Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Situated in the northwest corner of tiny Slovenia, a nation on the Adriatic sea between eastern Italy, Austria, and Croatia, you’ll find Triglav—the second-oldest national park in Europe. Preserved in some form for nearly a century, it’s more than just a popular nature spot. Along with the surrounding Julian Alps, Triglav is the location of the country’s most iconic landscapes, starting with the fabled fairy-tale town of Bled and its beautiful namesake lake.
You can use Lake Bled as your starting point for a massive adventure through Triglav National Park. I’ve created a wonderful 5+ day hike that starts and ends in Lake Bled, and will take you through the most scenic parts of the park, including a climb to the top of Mt. Triglav. For those of you that might have been interested in hiking the Slovenian Mountain Trail, but don’t have the 30+ days to complete the entire trail, a trek through Triglav National Park will allow you to see the iconic highlights of the trail in under a week.
Lake Bled, the “Jewel of Slovenia,” lies in the Julian Alps not far from Ljubljana. It is one of the most photographed lakes in the world with medieval Bled Castle, first mentioned by Emperor Henry II in 1011, dominating a bluff on its northern shoreline, and its waters encircling the fairytale-like Bled Island, the only natural island in the entire country of Slovenia and home to the Church of the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage.
One train stop away from Lake Bled is the town of Lesce and I’m suggesting that the hostel there be used as your home base for this journey. Book your stay at 1A Adventure Hostel. This hostel is about 20 minutes walking from Lake Bled and though there are places to stay closer to Lake Bled, this hostel has always been my favorite. 1A Adventure Hostel has a variety of room options including private rooms, small dorms, and large dorms, and if you let them know you are coming by train or bus, they will arrange to meet you and bring you to the hostel.
The owner of 1A Adventure Hostel (Luka) is AMAZING and he will strike up a conversation with absolutely everyone that walks through the door. By the time he is done with one lighthearted conversation, he is on to the next, introducing all the guests to each other as he goes, and in no time at all, it feels like everyone knows everyone, and before long the whole atmosphere is friendly and everyone feels at home. 1A Adventure Hostel is actually one of my favorite places to stay, anywhere, and though I have pretty much already seen everything in the Lake Bled area, I return to that area just to stay at this hostel.
I remember the first time I saw this park on the side of the road on my first visit to Lake Bled. Obviously, with a website named Tramposaurus Treks, and with a dinosaur mascot, I would be interested in a ‘Dinopark’, but beyond that initial interest, I was quite impressed with the quality and scope of this roadside attraction.
I took Trampy, and it was almost like a family reunion.
Dinopark Bled-Radovljica is one of the first true theme and show parks in Slovenia. It is located in the heart of Gorenjska, in the immediate vicinity of the Slovenian jewels, Bled and Radovljica. The owners of this attraction have spent quite a bit of money on the exhibits and the quality, detail, and the extent of the exhibits will probably suprise you. Many of the dinosaurs in this park were created by master scenic designers from European theatrical production houses.
Lake Bled Shoreline Walk
Start: Bled Park
End: Bled Park
Time: 6-8 hours
Surface: Maintained Forest Trails
People have been coming to Lake Bled to walk the shoreline for thousands of Years. Interconnected trails help you navigate it, and take you to the top of some wonderful peaks for views over the lake and the Julian Alps.
From spring to autumn you can go for a ride on the Straža Bled toboggan track. This is a fun spot for kids (and kids at heart). You ride up to the top of the hill in a chair lift and speed down the hill on the toboggan.
After you hike up past the toboggan track on the Straža, there a lime/oak/birch-covered walk on an established trail to the lake’s southeast, which gives the quintessential view over the lake to Jelovica Plateau and Mount Stol.
As you are walking the trails up on Straža hill (or actually anywhere in Slovenia), keep an eye out for a unique design of a park bench. This specific bench design is the work of Slovenian architect and national hero, Jože Plečnik. While teaching in Prague at the college of arts and crafts, Plečnik was appointed chief architect for the 1920 renovation of Prague Castle by the first president of the new Czechoslovak Republic. After his major success in Prague, Plečnik returned to his home town of Ljublijana and redesigned the capitol city. So this unassuming little bench has quite a bit of history behind it.
While up at the top of Straža hill, you will be able to see a geological attraction with a lot of local lore if you look to the west.
The Hag’s tooth (in Slovenian: Babji zob) is a protruding and picturesque rock rising on the northwestern edge of the Jelovica plateau and high above the villages Bohinjska Bela and Kupljenik, near Bled. The ‘tooth’ got its name hundreds of years ago.
The legend around this rock formation has been brewing among the locals for centuries. Elders would say that an old hag used to live on the Jelovica Plateau. Some even claim that she was over 150 years old and that she was a witch, who was hiding in Jelovica so she would not get burnt at the stake. The old hag gathered herbs, practiced witchcraft, mixed potions and cast spells on the valley, and everyone was afraid of her. None of the farmers dared to go into their fields or forests when she was casting her spells that brought the Devil’s Anger upon the villagers.
When the old hag was in the final stages of her life, she did not have the energy and strength to hike the mountains to gather her herbs. As she was angrily casting her spells on the edge of the high plateau, she slipped and fell off the cliff. As she was falling, she cast one last spell upon the mountain itself screaming “You will never be as steep, and there will be a stump in this place!” And ever since that time, you can see the ‘Old Hag’s Tooth’ at the end of Jelovica pointing in the direction of Bohunjska Bela.
What many people don’t know is that in its vicinity, at an altitude of 1008 meters above sea level, lies the entrance of a hidden cave which is only accessible by taking a hike up a forest path.
