Inside the Walls of Bled Castle
The sight of swirling table napkins and sound of breaking crystal goblets didn’t bode well for our open air mid-day meal. As the waiters chased after the airborne peach linen napkins, it occurred to me that the sudden change in weather was a bad omen.
It was a bad omen because this was my once in a lifetime opportunity to dine alfresco under the stone gazebo on the terrace of Bled Castle, one of Slovenia’s oldest medieval fortresses. The Castle, perched on top of a 130 meter (426 feet) cliff overlooking the emerald green waters of Lake Bled, was a top 200 candidate for New 7 Wonders of Nature. The nearly ten centuries old Castle, one of Slovenia’s top tourist attractions, was first explicitly mentioned in a 1011 donation deed when German King Henry II awarded the castle on the cliff (castellum Veldes, the Germaa
While my group waited for our tables to be prepared, we were entertained with a highly ceremonial demonstration of champagne sabering, the art of opening a bottle of champagne without twisting the cork. In the few minutes it took for the ceremony and champagne tasting, high wind gusts brought an end to the outdoor luncheon plans.
During the delay needed to move the luncheon indoors, I took a self-guided tour of the castle complex. Our group had entered the complex from the parking lot by walking through a Gothic stone arch then up a rather steep stone paved path over a wooden drawbridge and now filled-in moat to the lower of the two courtyards. The two courtyards are connected by access staircases.
The Romanesque fortification is protected by an outer defense wall around the lower courtyard. On this level, formerly the site of castle outbuildings, I found a well cut into live rock and originally used for collecting rain water. The well is ten to twelve meters deep. I also found a small café and souvenir shop.
In search of personalized souvenirs, I visited the castle print shop and the wine cellar. The print shop has a reconstructed Gutenberg wooden printing press. Under the careful tutelage of the resident master printer, visitors can print a castle memorial certificate on hand-made paper using blocks and lead letters.
After tasting some of Slovenia’s top-quality wines in the wine cellar and seeing one of the monks demonstrate the bottling of wine from oak barrels, visitors can personally fill a bottle as a souvenir then cork it and wax it. It comes with a certificate of authenticity.
On the upper level are cylindrical towers with red cone-shaped brick roofs, the Bled Castle Restaurant where we would eventually dine, a 16th century chapel, museum, stone gazebo, and paved viewing terrace.
Over the waist high wall on this level, I had an unforgettable view of the lake, a bird’s eye view of Bled Island, the only island in all of Slovenia, the town of Bled as well as the lower courtyard and, in the distance, the Julian Alps and Gorenjska region near the Austria and Italy borders. With this magnificent view, I can certainly understand why Bled Castle is so popular for engagement and wedding parties.
The Bled Castle Museum houses a permanent exhibition by the Slovenian National Museum. The museum and alter, formerly part of the residential quarters, houses paintings of the Bled estate donors, ancient history displays of Bled, period furnishings and a variety of artifacts discovered on the complex grounds.
At the conclusion of my self-guided tour, tables were ready for the group luncheon. The long table was situated in front of a full wall window and beautifully set with the same peach table linen and crystal goblets I’d seen on the outdoor table. Locally grown ingredients for the main course were fresh and delicious and accompanied by two Slovenian wines. The wait staff was attentive and succeeded in making me feel like a true royal.
The highlight of the meal was a serving of Cream Cake, one of the symbols of Bled. The golden crispy crust is made from butter dough and filled with vanilla cream then topped with whipped cream and a crispy layer of butter dough and a dusting of icing sugar. Although cream cakes are sold elsewhere, Bled lays claims to making the best in the country. The entire meal was fit for a queen, but for me, the cream cake was the pièce de résistance.
Getting there - By train from Ljubljana, get off at the Lesce Bled station then walk or take a taxi to Bled Castle. The castle is open to visitors year round with limited hours in the colder months. Entrance fee is about 6 euro.