us there, what turns out to be a great idea.

The road and the crossing of wooden bridges and Žumer galleries lead us through a magical setting. With its natural beauty, Vintgar is without a doubt part of the most important sights of Slovenia, which explains the enormous number of visitors which keeps increasing every year. The visit of the gorge in one way, as we do, is clearly interesting since we will not have to retrace our steps, as do most tourists. For that alone, the organized tour is clearly worth it! I am in awe of the scenery around me and stops me at every turn, as the place is so beautiful! The color of the water also reminds me of the River Emerald trip I’ve done recently while travelling in Slovenia.

The walk in the gorge is very easy and accessible to all: the path is flat, and apart for a few wooden stairs to overcome, there is not real difficulties. Be careful though not to slip if the soil is wet, especially in autumn when leaves pile up. Once mixed with rain water, it becomes a very slippery ground, but if you’re in the area in summer time, you won’t have this problem! In terms of timing, count 1h15-1h30 at the most to make the round trip. Taking my time, I’ve made the one way trip in 45 minutes. I then join our guide and we wait 5 minutes, the time for the rest of our group to arrive. We leave then the area by the “main entrance” and we can now see a queue of about thirty people and a car park full to bursting! Now I understand better why our guide dropped us at the other side of the gorge and I will not fail to thank him for that. All right, let’s get in the minibus, where we will rest our legs a little, just the time to reach our next destination.

Bled Castle

Perched on top of an impressive cliff, Bled Castle has proudly dominates for over 1000 years the blue waters of Lake Bled from which emerges a tiny island, home to a 12th century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. But the visit of the island is planned for later, so let’s go first to the castle, perched on a pedestal and forever frozen in an unfinished race to the sky. From the parking lot where we arrive, we follow a pretty stone paved path to the entrance of the castle. After having payed the entrance fee of EUR 8.-, our driver and guide takes us for a tour of the area where we will have plenty of time to admire the magnificent panorama and take a few nice pictures.

Mentioned for the first time in the 11th century, Bled Castle is one of the most beautiful and known monuments of Slovenia, and especially in the region of Gorenjska where it is located. And we can easily understand why, as it is hard to remain indifferent to the silhouette of this medieval castle that stands out from the mountains forming the Julian Alps. This renown, however, has a down side, as some exhibitions installed inside the castle make it lose its authenticity, and it is prooved once we start our visit inside the building. The chapel, by cons, is worth a glance. It was restored in Gothic style in the early 18th century and contains several well-preserved frescoes.

Bled Castle is one of the oldest in Slovenia. Its history dates back to 1004, when the town of Bled and its castle were offered by Henry II, Holy Germanic Emperor, to the Bishop of Brixen Albuin who then controlled the whole territory. If the appearance of the castle at that time remains unknown, it is certain that the fortress had a quite different appearance than today. It was probably made as a wall and a Romanesque tower that offered shelter and refuge for the inhabitants of the castle, but that was certainly not intented to be a very comfortable place to live. The view, however, was much likely as beautiful as today!

In 1511, an earthquake seriously damaged the castle, which had to be rebuilt. However, Mother Nature was no less forgiving to the castle which was again damaged by another earthquake in 1690. Further developments have followed over the centuries and the building has finally adopted more or less the aspect that we can see today. One can still admire the two levels around which the castle was organized. The lowest level consists of an outdoor courtyard and its dependencies, where the servants had access. The second level hosts the apartments of the lord, the chapel and the gardens. This setting gives the place a very nice atmosphere.

Do not miss to visit the reconstruction of a wooden Gutenberg press in addition to the small outdoor refreshment. A member of the staff who is dressed as a old time printer regularly performs a printing demonstration on handmade paper, with historical clichés and lead letters. Be sure to buy a print which you can make by yourself in a few minutes, time during which you will take the role of a true master printer! Of course, I don’t forget to taste the local specialty, the kremšnita. It is a cream cake looking a lot like the french pastry named “mille-feuille” and I enjoy eating it on the terrace with a magnificent view in the background!

Before joining Bled Island as shown of the picture above, I go for a walk in the gardens and take a few pictures of the surroundings. The panorama from the castle is known worldwide and to see it with my own eyes is a treat, like the pastry which I ate in no time! Despite its touristy aspect, the castle is an attraction that I recommend, just for the splendid panoramic view! It goes without saying that I would be delighted to return there, in winter this time, because it will not be as hot as today, and I would especially like to admire the Alps and the surrounding area completely covered in snow! We return to our minibus and then go down the road towards the lake.

Lake and Island of Bled

The lake of Bled was formed when the Bohinj glacier receded. Its length is 2120 m, its width is 1380 m, its maximum depth reaches 30.6 m, and it extends over a distance of 6 km. During the Würmian glaciation, the Bohinj glacier naturally widened the existing tectonic shift, giving the lake its actual form. The bowl thus formed was flooded with water when the glacier melted. Nowadays, the lake has virtually no tributary of great importance, but only a few isolated sources which supply it.

