The wind kicks up over Lake Bled, tossing the water in sprays and small waves that slap against the side of a wooden rowboat, rocking it gently back and forth.
I am rowing toward an island in the middle of this lake at the base of Slovenia’s Alps, and I am alone. My mother, who is visiting with me, long ago abandoned all hope of reaching Bled Island because she knows the secret I am trying desperately to hide from all the rowing champs out on the lake with me today: I have absolutely no idea how to row a boat, especially this one.
It has been a vibrant, sunny day in the town of Bled, but as I make my way across the lake, the sky grows dark, turning the soft blue waters dark and rigid, filling the air with a frenzied wind.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
“Go away, F. Scott Fitzgerald,” I think to myself as the last line of the Great Gatsby echoes through my mind. We are not in the United States. We are in Slovenia, and Slovene poet France Prešeren had more uplifting thoughts to echo about the scene before me, stating there is “no nicer place than this second Eden, full of charm and grace.”
But despite my strongest efforts, and the Vila Bled lifeguard’s five-minute introduction to rowing lesson, I cannot hide from the fact that I have no idea how to row a boat. My lack of skill, along with the elements, forces my boat back toward shore, my flailed strokes fruitless.
My vision of reaching the church that sits on Bled Island’s shores slips from sight and I drift back to the dock. There is a bell in the church that is said to make wishing come true for those who ring it. But like Gatsby’s green light, the bell will forever elude me.
I don’t make it to the island or the church that day, but the day is far from spoiled. Prešeren wasn’t exaggerating when he called Bled and its lake a second Eden.
Fairytale Enchantment in Lake Bled Slovenia
Located in the Julian Alps, the glacial waters of lake Bled have been visited for centuries by pilgrims and tourists alike. Following World War II the region saw a tourism boom, and an official town was founded in 1960.
The population of 8,000 nearly doubles in the summer months when visitors come seeking to commune with nature in the picturesque surroundings.
In winter months the destination is also popular for skiers. Two-time Olympic gold medalist skier Tina Maze was born in the region, and the United States alpine and ski jump teams train here.
Cementing its image as a land of fairytales is the presence of Bled Castle. Sitting on a precipice that overlooks the lake and town below, this is the oldest castle in Slovenia, dating back more than 1,000 years.
Who needs to ring a wishing bell when one can wander these grounds and take in the sight of the majestic waters below?
My mom and I agree: Lake Bled is a beautiful, must-see destination in Europe.