Lake Bled: gorge-ing on cream cakes

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Warm welcomes
The forecast for our two days in Bled was rather bleak – max temp of 15 degrees, rain and thunderstorms. In contrast to the forecast we received a warm welcome from Jani at Jazz Hostel, one of the best we’ve ever stayed in. He was full of enthusiasm, energy and passion for the local area, a recurring theme in the Slovenians we had met so far. After our VIP welcome, upgrade to a large family room (more hotel than hostel like), refuelling with an enormous pizza and armed with Jani’s recommendations we set off to explore.

View down over Lake Bled from the top viewpoint - Osojnica

View down over Lake Bled from the top viewpoint – Osojnica

Lake Bled
The path around the lake was easy to follow and offered uninterrupted views across the lake and of the island with the stunning mountain backdrop. More than halfway round we took a detour, as suggested by our host, and hiked up a steep climb to Mount Osojnica where we were rewarded with spectacular views back down across the lake.

Fun poses encouraged by Japanese tourists!

Fun poses encouraged by Japanese tourists!

With the sun peaking out from behind the clouds the emerald lake sparkled and we enjoyed taking turns posing for photos with a few Japanese hikers.

It was a steep climb!

It was a steep climb!

We pushed on to the higher viewpoint which was worth it as we had this view all to ourselves. Back down at the lake, the sun had disappeared and the clouds were getting darker. About five minutes out from our afternoon tea spot the heavens opened and as the fisherman retreated under their tents, we hurried on to the Grand Hotel Toplice.

Bled Cream Cake at Grand Hotel Toplice

Bled Cream Cake at Grand Hotel Toplice

Cream Cakes
And grand it certainly was! We retreated inside rather worse for wear after our steep climb and short drenching. The doorman was not phased by these two drowned rats and showed us to the plush dining area with floor to ceiling windows offering a lovely view out to the lake and the rain. We warmed up with coffee and a large piece of the famous Bled Cream Cake –

akin to a vanilla slice but with a bonus layer of whipped cream between the custard and top pastry layer. Absolutely devine..
That evening we took advantage of the meticulously clean, well equipped hostel kitchen (honestly, they even had sharp knives!) and eased into the backpackers lifestyle in making our own dinner – couscous and vegetables: healthy, nutritious and cheap!

Vintgar Gorge - Radovna River

Vintgar Gorge – Radovna River

Gorge-ous
Jani warned us that the weather was likely to worsen on our second day so it may be wise to consider spending the day at the local spa rather than trekking out to the gorge. Fortunately the sky seemed to have rained itself out over night and although a little overcast we thought it looked fine for the 3 hour round walk to the Vintgar Gorge. We walked out along the road passing through small, pretty Zasip, with houses with lovingly tended veggie patches bursting with fresh produce and cute window boxes bearing colourful flowers. We enjoyed our sandwiches at St Katherine’s church at the top of a steep hill with a view back over the village. It wasn’t much further down through a forest to start of the trail through the gorge. We followed the 1600m wooden walkway which criss crossed over the river which whooshed down a number of waterfalls, through rapids and occasionally settled in pools where we spotted some large fish.

Mitch and Jen at Vintgar Gorge

Mitch and Jen at Vintgar Gorg

Best of all, we hardly met any other people along the way. On Jani’s advice we’d set off after 12 and thereby avoided the crowds and tourist buses, and somehow, also the forecast rain and storms! Good British theory of carrying an umbrella all the way round to ward off the weather..

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Why are you going to Slovenia?

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This is the question we were asked numerous times by friends and family when we told them Slovenia is our first stop on our round the world trip. A lot of people confused this tiny country with Slovakia and others pondered what it had to offer.

Natural Beauty

Well my friends, Slovenia is absolutely beautiful. We landed into the national capital’s airport in Ljubljana where the runway is among green fields and close to a luscious forest.¬†Even in the capital city you are surrounded by nature with lovely parks around every corner, the river of seven names flowing through the centre of town and mountains off in the distance.

Ljubljanica river

Ljubljanica river

The country has a total population of 2 million and even in the capital (around 260,000) you get a wonderful feeling of space and calm. A welcome relief after our journey from Surrey to Stansted through central London in peak hour!

Hospitable People

We stayed with our first SERVAS hosts in Ljubljana – Maja and Tomi who lived a short bus ride out of town.

