Lake Bled is a jewel, pure and simple. Nestled between two great mountain ranges -- the Karavanke and the Julian Alps, which tumble into Slovenia from Austria and Italy, respectively -- there is something indescribably beautiful about the way in which the surface of the water changes through the day, wearing its striking turquoise facade when the sun is brightest, and maturing to a silver-blue as dusk descends. Swans swoop down over its surface, and gondolier-style oarsmen steer their pletna across the waters (transporting tourists for an outrageous fee), adding to the fairy-tale idea of the place; occasionally a fierce and noisy rowing regatta changes the energy entirely. To get a good idea of the size of the lake, and to appreciate it from every angle, walk the hour-long route around its perimeter. Adding to the drama of its setting is its darling islet forming a perfect centerpiece: You can row (or be rowed) to Bled Island (Blejski Otok), but more adventurous types like to break the "official" rules and swim to it -- an utterly invigorating exercise, this is highly recommended if you're a strong swimmer. On the island is the delightful Church of the Assumption, dedicated to both Mary the Virgin and Mary Magdalene, and built on the site where the ancestors of modern Slovenes worshipped an ancient Slavic goddess. The pagan idol was broken down in the 11th century when Slovenes were Christianized. People from all over Slovenia come here to tie the knot on Saturdays, only to discover that the tradition of carrying the bride up the 99 stairs to the church is tough (many grooms, in fact, conduct test runs before the wedding day, in order to avert an embarrassing disaster). Inside the church, look out for the frescoed reference to Christ's circumcision, a seldom-seen reminder that Jesus was Jewish. Note: If you swim to the island, you won't be able to explore the church unless you ask someone to bring a change of clothing by boat.
- © Frommer's 2013
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