Want a fairytale experience full of medieval castles, charming bell towers and cozy town squares? Slovenia’s storybook magic is captured in two small but gorgeous towns — Bled and Piran.
by Maydaa Abo El-Nadar
There is something of a fairytale in this tiny yet proud country of Slovenia. This summer although I spent a very enjoyable two weeks in Ljubljana, the capital, I mainly went to Slovenia to visit Bled, a resort town on the glacial Lake Bled at the foothills of the Julian Alps.
You can reach Bled by bus from Ljubljana, which takes about an hour and a half. I travelled there with my Slovak friend, and once we arrived I immediately felt like I had stepped into a fairytale — the medieval Bled Castle stands proud on a precipice above the city and the lake surrounded us everywhere.
We bought a ticket to visit the castle and climbed up to catch a panoramic view of the town. After snapping some photographs we visited a museum which relates the history of Bled. Established in Mesolithic times, the present-day town formed about 600 AD when the Slavs settled the Eastern Alps.
The town, famed in Slovenia for its vanilla and cream pastry, is known for the glacial Lake Bled and the castle — which is a major tourist attraction. In a book at the museum, I spotted a photo of former Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat, who had once visited the island.
After browsing the museum, we took a break to taste the delicious vanilla and cream pastry known in Slovenian as kremsnita. Part of the fairytale experience was stepping into a tiny honey shop decorated with honeycomb, offering dozens of varieties of natural honey. I bought a jar of ginger honey and a candle made from honeycomb.
We later visited Bled Island, which you can reach by a wooden boat and a kind man will row it for you. You can also jump into a canoe with three others where you all row. Aside from being cheaper, my friend and I opted to take the canoe because we wanted to experience rowing. We found two people — Danish sisters — to complete a set for the canoe trip and continue our fairytale. I was not surprised how this little town attracted this number of different nationalities!
We then reached the island and visited the Church of the Assumption, which crowns it. We walked along the island to contemplate its beauty. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Baroque church has a long history, while the island also includes a bell tower, small hermitage and chaplain’s house. In ancient times, when polytheism prevailed, the island housed a temple to the pagan goddess of love Ziva. The ancient temple, built by Slavs, was later replaced with the church.
After a quick drink and a snack, we rowed back to the shore, where we had a walk and sat down to rest. We were starving after such a long day, and bought two meals from the nearby food stands. We ended the day by enjoying our dinner overlooking the landscape of the lake.
On the second day, my Slovak friend and I were joined by another friend who wanted to visit a coastal city. I suggested the town of Piran, known for its picturesque medieval architecture and its narrow alleys. Called a “pearl of the Slovenian Mediterranean,” the town is considered one of the country’s oldest. I call it a mini Venice for its architecture. Indeed, until the mid-20th century, Italian was the dominant language here and the town was part of the Republic of Venice from 1283 to 1797.
We spent the day at the beach enjoying the crystal water, then we climbed to the top of the bell tower at St. George’s Parish Church which offers an amazing view of the entire town and the harbor. The church was built in the Venetian Renaissance architectural style by Venetian stonemason Bonfante Torre. The bell tower is a faithful replica of St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.
We walked back to the town and rested at Tartini Square, named after composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini. From where we sat eating our lunch and ice cream, we had a view of the Sergej Masera Maritime Museum, dedicated to Slovenian naval history, maritime tradition and salt-making.
If you have more time in Piran, I recommend the Secovlje Salt Flats Regional Park, the northernmost salt flats in the Mediterranean. Visitors can attempt the difficult task of collecting salt, which is difficult but enjoyable. Or take a boat to see the Saltworks Museum, which shows the traditional medieval method of making salt and also gives you a view of a traditional salt-maker’s house.
Whether it’s a medieval castle perched on a precipice at Bled or a Venetian-style bell tower at Piran that offers spectacular views of the entire town, these two charming small towns in Slovenia offer a fairytale experience.
There are no direct flights from Cairo to Ljubljana, but a number of connecting flights are offered by EgyptAir, Adria Airways and Austrian, Turkish and Swiss Airlines.