There are two places on this planet that immediately spring to mind when someone talks about real-life fairytale locations. One is Neuschwanstein Castle (of course), and the other is Slovenia’s Lake Bled.
Located just a few hours drive from the capital of Ljubljana, Lake Bled is bordered by the town of Bled, home of Bled Castle. The lake also happens to be the nesting place of a cosy little island which is, of course, named Bled Island.
They’re just one big, happy family of Bleds.
There’s also the apparently world-famous Bled cream cake for you to try if you get a little peckish. I say apparently not because I doubt it’s level of fame but because I’d personally never heard of it before visiting Slovenia and, you know, I’m somewhat of a cake connoisseur. Meaning I may have been known to eat a whole share size box of Morrison’s profiteroles to myself… in one sitting.
Anyway, I didn’t get around to tasting the Bled cream because remortgaging my Nutri-bullet for the sake of a slice of cake is sadly not something I can get onboard with, no matter how delicious said cake is reported to be.
Swiftly moving on from the subject of baked goods and back onto pretty lakes and scenery…
Lake Bled is not a very big lake, as far as lakes go. Its length is just over 2.1km and width just shy of 1.4km.
To put that into perspective: I, one of the most unathletic people this side of the Severn Bridge, once ran a 10km race in one hour and ten minutes, meaning that if it were possible to run Jesus-style across the surface of the lake, I’d be able to do it in less than a quarter of an hour. Mo Farah would need less than 5 minutes.
So not very big. At all.
But what it lacks in size (in the world of lakes), it certainly makes up for in sheer beauty and “make you stare in awe until you accidentally walk into a bin” factor.
When I was growing up I had this Fantastic Fairy Tale Pop-up Book. It was undoubtedly the most magical book in the world. The houses popped out and you could make the princess wave out of the window and the prince ride through the forest to rescue her. You could even make the Evil Witch lady poke Hansel and Gretel with a bone. For years I was scared to touch it, it was that precious of a book.
My first thought on seeing Lake Bled with my own two eyes was that it was more deserving of a page in that book than any other place I’ve ever seen in my life so far — and I’ve seen a lot of places.
There’s a castle. The perfect place for Cinderella to live with her Prince Charming, or Dragon (from Shrek, the world’s greatest fairytale) to make her lair.
There’s an island. The perfect place for a hermit to live out a lonely existence, or evil Mother Gothel to hide Rapunzel away.
There are densely forested areas. Where else would Snow White live with all her men? Or that Evil Witch lady hide out waiting for those poor, unsuspecting children to come along and nibble on her house?
There are snow-capped peaks. For Kristoff to hack away at his ice cubes, maybe? (Not a fairy tale, I know, but I struggled with that one).
There’s a cute little lakeside town. Perfect for the townsfolk to live before they have a spell cast on them, making them forget they were once ruled by a prince who is now a Beast and lives with a talking teapot.
In short, Lake Bled and the surrounding area has everything it needs to exist as a real life fairytale destination.
Having seen pretty much every other travel blogger and their dog visit Bled recently, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. You see, when so many people harp on and on about how magical somewhere is, how it’s a ‘must-see‘, often times by the time you get around to seeing it with your own two eyes, your expectations have been raised to such magnitude that there’s no way left to go but down.
Example numero uno: Buenos Aires. I’d constantly been informed by people I met on the road and friends of friends how it’s such a great city, how the steak and wine are second to none in the world and how the party scene is “off the chain“, so my hopes and expectations were raised to such a point that I’m genuinely surprised Nasa didn’t send out a UFO warning.
And I have no doubt Buenos Aires is a great city. But I’m a teetotal vegetarian who doesn’t really party sooo I probably should have known from the start it was a dud.
Scared of another Buenos Aires-type situation, I walked off that bus at Bled with my eyes very much open and a super blasé attitude to the place.
Then, as I rounded the corner and caught my first sight of the lake… wait for it…
I was 138.6% overwhelmed.