To go around the lake, three options are available: a tourist train, horse carriages or on foot, the latter being undoubtedly the best option if you have at least 2 hours to spare. This will allow you to admire the lake, the island and the scenery around the banks from different angles. In addition, the train and the carriages can not operate on all the shores of the lake, unlike walkers do. All around the lake are bars and restaurants, and a great amount of places to fish or swim.

We are now going to visit the island of Bled, but we must first decide how to get there and several options are available. First of all, the most traditional (and touristy) way possible via a Pletna – a kind of large roof-boat run by a rower using two oars and only present in Bled. These boats are built and operated as a family business and can carry up to 15 passengers to the island for EUR 12.- per person (round trip), which is quite expensive, but dispenses you to deal with any kind of boat renting.

If you prefer to enjoy some freedom and organize your trip according to your own schedule, you can rent a beautifully carved, swan-shaped wooden boat. The price is EUR 10.- per hour and you can easily moor at the island of Bled, thanks to many pontoons being provided for this purpose. This solution allows you to modulate your day on the lake, but will definitely be more expensive than via a Pletna. The third method is free: swimming! Yes, it is not difficult to reach the island from the nearest shore to the sheer force of arms and legs, the crossing taking between 10 and 20 minutes depending on your physical condition and the type of swim used. Take a waterproof bag for your stuff!

We opt for the Pletna, climb onboard and slowly reach the island in about 15 minutes. Once on the island, the boatman grants you generally between 30 minutes and an hour, but this can be discussed. I take the opportunity that my guide watch over my bag to take a dip in the refreshing water, directly jumping from the dock, which is normally forbidden because of the boats. After a few minutes, I dry up quickly and go for a walk on the island.

I start by climbing the stone staircase and its 99 steps, renovated to mark the millennium of Bled. I then visit the Church Saint Mary of the Assumption 17th century which is located on the terrace at the top of the island, with a separate bell tower and some auxiliary buildings. The church, whose entrance costs EUR 3.- and includes entrance to the museum of the island, retains fragments of frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Mary: the history of Joachim and Ana on the north face, and the scene of the Visit to Mary and her adult life on the south side. Visitors who would like to make a wish may do so, since 1534, by ringing the bell of the tower whose sound can be heard across the island. In the nearby restaurant, you can eat, drink and have a rest. I therefore took the opportunity to try out another local specialty, because I must say that we still haven’t had lunch and it is 1PM! Before taking a single picture (sorry, was too hungry), I swallow a “potica”, a delicious jelly roll with nuts and a cup of tea. I continue with the visit of the local museum, followed by a nice “Bled” icecream (flavored with a delicious mix of hazelnut and chocolate) which I enjoyed peacefully seated on top of the staircase, yummy! Time to make a quick tour of the island on foot and it is time to join our boat for the return to the mainland.

Bohinj

Back on the road again to visit the last spot the day, Bohinj. Once there, we have two hours in front of us in order to eat and do some sightseeing. I first reach the nearest restaurant and order a homemade pasta dish  with ground meat and cheese. Quickly made, quickly served and good enough, even if the presentation is somehow not well done. After the meal, I go for a walk near the lake and follow a path taking me between beautiful fields covered with flowers and the shores of Lake Bohinj, where people swim, sunbathe, eat and enjoy the beauty of the area.

Located within the Triglav National Park, the lake has an area of 3.18 km2, a length of 4.2 kilometers, one kilometer wide at maximum, and a depth of 45 m. The area is associated with the legendary “Zlatorog”, a white chamois with golden horns that lives in the surrounding mountains. A statue representing the mythical animal stands near the lake. At the contrary of Lake Bled, deeply marked by tourism, Lake Bohinj is still wild, has little infrastructure and is an ideal starting point for many excursions and hiking, not to mention mountain climbing for the bravest travellers.

The lake is exceptionally beautiful and appears to me as an idyllic site to enjoy the nature. It is true that the region is impressive, and its appearance changes like the seasons. In winter, the valley welcomes skiers or ice skaters on the lake, while the latter attracts swimmers and fishermen in summer. Parachuting, paragliding, kayaking and canoeing are also included in the list of activities available. Whatever the season, there is always something to see or do in Bohinj! I finished my tour with some pictures of the surroundings and with a visit of Ribčev Laz, Church of St John the Baptist.

It is a Gothic church dating from 1464 (although often assigned an earlier date, around 1400) with a baroque tower added in the 18th century. Inside, one can discover the remains of frescoes painted by Jernej of Loka, depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist. Different layers of frescoes exist, dating from different periods. The church has three wooden altars carved at different times during the 17th century, the oldest of which being currently exposed at the National Gallery in Ljubljana.

After the visit, I return to the car park by the famous Hudičev Most or “Devil’s Bridge”. Indeed, legend says that it was built by Satan himself! The men of the village wanted to built a bridge, but despite all their efforts, they were not able to do so. The Devil then appeared and promised to take care of this task in exchange for the soul of one who would first cross the bridge. The men agreed, but secretly pondered a way to trick the Devil. When the bridge was finished, instead of sending one of them, it is the dog of one of the peasants who crossed the bridge first. Realizing that he had been fooled, the Devil went mad and disappeared. That’s the best kind of story to end this day full of discovery in one of my new favorite place in this amazing country which is Slovenia!