02 Sep Getting off the beaten path at Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled, with its picturesque island and sparkling clear waters, might be familiar – but there’s much more to this region. Take a few steps off the beaten path and you’ll discover Slovenia’s idyllic agricultural heartland, and fall in love with its beautiful villages. My guide shows you both how to explore around the lake, but also where to find much more.
I knew when we started planning our trip to Slovenia, we had to visit Bled.
I’d seen far too many photos of this turquoise blue lake, surrounded by deep-green forested hills and crowned with a fairytale island at its centre, to know that I could just drive past.
But when I dug a little deeper I was mystified to notice that there didn’t seem an awful lot to do here. Not enough to keep two active people busy for a few days, without hopping in the car or on a bus. Being mid-summer we knew we’d want to explore the lakeside and head to the beach, and probably indulge in a slice or two of the local Bled cake. But that largely seemed to be it.
I knew that I had to be wrong, but thankfully we were right when we took a chance booking three nights here. An extra two days and a healthy dose of curiosity meant we found delights we never would have known about. And that made the trip for me.
Allow yourself time to discover the lakeside. It’ll leave you spellbound when you first arrive. But also make time for the fantastically beautiful, and immediately likeable, landscape beyond the lake – a patchwork of timeless farming communities, laden orchards, rushing rivers and steep gorges that endlessly surprise and delight.
Now, just a note about Bled. The town itself is in parts a purpose-built resort, which might surprise you. It dates from a time when architects weren’t so keen on trying to blend in with the landscape, which is a kind way of saying that some of the larger hotels are a bit of an eyesore. And if you come here expecting to fall in love with the town itself, you might leave feeling a little deflated (although I can reassure you there are Art Deco villas and old townhouses on the fringes).
So come for the lake and landscape, and you’ll leave with a full heart. Here’s how we came to love this region.
A quick itinerary for three days at Lake Bled
Day 1 – Exploring the lake
I’ll explain how to find the best viewpoints as you circumnavigate the lakeside. If you’re able to make it to Bled for just one day, this is a great way to get your bearings and see some of the highlights. Leave a little time for the beach and a mooch around town – or to the castle.
Day 2 – Vintgar Gorge and the villages north of the lake
Vintgar is an irresistible addition to any trip to Bled. However, I’ll show you how to make this a whole day out by following an alternative route – and point you in the direction of some gems hidden north of the lake.
Day 3 – Heading south
Discover the delights that lie on the far side of the lake, including charming little alpine villages and more emerald-coloured rivers. A longer walk, but one that rewards.
You could easily extend this itinerary in summer by breaking the routes for days two and three into two parts, and tackling each on separate days. This would give you more time by the beach (no bad thing in my mind!). If you’re staying for longer, you might want to consider bringing bikes or a car with you to explore further afield – there’s plenty more we didn’t have time for.
We arrived in Bled after a fantastic few nights in the Slovenian capital. If you’re curious, you can find out more in my city guide to Ljubljana.
Before you get started: Pop into the tourist office and pick up a map showing the lake and the surrounding villages. These show most roads, the main cycle paths and most footpaths too. We found it invaluable in planning our adventures.
Day 1 | Exploring the lake
The first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive in Bled is head straight for the lake. It’s the star of the show after all, and rightly so.
There’s no better way to explore than to follow the water’s margins, preferably on foot. To make your journey worth the while, take the time to climb to the two viewpoints at the western end for show-stopping panoramas.
The journey won’t take all day, although it can take a good few hours if you choose to meander and explore. And if it’s summer, think of it as enjoyable morning activity before hitting the beach in the afternoon.
Finding a route
Simply follow your nose towards the waterfront and pick up the tarmacked path closest to the water. That’s it! This tracks around the perimeter of the lake, no signposts needed.
If you head out anti-clockwise around the lake, you’ll trace the only stretch of path that isn’t along the waterside first. This gets the least exciting part out of the way, and brings you to the best swimming spots later in your walk (hint, hint).
Room with a view
The two viewpoints at the far end of the lake are both spectacular and not too far apart, so if you’ve got the time I’d suggest trying both. They’re pretty popular, so just bear in mind that you’ll probably have to share your view with a handful of enthusiastic photographers and selfie-takers.
I’d recommend heading up to Mala Osojnica first. This climb is steeper, so get it out of the way first so you can enjoy the rest of the walk. It’s not far but it is entirely worth it. The mountains, blue on the horizon, frame your view of the lake with its island elegant in the centre. This was my favourite spot around the lakeside, and I think it’s easy to see why.
