Last year Chris and I spent our 11th wedding anniversary in the absolutely breathtaking city of Bled, Slovenia. Once again, I never thought that Slovenia would be at the top of my list of travel destinations, but the country is so beautiful and fun that I would recommend planning a trip here ASAP. We randomly stayed in Bled the weekend of Bled Days, the most famous event for the city.
Where are we?
History of Lake Bled:
The city of Bled is located on Lake Bled, situated in the northwestern corner of Slovenia, 30 miles from the capital Ljubljana, and south of the Kawawanks mountains. The lake has a really interesting geological history (nerd alert) and was formed by both tectonic and glacial movements. During the Pleistocene Era (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago), the Bohinj glacier developed the landscape around Bled, while the tectonic activity formed the valley for the location of the lake. Erosion caused the softer ground to be worn away, leaving behind the topsoil that now holds the lake’s island and castle.
Earliest human activity near the lake can be traced back to the Bronze Age; Old-Slavic settlers arrived in 7th century. The first written mention of the town occurred in 1004 (!!) when the German King Henry II gave the land to the Bishop of Brixen for their assistance with the Church; Bled remained under the lordship for 800 years until the settlement fell under Austrian rule in 1808.
Passed back and forth between Brixen and the Austrians (and following the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918), the settlement and the castle were given to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Tito, the Yugoslav king (and later president) used the castle as his home. In 1919 the castle and lake were sold to hotel owner Ivan Kenda, which marked the first time the settlement was officially owned by a Slovenian. The Germans annexed this portion of Slovenia during WWII and following the war, Bled became an official town in 1960.
I’m pretty meh about castles (I know, I know) but Bled Castle was a beautiful sight to visit. Pro tip: Make a reservation with the castle restaurant (more on that later!) and you can tour the castle and museum for free. It’s a steep hike up to Bled Castle, so dress like you’re going on a hike, not like you are attending an anniversary dinner at a castle (me).
The castle was first mentioned in 1011 and is the oldest castle in Slovenia.
While the Bishop of Brixen technically owned the estate, they hardly ever inhabited the castle. Instead, Bled Castle was managed by a staff of people according to feudal order.
The Bishops decided to lease the property and the first official inhabitant was Konrad von Kreigh, whose family occupied the castle for 200 years.
Herbard Auersperg of Turjak then took over the lease of the castle and attempted to purchase the land, but was unsuccessful. Under Herbard Auersperg, the castle became a Protestant stronghold for the region and the leader of the Slovenian Protestant Movement (Primož Trubar) visited the castle in 1561.
View from a castle window
The Bled estate was nationalized in 1803 and even briefly the home of Napolean Bonaparte, before passing multiple hands and ownership over the next 150 years.
Renovations on the castle took place in 1961 and the museum (a must see!) was completed in 2008.
You can also swim at the base of the castle for a couple of Euros. Even me, who refuses to swim in any body of water, couldn’t pass this up.
Bled Days includes handmade arts and crafts ( ❤ ), street food vendors ( ❤ ), music ( ❤ ), and a finale where they release over 15,000 candle eggs onto the lake ( ❤ ❤ not sure how that works waste-wise but it was beautiful to see). The event happens each year at the end of July and is definitely worth the extra cost and tourists! They also put in a lot of effort to make Bled Days a zero-waste event, which was really interesting and cool to see.
A demonstration on how old-timey firefighters used the lake to put out flames.
The finale which includes 15,000 candles released onto the lake and a beautiful firework display.
Arts and crafts, drink and food vendors (Via Bled.Si). I wish I had taken more pictures but I was too excited about everything!
Church of the Assumption:
Originally a temple for the Slavic Goddess of Love Živa, the pagan population was forced to replace Živa with the Virgin Mary when the community inhabiting the Bled area converted to Christianity in 745. The Slavic temple was replaced, and in 1465, the Gothic Church and Tower were built on the tiny island.
View of the Church from Bled Castle
View of the Church from our Pletna boat.
