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Mountains rise up high and snowy behind a red-roofed castle on a cliff, while a lake glitters dark blue below, reflecting the stormy clouds in the sky. Out of the angry rippled water peeks a small wooded island with a church nestled in between the trees. Remnants of fall still cling to the trees, although strong gusts of wind are in the process of scattering the colourful leaves to the ground. Everything is quiet, the stormy cold weather has driven locals, as well as the last lingering visitors of an otherwise busy tourist town inside. I’m in Bled, Slovenia, far away from the big and bustling European cities, and I’m about to go back to nature.
I hug my jacket closer, tie the colourful strings of a borrowed Peruvian hat below my chin and then stuff my gloved hands back in my pockets, as I trudge resolutely forward in my heavy hiking boots. I look like an overstuffed dwarf, but it keeps me warm and probably adds some weight, as strong winds threaten to blow me off the path into the adjoining fields.
My goal is the Vintgar Gorge, about 4km away from Bled and – so I’ve heard – a natural wonder that shouldn’t be missed. Since busses have stopped running weeks ago, I have no other option than to walk. Apart from a horse, a less than friendly barking dog and the occasional passing car, I see no one. Even the little hut, where one usually pays the fee to enter the national park, is empty and boarded up.
The trees around me bend in the wind, and somewhere in my mind I recall a warning, uttered by my parents long ago, that entering a forest during heavy winds isn’t really the wisest thing to do. I shrug, ignoring the abandoned hut, glad that I have somehow avoided the entry fee, and decide to just follow the indicated path, a wooden walkway that winds its way along the edge of the water.
As soon as I have to start fighting my way through waist-high piles of dead leaves and catch two workers doing winter repairs looking at me like they saw a ghost, it dawns on me, that the park might have been closed. But heck, I don’t care, I like having the place to myself. The gorge is as beautiful as promised, with vibrant green-blue water, rushing waterfalls, timbered bridges, narrow paths and high cliffs. And fighting the huge piles of leaves is kind of fun, although dangerous – a tumble into the cold water is only a wrong step away.
After my hike through the gorge, I decide to walk back to Bled and do a lap around the lake. Many articles have been written about Lake Bled, the most popular tourist attraction in Slovenia, and it’s beauty. Bled and the surrounding landscape truly look like it has just been plucked out of one of those sappy fairy tales. Without boring you with more cheesy poetry – the place is pretty damn spectacular.
Most of the popular activities, such as renting a rowboat, kayaking, paragliding or swimming obviously have already closed down. This leaves me, a visitor in the off-season, with not much else to do than walking and gawking. But really, you don’t need much else. The walk around the lake is another 6km stroll through the beauty that is the Slovenian landscape. Only a few ducks are out and about, their heads tucked under their wings, braving the weather by sleeping soundly. The wind keeps blowing heavily, but luckily the weather holds and only a few stray raindrops fall from the sky.
This is where I stop talking and let you enjoy some of the beautiful images that resulted from a day of trespassing and hiking around the Slovenian landscape: