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Trip Report Sun and rain in Slovenia: Bohinj and Bled trip report

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We took this trip last June. Sorry to be so late finishing it off. We spent one week at Lake Bohinj (pronounced something like Bokhin) and one week at Lake Bled; no car. Previous readers may be aware that I often travel with my 70 something parents, and I did so on this occasion.

Our hotel at Lake Bohinj was in the tiny settlement of Ribcev Laz, which is basically a church, a row of three shops (including the tourist information centre), and a handful of hotels and cafes, plus a small number of houses. The lake was very pretty and clean, with a small ferry running back and forth from one end of the lake to the other, surrounded by trees and mountains. We stayed in the Hotel Jezero (jezero being the Slovene for lake). It was pleasant enough, with very nice, helpful staff. Most of the clientele were keen walking types, and it was an excellent centre for them. My single room was significantly less nice than my parents’ double, as is so often the case, with a view over a dried up concrete overflow channel, while my parents had a very attractive lake view and a decent sized balcony. The food was okay, although it got a bit samey by the end of the week, generally buffet style with certain items from last night’s dinner sometimes showing up for breakfast next day, but there were few alternative options in the village. What was really good about the hotel, though, was the pool – large, reasonably warm water, and barely used by other visitors. Towels were available for hire, or you were allowed to use the ones from your room. There was also a small gym and table tennis facilities, which my parents tried out. The only real complaint we had was that on the Saturday night there was a loud disco into the early hours which kept us awake – I believe this was a wedding reception. We enjoyed strolling by the lake after dinner. I think my parents thought it was a little too quiet in the village, but I rather liked it.

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    The first day (a Thursday) we did a gentle walk along the north side of the lake, along the roadway, and took the ferry back. Close to Ribcev Laz was a rather charming little statue of a chamois perched on an actual rock which represented the local legend of Zlatorog. It was not possible to walk along the lake itself along most of its length, but only the pavement on the opposite side of the roadway, but it wasn’t a terribly busy road. We passed various places you could hire boats, a climbing wall, and so on. The far end of the lake has a village (Ukanc) even smaller and with fewer facilities than Ribcev Laz; the cable car up to Mount Vogel; a camp site; and the ferry pier. You can also walk to a waterfall reportedly pretty, but a further hour plus walk uphill, so we gave it a miss.

    The boat journey was quite pleasant but not spectacular. The boat just goes from Ribcev Laz to Ukanc and back, with no other stops or commentary. We returned to that end by bus the following day to go up the mountain by gondola, and explored the area at the top. Probably we should have done that the first day. There were some nice views at the top, and a basic restaurant; the area is used for skiing in the winter and there are several hiking routes. The weather on those days was very nice - sunny and pleasantly warm.

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    Saturday the plan was to walk to two of the villages in the valley, where there were small museums. At the time we were there, very early in June, these little museums were open only 10-12 and 2-4 daily. We chose to walk all the way to Studor, the further of the two, with the plan that we would do that first, have a picnic lunch, and walk back to Stara Fuzina. Stara Fuzina was pretty close to Ribcev Laz, and we hastened through and took a winding road through fields to Studor. This village is known for its haystacks – wooden drying racks, many of which are still in use for the hay, and many of which have been made into barns. Some of these were still used for the intended purpose, others had been converted to garages or junk stores, or were falling apart. The museum here, the Oplen house (known for the family who owned it in the 19th century) was an old cottage which was furnished as it would have been in the 19th century, when the area was desperately poor. The kitchen was what was called a ’black kitchen’, with no chimney for the smoke of the fire to escape, so over centuries it blackened the walls. The custodian was an older lady who spoke some English, but with a barely decipherable accent, and who was notable mainly for her lack of teeth. I thought this little house was fascinating. After seeing round it, and wandering around looking at the wooden houses and haystacks in the village, we had a drink at a very nice inn close to the museum before starting back on the way to Stara Fuzina.

