The Magical Legends of Slovenia: A Visit to Ljubljana and Lake Bled
Situated in Central Europe, Slovenia is surrounded by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, and Croatia in the east and south.
Shaped like a chicken, Slovenia’s quiet and pristine beauty with its alpine peaks, hills and valleys is like that of Switzerland. This serene nation was one of the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia until 1991.
Besides its beautiful landscape, Slovenia is a clean, modern and safe country where you will find electric cars and their charging stations powered by renewable energy; self-service bicycle hiring stations where one can rent a bicycle by entering your email address and credit card number; and fresh milk vending machines!
With a population of just 2 million people, Slovenia has many magical legends that will appeal to the child at heart.
According to a Slovenian folktale, four or five thousand years ago, Ljubljana (Slovenia’s Capital City) was home to a ferocious dragon which forbade local dwellers to settle on its territory. One winter, Prince Jason of ancient Greece and his men—the Argonauts— visited the marshy shore along the Ljubljanica river and came to know about this frightful dragon.
Prince Jason dueled and slayed the evil dragon, to the joy of the people. After the dragon’s defeat, a settlement began to form around Ljubljana.
Today, this enormous legendary winged creature—the dragon—is the emblem of Ljubljana. The iconic Dragon Bridge over the river Ljubljanica bears four giant green dragon statues. The bridge is one of the oldest reinforced concrete arch bridges in Europe, and is designed in the Vienna Secession style.
Apart from the legend of the dragon, Ljubljana has many things to offer. Just a stone’s throw away from Dragon Bridge is Ljubljana’s Central Market—Glavna Tržnica. Every day except Sunday, local farmers and merchants sell their harvested goods and products at this vibrant, open air market. Stretching from the Triple Bridge to Dragon Bridge, you can find everything from fruits, flowers, cheese, meat, vegetables, honey, textiles, footwear, table cloths, handmade crafts and souvenirs, to furniture.
For tourists, Ljubljana’s Central Market is an excellent place for a glimpse into Slovenian lifestyle and for a taste of Slovenian cuisine. Some must-try Slovenian delicacies include Karst prosciutto (ham) and traditional potica cake (a yeast bread roll filled with walnut and cinnamon).
To my surprise and delight, I found vending machines selling fresh milk, yoghurt and cheese near the Central market. Out of curiosity, I bought a bottle of fresh milk from this automated milk machine known as the Mlekomat. This smart machine dispenses non-homogenised, non-pasteurised milk from cows that are not given any antibiotics.
The raw milk is supplied by farmers in a nearby alpine dairy farm, and a fresh batch is placed in the vending machine every morning. I must say it tastes absolutely organic, healthy, and delicious!
While roaming around Ljubljana Town Square (Gradski trg), chocolate lovers should not miss the famous Slovenia chocolate shop—Cukrcek. Situated at Mestni trg 11, 1000 Ljubljana, this Slovenian family business has been hand-crafting top-quality chocolates for 15 years. Entering Cukrcek is like entering heaven for chocolate lovers. Indulge in the popular Slovenian Sea Salt Chocolates, or immerse yourself in a world of handbags, shoes and cars—all hand-made using chocolates!
The crystal blue-green Lake Bled is the Jewel of Slovenia. This most popular tourist attraction in Slovenia overlooks the Julian and Karavankas Alps, as well as the handsome Bled Castle—a medieval castle of 1000 years and the oldest in Slovenia. The serene panorama takes your breath away—the view with the castle in the distance looks like a scene from a fairy tale.
Behind this glacial lake, there is a beautiful yet forlorn legend to be told.
Once upon a time, the lake was a fertile valley filled with green pastures. And in the middle of the valley, there was a hill formed by a rock cliff. Fairies loved to gather around the rock cliff to dance. But the fairies’ peaceful territory was intruded on by the shepherds, who brought their sheep to the fairies’ meadow to graze.
The fairies were upset and they warned the shepherds to leave, but the shepherds ignored the warning. As a result, the fairies called water down from the mountain to flood the valley and form a lake. All that remained to be seen of the meadow was the tip of the rock cliff (the fairy rock). The fairy rock that remains visible is said to be Bled Island—the tiny island in the middle of Lake Bled.
Legends aside, the geographical formation of Lake Bled was due to the last glaciations 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. As the glaciers retreated, the lakes appeared.
A visit to Bled Island is a must-do for travellers. The small island can be reached by pletna—a wooden rowboat. The ride to Bled Island is a relaxing one, where one can bask in the tranquil atmosphere.
Similar to Venice, the profession of pletna oarsman is a respected one handed down from father to son. For centuries, the “pletnarstvo” (pletna oarsman) profession has been passed down within individual families.
Climb the 99 steps (some say 100 steps) on this tiny island to ring the Wishing Bell at the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church—a Gothic-style Church with a dignified bell tower.
If you are lucky enough, you can witness a wedding taking place on this magical island. It is a tradition for the groom to carry the bride up the 99 stairs for a happy marriage!