From here, follow the path slightly further uphill before taking a right turn toward the next viewpoint – Ojstrica. Helpfully, it’s well-signposted. Keep an eye out for the final turn as it’s a small footpath that leads off at right angles to the main trail. You’ll scrabble up a very rocky path for a short distance before reaching the top of a rocky outcrop. You’re further from the island here, but you’ll get a wide panorama of the lake with the town of Bled beyond, and peaks in the distance. There’s a larger area to sit or stand and take in the view here, so you can spend a little time here before scrabbling down.
Rather than heading back down to the lake the way you came up, at the bottom of the rocky outcrop follow the signs to the lake (or Jezero). It’s quicker and a gentler path.
By the lakeside
Back down by the water, if the weather is good enough I can’t recommend anything better than stopping at the beach for a swim. It’s this that brings crowds to Lake Bled every summer, and you’d be mad not to join them. This might all seem a tad strange if you’ve never been to an alpine beach before, but if you’re a veteran (like me) you’ll spot the grassy parks that crop up periodically around the waterside. Claim a space with a picnic blanket and head straight into the lake.
There are four recognised beach areas around Lake Bled, but most people pitch up wherever they fancy. I preferred the beach at Milno, where the little Pletna boats depart for the island. Yes, it’s by the road, but it’s a pretty darn good view, a nice crowd and the water is relatively easy to get in and out of.
In early August, the water was a balmy 25 degrees and sparkled clean and clear. With views of the mountains and the island as you swim, it’s hard not to like this place.
Day 2 | Vintgar Gorge and the villages north of Bled
Vintgar Gorge is a popular half-day trip from Bled as well as Ljubljana, and it’s easy to find buses that’ll take you there and back.
But scrap doing it how the tour guides tell you, there’s a better way!
About Vintgar Gorge
Before you go, there are a few things to know. Vintgar Gorge is a stunning geographical feature cut into the landscape by the fast-flowing waters of the Radovna river. Just over a kilometer and a half long, a well-maintained footpath leads from one end of the gorge to the other allowing pedestrians to access the full length. It’s a private trail, so you’ll need to pay €5 entry – although I’d say this is worthwhile given how long we spent here. The path can be accessed from either end of the gorge – so you can either follow it as part of a circular route, or go up and back from the car park or bus stop at the southern end.
Bear in mind that Vintgar gets busy! If you want to enjoy the river with the smallest crowds get here earlier or later in the day (or visit in the spring or autumn). But for me the imposing beauty of the place more than outweighed a bit of jostling on a footpath.
An alternative route to Vintgar
Starting in Bled, we headed out of town on foot in the direction of Zasip. This pretty little village is a few kilometers away across the plain. When you’ve left the houses of the Bled a few minutes behind you, you’ll already feel like you’re in a completely different landscape. It’s a land of fertile green fields, steep-roofed houses and increasingly craggy hills and mountains on the horizon.
From here, a small road winds up the hillside to the postcard-perfect church of St. Katarina. It’s not a long climb, but it’s enough gradient to give you a panoramic view across the plain below. The path descends into the woodland beyond the church – and Vintgar is then a well-signposted 15 minute walk away.
You’ll hear the gorge before you get there. The sound of crashing water from the waterfalls greets you as the path descends. Between taking everything in and the amount of other visitors, we spent almost an hour and a half meandering our way through this spectacular landscape. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Exploring beyond Vintgar
Emerging at the far end of the gorge, quickly skip past the car park and back out into the sunshine. The road takes you into the village of Spodnje Gorje in five minutes, another charming place full of old farmhouses and little orchards. You’re back on the open plain again here, with a choice. You can either head directly back to Bled on foot or by bus, or explore further afield like us.
We pointed ourselves in the direction of Poljsica, another semi-alpine farming community. It’s pretty enough, but we had another mission in mind. Here you’ll find the magnificent Poglejska Cerkev (it’s thankfully signposted): a huge natural cave hewn into the hillside. People have been sheltering in this spot since pre-history, and it’s somewhat of an archaeological hotspot (although completely open to the public). It’s wonderfully atmospheric, and worth the walk for the view alone.
Once you’ve had your fill of the cave, you can either retrace your steps back down onto the plain – or take a woodland stroll. A few minutes walk further uphill takes you to the tiny hamlet of Zatrata. Here you can join a forestry road that takes you on a quieter and shady route down to Bled Jezero station. You’ll emerge from the trees just above the station, and a steep, stepped path leads quickly down to the lakeside.
Day 3 | Heading south
Head south of the lake and you won’t find any tourist attractions nor any public transport. But wait.
What you will find are some of the most picturesque villages that I’ve stumbled across in years. It all might sound a bit saccharine, but honestly, there’s something really lovely and very genuine about this part of the world, and in particular this area south of Bled.
This route follows largely very flat and quiet roads across the fertile plain, before heading a little off piste to climb just past Selo. If you don’t fancy an all-day walk, you can cut it a little shorter here and head straight onto the lakeside at Milno.