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    Rather than walking along the road for the return trip, we took a recently constructed cycle route which ran along the little river which flowed into Lake Bohinj. Unfortunately, before we got to Stara Fuzina it started to rain, at first delicate little drops, then a downpour. Foolishly, certain members of the party (i.e. everyone but my sensible mother) had neglected to bring coats, umbrellas or shoes that weren’t sandals, so this was greeted with dismay. As the rain grew thicker, we hastily decided to abandon thoughts of Stara Fuzina and picking up our pace returned swiftly to the hotel to change. We then had our picnic on my parents’ balcony. After that the rain cleared up a bit, but we didn’t really feel up to walking all the way back to Stara Fuzina again, so instead we took the opportunity to visit the lovely old church in Ribcev Laz. This is the main sight in the village, due to its colourful naive wall paintings, and was only open at weekends. On the outside of the building was a giant St Christopher, who appeared in similar format on many other churches in the area, being a particular local favourite. Inside were a number of 16th century wall paintings of Bible scenes, saints and angels, many playing musical instruments, the models for whom were locals. They are notable for the fact that most of them have visibly deformed goitres in the throats, reflecting the fact that in previous generations there was a sever iodine deficiency in local diets; and also the artist’s limited skills meant that he showed teeth in a very jagged pointed style which has gained the church a reputation among fans of vampire imagery.

    After that we got the bus to the bigger town of Bistrica, where we had another mishap. I got off, assuming my parents would follow me, but stood watching in horror as the bus pulled away with my parents still on it. Needless to say, not everyone had brought a phone with them, and I couldn’t get in touch. So I abandoned them to their own devices (they got off at the next stop and waited for the next bus home), while I tracked down the museum in Bohinjska Bistrica, the Tomas Godec house. This was the home of a local hero which was supposed to have a section on WWI in the area which I was interested to see. It was not very easy to find, but I did eventually track it down. Disappointingly, most of the rooms were closed for refurbishment, and had been for some time, and there was just one room open with a few archaeological finds on display – but as there was so little to see at least it was free. The house itself was an attractive old wooden house and the houses around it were attractive with gardens filled with flowers. I then got the bus back to Ribcev Laz, still rather anxious about my lost parents, but was relieved to find them back at the hotel.

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    On Sunday we returned to Stara Fuzina, where the attraction was a small museum of the valley’s dairying past. This was more modestly interesting than Studor, but the village was quite attractive to walk round. Despite having been through it the previous day we got a little bit lost in the not very extensive back streets ;) I think we had lunch in a cafe there, although I can’t remember the details. In the afternoon, we ventured part of the way along the south shore of the lake, which was more scenic than the south side, and a more rustic path through woods in its later sections, but a much longer route. There were swimming beaches along this side which were quite popular with locals, and some portaloos, but little else in the way of amenities.

    On Monday we took a coach trip around the National Park and Alps, with M Tours. There are several companies running group excursions from Bled, but M Tours was the only one who came up the valley to pick up in Bohinj – actually they sent a minibus to collect about six or seven of us and we joined the big group in Bled. We were excited to get a first glimpse of the blue waters of Lake Bled, where we due to transfer later in the week. The very steep road with its hairpin bends had some attractive viewpoints, but it was not as scenically impressive as the Grossglockner in Austria which we had done the previous year. We stopped to see the small wooden chapel built by Russian prisoners of war who were used by the Austrian authorities, who then ruled Slovenia, as slave labour during WWI to build the road through the mountains , and many of whom died. We had a lunch break at Bovec, a small mountain resort town which was badly damaged some years ago by an earthquake. We split from the group, most of whom ate in the same place, and wandered through the streets before finding a very nice, but almost completely empty restaurant. We also stopped at several beauty spots throughout the day, and had a brief stop at a historic fortress used in WWI (Kluze). If we had done the trip in our own car we would have been able to spend more time there, which I would have liked, but I managed a whistle stop rush around the exhibits while everyone else was marvelling at the beautiful Soca river, which runs through a deep canyon under the road bridge and is a remarkable jade colour. Later there was a stop at a ski jump facility, which was of no interest to me (especially as I was feeling unwell) but others seemed to appreciate. We enjoyed this outing despite its necessarily rushed nature.

