By Lonely Planet’s standards Slovenia is in Eastern Europe but geographically it’s centred in the middle of the continent and it’s a far cry from Moldova socio-economically. Nestled above Italy and Croatia, beside Austria and Hungary, Slovenia is a fairytale land of mountains and lakes, small enough to be skipped but rewarding those who stop in.
In hindsight we should have given more time to the country but with a deadline looming to meet Amanda and Grant in Turin we stopped only in Slovenia’s most known natural attraction, Lake Bled, which was quiet of tourists all the same.The lake with its recognisable church at one end came to my attention when my brother visited and showed me pictures. Mountains rise all around the 5km circumference lake, with the town at one end, a castle high on the cliff faces to the northern side and the island which holds the church as the centre piece.
We arrived in early October and the leaves were well and truly turned orange, red and browns. With the scoop from Aidan of Sweetbix who’s trip was far more adventurous than ours, we headed for the opposite end of the lake to the town where a very swanky campsite offered some of the best facilities we’ve had, wedged into a corner of a valley that rose quickly from steep cliffs, there should have been wolves howling. Close enough was a rambunctious husky pup nipping at the heels of another wolf-like dog, black as night.The air was as clear and crisp as a whip’s crack but the afternoon was getting on so we wasted no time in having an afternoon walk around the lake. With us on the path were fellow walkers, runners and cyclists getting their afternoon exercise under falling red leaves. We first passed the rowing club as rowers methodically practiced their strokes on the still water of the lake. It was all very Oxbridge – I felt like Alex P Keaton in the movie length version of Family Ties.Past the rowing club came the large lakeside mansions, a couple Victorian, others more modern. We passed under the huge cliff with the castle aloft and just over a grassy knoll lay the old town, these days just housing. Further round is a sweet park where swans hustled us for the back of open fire roasted chestnuts we bought. Then came the rest of town, more mansions now B&Bs and back around to the campsite. The sun set and we crawled back into the van and under the doona because it was damn cold out.
The next morning Liz fried up some eggs, feta and mint and had a slow breakfast in the pleasant autumn sun. Our espresso machine was making some nasty-ass coffee (the rubber ring deteriorated) so we hopped on our bikes and cycled back around the lake to town the long way (past the rowing club and gargling swans and under the castle) to a grand café looking over the lake where a vanilla slice is Bled’s famous dish.It’s basically the only thing consumed at the café, trolleys upon trolleys are wheeled out and the Japanese tourists were snapping them up by the box full. We shared our slice and got our caffeine fix.We rode back to the campsite to pick up the necessary items for a picnic (not too dissimilar to this), smokey Croatian cheese, olives, crackers, fig jam and a bottle of wine before strolling down to the waterside.We weren’t going to have a picnic by the water, but on the water. We rented a row boat shaped like a giant swan and, as nimble as we could be, pushed off from the shore, me in the male role, trying my best to move and not tip over.It was pretty tricky rowing a giant swan but I got into a rhythm – not a solid, consistent rhythm that Ringo Starr or Lars Urlich could appreciate, something more free jazz, or spastic. Somewhere between the shore and the small island with the church on it we stopped, cracked open the crackers and the wine and lazed out. The lake was very still and the sun was out. The trees up the hillside were all shades of autumn.We sipped and ate and shared smiles back and forth about how ridiculous this was and lucky we were. It was pretty romantic. Liz suggested it was a pretty good place to propose to someone. I agreed. Then she proposed to me… that we row over to the island and check it out so we rowed the swan over to the island and moored it.
Occasionally the bell tower of the church would ring out over the lake, you can throw in a donation, ring the bell and make a wish. We were more excited taking stupid photos of ourselves on the steps.The church is actually cooler to look at from the water than up close but it’s still worth a five minute stroll around.
Back in the swan Liz had a crack at rowing while trying to keep out of the pros lane, we finished the wine and got back on to dry land.
We finished up the day in the van with some good food and some Mad Men episodes. It was a lovely day and I wish we had spent more time in Slovenia and will definitely go back… maybe in winter.