Bled Island is a picturesque spot on Lake Bled with famous 99 baroque steps leading to the island’s upper part with historic buildings. One of them is a church dedicated to Mary where you can ring a wishing bell.
Despite its smallness, Bled Island is a place that has many stories connected to it and has been visited by people of different paths: pilgrims, happy couples who just got married there, curious tourists from all over the world…
Island dedicated to Slavic goddess
Many years ago Bled Island was home to a pagan temple dedicated to Živa, Slavic goddess of life and fertility. The temple was guarded by a young woman named Bogomila, and her father.
Beautiful Bogomila was in love with Črtomir, a heroic leader of pagan Slavs who fought against Christians.
The poem ends with the defeat of the pagan Slavs who then converted to Christianity, including their leader Črtomir who was baptised by Savica Waterfall near Bohinj Lake.
Bogomila is one of the characters from the poem “The Baptism at the Savica” written by a famous Slovenian poet France Prešeren.
Famous pilgrimage site
While the love story between Bogomila and Črtomir is the result of the poet’s imagination, the existence of the Slavic temple is not.
Archaeologists found out that there was a temple dating to Early Medieval Ages on the island, possibly built by pagan Slavs to worship their goddess of life and fertility.
However, Bled Island that is the only natural island on the lake in Slovenia is today crowned with a baroque church, dedicated to Mary.
That church stands on the site that used to be occupied by an ancient church building which was often rebuilt and enlarged.
First visitors that came in larger numbers to the island were pilgrims during the 19th century. They reached the island on pletna boats.
Pletna is a wooden boat traditional for Lake Bled, being operated by ‘pletnar’, a man who has inherited the right to row a pletna boat.
Relive the journey of the pilgrims and try Slovenian festive cake
If you wish to relive the journey of the first pilgrims to the island, you can get on one of the pletna boats, waiting at the dock. One way journey with iconic pletna (that can carry up to 20 people at once) to the island takes around 15 minutes.
If you are a photographer wishing to take photos of Bled Island while on pletna, I would suggest you to sit the closest to the bow of the pletna boat.
When you arrive on the island, climb up the 99 baroque steps to reach the upper part of the island. However, if you count the steps, you will only come to 98, because the 99th step is hidden in the water!
While walking up the famous 99 steps (well, 98) that illustrate our everyday life with ups and downs, be aware of the fig tree on your left side (it is very unusual to grow fig trees in the northwest of Slovenia).
The fig tree grows below the first building called ‘Sexton’s House’ that you will see when climbing to the island’s upper part. The figs from this tree end up in potica, Slovenian festive cake that they bake on the island.
If you wish to taste this festive cake that comes in different variations with different fillings, including walnut and poppy, you can do that in ‘Potičnica’.
Potičnica is a sweet and souvenir shop that is attached to the Sexton’s House. You can also have coffee or tea there, or treat yourself with a delicious ice-cream!
The island's church
But before having sweet treats, take a look inside the charming church of Mary. Together with the separate bell tower, this Catholic church is the central feature on Bled Island. You can climb to the top of the bell tower and enjoy the view of Lake Bled and its surroundings.
Unlike the first pilgrims who came to the island’s church to pay tribute to Mary and pray for an abundant harvest, today’s visitors go there mostly for two reasons: either they will get married there or ring the wishing bell.
Bled Island is nowadays a popular destination wedding location. It is possible to have Catholic, Protestant or even civil wedding ceremonies in the island’s church.
It is a custom that before they get married in St. Mary’s church, the groom carries the bride up the 99 steps that are situated on the southern part of the island.
Make a wish while ringing the bell
As soon as you enter the island’s church, you will see a long rope hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the church. You need to pull the rope three times to ring the wishing bell.
The wishing bell from the island’s church that was cast at the beginning of the 16th century in Padua, Italy appears in one of the most popular legends.
According to this legend, Bled Castle was once home to a young widow named Poliksena. Her husband was killed by bandits. Poliksena often prayed in the island’s chapel and one day she decided to collect all her gold and silver belongings and exchange them for a bell that would be placed into the chapel.
However, despite the good intention, her bell did not arrive on the island. The boat carrying the bell sunk in a violent storm on Lake Bled.
After that accident, Poliksena sold all her belongings and donated all the money for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled for Rome where she entered a monastery.
After Poliksena passed away, the pope of Vatican sent a new bell to the island’s church. And those who ring that bell three times will be granted a wish.
The legend also says that it is sometimes possible to hear the sunken bell ring from the depth of the lake.
Green island with historic buildings
Bled Island is covered with green trees and bushes. It is thus a pleasant place to have a walk, especially during warm summer months (June-August).
However, that is also the time when the largest numbers of people visit the island. During those months it could be crowded there, so a bit of patience may help you cope with the waiting.
Besides the church and the bell tower, there are other historic buildings on the island. In front of them is a picturesque courtyard with wooden benches where you can sit and watch people pass by.
The island’s upper part is connected with the lower part with two stone staircases, the famous baroque staircase with 99 steps in the south and another, narrower one with fewer steps (78 steps), in the north of the island.
If you are interested in history, culture and enjoy walking in nature, then you will take pleasure in sightseeing this charismatic island on Lake Bled. I would recommend you to take half a day for exploring it at your own pace.
Just do not forget — the last pletna boat leaves the island for the lakeshore between 7 pm and 8 pm (depending on the time of the year). Check the pletna schedule with one of the pletnars to make sure that you do not stay on the island overnight!
- PRACTICAL INFORMATION -
LOCATION: Bled Island (Blejski otok) is located on the western part of Lake Bled.
GET ON: You can get to Bled Island either by pletna boat, rent a boat or an electric boat (hydrobus).
ELECTRIC BOAT – HYDROBUS: Electric boat runs at fixed hours from the dock called Kazina that lies below the building with Café Park and Casino Bled. The boat is called ‘Črtomir‘ (after a heroic leader of pagan Slavs from the poem). The return ticket costs 12 EUR.
RENT A BOAT: You can also rent a wooden boat for one hour or more and row to the island by yourself. You will find several agencies that rent out boats by the lakeshore.
GET AROUND: Bled Island is small — it measures around 2 acres — you can just explore it on foot. It is possible to walk around the island. The walking path runs by the lake, so you will have a great view while strolling around.
To reach St. Mary’s church and other attractions on the upper part of the island, you will need to climb up one of the two staircases.
ENTRY FEE: There is an entry fee for St. Mary’s church with the wishing bell and the bell tower (6 EUR for adults).
VIEW OF BLED ISLAND: You can admire Bled Island from different angles from the walking path that runs around Lake Bled.
GOING TO ISLAND IN WINTER: If you are not afraid of being cold while on a pletna boat, you can go to the island in winter (December–February) as well.
However, in winter months when the weather might be freezing, ice sometimes covers the lake. In that kind of conditions, it is not possible to go to the island, neither if there is a strong wind.
GEOCACHING: If you are a Geocacher, then you will have some work to do when on Bled Island, as two caches are hidden there.
Do you have any questions about visiting Bled Island? Please contact me through Twitter (@bledoscope).
Follow my day-to-day exploits – that might spark your wanderlust – on Instagram: @bledoscope.