It was drizzling by the time I arrived at Vintgar Gorge, but not enough to discourage me from making the hike. Truthfully, the gorge had not even been on my radar. I had taken the bus to Lake Bohinj in Slovenia‘s Triglav National Park the day before, intending to work my way back to Ljubljana via Lake Bled, stopping for a few hours in each place. But one look at Lake Bohinj, with its encircling Karst limestone towers, emerald water, and pocket beaches, and knew I had to hike around it.
I asked how long it would take to make the hike and was told two hours, three at the most. I made a quick calculation. Three hours to circle Lake Bohinj and a 20-minute bus ride back to Lake Bled would give me three or so hours to see Bled and perhaps climb to the castle before I had to catch the last bus back to Ljubljana. It was doable, if I didn’t dilly-dally.
But, as usually happens, I got sidetracked. A half-hour into my hike I came upon a small cafe with a wooden deck cantilevered out over the lake. People lounging beneath shade umbrellas and the scent of fresh-brewed coffee lured me in. Two cups of coffee and a piece of cake later, I set off again through a broad, flower-filled meadow, which soon gave way to a deep, fragrant pine forest. I walked in silence on the spongy trail, enjoying the sounds of chirping birds and gently lapping waters. On the rare occasions I met another hiker, we simply nodded, neither of us wishing to disturb the rare serenity.
Every so often the trees would part, revealing a tiny beach. I made my way down to each one, marveling at the otherworldly color of the water. Sunbathers and boaters sat quietly on the beaches closer to town, but away from settled areas the beaches were deserted. Back on the trail, I could barely go 50 feet without stopping; one gorgeous view after another demanded to be photographed.
Two hours into my hike I asked a couple traveling in the opposite direction how far it was to the little town at the other end of the lake. “Not too far,” they said. “Another hour maybe.” An hour later I asked another hiker the same question. “An hour and a half, maybe two,” they replied. The trail narrowed and began winding through giant white limestone boulders that shoved their heads through the forest floor.
When I came to a stream bed choked by boulders, the trail disappeared. To my left I thought I could discern a vague path through the forest, but it looked more like an animal trail than a human path. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I put my camera back in my bag and gingerly climbed down the boulders to the stream bed, where I picked my way across the rock-strewn stream to the opposite bank. Grabbing at tree roots, I scrambled up the opposite bank and was relieved to find the trail again.
Signs of civilization soon began to appear. At a campsite I asked for directions and learned that the village of Ukanc was just around the bend and through a meadow. More than five hours after beginning, I had hiked only two-thirds of the way around the lake. In Ukanc, I plopped down at the restaurant next to the bus stop and rewarded myself with a dinner of fresh-caught smoked trout. An examination of the map on my dinner place mat showed I’d done the best part of the trail; from Ukanc on, it followed the busy asphalt road.
Unfortunately, the time I had spent hiking meant I wouldn’t be able to see Lake Bled, but I reasoned that lesser visited Lake Bohinj was a better experience in any case, so I hopped on the bus back to Bled for my connecting bus to Ljubljana. Maybe it was the serpentine roads, or perhaps it was the very rich smoked trout, but as we approached Bled I was struck by an attack of motion sickness so severe that I had to get off the bus. Once on solid ground, the queasiness eased, but I knew there was no way I could get back on a bus that evening. I went in search of a place to stay overnight.
The following morning, feeling myself again, I threw open the drapes and stepped out onto my balcony for a view over Lake Bled, with it’s pretty Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria perched on a tiny island in the center. While waiting to check out, I was leafing through brochures and spotted one for Vintgar Gorge, where a 1.5 mile suspended wooden walkway follows the blue-green waters and rapids of Radovna River, as it carves its way through the vertical rocks of the Hom and Bort hills. As fortune would have it, the bus to the gorge stopped just across the street from my B&B, and the last bus of the day was due in 15 minutes.
It spit rain all morning, making for treacherous footing on the wooden walkways, but I was determined to make it to the end of the canyon, where I would be rewarded with a view of the largest waterfall in Slovenia and the hydroelectric plant it powers. Trying to maintain a pace that would allow me to catch the last bus of the day out of the canyon, I slipped and slid to the waterfall near the end of the trail. It was disappointing, as dry summer weather had reduced the waterfall to a small spillway, but the trip was worth it just to witness the sights in the canyon.
Back in the town of Bled I considered returning to Ljubljana early, but I hadn’t yet captured the quintessential photo of Lake Bled and its famous island, so I climbed to Bled Castle and snapped away to my heart’s content. It wasn’t the best vantage point, as the island was somewhat distant. Had I scheduled a bit more time in the area, I would certainly have visited some of the better viewpoints on Lake Bled. But the weather wasn’t cooperating, so I settled for the castle view.
Once I had taken my fill of photos, I retired to the castle cafe for coffee and a slice of Kremsnita, the cream cake for which Bled is so famous. When I finally headed back to my hotel in Ljubljana I opted for a shared van rather than a bus. It cost only a few dollars more and took half the time, bypassing all the curvy roads that the bus must take to pick up people in villages along the way.
Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, and the Vintgar Gorge are just a small sampling of Slovenia’s spectacular scenery. The entire country begs to be discovered, however those with limited time will find at least ten fascinating day trips you could take from Ljubljana, all within an hour of the capital city. Whether you rent a car, take a bus, or ride the train, Ljubljana is an ideal base from which to discover the beauty of Slovenia.