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    Tuesday, our last full day in Bohinj, my parents and I split up. They wanted to try the south shore of the lake again, and see if they could get all the way to the ferry. I took the local bus to Kranj. Because Bohinj is at the end of a valley, nestled in the mountains, there is really only one way out – well, two, but the quieter road through Studor and Stara Fuzina ends up in Bohinjska Bistrica just like the main road. The bus goes on to Bled, Kranj and eventually Ljlubljana. Kranj is the biggest city in the Upper Carniola region which encompasses Bled, Bohinj and the Slovenian Alps. Its outskirts are modern, industrial and not particularly attractive, but the bus stop was a fairly easy walk into the old town, which was delightful. Kranj is not as well known to foreign visitors, but I would call it a real hidden gem. The original old town was built on an island in the river, which made the centre compact and easy to walk around, with predominantly white buildings with red roofs. There was an excellent local history museum in the old castle with some fascinating exhibits. The weather, however, was horrible today, pouring rain so thick and heavy that I was soaked through my waterproof despite spending most of the time undercover. I spared a thought for my poor parents on their walk...
    I returned to the hotel to find them exhausted and wet. They reported that the walk was on very rough ground in its later stages, but I think they enjoyed themselves.

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    The next day we transferred to Bled and settled in at the Grand Hotel Toplice on the waterfront. This was an entirely different kind of hotel – older, bigger and posher. The building itself was not that attractive in my opinion, but the lake views from our rooms were glorious. Lake Bled is even more beautiful in person than in pictures – a gorgeous blue. My room here was a double with good sized balcony, much bigger and more comfortable – but then it was also rather more expensive. The food was superb, although some of the puddings were a bit strange to British tastes. The staff were delightful, too. The restaurant had more lovely lake views, and swallows had their nests under a canopy just outside. Occasionally they or the sparrows made their way inside the dining room, which was less charming. The hotel’s one disappointment was the swimming pool. Its water is thermally heated, and I had seen tripadvisor views complaining about how cold it was. Naturally I assumed people were just whinging, but no – it was like an ice bath. I bravely endured it three times during our stay, but I couldn’t stay in long. It was also too small to swim proper lengths, and the edges were quite shallow so it took a while to work out how to swim in circles without banging into edges. One night were were awoken when a fire alarm was set off in the early hours by a drunken wedding guest – not the hotel’s fault.

    We spent Wednesday wandering around the small town and walking around the lake, which was very pleasant, stopping off at cafes for snacks. The Bled Film Festival was on, but it had hardly any impact on the town.

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    Thursday we did another coach trip. We had been happy with M Tours, so we stuck with them for the outing to the Postojna caves and Predjama Castle. The castle was great, a onetime robber baron’s retreat wit some dramatic stories. An excellent local guide showed us round. We then went on to the caves. While these are truly impressive, we had seen similar caves (a bit smaller, but we thought prettier) in Italy some years ago (Frasassi), so perhaps we were less enthralled than others. But the trip was worth it for the castle, and if you’ve never been to this kind of limestone cave filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss.

    Friday morning we went up to Bled Castle. This is set way up perched on a rock. You can climb up steps from the lakeside, but we were weak and feeble and went up by taxi, and arranged for it to collect us. It was quite a nice castle – not as interesting as Predjama, but worth the effort getting there, and there were great views over the lake and island. Back down in town we saw a parade of tractors, and wandered around in the town. We had intended to get the little pletna boat over to the island, but the winds were rough and it was raining, so they were not running.

