It is of course unfortunate that I found it far easier to write about my negative perceptions of Lake Bled than I am on ‘bigging it up’. Nevertheless, in the best interests of balance it is only right and proper that I attempt to redress the balance, however difficult it might prove to be.
Nobody can ever deny Lake Bled’s beauty – that isn’t and never has been up for discussion. A million and one picture postcard views can be snapped using even the most basic of photographic equipment, showing a clean, reflective lake with that most unique attribute: one more island on it than the entire Slovenian coastline can muster. A common misconception that this is Slovenia’s only island is wide of the mark but in the beauty stakes and with the greatest respect to its only rival, Maribor Otok on the River Drava, this is only one of the two that merits the many column inches and thousands of Google images taken from every conceivable angle. If you can take or source a photograph of Lake Bled’s island(plus accompanying church) with a backdrop containing its impressive castle holding court above the body of water, you are on to a winner. (Extra bonus points are scored for managing to avoid having your snap adulterated by one of the several egregious concrete-monstrosity hotels).
A walk around the shore of Lake Bled will take you no more than a couple of hours and is all the more enjoyable once the roadside has been left behind. Constantly changing perspectives of the lake, island, castle and the wider environs offer the walker great reward, especially if fortunate to be visiting during one of the frequent rowing regattas, although, the lake is used on a daily basis by oarsman from far and wide to hone their skills in an arena which benefits from the outlawing of motorised boats, partly for environmental reasons but perhaps also to insure the Pletna gondoliers of the steady stream of business that all monopolies benefit from. Assuming your walk starts from The Grand Hotel Toplice and heads in a clockwise direction on the opposite side of the lake you will eventually arrive at a wooded path that leads to Bled Castle, perched on a rocky outcrop and sitting magisterially above Bled like a monarch presiding over his or her realm. The walk can momentarily be steep but ground is gained almost imperceptibly and whilst a short bus or taxi ride can instead be taken to the castle, on reaching it there is no sense of envy aimed towards the tourists who took four wheels. The castle contains the usual exhibits chronicling the area from its nascent days through to more contemporary times but the crowning glory is the roof-top terrace, where a refreshing Lasko beer sipped overlooking another myriad choice of photographic opportunities is an undeniable highlight of the day. A word though of caution for visitors in August and September: the wasps are plentiful and persistent.
A culinary delicacy that Bled lays claim to is the Kremna Rezina(Kremsnita) cream cake; legend has it that a Serbian chef introduced the area to this guilty pleasure in the 1950’s and to date, over ten million have been baked. Whether this is a particularly unique cake to the area or the Balkans in general is debatable but ultimately wholly irrelevant – once you first sample it there is no way a Bavarian Slice or similar purchased on the British high street will ever be fit to be mentioned in the same breath.
A Kremsnita is perfect for elevenses, afternoon tea, pre-dinner snack…
One advantage that Bled holds over Bohinj is the breadth of choice of tourist accommodation, from intimate pension-style residences to the opulent but a little worn around the edges Grand Hotel Toplice, with all points in between very well catered for. Any deficiencies the GHT might now be suffering from are certainly mitigated by it benefiting from probably the best views in town, although, if you have a lakeside room with balcony you will certainly pay a hefty financial price. It ts therefore very much a hotel where if you have to ask the price, you probably cannot afford it. A unique but perhaps no less advantageously positioned property is the Villa Bled, once Marshal Tito’s residence and now thoughtfully brought back into use as guest accommodation. What the man himself would’ve thought of this is anyone’s guess but in the true spirit of the Non-Aligned nation that the former Yugoslavia once was, perhaps Tito would’ve approved of this enterprising, going it alone type of entrepreneurialism rather than let a tangible asset and a relic of the Cold War era fall into disuse. The improbably named Pension Berc attracts rave reviews, as do Pensions Mayer and Alp. It is again a point worth noting that, similar to Vila Bled, some of the most well-regarded accommodation providers are those who are NOT housed in brutalist concrete nightmares from the 1970’s that depressingly dominate most of Bled’s hotelscape.
The two blog posts to posit the pluses and minuses of Bled have deliberately not mentioned the outlying areas that can easily be reached and which offer challenging and scenically advantageous hiking opportunities, as well as more prosaic tourist fayre. Should the traveller wish to remain exclusively in Bled town itself for the whole of their vacation, I am strictly of the opinion that they will struggle to meaningfully occupy themselves in what, away from the castle, island and lake is a fairly limited town. My personal suggestion to all potential visitors who desire to stay in Bled is to use it as a base for the wider area once the possibilities of the immediate surroundings have been exhausted. Benefiting from excellent train and public bus links there is no need to hire a car which will only serve to place an even greater strain on the at times busy and dangerous roads. If your hiking takes you to Bohinj or your credit-cards to Ljubljana Bled occupies a position that is roughly equidistant between the two, also being advantageously placed for visits to historic Radovljica or if arranged in advance, perhaps a tour of the Gorenjka chocolate factory close by in Lesce.
I personally hope the tourism authorities responsible for Bled acknowledge the facts, not opinions but facts, that the town needs an architectural overhaul if it is going to continue to receive overnight guests in adequate numbers. I feel at the moment foreign tourists fall into two camps: on the one hand they park up by the lake, take the mandatory pictures of what Bled is worldwide renowned for and then drive off. Secondly, overseas tour companies arrive in Bled and station their guests in a typical three star hotel such as the Jelovica or the obscenely ugly Krim, using the accommodation as somewhere to sleep and eat but during the day bussing their clients around the country, even as far as Carinthia and Venice to spend their tourist Euros. In both cases Bled misses out on vital revenue as for too many people, it is merely seen as a stopping off point and not as the end of the road destination itself. If a bold vision can be formulated to do away with the Communist behemoths that belong in a bygone era(but never in such a location as this), replacing them(and the bleak shopping complex) with a less being very much more town for locals and tourists alike, sympathetically designed to harmonise with the spectacular natural surroundings, Bled’s best days could still be ahead of it.