Lake Bled, Slovenia. How many times did I see photos of this magical fairytale place before I decided that I had to visit? Countless! So, this past summer, when I, my husband and two daughters had a few days to explore a country in central Europe, we decided to go to Slovenia. However, Lake Bled was only one of many breathtaking places that we visited. On an epic one day road trip, we went to Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave. It was a long day, but worth it. Now that I have visited and know what I know, I would say that each place was truly remarkable. However, I wasn’t altogether thrilled about a couple of things.
Ljubljana Old Town
We were pleasantly surprised by the sophisticated and medieval beauty of Ljubljana Old Town, our home base during our time in Slovenia. We stayed at the small, but luxurious Lesar Angel Hotel in the pedestrian zone. During our four days there, we explored the historical sites, did a cool private street art tour and ate at several memorable restaurants. If you are interested in hearing more about our time in Ljubljana Old Town, please refer to my article Ljubljana Old Town, Slovenia: 7 Of My Favourite Things.
We decided to book a car, driver and guide for our one day road trip rather than self drive. Why? I knew that we were being very ambitious in what we wanted to see in one day. Further, I wanted all of us to be able to enjoy the scenery and relax without being worried about getting lost. Lastly, we wanted to learn as much history and culture as we could while visiting these magnificent sights. Having a driver and guide allowed us to make the most of our time and accomplish these goals.
However, if you have more time, there is absolutely no reason to avoid self driving. The roads were excellent and the driving was unremarkable. Once we left Ljubljana, we barely faced any traffic. The only issue might be parking at Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge and Predjama Castle. We either did not require parking (our driver dropped us off at Lake Bled to explore) or we received special parking privileges (we were able to park at entrances) because we were touring with a registered guide. Not a big deal unless you are short of time.
I booked our private tour through Roundabout Travel. We had a large van with an english speaking driver/guide. Our tour lasted 10 hours and it cost 460 euros for all traffic related costs and entrance fees into Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle (142 euros for the four of us). After Montenegro, I thought this was quite expensive. However, from my research, it seemed to be the going rate. On the plus side, the tour was excellent – we covered a lot of ground, saw much of the countryside and learned a great deal about Slovenia.
Lake Bled is a lake in the Julian Alps an easy 45 minute drive from Ljubljana. It is STUNNINGLY beautiful. It is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, magnificent trees and lovely beaches. In the middle of the lake, there is Bled Island which has a small church called the Assumption of Mary and a 52 m (or 171 ft) tower, both built in the 17th century. Perched overtop of Lake Bled is Bled Castle. It is 1000 years old and considered the oldest castle in Slovenia.
Beyond the historical buildings, Lake Bled is a tourist mecca for Slovenians. Boating, biking, hiking and swimming are favourite past times for families visiting this area on weekends or summer holidays. There are many hotels on or around the lake and several restaurants and cafes.
Transport to Bled Island
We decided that we wanted to visit Bled Island to explore the church and see the area from a different point of view. I had read that the boat trip and spending time on the island was a “must do” experience.
Apart from renting your own kayaks or rowboats, the only way to get to Bled Island was to hire one of the many “pletnas” waiting on the shore for passengers. A pletna is like a venetian gondola. It carries approximately 20 passengers and one oarsman paddles from the shore to the island and back, a task which takes around 20 minutes each way. The role of the oarsman dates back to 1740, when Empress Maria Theresa granted 22 local families exclusive rights to ferry religious pilgrims across Lake Bled to worship on Bled Island. The profession is still restricted and many oarsman today descend directly from the original 22 families.
We climbed on board and waited for the boat to fill up. Then, I learned that the total cost of the trip would be 14 euros each! Remember, this was a 20 minute one way paddle on a small and calm lake. Once on Bled Island, we had one hour to explore.
Upon arrival, we climbed the enormous staircase to the top of the island and headed to the church. There, we learned that it would cost another 6 euros to enter the church and climb up the tower. By this point, I was pretty pissed off. Bled Island is tiny. We walked around the island in 5 minutes. Apart from a small cafe, the only thing to see or do on the island is to go into Bled Church. We had already paid 14 euros to get there and now, they wanted another 6 euros to actually enter it. We were not interested. Now, we had to wait one hour until our oarsmen returned with another boat load of people and allowed us to go back to the mainland.
