Ljubljana & Lake Bled: Love at first sight!
We had saved a trip to the Dalmatian region for our last big European vacation (big because it marked our 15th wedding anniversary :P) before moving back to the states. We wanted to go there at a very specific time and we wanted to visit very specific places so it took quite a bit of planning.
It was not easy, but I think given the days we had and all the places on our wish list for this trip we were able to come up with a very productive itinerary. It was like we were playing connect the dots on a map of Dalmatia.
Connect the dots...
In the interest of saving time, and also because it just made sense to us, we decided to start from the North of Dalmatia in Slovenia, and work our way South checking off places on our list through Croatia all the way to Montenegro.
We wanted to start in Ljubljana (pronounced : Lee-ub-lee-ana)- the Slovenian capital because of its proximity to Lake Bled, a must visit on our list. However, just after some quick intial research, we realized we only had a couple of airline choices for it, and that meant the flights were not exactly cheap.
You can always fly into another city in a neighboring country and then drive to your destination, especially if you are going to need a rental car for any part of your trip anyway.
Some serious and time consuming searches later, I was able to find a very reasonable flight to Pula - a beach town in northern Croatia, very close to the Slovenian border and approximately couple of hours from its capital. Any other time of the year, a flight into Pula may not be reasonable at all, but because it was August and it is a popular beach town, we were able to get a nice deal with Easyjet that services the city in the busy Summer months only.
We arrived at Pula's small airport bright and early around 9 am and the rental car lady made for a very good first impression of Croatian people. She was so helpful, shared some insight on the fastest route and border crossing into Slovenia, and also advised us on purchasing a toll tag valid for a week from any gas station to avoid any trouble with the highway police.
After stocking up on some snacks and purchasing a toll tag we were on our way to Ljubljana. The border crossing into Slovenia at Dragonja was a breeze & took a total of 5 minutes. I guess we were so excited that it felt like the shortest 2 hour journey and right around noon were in the heart of the Slovenian Capital.
We had given ourselves about 3 hours for a nice stroll in old town Ljubljana and lunch so that we could head towards our actual destination for the day at a decent time. People think seeing a city in a day is hard, try doing it in 3 hours :P No, but really, the old town is not very big, and we were able to see all the major landmarks.
One can argue that in such limited time you only get to see a city, and not really experience it. But, hey, I'll take seeing a city over never seeing it, any day. Old town Ljubljana was such a pleasant surprise. Just as charming as you'd expect an old European town to be, inexpensive in comparison to most of other European capitals, and the people were so welcoming and tourist friendly.
The streets were lined with the weekly market vendors, and the town was so lively. It sounded and felt like a Summer day in Europe. We could not quite go up to the Ljubljana Castle, but we got to see it from the Preseren Square/Triple Bridge, which is the heart of the city, and really where all the locals like to meet.
We got to visit the Ljubljana Cathedral, and had a lovely meal in the Town Hall Square at a restaurant called Robba - great tasting central European cuisine, reasonable prices, lovely outdoor seating area in the square. On our walk back we walked along the Ljubljanica River that flows through the old town and got to see the Dragon Bridge before we made it back to our parking garage and made the move on. Three hours well spent!
Lake Bled, the real reason Slovenia made it to our list is a mere 45 minutes from the capital. So, you can easily stay in Bled and make a day trip to Ljubljana or vice versa. We preferred to stay in Bled and we were so happy we did. Even though the place is a tourist trap, it is one worth getting trapped in.
We stayed at Savica Hotel, which is a part of a huge hotel establishment that owns a lot of the nearby hotels. It's designed for families, with 2 bedroom suites, balconies with decent views, included breakfast and we felt it was fine for a short stay. If we had the luxury of more time, I would have definitely preferred to score a nice bed & breakfast instead. I say score because this place is very popular, small, and so busy that finding a decent place to stay is a struggle most times of the year.
After unwinding at the hotel for a bit, it was time to finally see what we came all the way for. It is hard to explain what it felt like when I first saw it. Having seen all the breathtaking lakes in the Canadian Rockies this past Summer, I was still taken aback by the splendor of Lake Bled. We walked up to see the deep blue waters, with the Bled Island in the middle, the Alps towering behind and magical Bled castle atop a cliff on the right. If there was ever a scene that was out of a storybook, it had to be this.
If you want to walk around the lake, I believe it is a very pleasant three to four mile walk. However, after the day we had had, we kinda just semi-circled around it, took some photos, and decided to come back to the central square in Bled with shops and eateries overlooking the lake. And, it was a good thing we did that because it started to pour soon after.
Coffee and kremšnita were in order as they should have been. Bled is an extremely romantic place and there are plenty of ritzy and romantic dinner options to choose from for those who fancy. We were more in the mood to just chill, (actually, warm up I should say :p) take in the sunset views, and eat some comfort food. Between the coffee, pizza, snacks, dessert & gelato, I think we tried pretty much all of the little vendors around. Lol. Good thing they all serve in the same seating area in the middle of the square.
The long day and all that unhealthy food definitely made us ready to pass out for the night. The short walk back up to the hotel seemed so daunting, and I am sure it helped us burn a grand total of 100 calories out of the 5000 we had just consumed. Seriously. :)
The next morning after breakfast at the hotel we went back to the lake for some more photos with well slept & happier kids and much better daylight. :D We felt rejuvenated, and ready for another action packed, driving and hiking day ahead of us!