This post is entirely dedicated to two of the most popular natural sites in the whole of Slovenia: Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled.
I struggled a bit to find the right way to write about them. At first I thought I’d privilege the technical information, i.e. how to get to each site, which route to follow to drive from one to the other, and how to best explore them.
But then I also thought that, if you’re travelling around Slovenia, you won’t need special directions to find your way around. Road signs are everywhere, and there are not that many routes to choose from to move around.
So I thought I could maybe focus on the absolute beauty of the places themselves, and recall the seemingly motionless surface of Lake Bohinj, or the breathtaking bird’s eye view of Bled from the top of Ojstrica hill.
But then I also thought that, however hard I tried, I would still fail to convey the message in full. I’d probably give up at some point, and ‘Well-I-guess-you-had-to-be-there’ the reader. And that’s not nice.
So I opted for a third way. I chose to include a little bit of everything: a few technical details which turned out to be handy for us, a few remarks on the places themselves, which I couldn’t really refrain from making and, obviously, snapshots I took along the way. In fact, photographs seem to be the only way for me to get straight to the point without unnecessarily digressing along the way. Which is also what I’m doing just now, so enough with that.
Oh Lake Bohinj.
Info and technicalities
Located around 25 km south-west of Bled, Bohinj was the very first entry on our Slovenian agenda. As soon as we picked up our car from the rental office, we drove out of Ljubljana straight to Bohinj.
The drive was fairly straightforward, the view no less than beautiful all the way.
Bohinj is situated in the territory of Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s one and only national park. The park is named after Mount Triglav, which, with its 2,864 metres, is the highest peak in the country (and of the Julian Alps). Triglav is located virtually in the very centre of the park and, mist and clouds permitting, it can be admired from Bohinj.
If you’re driving from Bled, as you enter Bohinj you will come across a car park on your left (where a tourist centre, a souvenir shop and a café are also located). If you park there, it’s only a few steps to the lake. Across the street from the car park, there’s a monument that commemorates the first hikers that peaked Mount Triglav in 1778. Head over to the top of the hill where the monument stands, and take in the beauty of the mountain range in the distance, right above the lake. Triglav is the one located a bit to your left. No fear, there’s a map pointing it out a bit more in detail!
Alternatively, you can park a bit further on, by the lake. There’s only one road that goes along the lake (the one that also takes to Savica Waterfall, as we will see later), so you can’t go wrong.
More about the lake
Lake Bohinj is one of those places you can’t quite describe with words. They say it’s lesser-known and less breathtaking than Bled, yet more ‘authentic’.
Some pre-trip Googling had already made it highly appealing to me. Having seen it with my own eyes, though, I can confidently say it’s one of the most staggeringly beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life.
As you reach the lake from the car park, you will come across the medieval Church of St John the Baptist. The church is located at the head of the lake, right by the stone bridge and very close to the main road into Bohinj. One could not be blamed if, seeing it, one thought the church had been placed there as architectural counterpart to the natural beauty of the site.
Now, all I’ve mentioned so far in this post is as cool and interesting as I’ve made it sound. That said, there’s one thing that will make you forget about all the rest, and it’s the crystal-clear waters of the lake. I mean it. The view is so mesmerising that you can’t help keeping your eyes glued to the water the whole time. The range of colours goes from turquoise to blue-green to aquamarine to… I’m not sure I even know the English words for all those shades of blue.
You can’t not go for a walk around the lake. I’m not 100% you can circle its whole perimeter (we didn’t have time for that anyway), but there are plenty of walking and cycling to keep you busy for as long as you like.
There are also other sites of interest in the vicinity of the lake. One of them is Vogel, which can be reached via cable car from Ukanc. Another one is Savica Waterfall, which is the one we opted for. It’s a super short drive from Lake Bohinj, plus a good 25/30-minute walk uphill, mainly consisting of stone steps. And it’s a lot of steps I’m talking about, but the view is immensely rewarding, so don’t even think of not going.
If you say ‘Slovenia’ to a sample of ten people, at least half of them are likely to reply with something like ‘Oh yes, Bled!’. Bled is objectively one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Slovenia. If Bohinj is (still) a bit hipsterish, Bled is its mainstream counterpart.
Its fame is more than well deserved, though. Let me tell you why.
Info and technicalities
Bled can be super easily reached both from Ljubljana and, obviously, from Bohinj. We left Bohinj around lunchtime, and we were able to spend in Bled virtually the whole afternoon. That’s how short the drive is.
The basic things to do in Bled include (at least) the following:
– A walk along the lakeshore, which means that you can circle the whole lake on foot (around 6 km) or walk just a shorter stretch of it.
– A boat trip to the tiny island in the middle of the lake
– The ascent to Bled Castle and the castle visit
– A hike to the top of one or more of the three hills overlooking the lake (Ojstrica, Mala Osojnica and Velka Osojnica).
The one afternoon we had was certainly not enough to see and do everything. A whole day would be ideal. So we made the most of the time we had. The weather was not very welcoming (to say the least): it was dark, grey and rainy. That, though, did not stop us from spending as much time as possible outdoor and around the lake.
If you’re driving to Bled, parking can be a bit tricky. We were able to park by our hostel, which made life much easier for us. I don’t recall spotting that many parking options in the vicinity of the lake. If you’re visiting Bled on a day trip, I would recommend keeping an eye out for car parks as you enter the town.
More about the lake
Lake Bled is one of the most photogenic I’ve ever seen. True, we didn’t sail to Bled Island by pletna (gondola boat), climb the 99 steps of the South Staircase leading up to the Church of the Assumption, or visit the church itself. We still enjoyed a very good share of viewing spots along the way.
The most memorable view of all, in fact, was the view from the top of Ojstrica, one of the hills overlooking the lake. I chose Ojstrica over Mala and Velka Osojnica because it was the shortest hike. Bobby was waiting for me down by the lake, and I didn’t want to leave her in the rain for too long. What’s more, the weather was still rather horrible when we got to the point of the lake shore where the trail began.
Speaking of which, the trail signs are all but easy to spot due to the thick vegetation. Keep an eye out for them when you reach the southwest corner of the lake. Across the street from the lake shore you will see small red signs on a wooden post.
The ascent to Ojstrica top consisted of 20-25 minutes of steep, muddy and slippery trail in the woods. As I approached the top, the rain grew thinner and thinner, though, till at some point it stopped altogether.
I’m quite positive my heart skipped a beat when I took the last step to the hilltop, and my brain registered the view my eyes set on. I had it all there: the lake, the island, the castle, and the Karavanke mountain chain the background. The lake surface was like a mirror, the low clouds partially covered the hillslopes in the distance, and the late-afternoon light brightened up all the colours. I’m not even trying to put it into words. I will dutifully provide some photos instead.
I can confidently say that the day we spent around Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled was unbelievably amazing and unique, to say the least. The next morning, when I woke up to blue skies and the brightest morning light, I still did not know the day to come would be equally amazing and unique. I still did not know I would visit Vintgar Gorge first thing on the way out of Bled, and then the Julian Alps would leave me speechless, and make me fall in love with Slovenija even more.
Okay, but let’s talk about it one post at a time. Vintgar Gorge is next in line.