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Lake Bled, in the majestic Julian Alps, is a fairytale vision come to life. This small glacial lake, crowned with a picture-book island, is a vacation destination worth planning for. The jewels in its crown are Bled Castle, overlooking the turquoise lake from a craggy cliff, and the Church of the Assumption, commanding the island. These well restored medieval edifices anchor the City of Bled midway between past and present. For Bled has a long and colorful history in what is now preset-day Slovenia: Within documented history, Bled has been part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, a possession of France under Napoleon, and a region of Yugoslavia. The first written records of Castle Bled date from 1004 when German king Henry II transferred the estate to Bishop Albuin of Brixen and his church. These records give claim to its title as oldest documented castle in Slovenia. Archeological finds on the Island are thought to date from about 700 BC, with a cemetery found in conjunction with a presumed Slavic temple dating to 700-600 AD or earlier. Clearly, the allure of Lake Bled is timeless, appealing to something in man's basic nature.
Located less than an hour from the capital city of Ljubljana, Lake Bled is usually reached by bus. Its easy-to-reach location makes both Bled Castle and the Church of the Assumption favored locations for the perfect wedding ceremony. The island can only be reached by boat, usually the colorful local Pletnas or water taxis -- flat-bottomed gondolas are unique to Lake Bled -- powered by two oars and one muscular Bled man. To reach the church, one must climb 99 steps. Local legend has it that the man who can carry his bride up the steep steps will have a long and happy marriage. Bride or not, most visitors climb them to ring the the church tower's "Wishing Bell." Folklore says that the widow of Bled Castle had all of her late husband's gold and silver melted and cast into a bell for the church. However, while being rowed across the lake, a storm caused the boat to capsize, sending the precious bell to the bottom. Broken-hearted, the widow Poliksena left the castle and went to a convent in Rome. When the Pope heard her sad story, he had a new bell made and sent it to the island. On rare occasions, it is said some can hear the sunken bell ringing out from the mud at the bottom of the lake. On December 25th, Bled holds a ceremony commemorating the sinking of the bell and sinks a symbolic Christmas tree into the lake. The Church is decorated with inspiring original artwork and paintings.
No gasoline motors are allowed on Lake Bled. Besides the Plenta water taxis, rowboats and kayaks can be rented at several areas along the shore. This is the only way to see much of the shoreline, as there are few roads leading to the shore. Fishing is allowed for catfish, pike, carp and lake trout and is regulated by the local fishing clubs that stock and maintain the lake. Despite large numbers of visitors each year, the lake is exceptionally clean. Run-off and storm sewers divert possible contamination away from the lake and a recirculation pump system keeps the water from eutrophication. Josip Broz Tito, President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, had a summer home here, as did other dignitaries over the ages. Very little development has been allowed along the shore since the second World War, leaving the shoreline tree-covered and natural.
Lake Bled is a world class rowing center and has hosted three world championships. In the summer months the lake is also available to swimmers, with a large swim area beneath the castle. In addition to changing rooms and lockers, the swimming area includes two waterslides, a trampoline, a climbing wall, four outdoor swimming pools, a jump board as well as climbers, swings and a sandbox for children, table tennis and chess. Near the entrance, there is a boathouse where row boats can be rented. Diving is also provided for; check with the local fishing club for information. Although ice skating is sometimes possible in winter, often the lake does not freeze completely. An Ice Hall is available for skating and curling.
A walking path circles the entire shore of Lake Bled. The path is relatively flat and should take two to 2.5 hours to complete the circuit. Both bike and car rentals are available, with horseback riding nearby. Carriage rides are offered as is a local tour bus/train. Winter sports are popular, with groomed cross-country ski trails leading from Bled to nearby villages. Straza, an easily accessible ski-slope with artificial snow and lighting in the center of Bled, is available for night skiing. The area is famous for more extreme sports and facilities abound for such adventures as mountain biking, rafting, canyoning, fishing, climbing, riding, panoramic flights, tandem paragliding and adrenaline parks. One interesting adventure is a summertime toboggan running on a rail.
The entrance to Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps lies just outside of Bled. It's an easy hike to spectacular Vintgar Gorge which features a wooden footbridge path (dating to 1893) that runs for 1600 meters along the Radovna River, terminating at the Sum waterfall. Many adventurous visitors opt to climb the mountain itself. Triglav is the mountain depicted on the Slovenian flag and seal; at almost 9,400 feet, it will take most of a day and the climber needs to be in reasonably good condition. Camping is not permitted in Triglav National Park.
Those less inclined to strenuous outdoor activity can partake of indoor swimming pools with thermal water, saunas, massages, baths, fitness studios, cultural performances and entertainment. Bled Castle in one of the highlights of any trip to Lake Bled. The oldest part of the castle is the Romanesque tower. Other buildings, constructed in the Baroque period, are arranged around two courtyards connected by a staircase. The chapel on the upper courtyard was built in the 16th century, and renovated around 1700, when it was decorated with illusionist frescoes. The castle also has a drawbridge over a moat. Some of the highlights of a Castle visit include the museum, restaurant, documentary movies about Bled in Knight's Hall, and the Castle printing works with a restored Gutenberg wooden printing press. A theatre group produces medieval dances, knight duels, fire spitting and eating shows and replications of medieval Castle life. Bled Castle is another favored location for weddings overlooking Lake Bled.
One hundred and fifty years as a prime tourism destination means that the Lake Bled area is well-supplied with a choice of lodgings, either for a single night or as vacation rentals. Its proximity to the Julian Alps promises there are plenty of hotels, youth hostels, backpacker lodgings, bed-and-breakfasts and private homes and villas for lease or as short-term rentals. Real estate opportunities in the the city of Bled are primarily restricted to existing structures as new development is being limited to protect the remaining open spaces -- everyone wants to live in the village with a medieval castle overlooking a fairytale lake with its own magical island. Schedule a visit soon to picturesque Lake Bled and enjoy the Alpine view. You'll wonder why you didn't arrive years sooner. If you listen closely in the evening's twilight, you may hear a bell...
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