The views of the shore and the mountains were spectacular. However, it was absolutely unnecessary to go to Bled Island to experience this. We could have driven around the lake, or walked or hiked on the many trails to take in the gorgeous views. I would highly recommend saving your money and avoid Bled Island.
Our guide asked us if we wanted to see Bled Castle or go to Vintgar Gorge. After our experience at Bled Island, this was a very easy choice for us – Vintgar Gorge here we come! However, I did ask if we could drive up to Bled Castle so I could take a photo of the view from the road. He said not for free. That was it – I couldn’t wait to leave Lake Bled.
Vintgar Gorge was a 15 minute drive away. It was on narrow roads through local villages, but an easy drive.
Vintgar Gorge is a 1.6 km ravine that carves its way through the vertical rocks and hills along the Radovna River with waterfalls, pools and rapids scattered along the way. A walkway has been built against the rocks and cliffs, hugging them so tight in certain places that only one person can pass at a time. In other places, the walkway hangs precariously over the gorge, or crosses over waterfalls, giving wonderful views of the area.
Our Experience at Vintgar Gorge
I loved Vintgar Gorge for what it offered – a beautiful and easy walk along a stunning river with gorgeous views of trees and water. I felt totally immersed in nature during our time there.
However, it was PACKED with people which didn’t ruin the experience but it certainly undermined it. Our guide was allowed to park right at the entrance, otherwise it would have taken around 20 minutes to walk from the overflow parking lot to the entrance. Then, there was a massive line up to purchase tickets which our guide was able to bypass. Finally, for most of the walk, we ended up in a single file line up walking one way, while we passed another single file line up of people walking in the opposite direction. There were certain spots where we found space to stop and look around. However, not many.
Finally, most people had to make this a return trip. The walkway wasn’t a circle, but a line. So, once you reached the end of the 1.6 km walkway, everyone had to turn around and walk the other way. We were lucky. Our driver drove and met us at the other side. I was relieved that we didn’t have to go back into the crowds.
Predjama Castle is a Renaissance castle built into the mouth of a cave. It is 800 years old and is perched in the middle of a 123 m (or 400 ft) cliff. It is the largest cave castle in the world. Behind and underneath the castle, are a network of secret tunnels that allowed owners of the castle to either secretly send out plundering expeditions or hide in the event of an attack.
It took us 2 hours to drive from Vintgar Gorge to Predjama Castle, mostly along rural roads and beautiful rolling hills. From Ljubljana, it would have only taken an hour.
We spent an hour exploring Predjama Castle with our guide and it was amazing! The castle is almost perfectly preserved. The rooms were fascinating to explore. In many instances I was astonished at the complexities involved in building the castle into the rocks. I would highly recommend visiting Predjama Castle.
Our last stop of the day was Postojna Cave, an easy 15 minute drive away.
Postojna Cave was discovered hundreds of years ago, but was only open to the public around 200 years ago. Within it, there are towering mountains, rivers and vast subterranean halls that have been created over millions of years through tiny droplets of water. There are over 24 km of underground paths and a 3.7 km train track.
Our Experience at Postojna Cave
This place was extraordinary. We took the train deep into the bowels of the Postojna cave and saw astounding stalagmites and stalactites everywhere we looked, beautifully lit up .A stalagmite is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material from drippings from above. A stalactite is similar except it is a formation that hangs from the ceiling of caves. On our one hour walking tour, we saw countless stalagmites and stalactites and were awestruck at how spectacular these formations were.
I would highly recommend a visit to Postojna Cave. However, it was very cold inside, especially on the train ride. So, dress very warmly! However, if you do not have proper clothes, they do rent winter coats.
Our one day road trip from Ljubljana Old Town to Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, Predjama Casle and Postojna Cave was remarkable. All of them were breathtakingly beautiful, albeit in completely different ways. It wasn’t a perfect experience… although it was close. I am happy we visited Lake Bled but hated the ridiculous cost to visit Bled Island and Bled Church. I am grateful we managed to squeeze in Vintgar Gorge. The walkway and the views of this astonishing ravine were fantastic. However, the crowds were difficult to navigate and impacted our time there. I was completely surprised by the unique experiences that both Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave offered. I have been to many countries over my lifetime. You would be hard pressed to find such interesting experiences anywhere that are so close to one another.
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