The Church also boasts a 99 step staircase. Tradition holds that the husband of the couple married in the church must carry his wife up all 99 steps.
The Bell Tower and the Ringing of the Bell hold a special legend for the Church:
Once upon a time there lived a young widow in the castle of Bled. Her husband was killed by robbers and his body was thrown into the lake. She was so inconsolable that she gathered all her gold and silver and cast a bell for the chapel on the island, in memory to her husband. But the bell didn’t arrive there. The bell, the boat and boatmen sank during a terrible storm. The desperate widow sold all her property after this accident. She offered the proceeds for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled and lived the rest of her life in Rome as a nun. After her death the Pope had heard of her misfortune and of her good deeds during her life as a nun, so in memory to her he decide to make a new bell. He said that anyone that rings the bell three times and believes in God, his or her wish would come true.
The Bell Tower stands at 52 meters high.
Restaurants and Pubs:
Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen:
Chris and I both agreed that this hummus was amazzzinnnnggg.
While I’m not vegan, when I saw this amazing menu from Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen, I knew I wanted to stop by for lunch. I don’t have a lot of vegetarian options here, so it’s nice to find a spot with a couple of veg menu items. Chris and I shared the house burger and it was too much to eat between the two of us.
I also discovered my love for Hugo cocktails (Prosecco+elderflower syrup+mint+lime+sparkling water), which were available everywhere in the summer heat.
Absolutely one of my favorite meals in Europe, Bled Castle has a great (and seasonal) menu with affordable prices. They also had an extensive variety of local wine and beer, not to mention a view that overlooks the entire lake.
Slovenia is known for their white wines, which was a perfect choice for this particularly warm day.
Poor kid has the sun in his eyes! Chris liked the HumanFish Slovenian IPA.
We stumbled on Okarina our first night in Bled. They were nice enough to seat us less than an hour before closing (ugh I hate being that person) and we enjoyed our dinners. They have a diverse menu–so there is something for everyone–and a really nice atmosphere that was needed after walking the lake’s super-busy edge.
Red n Black Bled:
Located right next to our Air BnB, we stopped by Red n Black Bled for a quick breakfast of coffee and toasties our first morning in the city and ended up coming back each morning! Our server was AMAZING. She was incredibly kind and their ridiculously simple menu of either make-your-own porridge or toasted bread with veggies or meat was totally fine with us.
We ended up hanging out to watch the FINA Summer Games (ironically being held in Budapest). Sometimes you just need a good old pub in your life.
Their “Kremsnita” (Bled Cream Cake) was all the heart-in-the-eyes-emojis delicious (picture via their Facebook because I was too excited to take a picture!)
Troha Pub Bled:
(Via Trip Advisor)
Considering it was right next to the edge of the lake, Kult Klub was one of our first stops in Bled. They had a great selection of Slovenian craft beer and the outside seating was great as the sun was setting. We, unfortunately, weren’t there when they had live music, but we enjoyed hanging out listening to the crazy pop star Bled Days had performing that night.
Trešpank is a super cool shop located near Red n Black. The owner repurposes bicycle parts into new things (including belts!) and sells a ton of different handmade products including postcards, pottery, clothing, and jewelry. I stocked up on a stack of crazy postcards before making the trek up to Bled Castle.
(Via Trip Advisor)
Galerija Mikame is a super cute store on the edge of Lake Bled that boasts a ton of different art, jewelry, pottery, and postcards from Slovenian independent designers. The guy working in the shop was amazing and he told us a ton of fun facts about Slovenia. I asked why he thought Ohio had the greatest population of Slovenians outside of the country and he responded: “I think it’s because we only like farming and working in factories, you know?” I picked up a reclaimed wooden ring from Brlogarka, a beautiful Bled painting by Ajda Primožič Lima, and a couple of hilarious CartsyFartsy greeting cards.
Currently watching: Big Little Lies (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée)
Currently reading: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
Currently listening: Live in Detroit by The White Stripes