Flat with a view

Flat with a view

We found the place relatively easily (read 3 phone calls to the extremely patient Maja..) and were warmly welcomed into our new home for the next 2 nights. We spent the evening chatting to Maja about Slovenian culture and I was delighted to find she was almost as much of a foodie as me! We accepted a welcome drink of home made sour cherry schnapps for me and Williams pear schnapps for Mitch. Absolutely delicious, although the cherries were pretty potent! Dinner was a simple pasta and pesto (homemade of course with homegrown basil) and a bowl of salad in the middle to share dressed with roasted pumpkin seed oil made by one of Maja’s friends. It had a very unique flavour and I highly recommend trying it if you get the chance. Maja and Tomi make a lot of their own jams, liqueurs and sauces and what they don’t need they swap with friends for whatever treats they’ve created.

Alas Maja had not had time to make dessert but on hearing that we were wine drinkers her eyes lit up and she proceeded to take us on a tour of Slovenia as we sampled numerous wines in her collection.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

Apparently Slovenians are one of the highest consuming wine drinkers and also make some of their own great wines which aren’t wasted on exports.. But wait! Although no dessert, Maja has a selection of aged french cheeses which will go well with the wine tasting! Served with dried quinces this was the perfect finale to a wonderful dinner. Although we’d had to journey a few km’s out of town to stay with Tomi and Maja we were so pleased we did to experience such wonderful hospitality.

Food

Lunch at gostlina na gradu

Lunch at gostlina na gradu

We were also pleased to have Maja’s recommendation for lunch the following day at the cafe in the castle where we tried a typical Slovenian dish of pasta filled with potato in a lamb ragout, delicious, and kransky sausages with crispy mash and fresh horseradish.

Delicious lunch for two of traditional Slovenian food and German influenced dish (kransky 'pot' sausages with crispy fried mash and horseradish

Delicious lunch for two of traditional Slovenian food and German influenced dish (kransky ‘pot’ sausages with crispy fried mash and horseradish

Lunch came after a fantastic 2.5 hour free walking tour with Janis, a Ljubljana local and art historian who was a superb guide and shared animated stories with us about his city. The city is dominated by buildings designed by architect, Joze Plecnik, who’s designs are still be implemented today.

Dragon bridge

Dragon bridge

There are a number of lovely bridges connecting the city including the dragon bridge with impressive statues and the triple bridge from the main square.

Pink Franciscan church in main square

Pink Franciscan church in main square

We also visited the market where we sampled some local delicacies and came across a milk machine.

Market

Market

Maja had served us this fresh milk at breakfast. The milk stations arose when farmers rebelled against the supermarkets abysmal milk pricing and so they cut out the middle man.

Milk machine

Milk machine

You can take your empty bottle to a stationa and fill up with fresh milk delivered daily by the farmers, delish!

One of my favourite aspects is that the city centre is totally pedestrianised, great to stroll around with no cars.

Ljubljana old town

Ljubljana old town

Ljubljana is fairly flat so many people cycle along the many paths separated from the road. We were impressed with many cyclists skills – one woman cycling while eating an ice cream, one carrying a suitcase, a multitude with instruments strapped to their backs and one clever chap cycling along whole pushing another bike next to him!

Puppy in bike basket

Puppy in bike basket

Slovenian’s love to be outdoors and Maja told us that running, cycling and mountaineering are among their favourite sports. On walking home after our first day through Tivoli Park on the edge of the city we were also impressed by the skills of those on tightropes tied between two trees and enthusiastic paired yoga with men balancing women upside down on their feet!

For dinner the second night we had the typical fast food – bureks. This is a large pastry traditionally filled with cheese but you can also get them with meat or spinach. I preferred the spinach as the cheese was a little rich. This was followed by drinks at the riverbank (referred to as ‘the beach’ by the locals) where we enjoyed a local brew. We had to try Human Fish of which the IPA was called Combat Wombat!

Nazdravje

Nazdravje

Afterwards we went to the old army barracks which has been converted into an arts precinct which plays host to gigs and exhibitions with something different each night.

Tomorrow we’re off to Lake Bled but after just two days in Slovenia we are already loving it. Why Slovenia? It’s ridiculously scenic, it lends itself to outdoors activities, the people are generous and hospitable (and there’s not too many of them, no big crowds!) and the food and the wines are delicious. But shush, don’t tell everyone, we like the lack of tourists, send them to Slovakia or onwards to Croatia..