The border crossing between Croatia and Slovenia is absolute chaos so it took us a little bit of time to navigate our way through the multiple lanes of traffic but we eventually made it across. Slovenia is one of those countries requiring a vignette to drive on motorways but as it was quite expensive we thought that we could probably manage without and used maps.me and a bit of common sense to navigate the country without the motorways. A lot of the time this meant simply driving on a smaller road running parallel with the motorway but it worked for us and meant that we got to see more of the countryside, which you would miss whizzing along at high speed.
We found another Lidl that sold cheddar, stopped for a quick cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich in a forest and turned north towards Slovenia’s only National Park and Lake Bled. Slovenia is beautiful, we wound our way through some incredible countryside.
We made a quick pit stop en route to try and get a glimpse of Predjama castle which is built in a cave in the cliff face. Unfortunately, you have to book well in advance to visit and we hadn’t been able to plan that far ahead, so weren’t actually able to go inside. That being said, a big part of the draw is the fact that it is a castle set in a cave and if you stand on tip toe you can see it from the road to the parking area for free.
Another short stop to buy some of our favourite King ice creams and we eventually made it to Bled. We had our first views of the lake as we drove towards a potential campsite on the edge of the water, only to find that it was fully booked. This was one of only two occasions in Europe where a campsite had been unable to accommodate us and it actually turned out to be a bit of a blessing as we found another one a few kilometres away which was free from the crowds and much quieter. Camping Perun Lipce had an excellent view of the mountains, river and a huge factory, but it was actually very peaceful and if we angled the camera the right way you wouldn’t even know that there was a factory off to the left.
We also found a bit of street art hiding under a railway bridge on the edge of town which was a bit of a bonus.
The next day we ventured into Bled. If you haven’t seen pictures of this lake before we will preface the soon-to-ensue gushing with the simple statement that Lake Bled is absolutely effing stunning. The drive there isn’t too shabby either.
Upon arriving in town we parked at a free spot by Bled Jezero railway station. The station is at the opposite end of the lake to the main town but it is an ideal spot for walking around the lake and it only takes about 20 minutes to reach the town itself. The parking may be free but there is a steep climb back up to the car on your return so you pay for your parking in calories. The walking track around Lake Bled is about 6km and there are various detours that you can take to see other sights. There is no road along the northern side of the lake so, whilst still popular with cyclers and pedestrians, it is the quietest section.
Our first detour was up to Bled Castle, necessitating a steep climb back up the hill. We paid the €9 entry fee, downloaded the app using the free Wi-Fi and started the tour guided by Caro. Some of the points of interest on the audio tour are rather contrived, the on-site restaurant for example, but the majority is engaging and informative and it took us about an hour to tour the whole place. Personal favourites of ours were the top courtyard, the iron forge which has been run by four generations of the same local family and the ramparts.
The true gem is the tiny 16th century gothic chapel, with its patterned exterior, which sits on one corner of the top courtyard.
The inside is absolutely beautiful with the walls and ceiling covered entirely in delicately coloured frescoes. Interestingly, the chapel ceased to operate as a place of worship after the Second World War and it wasn’t until 2014 that it was restored to its original purpose.
And yes, Caro checked, the chapel and courtyard are available for weddings.
The castle itself is worth the visit on its own but it is also one of the best places to get a view over Lake Bled and the surrounding landscape. If you do visit we recommend getting there early before the tour groups arrive. It is absolutely worth the slog up the hill.
It is, hands down, the most beautiful lake that we have ever seen, the colour is unreal.
Having drunk in our fill of the views we traipsed down the hill, this time walking through the town itself to get to the edge of the lake. From what we could see the town was made up of restaurants and tour companies but we were only there for a couple of minutes on our way through. Once back on the lakefront we continued our walk around its edge, coming around to the famous view of Bled Castle perched high on its cliff.
In the centre of the lake is Bled Island upon which stands the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. Sadly, whilst we were there scaffolding had been erected around the bell tower so we didn’t get to fully appreciate the building. Ringing the Wishing Bell in the tower is supposed to bring luck so it rang near enough constantly on our walk around. Initially charming, you soon find yourself tuning the noise out.
The South side of the lake is not as nice a walk, because the road also runs along the edge, but it does afford the best views of the castle. We would recommend walking all the way around in any case. We puffed back up the hill to Delaney, made some sandwiches, subtly changed into our swimsuits in the front seat and went back down to the lakeside for lunch. We decided to pitch up on the jetties in front of the rowing club as it was nearby and also significantly quieter than the actual beaches. There are signs everywhere around the club telling you not to sunbathe or swim in the area, we joined everyone else in ignoring these entirely. Despite the presence of thermal springs, we wouldn’t exactly describe the water as balmy when we first dipped our feet into it.
But we have swum in a lot colder and there was no way we weren’t testing out that gorgeous water.
After drying off we dragged ourselves up the hill once again and set off for Vintgar Gorge a short 15-minute drive away. The parking attendant obviously liked the look of us because when we arrived we were waved down to car park right next to the entrance to the walk, a kindness for which we were particularly grateful as we passed groups of red-faced people trekking back up to their vehicles in the upper car parks. It costs €5 each to get in to the walk and we suppose it depends how much of a budget you are on and how much walking you have done as to whether it is worth it. From our perspective, we could probably have given this one a miss. The gorge is lovely and the water is pefectly clear but you are herded like cattle at times and it just didn’t stack up to some of the amazing walks that we have done. We would recommend it if you are looking for a pleasant, easy stroll with pretty scenery and don’t mind sharing it with a good few people.
We were joined at times by the happiest looking dog we have ever seen which pelted up and back along the wooden walkways clearly having a fabulous time. When we passed its owner we noticed she was smoking an enormous spliff and the reason for the dog’s goofy face became very apparent.
The following day we had more walking on the agenda in Triglav National Park. There are loads of hiking trails of varying lengths but we chose to hike Mostnica Gorge and Voje Valley. The walk starts at a car park on the edge of the village of Stara Fuzina, you have to pay for the parking with coins so make sure to bring plenty of change with you. The first section is a lovely walk along the edge of the river with its crystal-clear water and mini falls.
It was very pretty but for us the star of the show was the following section through the Voje Valley with its postcard perfect views of the Julian Alps.
The walk culminates at Mostnica Waterfall which is perfectly nice although nothing extraordinary.
The track forms a sort of figure of eight loop so you don’t have to retrace your steps too much on the return journey. We definitely found ourselves on the rougher trail on the way back to the car which gave us a good work out after a quick picnic lunch. The whole walk is about a 12km round trip and we practically ran the last two kilometres because it was pelting down with rain by that point and we just needed to get indoors. On our way out we made a quick stop at Lake Bohinj, the more rugged, less toursity sister of Lake Bled.
Unfortunately, we had seen the last of our good weather in Slovenia and the forecast was poor going forward so we decided to drive on to Italy a couple of days early. Four and a half hours and a lot of Harry Potter audiobook later, we pulled into our chosen campsite for the night, ready for an impromptu visit to Venice the next morning.