It was gorgeous. Completely and utterly ethereal yet at the same time definitely deserving of a place on this planet (which, incidentally, is a pretty darn nice place to be sometimes).
And this was before I even caught a glimpse of the island.
I’m talking about the island here. The one which makes an all too frequent appearance on all those big inspire-y travel Instagram accounts and has consequently played an active role in adding Slovenia to so many people’s bucket lists. It’s the island which takes Lake Bled from a respectable 8/10 on the internationally recognised “Pretty Lake Scale©” to a whopping 10/10 and beyond.
Keen to find that view of the lake (we all know which one I’m talking about, riiiight?) I did what needed to be done and found myself a higher vantage point. In this scenario, Bled Castle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a castle snob.
You can’t grow up in Wales and not be critical when it comes to castles. I mean, some countries call a castle a castle when it’s actually just a big house with a spiral staircase and a balcony on top.
But Bled Castle? It’s pretty alright like. But what else would you expect, really, with it being Slovenia’s oldest castle, dating back to medieval times?
Bonus points for having men dressed in brown robes walking around the place, making you feel like you were actually in medieval times and they were monks. Whether intentional or not, it worked.
Double bonus points for the epic views.
If I were a painter in need of inspiration, I would pack up my easel and watercolours into a little red neckerchief and plant myself firmly in the courtyard of Bled Castle, because in each direction you look, there’s even more beauty to take in. Alas, I am not a painter. So I did what any modern day artiste would do… and put it on my Instagram story. My first (and so far only) ever dabble at it too. So thanks for the inspiration Bled!
Side note: Bled Castle has WiFi. True fact.
As inspiring as the views from the castle are, though, they just weren’t the ones I was looking for. And so I took my by this point slightly regretful butt back down the never-ending steps leading to the lakeside and set off walking, in search of the entrance to the not very well sign-posted little hill overlooking the lake in its entirety, known as the Ojstrica viewpoint. And, of course, took about a million identical photos of the lake along the way.
There is not a single bad angle of the lake.
After almost walking past the “entrance” to the climb about 16,000 times, trespassing on somebody’s property and losing a shoe, I did eventually find it, hidden away just past a camping site, barely even noticeable among the trees.
You know that Shakespeare quote “And though she be but little, she is fierce“?
Truer words may never be spoken about the climb to the Ostrjica viewpoint. I almost died. At least nineteen times.
First you walk through the forest. Simple enough, you might think, it’s just forest floor. Yeah, okay, fair enough. Except the floor is covered in pebbles. And the pebbles are so tiny they get in your shoe, and if you walk too vigorously they kick up and go in your eye. And then the pebbles turn into rocks. And the floor is made of rocks and suddenly you’re playing The Floor is Lava except you’re not in your cousins’ childhood bedroom and the floor isn’t a nice plushy carpet, it’s a bunch of rocks. Hard rocks. Rock hard rocks, in fact. And if you fall, it will hurt. Probably not quite as much as if the floor really was lava, but enough to make you cry to yourself and curse everyone you’ve ever met in your life.
Then the rocks aren’t rocks on the floor anymore, there’s this big huge rock formation instead, and you have to somehow make your way to the top of it. There’s a path. Oh yes, there’s a path, formed by the feet of the many people who’ve been there before you. But there isn’t always a path. So you have to pull yourself up from rock to rock, and the rocks have sharp edges and skin is not made to withstand sharp rock edges. If it was we wouldn’t have nice polished wood staircases or even nicer escalators.
All moaning about rocks and lava aside, though, the journey was more than worth the destination. This might be stating the obvious a little, but viewpoints are called viewpoints for a reason, and they’re almost always worth the climb. And I know what I’m talking about here, because I once climbed a hill the size of Everest (not really) on 15 minutes sleep to watch the sun rise behind a wall and it was worth it. But that’s a story for another day…
For now, I found the Lake Bled view I was after. And it was super sweet.