Lake Bled(Day-Walks)

Getting There

For many foreign tourists, Lake Bled is synonymous with Slovenia. With its spectacular setting, cliff-top castle and island church it is a tourist mecca and, despite our tendency to avoid such places, we could not resist coming here. From the moment we arrived and looked out from the window of our lakeside guesthouse across the water to the castle on its craggy perch we knew it was a good idea.

Bled is one place which lives up to its hype (though I still suspect I would not like to be here at the height of the summer holiday season). We had arrived mid-morning and with the sun breaking through the clouds, decided to set out immediately to circumnavigate the lake and take advantage of the fine weather.

Panorama of Lake Bled from Mala Ostrojnica

Lake Bled Circuit (10.5 km - 440m ascent - 440m descent)

We headed out in an anti-clockwise direction from the little bay at Mlino, from where you can row or be rowed across to the island church (but that was for later) and followed the smooth pedestrian path around the lake shore, familiarising ourselves with the surrounds and taking in the views of the castle opposite, with the tall-spired church below and the town spreading out at the eastern end. Swans and their cygnets, ducks and ducklings cruised by across the clear lake water and sleek fat trout cruised beneath it - it really was idyllic.

View from our hostel at Mlino on Lake Bled

Path along the eastern shore of Lake Bled

Sv. Martin church in Bled

Reaching town, we found a pleasant cafe terrace for lunch, before continuing our perambulation. Passing the spired church, we left the footpath to climb steeply up a zig-zagging gravel track to the castle, with its commanding views over lake and mountains - time also to explore its buildings and the small museum within the walls.

Bled Castle on its lofty crag

The chapel of Bled Castle

In the forest on the Blejski Grad ridge

Lakeside view of the castle

A turreted part of Bled Castle

Easterly view over Bled from the castle

View to the west from the courtyard of Bled Castle

From the castle, we found a narrow footpath that headed westward along the rocky ridge and into the forest. This led us gradually down the side of the ridge, beneath a canopy of sun-bright green leaves, to reach the northern lakeshore. We were now on the broad lake pathway and strolled around past the lakeside rowing club (which has produced olympic gold medallists and world champions) to reach the western end of the lake with its small beach area and campground.

A tree-filtered view of the lake

Path around the western end of the lake

At the back of the western end, the densly forested hills rose steeply to a couple of high points, Ojstrica and Mala Osojnica. A short circuit led up to these, so we headed off once more into the forest. This circuit may have been short, but it was also steep, as we climbed up to make the short sharp ascent of the rocky knob of Ojstrica - the view back down the length of the lake was breathtaking and we sat down for a while just to take it all in and enjoy the ambience as the sun emerged from cloud to light up the landscape.

In the forest of Osojnica


Panorama of Bled Lake from the summit of Ojstrica

Island church and castle from Mala Osojnica

Descending to rejoin the main track, the climb continued up and around to reach the higher lookout on the bluff dome of Mala Osojnica - a different perspective, with more open views over the green meadows and villages of Mlino and Ribno, as well as the lake, but equally striking as the view from Ojstrica. In fact, this is the classic postcard photo of the lake (the fair Nello pulled out the postcard she had bought in town to confirm). The climb to these viewpoints is a must, not only beautiful, but it puts the lake in a whole landscape setting.

Sveta Marija, the island church

The swan family

Water lilies

Starting our descent we reached our only hiccup for the day - we had planned to do the circuit and descend via the south side of these steep hills, but the track disappeared precisely at the last trail-mark and, despite scouting in all directions up to the cliff line, we could not locate it. Oh well! back the way we came (I suspect it would have been better to do this circuit in a clockwise direction). Rejoining the lakeside footpath, we continued on past the island church and beneath the rocky outcrop of Villa Bled to reach our guesthouse and complete the circuit. A cold beer on the terrace watching the evening light over Triglav, the highest peak in the Julian Alps was a good way to finish.

Evening light over Triglav (2864m)

You can circumnavigate the lake in one and a half hours or, as we did, you can do it in six hours, with lots of stopping, detours and just taking in the ambience. Although more urban fringe than wild landscapes, this was a great start to our walking in Slovenia.

Vintgar Gorge Circuit (8.5 km - 180m ascent - 180m descent)

After a morning spent doing domestic chores and being proper tourists by sitting out at a cafe terrace, sipping coffee and eating a deliciously decadent slice of Blejska krema rezina, we pondered the rest of the day. It was overcast and less conducive to walking and the fair Nello had got her hands on a new book at the hostel in Ljubljana - an afternoon curled up with a good book on the shore of the lake was her vote. On the other hand, I was keen to check out the no. 2 tourist attraction in Bled - the Vintgar Gorge.

