Two stunning views of Lake Bled
Lake Bled is stunning from every angle, but it is especially magical when you view it from above. Did you know that there are 2 great hikes both ending at a stunning viewpoint? Ojstrica and Mala Osojnica are two relatively easy trails and also very popular. At the top you will be rewarding with a view that will literally take your breath away.
The fairy tale of Lake Bled
The term “fairy tale location” is no doubt a term that is often overused. While I must confess that I myself have used this to describe Lake Bled, I make no apologies. Lake Bled is the quintessential fairy tale. This is emphasised by its island church sitting proudly in the middle of the crystal clear waters of this shimmering glacial lake. All this is seemingly guarded by a medieval castle atop a sheer cliff at the lake shore. This scene is backed by views of Slovenia’s three mountain ranges: the Karavanke, Kamnik and Julian Alps; all visible from different places around the lake. What truly makes this a fairy tale location however, is that its origins too are rooted in an actual fairy tale.
In this article I’m going to describe two great hikes that each end with the most magnificent view of Lake Bled you are ever likely to see. But first, a little about the lake and its origins.
Fairy Goddess Živa
Several millennia ago, long before there was a church, this island was a huge rock atop a lush green hill. The rock was home to the Goddess Živa and her troupe of fairies. One day, angered by the blatant disregard for her hill by farmers who ignored her pleas to stop their cattle grazing upon the hill, she exacted her revenge. Gathering her fairy troupe upon the rock one night, together they used their powerful magic to call forth the water from the surrounding hills and mountains. Channelling the water, they directed it to flood the valley around their hill, thus creating Lake Bled and turning the hill into an island.
The Church of the Assumption of Mary
Živa’s temple was then replaced with the first church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. They also built a small chapel so the locals could pray to her.
The first gothic church was built in 1465, which included a 52-metre high bell tower made from porous stone. The church’s present Baroque appearance was created in the middle of the 17th century, when the Chapel of the Virgin Mary and the 99 stone steps were constructed.
Legend of the sunken bell
A local story tells of how a woman who once lived in the castle on the cliff was widowed suddenly when thieves killed her husband. In her grief, she gathered up all the gold and silver she possessed and with it cast a beautiful bell in his memory. The bell was intended for the church. However, while being transported over, a huge storm swept in and the boat capsized. The bell sank to the bottom of the lake and was never seen again. Inconsolable after this final blow, she sold all her land and property and donated the money towards the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled forever to live out the rest of her days as nun in Rome.
After her death the Pope heard of her plight and her good deeds for the church. In her memory he had a new bell cast for the island church. He decreed that any believers who ring the bell three times and make a wish shall see their wish come true.
The castle on the cliff
Although Bled castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia, its origins are enshrouded in mystery. The first ever written mention of the estate on the cliff is in a deed from the year 1004, when the German Emperor Henry II gave his entire estate to Bishop Albuin of Brixen. It’s said that there was just an old Romanesque tower protected by a wall standing on the site at the time. A few years later the first castle was constructed. Yet the owners never actually lived there and the castle served more as a defensive structure rather than a luxury home. For the next 800 years it remained in the ownership of the Bishops of Brixen, who leased it to various owners.
Throughout the middle ages the castle was expanded with more towers and improved fortifications. In 1511 a massive earthquake hit the region and the castle was heavily damaged, after which it was restored and given its present appearance. Over the centuries that followed the castle was bounced between several owners, including a stint under the ownership of Napoleon, none of whom really used it as a residence, and this is precisely why there are no luxurious halls or valuable furniture or other antiquities inside. It’s probably one of the finest examples of a true defensive castle, with towers, ramparts and also a drawbridge over a moat (filled with earth nowadays though).
The best views from Zaka
While pretty much any spot around Lake Bled will bless you with breathtaking views, to get both the island church and the castle all backed by glorious mountain peaks, you need to head to the western side, near to Zaka Campsite. But if you want to get above and really be blown away, then you’ll have to don your hiking shoes and head up into the hills behind this campsite. There are two great hiking trails, each of which will reward you with a view of Lake Bled you will never in your life forget.
There isn’t much choice here when it comes to parking. The closest car park is next to Zaka Campsite. However, this is 3 euros per hour (24/7), so a better option is to drive up the hill to the train station and park at the car park there. It’s 5 euros for the whole day. Don’t be tempted to park by the road, like some do. The traffic wardens patrol this route every day, even early on Sundays.
