Bled - much more than a postcard town
Bled, 3 June - Bled is one of the first things that comes to mind for most foreigners when they think of Slovenia. But the idyllic town surrounding an Alpine lake with an island and an ancient castle perched on top of a cliff high above the water is much more than a scenic tourist destination.
Many Slovenians would argue that the best thing in Bled is the cream cake, a popular puff pastry with custard and cream filling, or that it is the perfect wedding destination. But many would also say that it is too touristy, too crowded and too expensive.
Yet most of them will tell you that the iconic image of the old church on Slovenia's only island - perched in the north end of the lake - has become a national symbol. Especially when accompanied by Oberkrainer-style music, pioneered by the world-famous Slavko Avsenik (1929-2015), who hailed from a village near Bled.
Not far from Bled is the birthplace of France Prešeren (1800-1849), whom Slovenians honour as their greatest poet and whose poem A Toast they chose for their national anthem.
The poet wrote one of the most important Slovenian epics. The Baptism at the Savica, dedicated to the conversion of pagan Slavs to Christianity, is set at the Savica waterfall above Lake Bohinj, another popular Alpine destination near Bled.
The picturesque lake developed into a health retreat in the mid-19th century and by the early 20th century became the summer residence of the Yugoslav royal family, the Karadžordževićs.
The royal summer residence was demolished at the start of WWII and the villa built in its place later served as the residence for Yugoslav leader Josip Broz - Tito (1892-1980).
Locals tell many stories from the times Tito spent at the lakeside villa - that he sometimes snuck from the compound without his security detail to spend the evening at a pub, or how local school children were brought out to line the streets and wave flags whenever a foreign dignitary arrived in town.
Before developing into a tourist destination in the 19th century, Bled served not as a retreat but more of a refuge.
It provided shelter for the man who wrote the first printed book in the Slovenian language and is held in high esteem by Slovenians. The most prominent Slovenian Reformist, Primož Trubar (1508-1586), stayed at Bled Castle in 1561 on his way to Germany as he was fleeing Catholic persecution.