Last September the first stop of our Classic Eastern Europe group tour was Slovenia. The day after our arrival we drove to Alpine region below the Julian Alps to the city of Bled. It was raining when we left the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana and prayed hard that it will stop to have a more comfortable and enjoyable experience in this famous resort.
God answered our prayers because right before we entered Bled, the rains stopped and the sun shone brightly.
Bled’s greatest attraction is its exquisite blue-green lake. The lake is lovely to behold from almost any vantage point. The lake is situated in a picturesque environment, surrounded by mountains and forests.
Upon arrival we walked towards the lake portion and our group took two Pletna boats to reach the island.
There are various ways to take a trip across the lake or to the island. One of them includes a trip with the traditional boat made by locals which is only known at Bled – the Pletna boat. The origins of the Pletna boat go back to the late 1500s, and its size allows safe transportation of 20 persons. You should be able to recognize it from afar as it is equipped with a colourful awning which protect passengers from the sun and other elements.
The Pletna boat is manually operated by the Pletna oarsman most of whom are good looking! Everyone can’t help but take a photo with our really handsome boatman including me!
This profession is very respected as it cannot be performed just by anyone. The title of the Pletna oarsman was handed down from generation to generation, which is why the profession of “Pletnarstvo” remained in individual families throughout the centuries.
The Pletna boat is a wooden flat-bottom boat with a pointed bow and the stern widened with a step to enable passengers to enter. The boat is propelled with the special »stehrudder« technique where the oarsman is standing and rowing with two oars.
It is said that the Pletna boat gained its name after its roof which was once wickered. The other explanation claims that the name came from the German word »plateboot«, meaning flat-bottom boat.
The Bled Lake came into existance when the Bohinj Glacier moved away. It is 2120 m long, up to 1380 m wide and it is of the tectonic origin, After the last Ice Age, the Bohinj Glacier deepend its natural tectonic hollow and gave it its present form. When the ice melted the basin was filled with water. The lake has no considerable affluents except some streams.
Slovenia has only one island but its uniqueness makes it more attractive than many an archipelago. Sheltered by picturesque mountains, the island reigns in the middle of an Alpine lake. Its charm has made it a symbol for centuries of a town to which guests from all over the world love to return. This town has already existed for a thousand years.
On the island in the middle of the lake, the ancient Slavs worshipped Živa, goddess of love and fertility. Pilgrims later came to the church of St Mary on the island. A thousand years ago, on 10 April 1004, the town of Bled was mentioned for the first time when the Holy German emperor, Henry II, gifted it to the Bishop of Brixen.
At that distant time, a Roman tower already stood at the top of the cliff rising vertically 100 m above the lake, and it still forms part of the mighty castle that now houses a museum collection. The town flourished in the Middle Ages due to pilgrims, and these were replaced in the 19th century by the first tourists. The Swiss hydropathist, Arnold Rikli, discovered that the gentle climate and the lake and thermal waters are a source of good health and well-being. The local people supplemented the health spa offer with guest houses and hotels.
The town, already famous at the beginning of the 20th century as the most beautiful health spa of the then Austrian empire, attracted the European aristocratic elite.
After WWII, one of the most attractive state residences of Marshall Tito (the former regime) is located in Bled. Many of the world’s most important people thus enjoyed the beauties of Bled. And now, for decades already, the pilgrims of the new age have been discovering this town.
The close to an hour trip by Pletna boat ends at the footsteps of the island where you need to climb 99 steps to get to the destination, the area of the Church of Assumption. Tradition still has it that the groom should carry his bride up all of the 99 steps in order to get married in the island church.
I shall discuss more about the Church and surroundings in the next post.