A taste of cream cake and Alpine ad­ven­ture

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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY -

DO you fancy an en­chant­ing day and mem­o­rable af­ter­noon tea? Then the pic­ture-per­fect Alpine town of Bled in Slove­nia, also known for its de­lec­ta­ble cream cake, is the place to visit.

About 50km from the cap­i­tal city, Ljubl­jana, this gem to the north­west of t h e J u l i a n A l p s o f f e r s magni f i c e n t scenery. Es­tab­lished around a glacial lake with Slove­nia’s only nat­u­ral is­land, the beau­ties of Bled – and its famed con­fec­tionery, – have been en­joyed by many prom­i­nent peo­ple from across the world.

A lit­tle like the Slovenes, this cake is care­fully lay­ered, sweet, yet not over­pow­er­ing. Creamy cus­tard and vanilla flavours are sup­ported by leaves of flaky pas­try, and the top is dusted with a gen­er­ous layer of ic­ing sugar. It is avail­able in nearly ev­ery patis­serie, cof­fee house and res­tau­rant in Bled.

The cof­fee in Bled is also par­tic­u­larly good, so start the day with the lo­cals at one of the wel­com­ing cof­fee houses that of­fer a view of the lake. One can’t help but ad­mire a prom­i­nent cen­turiesold church near the l ake shore, half hid­den in the green­ery of the abun­dant nat­u­ral forests, and the steep-roofed wooden homes with gera­ni­ums bril­liantly cas­cad­ing from their bal­conies.

Head out over the sap­phire-blue wat e r s t o B l e d I s l a nd o n a f e r r y, a wooden to visit the beau­ti­ful Baroque-style Pil­grim­age Church of the As­sump­tion of Mary. Once a des­ti­na­tion for pa­gan wor­shipers, the is­land has be­come a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion and is a favoured venue for cou­ples wish­ing to t i e t he k not i n a r omantic f as hi on. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, those who ring the 476-year-old wish­ing bell, set above the church nave, are blessed with good luck.

On re­turn­ing to shore, a 20-minute hike – or a five-minute drive – will take you to a once-mighty cas­tle, dra­mat­i­cally perched on the 130m rocky cliffs that tower over the lake. The old­est fortress in Slove­nia and once the res­i­dence of the Bish­ops of Bixen, Bled Cas­tle of­fers spec­tac­u­lar 360-de­gree views of the area.

Be sure to visit the mu­seum sec­tion, as well as the print­ing works, which are set up in an old prison cell flanked by in­tim­i­dat­ing me­dieval weapons of war. See a mas­ter printer – a pro­fes­sion that once re­quired seven years of train­ing – de mon­str a t e t h e o r i gi n a l pr i n t i n g process us­ing a replica of Guten­berg’s wooden print­ing press, blocks and lead letters. Also sam­ple top-qual­ity wines in the cas­tle cel­lar and see how Fran­cis­can monks used to bot­tle wine from oak bar­rels. Fill your own wine bot­tle, and cork and wax it for a great sou­venir.

To dip i nto more r ecent his­tor y, make your next stop the im­pres­sive Ho­tel Vila Bled, once the sum­mer res­i­dence of f ormer Yu­gosla­vian l eader Mar­shall Josip Broz Tito. Cuban cigars in­ti­mat­ing the late con­tro­ver­sial dic­ta­tor’s flashy life­style re­main on dis­play in glass cab­i­nets. Ask t he ho­tel s t af f ’s per­mis­sion to peek into Tito’s most fre­quented quar­ters for a fur­ther glimpse into his life.

Nowa­days, you’re also likely to find heads of state and other dig­ni­taries at the Grand Ho­tel To­plice. Set on the edge of Lake Bled, this five-star es­tab­lish­ment has one of the town’s three ther­mal swim­ming pools, its own pri­vate beach and of­fers a host of well­ness ser­vices. Here, a night for two in a dou­ble room with a lake view can set one back €215 out of sea­son or €240 in sea­son.

With the in­flu­ence of neigh­bour­ing I taly ev­i­dent i n l ocal menus, opt for pasta and en­joy lunch on the ho­tel pa­tio over­look­ing the lake. Al­ter­na­tively, or­der from a lo­cal res­tau­rant a thin-based pizza, topped with freshly gath­ered fores t mush­rooms, a nd pi c ni c on t he grassy banks of the lake. Chil­dren, es­pe­cially, will de­light in feed­ing the swans and tak­ing a dip in the clean, clear wa­ter.

Feel­ing re­freshed, head off for about 3.5km in the di­rec­tion of Pod­hom vil­lage to ex­pe­ri­ence one of the most amaz­ing nat­u­ral fea­tures in Slove­nia – Vint­gar gorge. A se­cure wooden board­walk hug­ging the for­est-clad sides of the gorge of­fers a soul-stir­ring, easy 1.6km walk along­side the gush­ing Radovna River, end­ing at the de­light­ful 26m wa­ter­fall.

Turn back at the wa­ter­fall and re­turn on the same trail or carry on, pro­ceed­ing to the chapel of St Cather­ine above Zasip. This walk of­fers ex­cel­lent views of the Kar­a­vanke moun­tains, Dolina, Bled and the coun­try’s high­est peak, Mount Triglav, as it leads back to Bled via Zasip.

Hav­ing seen some of the coun­try­side and ex­pe­ri­enced the friend­li­ness of the lo­cals, vis­i­tors may be eas­ily per­suaded to stay longer in Bled and ex­plore other ar eas, s uch as t he nearby val l ey of Bo­hinj. This area, dom­i­nated by Slove­nia’s largest glacial lake, is con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful ar­eas in the heart of the Ju­lian Alps and in Triglav Na­tional Park.

Oth­er­wise pro­ceed to Ljubl­jana, the quaint cap­i­tal of Slove­nia, the per­fect base from which to set out on day trips to other parts of this spec­tac­u­lar, clean, green and safe land in south cen­tral Europe.

Slove­nia is well po­si­tioned to be­come a top tourist des­ti­na­tion, es­pe­cially since join­ing the Schen­gen visa area, mak­ing it rel­a­tively easy for South Africans to visit.

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