Lakes, Wine and Wild Flowers
I have been invited by Inghams to explore Slovenia in central Europe.
We are to experience the Lakes, sample wines from this famous wine growing area and visit the International Wild Flower Festival. I will also get a chance to visit The European Green Capital for 2016 – Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Lucky me.
We fly direct from Gatwick to Ljubljana with Adria Airways which was a joy in itself. This comfortable airline reminded me how luxurious travel used to feel. Only a short flying time of 2hrs 5 mins and we are met by our Inghams guide, Marko, who is proudly going to show us a little of his country.
Most people below the age of 40 in Slovenia, speak English. Slovenia peacefully broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, joined the EU and now uses the Euro as its currency.
It is only a ½ hour transfer to Lake Bled and we are immediately transported into alpine villages and meadows filled with wild flowers. Sitting snugly at the base of the Julian Alps, Lake Bled can only be described as chocolate box beautiful. The surrounding mountains and spruce trees are mirrored in the lake and seemingly floating in the centre, is the only island in Slovenia. Bled island.
The 4*Hotel Golf is to be our base for two nights. It is well positioned above the lake with easy access down to the cafes and restaurants hugging the shore below. Rooms are spacious and clean with balconies. Tea & coffee making facilities and free water are not on offer in the rooms, but there are mini bars. If those Silver Traveller hips grind a little, be aware that the showers are over baths and this might require a little agility.
Summer time in the Julian Alps attracts, walkers, cyclists, joggers and nature lovers. Marko, who is fluent in 5 languages and a mine of information with good humour, is taking us to visit Tito’s Villa. Now a government owned hotel and a real period piece. Tito’s cinema room sports chandeliers and murals depicting the Socialist ideology which no doubt impressed visiting VIPs.
A ‘must do’ trip is to be taken by boat to Bled Island. It was Empress Maria Therese of Habsburg back in the 18thC who granted 20 local lake side families the licence to row pilgrims back and forth to the Island. Boatmen, who owned poor agricultural land, could supplement their incomes and these families cunningly have a monopoly on roadside farmhouse accommodation on the pilgrim route to this day.
Pilgrims came seeking blessings first from pagan Gods and later from the Mother of God church on the same site. Our boatman rows us over on his Pletna boat and we now have to climb 100 steps to view the Baroque decoration and ring the bell. Marriages are very popular here in this idyllic setting and tradition says that the groom should carry his bride up the 100 steps. Marko tells us that sometimes, determined brides, carry the groom! If you pull the bell and it rings 3 times your wishes will be granted, I wished for more breath.
Snow melts and mountains, mean waterfalls and gorges. Vintgar Gorge cuts deep between the hills. The boarded Tourist Trail allows us to take an exhilarating walk alongside the waterfalls, rapids and swirling pot holes with steep beech forest above us.
All this outdoor activity had given us an appetite and during our stay we enjoy an evening meal at Villa Preseren where my fellow travellers praised the fish dishes and I enjoyed the local hearty meat based mountain food. When we left the restaurant after supper, we saw Castle Bled above us, lit up and looking every bit like a Disney fairy castle. Mr Jaka Azerman, Director of the local tourist board, said “We live in paradise here”. I agree with him.
The next evening Marko had a treat in store for us. Dinner on the terrace of Castle Bled. The food was exquisite with garlic soup, chicken and truffle sauce, a different wine with each course and desserts to throw the most strong willed into a quandary. Wine buffs tantalised their noses with the local Slovenian wines. I just enjoyed the taste! The younger members of our group declared this was The Proposal venue. It is indeed the most romantic spot I have seen.
I love finding out how people live in different countries and so wandered off to look around a local village. Photographers and artists will feel their creativity tingle walking past alpine farm houses with neatly stacked wood piles and hay racks. Just above the village you reach open pasturelands full of wild flowers and looking like an impressionists painting. It is a beautiful part of the world.
The centre of the International Wild Flower Festival is hosted annually in Lake Bohinj which is in the middle of the Triglav National Park. We will leave Lake Bled and travel an hour south for this experience.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams Lakes & Mountains