Exploring the Castle & Church of Lake Bled, Slovenia

June 30, 2015
lake bled slovenia

A thick mist floats across the water.  My eyes strain to peer into its cloudy surface.  I lean against the outer walls of Bled Castle trying to get closer still.  My gaze is focused 130 meters below, to the bottom of the cliff on which I (and the castle) am perched.  The mist, although wreaking havoc with my view of the island church in the middle of Lake Bled, adds an eeriness to the scene that is enchanting. I am drawn to this mysterious island. But first a visit to the castle before descending to the water’s edge.

For over 1,000 years there has been a castle on this spot.  Its not hard to understand why – the dramatic cliff top location would be easily defensible.  Thick romanesque walls outline the cliff and enclose the Renaissance buildings. These buildings once functioned as a stronghold; now they house a museum and restaurant.

The mist, although wreaking havoc with my view of the island church in the middle of Lake Bled, adds an eeriness to the scene that is enchanting.

The museum, part of the National Museum of Slovenia, is worth a visit.  Its exhibits provide one with a fairly comprehensive overview of the area.  Starting with geology and the natural environment, the exhibits relate how climate and rock formation have impacted the development of the region.  Next the museum focuses on the human impacts.  These exhibits look at how societies developed and grew in the area. Including the role of tourism that has been part of the region’s heritage for centuries. Bled was a pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages and a spa town in the 19th century.

One of my favourite parts of the castle was not actually an exhibit, it was the chapel.  It was adorned with beautiful frescos.  Due to age, many of them were not complete and in need of preservation.  The juxtaposition of blank wall against ornate fresco made the small room more magnificent than if all the frescos had been complete.

The day I visited, perhaps due to the weather or the early morning or that Slovenia is not as popular a tourist destination as it should be, there were not very many visitors.  I was able to wander around the castle grounds and not worry about ruining a photo with crowds.  I could spend long moments watching the mist float across the lake, offering tantalizing glimpses of the island and church that were the next stop.

Exploring the Castle & Church of Lake Bled, Slovenia

The pilgrimage Church of the Mother of God on the Lake as it’s known, is reached via a short ride on a pletna (a local handmade wooden boat).  After alighting at the dock, a stone staircase leads up to the churchyard.  The small island houses the church, a separate bell tower, and a few buildings around a central courtyard.  The buildings were built to house the provost and visiting pilgrims (now one of them has a cafe).  There wasn’t a lot of time before the next boat ride back across the lake, so I divided my time between the grounds and the interior and skipped the cafe.

Much of the frescos of the church have degraded, although some partials adorn portions of the walls, while many other walls lack color.  A glorious gold altar dominates the view when you enter and any remaining frescos are no competition to this grandeur.  As the church is dedicated to Saint Mary, she is the central figure of the altar, which stretches from floor to ceiling. Although it is easy to be drawn to the altar first, it’s a good idea to walk around the edges and see the elaborate niches before making the way forward.

 Legend says that if you ring the bell and commend yourself to Saint Mary, your wish will be granted.

In front of the alter is a long rope that descends through the ceiling.  This is connected to the wishing bell.  Legend says that if you ring the bell and commend yourself to Saint Mary, your wish will be granted.  Of course, I had to ring the bell (and no I won’t tell my wish).  Several others did the same and the chimes echoed in the otherwise silence of the island.

Too soon it was time to catch the plenta back.  Since I didn’t want to miss the ride, I went a few minutes early to the dock.  This extra time meant I could visit the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes by the Spring.  It’s a small outdoor stone chapel built at the site of a spring that flows into the lake.  While simple in comparison to the church (it’s a small statue in a stone niche), I was glad I didn’t miss it since it’s likely overlooked by most visitors.

 

Exploring the Castle & Church of Lake Bled, Slovenia photo credit: Nicolas Vollmer // Lake Bled

About Jen Walker

Jen WalkerJen Walker recently moved to Houston, Texas after a three year assignment in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has lived in five countries including France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and her native United States. Her day job as an economist helps fund her travel habit which has taken her to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. She was fortunate to find an avid travel partner when she met her husband Donald. They blog about their adventures at Team Walker Gone Global

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