We’re starting on the road out of Bled towards Koritno. The village isn’t far, and it’s a smart little place with a handful of family homes and holiday spots. But the gems lie beyond. Take a few strides out of the centre and suddenly you’re in Slovenia’s agricultural heartland.
I don’t often do this, but as some things are best said in the here and now, here’s what I wrote in my journal that day about the walk.
“Little fields are being cut for hay, grazed by dairy herds or left blossoming with long grass and wildflowers. Orchards are everywhere – in back gardens, between plots of land – and are fully-laden already. It’s a very likeable part of the world, not yet very alpine, just rolling hills, woodland and arable plain”.
It’s incredibly pretty, and feels worlds away from the lakeside.
An anthology of villages
The road meanders on for a short distance, between farms and clusters of woodland, to the village of Bodesce. It’s worth pausing here for a short while to enjoy the old houses, with their cavernous wooden barns, vibrant vegetable plots and nodding flowers at front doors. It seems remarkably unspoilt given how close it is to Lake Bled.
But the real highlight of the village is the picture-perfect church. Without a care in the world, a little notice points out that the huge paintings on the outside walls are original 15th century frescos. They’re not locked away or hidden behind glass – they’re just sitting there in the sun, waiting to be admired. There’s a short path to a viewpoint behind the church that’s worth five minutes of anyone’s time. From here you can spot the next stop at Ribno.
The road from Bodesce winds down towards the Sava Bohninjka river, a slice of turquoise water and cool air that cuts through the landscape on a summer’s day. The path to Ribno is largely off the road, shady and delightful different to the farmland you’ve already explored. But climb up into Ribno and you’re back in the heat of the plain – and back amongst flower-laden farmhouses. Follow the road through the cornfields into Selo, an older village that’s full of charming buildings and colourful beehives.
Escape to the hills
Once in Selo, the road winds gently back down to the lakeside at Milno. But if you want to extend your walk, head for the hills like we did and go a little off-piste.
Follow the signs to Selo bridge, and cross back over the river and off the tarmac. A woodland path leads uphill, and after a short but steep climb you’ll find yourselves skirting the top of Hom (there are some great views peeping out between the trees). After a kilometer or so you’ll emerge out of the trees and into farmland, with a little hamlet sitting at the top of the field. Here you can rejoin a very quiet road (it’s just an access route for the handful of farmhouses) that leads into Kupljenik.
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe this little village. I’ll go no further than to say that it’s by far and away, in my opinion, the most outstandingly picture-perfect of all the tiny communities around Lake Bled. If there had been a cafe, I could happily have spent the rest of my day here, soaking in the atmosphere of this lovely place. It had the most alpine feel of all our stops in this area, hinting at the mountains beyond.
To return back to the lake, you’ll need to snake your way down the hairpins to the main road in the valley bottom. As you’re close to Bohinjska Bela it’s worth hopping over the river for a little explore. A bigger village, there’s a few cafes to stop at and an impressively ornate Venetian-style church that’s worth a few moments of anyone’s time. And then it’s a case of picking a route back down to the water. Either track close to the road and into Milno (as we did, eager to hit the beach) or choose more scenic route, taking the trail that runs behind Osojnica.
A last word about Lake Bled
So much of the beauty we found around Lake Bled we stumbled across on days two and three of our stay. Heading to unknown villages just to see what might be there is always a good course of action. It yielded delights that in many ways outshone what we found around the lakeside itself.
The lake is undeniably charming, but it’s also crowded in peak season and not blessed with architectural gems. But the real joy here is the natural beauty of the region, and enjoying the lake at its most peaceful – the early morning and the late evening. There’s also a lot to be said for just throwing yourself into the spirit of the place and pitching up at the beach with locals and tourists alike. Soak up the sun, soak up the views and soak up the atmosphere where everyone’s just having a blimin’ lovely time.
To really love the place, Lake Bled deserves more than a day of your time. Stay a little longer and the rewards will be multiplied.
We spent almost two weeks in Slovenia this summer. If you want to find out more about our adventures, check out my posts about Ljubljana and Lake Bohinj, or read more about planning your own itinerary for Slovenia.
Oh, and a quick note on where we stayed
I’m including this as a footnote as I appreciate this isn’t what this post is mostly about. But I can’t help but sing the praises of the gorgeous little apartment we booked in Bled. It’s only a studio, but practically perfect in every way – and furnished and kitted out to the highest of standards (with a most excellent shower). The listing doesn’t do justice to the little private terrace that looks out over the beautifully tended garden, and that’s equipped with a smart dining table and very chic sunloungers. Oh, and the hosts are just lovely.