The Slovenian town of Bled is the stuff chocolate boxes were made for. I’d been hearing about it for years as it popped up on other people’s top places to see and having been, I think I’ve been the victim of over hype. Yes, it is gorgeous. And, yes, it does have a history. But it’s a victim of its own popularity.
At one stage in its chequered past, it was taken over by a bank:
From 1809 to 1813, it was included in Napoleon’s Empire as part of the Illyrian provinces, then it came once again into the hands of the Austrian Emperor who returned Bled to the bishops of Brixen for the last time in 1838. With the abolishment of the feudal system ten years later, the estate lost its character of a feudal economic and social unit. In the second half of the 19th century, Bled changed considerably. The characteristic villages of Gorenjska, which had been autonomous units ever since the Middle Ages, were united. Income decreased, and in 1858 Brixen sold the Bled estate to Viktor Ruard, the owner of the Jesenice Ironworks. He kept the castle, the lake and the usable land around it, and sold the rest to the Kranj Industrial Company. In 1882 Ruard sold the estate to a Viennese wholesale merchant named Adolf Muhr, and in 1919 Bled hotelier Ivan Kenda bought the castle with the lake – for the first time the property passed into Slovenian hands. In 1937 it was taken over by the Associated Commercial Bank and finally bought by the Drava Province. During World War II, Bled was used to house the German military and civil headquarters, and in 1960 it acquired the status of a town.
But it is tourism that it has to thank for its recent prominence. And kudos for that goes to a Swiss guy by the name of Arnold Rikli. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he recognised the benefit of the climate and the long swimming season. Rikli was one of the avante-garde for natural healing and it’s to his industriousness that the town owes its stronghold as a tourist attraction.
The island on the lake, with its chocolate-box church is stunning. The castle, perched atop a near cliff is breathtaking. And at night, when the lights come on around lake, it’s fairy-tale material. We ate out both evenings. Once in Ostarija Peglez’n – a gem of place with a seafood platter so big we both winced at the thoughts of doing it justice. But we did. It’s busy so reserve at table if you plan to eat between 8 and 9pm. The following night, we went for meat – at Grajska Plaza. It’s a little more relaxed and the waiter was in fine form. We had to wait for about half an hour for food as it was all cooked to order and the reasonably priced cocktail menu made it worth the wait. A lovely spot right by the boat dock. They don’t take reservations but there’s a fairly quick turnaround. To get a lake-view table, best leave it till 9-ish.
We rented a boat to get out to the island – €20 for an hour but if you go about 6.30, they’re not too pushed about time, as long as you’re back by 8pm when they close. I felt a little cheated though, as once out there, it was a €6 admission fee into the church. And as a practicing Catholic, I hate paying into churches. Am happy to leave a donation towards the upkeep but don’t make me pay to light a candle. Anyway, we’d left it too late so I had to settle for an ice-cream, which was worth the trip itself, even if I did have to take on a dozen loud hyperactive seniors from China to keep my place in the queue.
As you row out to the island, you get to see some rather fabulous houses that have an unrestricted views of the boatloads of tourists being ferried back and forth in a new take on the Venetian gondola – the pletna boat.
Bled is lovely. Beautiful. Quaint But it’s way too populated for my liking. We turfed up about 4.30pm on a Wednesday and didn’t have any traffic delays but when we left about 10.30 am on Friday, there was a 3 km tailback coming in to the town, and when we’d arrived back the previous evening about 5.30, there was an even longer tailback leaving. A popular spot. Time your comings and goings to avoid the frustration. And be warned, hotels charge per person not per room – so do the math.
Next time, I’ll do my homework. I can’t believe I missed these cemeteries, assuming, of course, I’m taking gravesite to mean graveyard… perhaps it’s a lot more subtle – the kind you have to trip over to see.
A number of gravesites are well known: Žale – the site of the modern day cemetery (archeologically excavated in 1894), the park at the current Vila Bled (1929), the necropolis in Želeče (1937), the large necropolis at Pristava pod Gradom (1948 to 1951), the gravesites next to the current parking area below the entrance to the castle (1960, 1968) and the necropolis on Bled island (1962 to 1966).
It’s a lovely spot, Bled, but be prepared to share.