This tiny island in the center of a sparkling blue lake, surrounded by forested mountains, looks like a scene from a fantasy movie — but it’s real, and you can go there.
What’s that in the middle of the lake?
The Church of the Assumption points its Gothic bell-tower heavenwards, mimicking the mountains in the distance. Visitors (and panting grooms, their brides in their arms) must climb ninety-nine steps to enter the centuries-old church, walls decorated with remnants of frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary.
The island has been sacred to female figures since ancient times — before the region’s conversion to Christianity, it was home to a temple to the Slavic goddess of love, Ziva. Amazingly, it’s the only natural lake island in Slovenia.
The warm waters of Lake Bled
Lake Bled is actually a thermal Alpine lake, with hot springs bubbling up along its shoreline. Several hotels take advantage of the thermal springs, but everyone can enjoy the uncharacteristically warm water in summer, when the lake temperature can soar into the seventies. Popular swimming locations take advantage of Lake Bled’s ridiculously good views, including a swimming area below the towering medieval fortress of Bled Castle.
In winter even Lake Bled freezes, creating a beautiful natural ice rink perfect for skating.
You’ll probably want to take a ride on a traditional pletna, a handmade wooden boat which ferries visitors to the island, but of course the most stunning views are from the mainland, gazing at the island itself. No problem: Lake Bled features a six-kilometer trail around its shores, offering beautiful views of the lake, the Church of the Assumption, and the distant Karavanke Mountains, perfect for a stroll or a bike ride.
Ring the bell
While you’re at the church, don’t forget to ring the wishing bell. You’ll have to pay admission to enter the clock tower, but how often do you get to ring a wishing bell in a magical Alpine fantasy, anyway? Ring the bell three times and make one wish — only one! The bell has been ringing in the tower since the sixteenth century, when, the story goes, the widow of Bled Castle had all her wealth melted down and cast into a bell for the church. On the way to the island, a storm blew up and sank the boat (and the bell). The widow went on pilgrimage to Rome, where the Pope himself was moved by her story and donated a bell to Bled Island’s church.
How to get there
The resort town of Bled is not far from Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, which makes it a wonderful addition to an eastern European vacation.
Virgin Vacations’ 10 Day Essential Croatia & Slovenia includes two nights and a day in Bled, including a visit to Bled Castle, which rises above the lake on a mighty cliff. It’s an incredible way to explore the wonders of eastern Europe. View the itinerary and departure dates here.