Once upon a time, there was a young little girl who loved listening to stories of the fairytale world. She was just a four year old, asking her mother to read her Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, among others, daily. They were stories about castles, candy, wishing wells, Prince Charming, genies, flying carpets and some spellbinding magic. That little girl was me, and I was completely enchanted by these tales.
I would always wonder whether these pictures I saw were for real. My mother would claim it was all fictional, and such scenes can only be read in books and seen in cartoons. As I grew up and life caught up with me, I forgot about all of this, until one day, around 25 years later, I saw images of Lake Bled on Instagram. It was named after a resort town in Slovenia nestled among the Julian Alps. If only I could see it in person...
And here I was, just a few months later. A local named Masa Butara had suggested I hike up to the ‘Ojstrica’ point for the best view of the town. The walk took me about 60 minutes, with the last few steps posing quite the challenge. At the end, I was standing on top of a hill, overlooking a vista complete with Alpine trees, boats, and a lake with a church in the middle and a majestic castle overlooking it.
After this climb, I decided to indulge in some Bled cream cake. The multi-tier cake, invented in the 1950s at the Park Café in Bled, was absolutely delicious. Today, over 30,000 slices of Bled cream cake are sold across Slovenia. If you want to taste something different from the original, they have a chocolate and berry flavour as well.
To reach the fabled Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, you either need to row a boat yourself, go paddleboarding or take a pletna (a gondola-shaped boat with a canopy). This cathedral has been host to many local weddings. It has a huge bell that, according to a legend, makes your wish come true when rung thrice.
A lady who lost her husband during war made this bell with all the gold she had. But it too was destroyed. Once the widow learned what had happened, she committed suicide. When the bishop of the town heard the news, he ordered a replica to be built in memory of the widow and her husband.
There was a stairway with 99 steps here that took me up to the tower, from where I could see the lake. Before the church, the island was home to a temple dedicated to Ziva, the goddess of love and fertility, which got destroyed during a war.
Standing tall above a hill is the Bled Castle, which houses a museum that tells the history of the entire Balkan region. An old printing press, built by Johannes Gutenberg, is also kept in the castle.
One shop at the castle sold over 50 kinds of honey. Of the ones I tasted, the chocolate and the Williams pear (brandy and pear) flavours were my favourite. The palace also had a blacksmith store selling gold and silver souvenir coins celebrating the castle’s centenary. After checking out the place, I ate some potica (a traditional Slovenian rich cake, made by families during Christmas). The gorgeous Vintgar Gorge was just a 15-minute drive from Lake Bled. The ravine, a little over a kilometre long, guarantees a breathtaking walk. There are ample picture-perfect stops along the way. The emerald water in the lake between two mountains reminded look exactly like a desktop wallpaper.
Happy to be a part of my own fairy tale, I drove to my next location, Ljubljana (pronounced looh-blyah-aana). The capital of Slovenia, it is known for its beautiful bridges. My favourite was the Dragon Bridge, which is symbolic to the city. Another famous one is the Triple Bridge, which consists of three parallel bridges. riverbank is the heart of the city. You’ll find the best of the restaurants and bars here.
During the day, the city boasts a calm and quiet environment, but, in the evening, it starts buzzing with activity. After enjoying the city all night long— yes the city is very safe, with a zero percent crime rate—I opted for a quiet and relaxing next morning, and the perfect place for this was the Tivoli Park. I saw old men walking their dogs and many youngsters eating burgers. On talking to a few I found out that the city is very famous for horse burgers. If you are the adventurous sort, be sure to try it out. It was amusing passing through the winding walkways and seeing locals artists display their paintings in the Svicarija Art Centre, which is in the heart of the park.
In the evening I took a taxi to a small town called Celje, which is about an hour’s drive from Ljubljana, to taste a renowned dessert at a restaurant called Stari Pisker. The Boozy Jack Daniels is a banana split dessert, where the fruit is soaked in alcohol for eight hours and then served with two dollops of vanilla ice cream and a shot of the whiskey. Disney for adults, if you ask me.
Slovenia has only one international airport, JoÅ¾e Pucnik Airport, and it is 30kms from Ljubljana. There are no direct flights from India to Slovenia. The cheapest round-trip option is a one-stop flight from New Delhi ( from INR 49,149). The other cities offering one-stop flights to Slovenia are Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. A short-term Schengen visa to the Balkan nation costs INR 4,750 excluding taxes and fees (vfsglobal.com/ slovenia/india).