Hence, we went our separate ways and I headed off alone to do a short afternoon circuit which included the Vintgar Gorge. After retracing our steps of yesterday to the western end of the the lake, I headed up to the Bled Jezero train station and caught the 1309 train to Podhom, the next stop, and a village just a few kilometres to the north. It was the gateway to the gorge.

The main street of Podhom

From the train station, a short walk along the quiet village road and down into the valley brought me to the Radovno River and the gorge entrance. Four euros later, I walked into the gorge. As gorges go, it is small, but as gorges go, it is spectacular. Walking the Vintgar Gorge is a bit like listening to a symphony. At first it is pleasant, as rapids and cascades tumble down the rocky bed of a low-walled valley. However, this gradually builds up as the valley walls deepen and become narrower, and the path takes to a wooden board walk fixed to the sheer rock walls. The colour of the water transforms to an exquisite shade of turquoise in the deeper sections of the river and the air becomes cooler as the tall limestone cliffs close in to a few metres apart. The crescendo is reached.

Then the gorge widens and narrows again to reveal different facets of the river before finally emerging into the open with a dramatic finale in the form of a waterfall plunging out of the chasm - the Vintgar symphony is over. Better still, just have a look at the photos here - they say a picture is worth a thousand words and that is certainly the case here, after rereading the above waffle. I suspect that the cloudy day actually improved the photos, as sunlight would only give strong light-shade contrasts in the depths of a gorge.

The Radovno River above the gorge

In the heart of the gorge ...

Clear green pool in the lower gorge

The river has rapids ....

... boardwalks edge by sheer rock walls ...

Bridge and man-made barrage

... and clear calm reaches ...

... occasionally crossing the narrow gap ...

The Sum Waterfall

... before starting its descent into the gorge

... or passing beneath rock overhangs

The pool below the falls

Leaving the gorge, I begain a climb up through the forest to reach the medieval church of Sveta Katerina, sitting high above the fertile plains and backed by the Karavanke Mountains, hazily blue in the misty cloud-covered day.

The medieval church of Sveta Katerina

Forest road leading away from the gorge

Panorama across the Radoljica Plain to the Karavanke Mountains

From the church, I headed west to follow a narrow dirt track across the hillside meadows. It was a classic countryside walk, looking out over villages and the rolling green landscape, past horses, sheep and bell-tinkling cows. In the distance lay the rear of Bled Castle, a landmark for home, while to the west, the bucolic scenery was backed by the distant silhouette of the Julian Alps. It was so nice, I barely noticed the drops of light rain that had begun to fall.

Horsesgrazing the grassy slopes of Hom Hill

Looking down over the village of Zasip

Zasip church

Hazy view towards the cliffs of Babji Zob

Finally, the track dropped down to meet up with the road from Podhom to the gorge entry - I had completed the circuit and just needed to retrace my steps through the village to the railway station. A short ride back on the 1706 to Bled, a walk around the lake and I was home in time to catch up with the fair Nello, sitting with her book under the thick canopy of a tree by the lake's edge - no raindrops on her! However, this little circuit is certainly an excellent way to fill in an afternoon when visiting Bled.

By rowing boat to Bled Island (10 days later)

The island in the western part of Bled Lake is, along with Bled Castle, its most famous feature, and it is de rigueur, if you come here, to travel to the island of Blejski Otok by boat, climb the 99 steps and visit the pilgrimage church of Sveta Marija. Ten days after our first visit and after we had completed our Julian Alps Traverse, we returned to Bled, where we had left our non-hiking baggage, and did just that.

People can be propelled smoothly and expertly across in a pletna, a 20-seater flat-bottomed boat with the oarsman at the rear, or make an erratic journey rowing themselves across in a hired standard rowboat. We chose the latter - good fun and good upper body exercise after six days of walking. At least good exercise for me - the fair Nello took very seriously my promise that today would be one for relaxing in the sunshine.

The 99 steps on the island

A balmy summer's day on Bled Lake

Nello enjoys her row-boat excursion on Bled Lake

It may have been super-touristic, but having one extra day Bled Lake was a great way to end our time in Slovenia - and it was even hot enough to join the swans and have a swim in the clear cold waters to put icing on an already delicious cake.