The 300-metre-long cave system is adorned with beautiful dripstone formations, among them calcite crystals. The cave’s most unique feature is helictites – spiral-shaped stalactites that are very rare in Slovenia.
Some sources suggest that the Hag’s tooth is one of the oldest caves in Slovenia. It was formed in the ice age when the Sava River invaded the inside of the Jelovica plateau. The cave was discovered by chance some 200 years ago by a local villager and for a while this was one of the most visited caves in Central Europe.
Today Babji zob is closed to mass tourism, and tours are limited to preserve the cave’s system. Tourist can visit the cave in the summer months, by prior arrangement, or on May 1st, when local cavers of the Cave Exploration Society of Bled (‘Društvo za raziskovanje jam Bled’) organize free guided tours.
With the ascent to the entrance, the resting time, the 1-hour tour of the cave and the descent, the trip takes about 3 hours, making it a perfect choice for a half-day trip.
Babji zob Cave
Open Sundays in July and August @ 10 am
Tours can be arranged by phone or e-mail.
Phone: 041597426 or 041368965
Moving on from Straža hill, you will pass a few locations to take the perfect photo of Lake Bled. Almost any photo you could take of Lake Bled would be Instagramable, but there are some specific locations around the lake to take that perfect shot.
One favorite viewpoint for photographers is Osojnica, a steep forty-five minute walk to Mala Osojnica (2,247 feet/685 m) followed by another short climb to the summit of Velika Osojnica (2,480 feet/756 m), which gives you the finest views over the lake all the way to the Karavanke Mountains, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, and the Goreniska Plain.
INSIDE TIP: Plan your hikes to these summits strategically, timing them to either sunrise or sunset. Not only will you have otherwise crowded spots to yourself, but you will be rewarded with an awe-inspiring golden glow and magical pink hues illuminating the landscape.
After circumnavigating the lake, why not make the dramatic climb to magnificent Bled Castle. When the Bohinj Glacier retreated during the last Ice Age and carved out the valley that made Lake Bled possible, it left untouched the 456-foot (139 m) limestone bluff at the lake’s northern end on which this striking castle sits, a doubly fortified structure with outer walls that housed servants and inner walls that protected its feudal lords.
For more than 1000 years Bled Castle has sat on these cliffs, enjoying one of the best views of Lake Bled. This is the oldest castle in Slovenia, dating back to 1011. On a visit here, enjoy the spectacular view over the lake from the terrace, tour the museum, and go wine tasting in the wine cellar. Want to dine with a view? Have lunch or dinner in the Bled Castle Restaurant.
Bled Island is Slovenia’s only natural island and is the centerpiece of Lake Bled. Today the Church of Mary the Queen crowns the island, but according to archaeological findings, there was a temple dating to the Early Medieval Ages here.
The church gained its present Baroque appearance in the middle of the 17th century when both the Chapel of the Virgin Mary and the monumental staircase with 99 stone steps were built. There is a tradition still alive today, which demands that the groom must carry the bride up all 99 steps if the couple wants to get married in the church on the island.
Many other legends are connected to the island. One of them is described in the masterpiece entitled The Baptism at the Savica of Slovenian poet France Prešeren. Legend says that a temple used to stand on the island, dedicated to Živa, the Slavic goddess of life and fertility, which was protected by the priest Staroslav and his daughter Bogomila. When Črtomir, the heroic leader of the pagan Slavs visited the island, Bogomila and he fell in love. Out of fear for Črtomir’s life, Bogomila converted to Christianity. The poem ends with the defeat of the pagan Slavs who later converted to Christianity, including their leader Črtomir who was baptized by the Savica Waterfall.
Another legend has it that a grieving widow once lived in Bled Castle. After her husband’s untimely death at the hands of robbers, she was so consumed by grief that she collected all her silver and gold and paid for a bell in the chapel that would ring out in memory of her fallen spouse.
But the bell never arrived, as a powerful storm sunk the boat that was transporting the bell to the bottom of the lake, where it still rests today. Some say that the bell can still be heard on clear nights. Crushed, the widow sold all her belongings and spent the rest of her life in a monastery. After her death, the pope blessed a new bell for Bled Island. Today, whoever makes it to the island and rings the bell three times will have their greatest wish granted.
Nowadays, the island is a popular wedding location. It is possible to have Catholic, Protestant or even civil wedding ceremonies in the island’s church.
Rowboat: To get here, you will have to get out on the water, how you do that is up to you. For those feeling adventurous, you can rent a rowboat and paddle out to the island. Once at Bled Island, you will dock our rowboat on the far side of the island (opposite the huge staircase) then take your time exploring the island.
Pletna: If you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride, you can hire a Pletna. These larger boats hold up to twenty people. Expect to pay about €12 per person. Most pletnas dock at the 99 steps leading to the Assumption of Mary Church. Tradition says that you haven’t visited Bled until you’ve taken a trip with the traditional pletna boat. The origins of this iconic wooden flat-bottom boat date back to 1590 and today the pletna is navigated only by the oarsman (in Slovenian pletnar). The name Pletna derives from the German word platteboot meaning ‘boat with a completely flat bottom.’ It was designed similarly to the Venetian gondola but with a pointed bow and a canopy.
The exclusive right and title of the Pletna oarsman were created during the reign of Maria Theresa and given to 19 families, that were living in the settlement Mlino (close to Vila Alpina). The title was handed down from generation to generation – to this day, which is why the respected profession of pletnarstvo remained in individual families throughout the centuries.
INSIDE TIP: While visiting the Bled Island, stop in the souvenir shop Potičnica, where you can taste the famous potica cake or enjoy some delicious coffee and tea.