ASK A GERMAN to list Europe’s great lakes, and there’s a good chance Slovenia’s Bled and little sister Bohinj would make the list, yet many Brits will not have even heard of them.
Nestled just across the Alps from Austria’s southern border, they are more accessible for UK caravanners than you might think. And once you get there, they’re the perfect base for an outdoor break.
Tale of two lakes
Of the two lakes, Bled is by far the more developed. The town of Bled has numerous hotels, bars, restaurants and a plush casino lining the banks on one side. On the other however, where Camping Bled sits a hundred yards back from the bank, it is fabulously tranquil. Walk out the front of the site and you are staring straight at the lake’s characteristic feature; the catchily named Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary perched on the precarious Bled island. Beyond this, towering over the entire lake is the imperious Bled castle and behind that, the southern tip of the Julian Alps add the final dash of drama to an already astonishing backdrop. If you asked someone to describe the best looking lake they could, they’d describe Bled.
Stunning Lake Bled is overlooked by the mighty Julian Alps
Bohinj is definitely in its sister’s shadow. With far less commercial development interfering with nature’s good work however, it’s a much more tranquil spectacle. In many ways, the lake is not the main story at Bohinj. Signposted from miles out, it’s the Savica waterfall that draws all the visitors. This is where we started our day’s activities.
Mrs Donnelly and I paid our €4.60 to see the waterfall and €3 to park and began the walk. The information boards at the start of the footpath tell you it is a 20min walk to the falls, but they don’t really make clear that it is essentially a 20min vertical climb up stairs. We’d grabbed a [tl:gallery size=307×460]couple of drinks from the concession at the bottom of the path, but 15mins in, I was thinking a defibrillator might have been more use.
When we reached the top, the small viewing platform was very busy. Half the people were trying to grab photos in front of the Savica watefall, while the rest, mainly visiting Italians on a coach trip, sat in silence, desperately heaving their chests to get enough breath into their lungs to start the tiring tumble back to the car park.
After stopping for a drink at the bottom of the steps, we jumped back in the car towards Bled and stumbled on parking signs for Vintgar Gorge. Far more sedate than the yomp up to Slavica, it follows a series of meandering boardwalks over 1.6km a few feet off the water surface through a stunning narrow gorge in the rocks.
Tickets cost €7 for the pair of us and with the sunshine breaking through the tree cover and illuminating the shimmering clear waters of the Radovna river, it’s a sight not to be missed. There are a few short climbs but it is a good path throughout with refreshments at both ends so you can rest before returning.
Lack of distress on face indicates Vintgar Gorge is easier walking than Slavica
We took a scenic route back to the site, taking the road passed the train station which gave stunning elevated views of Lake Bled and had ample places to stop and grab a picture or simple sit and stare at the wonders in front of you.
With the weather staying nice late into the evening, we grabbed dinner at the site restaurant, overlooking the lake before taking the short wander back to the van and collapsing into bed.
What are you waiting for?
There’s probably two main reasons that more British caravanners don’t make the trip down to Slovenia; Distance and simple lack of awareness
At around 1113mls from Manchester, Bled is a long trek. But according to Via Michelin, it only eight minutes longer than going to Barcelona (which is 1104mls). On the plus side, it costs £50 less in road tolls. If you consider Spain a distance you are prepared to tow, Slovenia is really no further.
Ask 1000 people in the street where Barcelona is and 75% could point to it on a map. Ask the same people to point at Slovenia, let alone a resort like Bled and I’d be surprised if 5% could do it.
So I’ll do my bit for Slovenian tourism and tell you that it borders Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It has a population of 2.05 million (Feb 2011) and is the third most forested country in the EU, after Finland and Sweden. It uses the Euro, the official language is Slovene but the vast majority of signs, menus and all other signposting are duplicated in English.
And diesel is around 30p per litre cheaper than in Germany and Austria too.
Worth the effort?
We spent a day exploring Lake Bled and Bohinj and the truth of the matter is this. If you love your natural outdoor attractions spend your holidays walking, cycling, swimming and generally enjoying the outdoors, this has got the lot. It’s a long trek down from the channel ports, but in terms of the freedom, scale and accessibility of the landscape, there is little else like it closer to home.