Feature 25 Feb 13

Slovenia’s Alpine Pearl Wraps up Winter Season

The last winter tourists are still enjoying the natural beauty, architectural heritage, sports facilities and cultural charms of one of the oldest Slovenian tourist resorts, Lake Bled.

Nemanja Cabric

Lake Bled lures tourists year-round. | Photo by Simon Watchar

Visitors to Lake Bled often return home amazed by the picturesque landscape of the snow-covered foothills of the Julian Alps, the tranquil atmosphere, fresh air and excellent cuisine.

The glacial lake in north-west Slovenia is surrounded by idyllic mountains and forests, is rich in cultural monuments and sporting venues and offers a range of events from sports competitions and art exhibitions to boat trips and hiking trails.

This part of Slovenia owes its refreshing climate to the closeness of the Alps. Its abundance of sunny days and thermal waters make Lake Bled one of the most relaxing places in the region, perfect for those who want to recharge their batteries while enjoying its natural splendours.

The magnificent 11th century castle and small romantic island in the middle of the lake, dominated by a church, contribute to the fairytale atmosphere.

The castle, presented by German Emperor Henrik II as a gift to Bishop Albuin of Brixen in 1004, is now open to visitors as an exhibition space which displays objects dating back through Bled’s ancient history.

The display also examines the changing structure of the castle itself. In the late Middle Ages more towers were built and the fortifications were improved, while further buildings were added during the Baroque period when the architectural development of the castle complex was completed.

Some of the castle’s rooms showcase different epochs from its past, with furniture and other details from those periods on display.

Visitors can also take a look at the castle’s cellar, herbal gallery and restaurant.

Although its charms are at their most alluring in summer, when archery tournaments are held along with concerts of classical music under the night sky, it can still be a unique experience in winter time.

Perched on a rock high atop the lake, the castle’s great view makes it a great starting place for getting to the wider Gorenjska region, as well as the Julian Alps.  

Slovenian winter dream:

Lake Bled: Winter wonderland. | Photo by Simon Watchar

After a lively carnival that filled the tourist resort in mid-February, there are still plenty of activities awaiting visitors to Lake Bled. Besides sports and cultural events, these include walks along beautiful hiking paths to caves and waterfalls, and boat rides to the small island in the middle of the lake.

Visitors that come here in the last days of winter will have the chance to see a unique swimming tournament; a sport that is really popular in Slovenia.

After a successful swimming World Cup was held here three years ago, regular competitions have been established during the winter.

Special guests this winter will be Martin Strel, a Slovenian long-distance swimmer best known for swimming the entire length of various rivers including the Amazon, and Haydn Welch from Britain, who has twice successfully traversed the English Channel.

The two men plan to swim an ’ice mile’ at Lake Bled - a swim in open water with a temperature of less than 5 degrees Celsius, for which no wet suits are allowed.

Near Bled winter sports fanatics can also watch a sledging competition called Eurosank at the Sports Centre Triglav Pokljuka in Rudno Polje on February 24.

There are several places nearby to satisfy ski lovers, such as the gentle Straza slope that is equipped with artificial snow and lights for night skiing, as well as a cross-country skiing paradise called Pokljuka that offers over 60 kilometres of trails.  

Miles of hiking paths, both easy and more demanding, wind around the frozen lake all the way to the heart of the Triglav National Park.

Tourists who come for an active holiday can also enjoy inline skating and curling at the Ice Hall or alternatively spoil themselves at indoor swimming pools with thermal water, saunas, massages, baths and fitness studios.

Cultural dessert:

The glacial lake in north-west Slovenia is surrounded by idyllic mountains and forests. | Photo by Simon Watchar

One of Bled’s most wonderful cultural monuments is the old Church of the Assumption, located on the island in the lake.

Legend suggests that where the Baroque church now stands there was once a temple dedicated to the ancient Slavic goddess Ziva, which was destroyed during clashes between pagans and Christians.

Archaeologists have also discovered evidence of prehistoric (11th to 8th century B.C.) and Slavic (9th to 10th century) settlements there.

The first three-naved Romanesque basilica was built there in 1142. In the 15th century it was rebuilt in the Gothic style, only to be heavily damaged in an earthquake and reconstructed in Baroque style. The Church of the Assumption’s current architecture dates from the 17th century.

One of the ways to get there is by the traditional Bled boat called ‘Pletna’. The pleasant trip around the lake includes a stop on the island.

After taking in the island’s attractions, visitors can also enjoy numerous exhibitions taking place at Bled’s hotels and galleries all year round.

At the Vila Nana Gallery there is a permanent ‘Exhibition of Worlds’, consisting of works by the most famous Slovenian and Croatian exponents of Naive Art: Joze Tisnikar, Josip Generalic, Stjepan Vecenaj and others. The gallery’s collection also includes works by modern Slovenian painters.

Paintings, graphics, photography, sculptures and other various artworks by respected Slovene and foreign artists can be seen at Gallery 14. Permanent exhibitions are also held at Bled hotels Golf, Krim, Ribno, Jelovica and Kompas.

After refreshing their bodies and minds, visitors can fill up the rest of their leisure time by taking a coach ride around the lake or dining at Bled’s fine restaurants and tasting the cream cakes which have become a symbol of this part of Slovenia.

The recipe for this delicious treat took Istvan Lukacevic, the former manager of one of the area’s hotels, many years of testing and tasting to perfect. However his efforts paid off, because over the past 40 years more than 7 million of these cakes have been sold.

Their crispy crust dusted with sugar might be the only white powder remaining in Bled when the spring finally comes and melts the snow.

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