Slovenia: Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled in a day

Lake Bled was on my absolute must-see list while in Slovenia. Photos showed something like a scene out of a fairy tale: a castle on a cliff overlooking a crystal clear lake in the middle of which sits a jewel of a little church on a tiny island accessible only by rowboats. But, as I did more research, nearby Lake Bohinj popped on my radar screen, begging to be visited as well.

Once again, we enjoyed the benefits of a small country: Google Maps said Lake Bohinj was only a little over an hour from our apartment in Ljubljana Old Town, and only 30 minutes past Lake Bled. Since the weather forecast called for more sun in the afternoon, we opted to drive through Bled to visit Lake Bohinj first, saving my top destination for last.

It was tantalizing to drive right past magnificent Bled with only a quick pause to admire the view of the island church and snap a pic or two. It turned out to be a good move, though; we stopped in parking spaces claimed by a major hotel. The man selling spots quoted us a price below what we’d seen in big parking lots much farther from the lake and we resolved to try to score one of these spots upon our return.

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On the road between Bled and Lake Bohinj. We saw fly fishermen in the river, but no fish like this!

Lake Bohinj turned out to be pretty awesome for a second choice.  With water as clear as glass, it reflected the surrounding mountains like a mirror. The famous medieval church of St. John the Baptist dates back to the late-10th or early 11th century with frescoes dating back to 1300. On the opposite end of the lake, we hiked the equivalent of 65+ stories to reach the waterfall, Slap Savica. Crude stairs have been set in the mountain, but it’s a serious climb. There’s a gondola for those who’d rather skip the workout.

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Lake Bohinj view of the church of St. John the Baptist
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Fresco on St. John the Baptist church, Lake Bohinj
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Mirror-like Lake Bohinj on the way to Slap Savica (“slap” means “waterfall.”)

Having driven a good 20 minutes beyond the church end of the lake, it took us closer to an hour to get back to Lake Bled. Still, we arrived with much of the day left ahead of us. Unfortunately, all the good parking spots were gone, so we parked in public parking near the Tourist Info where we were limited to 2 hours. Walking back by the good, lakeside hotel parking, we saw a space just opening up. I asked the man we’d spoken to earlier if he’d hold the spot long enough for us to go fetch the car and he agreed, putting a barrier up to prevent any interlopers. We quickly made the switch and were back on a leisurely schedule!

There are two traditional boats on Lake Bled providing access to the small island church: individual wooden rowboats (rented at several locations around the lake) and pletna boats, larger, flat-bottomed wooden boats operated by traditional pletna oarsmen. The charge for the pletna boats was a pretty ridiculous €14pp for about a 5 minute boat ride from the pletna boat dock. David and I had already decided we’d rather row ourselves anyway. That turned out to be a good thing because the day we were there the pletna oarsmen were on strike. (A real shame for those not up to rowing themselves!) On the other hand, that meant that all rowboats we asked after were already rented with a waiting list to boot. After a warm hike around much of the lake, we sucked it up and paid the premium asked by the spa near our parking spot. I think it was €15/hour instead of €10. A tiny drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, it just touched that I-hate-to-be gouged nerve of mine. 🙂 The other downside to renting at the spa was location. The spa is a lot farther away from the island church that the other rowboat rentals near the pletna boat dock. We had our work cut out for us.

In minutes, David was rowing away. Now, my husband is a pretty buff guy, but keeping that little boat on a straight line was giving him some trouble despite my awesome navigating. (The person rowing has to face backwards.) It turns out those boats are really susceptible to wind…as I discovered when I wanted to try the return row. My left arm was doing all the work trying to fight the wind and I was finally worn out. David and I eventually settled on a goofy-looking method whereby we faced each other, each of us using one oar while we tried to avoid banging the handles together with each stroke. Oh well, we made it back and the nice people at the spa spared us an overtime charge. All gouging forgiven!

There’s really not a lot to see once you’re on the island, but it’s fun to do. There’s a separate €6 charge to enter the little church where you can ring the “wishing bell.” There’s also a gift shop and an ice cream vendor with some pretty awesome gelato. 30-40 minutes max is plenty of time on the island.

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Lake Bled
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David, rowing our boat ashore
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Almost there. Keep rowing, David!
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Docked at Bled Island

We drove back to Ljubljana on the modern E61 and were easily home in time for dinner. What a great day!

April 2016

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