Our high speed Italian tour came to its conclusion in Venice. Whilst our time here got off to a thundery start, much to Rory’s excitement, the storms did not cloud the experience. Given the dreary weather conditions we only really had one full day in the city, but found that this was enough to get a feel for the place. We spent hours walking the winding streets and soaking up the charm of our surroundings, the deterioration of the bottoms of doors and slow chipping of paint only adds to the quaint magic of the city. Whilst the streets are enchanting, from experience I can confirm they are somewhat of a maze! Google maps is always helpful when you need to find a bridge, thank goodness roaming charges don’t apply in Europe any longer! We concluded the day with a gondola ride, selecting a start point away from the larger bridges so we could wind in and out of the smaller canals. The prices are set by the city at €80 for 30 minutes which is a lot of money but the experience is priceless.
The plan for our stay in Bled was make it relaxing in an attempt to completely recharge our batteries after our frantic Italian city hopping. We were booked into a very comfortable and convenient guesthouse just 500m from the lake. Operation relaxation got off to a great start with a leisurely walk around by the lake before dinner, a relatively early night and a much needed lie in the following morning. Croissants and coffee didn’t happen until around 11am, but in my book it counts as breakfast if it’s still technically morning! The owner of the guesthouse met us in the living space, likely presuming we were enjoying a mid morning snack after our early morning cycle around the lake and asked us what our plans were. His enthusiasm for the area was infectious and somehow we found ourselves donning our trainers in preparation for a hike, swimming things and towels in a bag for our post hike swim and water bottles filled – so much for a total chill out!
The view point, specially recommended to us by the lovely Marko, was located at the opposite side of the lake to which we were staying, but more importantly, just over 650m up from sea level. In all honesty I thought I had left my hiking days behind me when I completed by Gold Duke of Ed, but when the scenery was so beautiful on the edge of the lake, I was keen to see it all from above. The hike up the hill itself is not very far but is quite steep and is not hugely tourist friendly – the path is rocky, so sensible walking shoes are a must. Whilst, it is not the most straightforward climb, the view at the top was simply breathtaking. If you find yourself of the shores of Lake Bled, hiking to a view point is a must, some trainers, a big bottle of water and camera and you’re all set – if nothing else it provides an excellent excuse to reward yourself later!
Upon making it back down safely the lake was a very welcome sight, a quick change and we jumped in for a swim. I say jumped, it took Rory at least ten minutes to coax himself into the ‘freezing’ water whilst kiddies in armbands pushed past for a cool off… Although, as the picture below demonstrates, he tried to redeem himself by swimming to the island and back which was fairly impressive, but don’t tell him I said so! Admittedly, the lake wasn’t a warm as Marko had led us to believe, but was certainly not as cold as the shores of Donegal that I am accustomed to. There are several designated swimming spots around the lake that gather small crowds of people throughout the day. Additionally, there are also quieter and more private enclaves that you can enter at, the perfect location for a candid instagram post. The water is so clear and actually glistens in the sun, an opportunity not to be missed.
Safe to say after our relaxing plan for the day was abandoned by the end of breakfast we were both exhausted, but luckily had time for a quick nap and shower before our dinner reservation at Bled Castle. This was a treat that we had planned when Rory initially began compiling his highly intricate, colour coded spread sheet which I was only permitted to have access to as a read only document! Hence, dinner in the castle was included in our budget and a meal we have been looking forward to from the start. The whole evening from start to finish was nothing short of breathtaking, including the walk up to the castle, with that many steps it was literally breathtaking but definitely worth it! In the evening the castle restaurant puts on a five course tasting menu for €50, included in this was a canapé, cold starter, warm continuation, main course and dessert – the portions are generous so it’s best to arrive hungry.
We were seated right at the edge of the outdoor terrace with a beautiful view of the lake below and greeted with a sheep cheese canapé and glass of Slovenian sparkling wine. Partial to the odd glass of prosecco, I found that this wine was an interesting take on the more well known fizz and a nice touch to get the evening of to a bubbly start. Given Rory and I’s different preferences in wines we opted to order wine by the glass and our waiter was hugely knowledgeable and helpful when making recommendations. For main course I selected the sea bass which our waiter suggested I paired with a Slovenian rosé that they call ‘ladies rosé’. For Rory’s vegetarian dish it was suggested he tried a full bodied Slovenian white. The two wines were very reasonably priced at €5 a glass, with the rest of the drinks list following a similarly conservative price pattern. Both of us really enjoyed the local tipples that had been suggested for us and also appreciated the rather generous pour in the absence of the wine measures we are used to at home!
Each of the dishes were perfectly presented as true works of art, as well as, being full of flavour. It was a lovely treat after surviving on pasta and baguettes for around half our trip to balance out the cost. Reluctant to leave, after dessert Rory enjoyed a measure of Scotch and I sampled both the local blueberry and mint liqueurs, wishing we could eat like this in every city we stopped in! A fabulous restaurant I really could not recommend more highly, the views, the service and the quality of food and wine were all exceptional. However, it’s worth noting that if you do intend on dining in the castle, booking is a must. The restaurant is often fully booked and they do not accept reservations on the day. This is particularly important as entrance to the castle is €10 per person unless you have either a lunch or dinner reservation, the equivalent to a couple of glasses of Slovenian wine! Whilst the restaurant is certainly worth every penny, if you don’t intend on availing of the culinary experience on offer, the admission fee is essentially just for a view of the lake, one that you could get from hiking to a view point.
Our final day in Bled was somewhat more laid back, following a 10am check out we headed for a morning walk around the whole lake. According to my fitbit, one full circuit totalled just over four miles. We took our time and enjoyed the stunning views, taking photos, going in for a quick swim and had a picnic lunch on the edge of the lake, sharing some of our baguette with some very friendly ducks. We left Slovenia at 8pm that evening, destined for Croatia. Bled has firmly pushed Rome out of top spot for our favourite destination so far, Hvar has certainly got big boots to fill!