I have had plenty of time these past months to think about the best places to isolate and also the places I would most like to revisit when travel normalises once more. The answer to both those questions is Lake Bled.
In the heart of Slovenia lies a lake with a small island and on that island, hidden within a cluster of trees, stands a 17th century church. It is one of the greenest attractions in the world and is shielded by the surrounding mountains and overlooked by the oldest castle in Slovenia, Bled Castle, perched atop a 130-metre-high cliff.
The lake is said to harbour legendary treasures, everything from lost World War II riches to a church bell cast out of gold and silver. Even a gold ornament dating back to the Bronze Age was recently found in the depths of the lake.
The area is full of legends. The lake itself is said to have been created by fairies that used to dance on the green land at night, whilst shepherds grazed their sheep by day. As the grass began to disappear, the fairies eventually flooded the land, saving a small island for themselves.
Another story is told of a young woman who lived in the ancient castle and, according to legend, her husband was killed when a group of bandits attempted to loot the riches that were kept deep within the castle walls. His body fell from the cliff side and he plummeted down to the water below.
The distraught widow, in honour of her fallen husband, took all the castles riches and recast them into a church bell that was to be erected in a chapel in the middle of the lake. But, the bell never made it to the island. A storm broke out whilst the bell was being transported and the weight of all the gold and silver from which it was made caused the boat and bell to sink to the bottom of the lake.
Following yet another tragedy, the inconsolable woman fled to Rome to live out the rest of her days as a nun. Upon her death and inspired by her story, the Pope then commissioned a new bell to be erected in the church and had it delivered to the island. It is said that those who ring the bell will have their wishes granted and some nights you might even hear the original bell ringing at the bottom of the lake.
To get to the island, there are plenty of hand-built wooden boats that honour a centuries-old Slovenian tradition. The traditional boats known locally as ‘pletna’ are locally made and typical to Bled. Their origin dates back to the 12th century and the profession of oarsmen, or ‘pletnarstvo’, has been passed down from generation to generation, ever since the rights to the boats were given to farmers who had poor land.
Arriving on the island, you have to climb 99 steps that lead up to the church. Traditionally, Slovenian newlyweds travel to the island as it is considered good luck for the groom to carry the bride up the stone steps to ensure they have a long and happy life.
The fairy-tale landscape of Bled isn’t the only attraction in the area, with Lake Bohinj and several hidden waterfalls also close by. Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest lake and it has its own beauty and legendary tales, including that of a treasure guarded by a golden-horned mountain goat.
After having visited both Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, it was time for me to find one of the many hidden waterfalls. The Savica Waterfall, located in Triglav National Park, is probably the most famous one. So, as the day came to an end, I decided to hike up to the acclaimed natural monument. Usually there is an entrance fee at the beginning of the trail but, as credit cards were not accepted and my friends and I were the last visitors of the day, they let us up for free.
Savica is very unique as its watercourse is divided into two parts. However, due to the winter’s cold temperatures, the right side of the waterfall wasn’t gushing down the rocks as it usually does. We were the only ones there, in the middle of nature, so it was definitely still worth the hike to see the water peacefully drizzle down into the beautiful and vibrant pool.
Slovenia, located between the Alps and the Mediterranean, is overall one of the most beautiful places in Europe I have visited. Not just for its natural beauty but also for its charming villages and enchanting folklore. It is decidedly one of the places I would most like to revisit once travelling resumes.
Hopefully next time it will be during one of the warmer seasons.
By Jay Costa Owen
Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them.