‘After you’ve finished we can take a pletna out to Bled Island.’ She said smiling.
‘There’s no rush is there?’ I replied, snapping out of my reverie.
‘No, no. You savour your kremna rezina. No-one rushes at Lake Bled.’
I skewered another piece of delicate pastry on the end of my fork and gestured towards the lake.
‘So those boats are called pletnas?’
‘Yes, think of them as the gondola of Slovenia. Just like Venice, no?’
‘They’re larger than gondola’s though.’
‘They’re cheaper too.’ She laughed. ‘So a better deal all round.’
We had arrived to Lake Bled that morning. My eyes had widened as we pulled into the small parking lot next to the lake. The weather, though tempestuous in the morning, had cleared up to bask the lake and island in light. Spela, my guide, had forewarned me that the first view of the island and the castle clutching the north cliff face had a habit of stealing one’s breath away. She was right. The picturesque beauty of the place made me involuntarily gasp. I understood well the emotion the naturalist Sir Humphrey Davis felt when he proclaimed that Lake Bled was the most beautiful place he had seen in Europe, having been formed after the recession of the Bohinj glacier at the end of the Ice Age.
After I finished the divine Slovenian version of a vanilla slice, Spela and I strolled down the lake to board our vessel and nestle under the colourful canopy as we were steered out to the island. I let my hand trail in the water as the baroque Church of the Assumption, which dominated the island, became even more dazzling as we neared it. Spela, ever the walking encyclopaedia, explained – as our boat rippled across the lake – that Bled had the only natural island in Slovenia. Once we had landed, Spela grabbed my hand and pulled me along the tree-lined path to the bottom of the stone stairs leading up to the church. She turned to me, a cheeky smile stealing across her features.
‘These 99 steps leading up to the churches have special significance.’ She said. ‘Thousands of grooms have carried their fiancée up them to ensure their marriage is both long and fulfilling.’ My eyes traversed the staircase and I let out a low whistle.
‘That’s quite a feat. But what happens to the one’s who don’t make it?’
‘Oh, we don’t talk about them.’ She said with a grin. ‘Now, are you going to carry me up or what?’
‘I think you’d have a better chance of carrying me at the moment.’ I replied. ‘I can barely move after that lunch.’
Spela declined the offer by poking me teasingly in the stomach and we climbed the stairs together. The church, containing preserved fragments of frescoes depicting the life of St Mary on the walls and an impressive gold altar, was a calming place to reflect for a short period before we exited the darkened interior and re-emerged into the sunshine.
The final destination we visited was the castle that towered above the lake. After climbing the steep mountain path, we stopped to regain our breath and, shaded by the impressive turrets and parapets, gazed in awed silence at the stunning scenery that spread itself below us.
The famous Slovenian poet Prešeren called the island of Bled a Slavic Sanctuary and, as I gazed down at the lake from my vantage point on the castle wall, the beauty of the place truly did make me feel at peace.