    Saturday we took the bus to Ljubljana. The bus station in Ljubljana is a fair walk from the old part of town, and once we had got there we separated. I wanted to see the castle, but I was rather disillusioned as it was pretty boring – definitely the least interesting castle on this holiday, and possibly the least interesting I’ve ever been to. I wandered around the city centre and the market, and had something to eat. I had been intending to visit some of the many museums in the city, but didn’t really feel terribly well, so I went on a boat trip instead. The weather took a turn for the worse, and it rained quite heavily during the trip, so I stayed undercover. The boat did not offer any refreshments, which would have been nice, and it was pretty chilly. The River Ljubljanica was quite attractive, with some weeping willows lining the banks, but the route was not particularly exciting. It was salvaged by the utterly delightful sight of first one, and then two, otters swimming in the river close by the boat. I met up with my parents back at the bus station around three, as the weather was so ghastly, and we headed back to Bled.

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    On Sunday we had another coach outing, to the horse stud at Lipica (pronounced Lipitza), followed by a visit to the seaside resort of Piran. The horses are the Lipizzaner breed, the same white ones who perform in Vienna, although the Slovenian stud no longer has any connection with Vienna. We saw some mothers with foals; the babies are born very dark and only lighten to white as they grow older. We toured round the stables, and then saw a show. Piran we thought charming, and would have liked longer there. It was significantly warmer on the coast than in Bled.

    Monday was much brighter, so we decided to go to the Vintgar Gorge, a beauty spot a few miles from Bled. We got the bus there, but it is not a regular service, and the sole return trip (just two hours later) would have meant a rushed walk along the gorge, so we had decided in advance that we would walk along the gorge, then back down to Bled, which we understood was a pretty walk. The gorge walk comprises wooden walkways along one side or the other of the deep canyon, with bridges across at intervals – a very safe, easy path. It was delightfully pretty, one of the loveliest sights in Slovenia, and we very much enjoyed the walk. We were pleased to be taking our time and not having to hurry back before reaching the end to catch the bus back. At the far end of the gorge was a kiosk selling drinks and we stopped here for a snack. Then we followed the sign for the path down to Bled. We were a little surprised that it led, at first, uphill, but gamely followed it through the woods (despite tripping over roots). It was pretty tough going, and we began to wonder if we were going the wrong way, but there was no other obvious path, so on we went. Eventually we reached a cafe and chapel with a fine view down to Bled, and stopped there for lunch. After some debate over which path to pursue – the main road – steep, but safe – or a treacherous looking dirt path down through the woods which looked terrifying but my dad fancied, we agreed on the roadway. The road down was very steep, and it was very hot by now, but it was quite an attractive route, going past some pretty looking villages. At last we reached the outskirts of Bled and breathed a sigh of relief. In retrospect we should have gone back through the gorge, as although we would have missed the direct bus, there was a bus route from a village on that side.

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    The next day was our last in Bled. We still hadn’t got round to the iconic boattrip to the famous island, but today was not our day either as it was pouring with rain. I took the bus to the nearby town of Radovljica, which was very attractive in the same style as Kranj, with white buildings and red roofs, but much smaller. It was raining even more heavily than it had in Kranj, and I got wet right through to my underwear, despite wearing raingear. I dried off as far as possible in a cafe and then explored the sights. There was a very small museum with some local history exhibits and a beekeeping display, including some lovely painted beehives typical of the area; and a small art gallery in an old house – the house part was more interesting than the pictures. It was a very charming little town, and it would have been nice to spend more time there, not in damp clothing. I got the bus back to Bled, and had a look at the new visitor centre which had a lot of photos and display boards relating to the area’s natural history. I got back to the hotel, to find that when it had dried off in the afternoon my parents had gone across to the island without me ;(.

    That was pretty much it, as the next day we had to return home. I regret not having gone to the island, but otherwise it was a delightful stay in two beautiful, though very different lakes.

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