Slovenia is so small and its capital so centrally located that many visitors simply stay in Ljubljana and take day trips to a handful of the country’s top tourist destinations. Without a young child, we might have done the same, but with Munchkin in tow not only did we want to minimize drive times but we also wanted to be on our own schedule. We rented a car, mapped out a one-week loop that hit pretty much all of Slovenia’s highlights, and headed for the Julian Alps.
Our first stop was Lake Bled, which is, much like the rest of the country, small and incredibly scenic. Munchkin had fallen asleep during the car ride and was still snoring softly when we arrived at our little pension, which overlooked the lake and offered views of Bled Castle. We transferred Munchkin from the car to the stroller and set off for a walk along the lakeshore, which is about 4 kilometers around.
Bled is Slovenia’s most popular resort, but water sports and good hiking opportunities in the surrounding area also attract plenty of outdoor enthusiasts. We found it to be the perfect place to visit with a small child — we planned on walking around the lake anyway, so we managed to kill two birds with one stone by incorporating Munchkin’s nap into our sightseeing plans. At first, S thought we would just go for a brief stroll and then return to the hotel when Munchkin awoke, but the waterfront was less than ten minutes from our pension, and once we started walking it somehow made sense to just keep going, especially since after a while we were no longer sure whether we had passed the halfway point.
There is a small island in one corner of the lake, with an old stone staircase that rises right out of the water and leads up to a picturesque little church. Visiting in early September, we did not see any wedding parties, but during the summer Bled is a very popular marriage destination. Tradition holds that it is good luck for the groom to carry his bride up the 98 steps leading to the church and make a wish inside while ringing the church bells. Though there were no blushing brides or fatigued bridegrooms, the church bells resounded almost non-stop, as visitor after visitor tugged on the bell rope in the hopes of receiving a little bit of this fabled good luck.
Originally, we had planned to take a pletna out to the island, a ride in one of these Slovenian gondolas being one of the most emblematic experiences of visiting Lake Bled. However, when we were halfway around the lake — at the point on the lakeshore that was closest to the island — D saw swan-shaped rowboats for rent and suggested we paddle across ourselves.
It took some convincing for S to agree to tack on another hour to our impromptu hike around the lake, but D ultimately prevailed by promising to do all the rowing. Munchkin also seemed distressed by the idea of having to wear an ill-fitting life preserver and wailed the entire ten-minute ride to the island. We were thankful we did rent the rowboat, however. We enjoyed gorgeous blue skies all afternoon, but a heavy wind swooped in by the evening, and the powerful thunderstorm that rocked Bled that night lasted well into the next day. With several other activities on our agenda, including a visit to Bled castle, which offers great panoramic views over the lake and surrounding countryside, and a hike in the nearby Vintgar gorge, in all likelihood we would not have had the chance to visit the island otherwise.