Ojstrica (20 minutes)
Both trails start next to Zaka Campsite. The shorter of the two is Ojstrica, which takes roughly 20 minutes, maybe a little longer depending on your level of fitness. While it’s not overly demanding, it’s not a hike to be taken lightly, and in flip flops. Much of the path is strewn with loose rocks, and a couple of sections are quite steep, but short. Both trails start next to Zaka Campsite. The shorter of the two is Ojstrica, which takes roughly 20 minutes, maybe a little longer depending on your level of fitness. While it’s not overly demanding, it’s not a hike to be taken lightly, and in flip flops. Much of the path is strewn with loose rocks, and a couple of sections are quite steep, but short.
The trail starts just beside the campsite. From the little beach beside the lake, walk to the right and across the road you’ll see a small signpost directing you up into the forest. Follow this narrow trail until you come out onto a wider forest track. Turn right and head up this track.
Turning for Ojstrica
After about 15 minutes you’ll come to a signpost. One points you right to Ojstrica, the other to Velika Osojnica. Take the right turn. From here the trail zig zags up to a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake.
The Hardest Part
This is the steepest and hardest part. You have to clamber up some big rocks, but only for a very short distance. Kids can do it with your help.
At the top you’ll find yourself on a rocky ledge where a bench sits. This is probably the most popular viewpoint, as it’s the easiest, so expect to share this ledge with lots of others, even if you hike up before sunrise.
Watch your kids
There is no safety fence here, and the big rocky area at the back ends with a sheer drop down to the campsite below. So you might want to keep you kids in view.
A photography hotspot
This is a classic postcard view of Lake Bled, and also a selfie hotspot. If you search Google images for Ojstrica you’ll likely be inundated with selfies of people sitting on or standing by the bench, or standing on a rock overlooking the lake and island church. If you are a serious photographer like me, then you’ll have a job setting up your tripod. There are basically two places you can do it, one down below the bench, and another on a rock beside the bench. If you plan to shoot the sunrise, then be sure to get up very early. Ideally, hike up with a torch in the dark to ensure you get that spot.
Mala Osojnica (20 or 40 mins)
Back down at the sign where you turned off right, the sign pointing straight on to Velika Osojnica will also take you to Mala Osojnica. There is no view from Velika Osojnica, it’s just a clearing on the hilltop surrounded by forest. However, Mala Osojnica offers a stunningly clear view down across the whole of Lake bled and a panoramic view of all the surroundings.
It’s another 20 minutes from this sign, so a total of 40 minutes from the bottom. If you plan to visit both Ojstrica and Mala Osojnica then this is the best route to take. The route from here goes through the forest, so there is no view until you get to Mala Osojnica. It can also be tricky after a lot of rain because it follows a path that turns into a stream as water runs off the hillsides.
After another 10 or 15 minutes you’ll come to another clearing with a bench and sign. Turn left here for Mala Osojnica, or carry straight on for Velika Osojnica.
An alternative trail for Mala Osojnica
Alternatively, you can hike another trail that leads from the lakeside a bit further around. From here it takes about 20 minutes, a bit longer depending on your fitness level and if you have kids. The photo and map above show the trail head. This is a dirt road, but don’t be tempted to drive up and park. Traffic wardens patrol this and will slap a fine on any car parked along there, even on a Sunday morning.
Walk up this road about 100 metres and you’ll see a turning left, but a sign for Ojstrica pointing you right. This road will actually lead you up to join the other trail to Ojstrica, then through the forest to Mala Osojnica. When you see that sign, ignore it and turn right. This is the trail that will take you up the hillside. A little further past an old house you’ll see more signs directing the right way.
Steep and narrow
This trail is steeper and also narrower. Some sections can be a bit tricky for kids, so they’ll need your help. On one section, the trail is really narrow and a part of it has fallen away. A metal rope has been fixed for you to hold on to, but be extra careful with your kids here.
The other tricky section is a steep flight of narrow metal stairs. This can be especially treacherous when wet.
On the upside, this is a much nicer hike and, as it climbs the side of the hill, is more open and sunny (the other is in the shade of the forest) and also provides great views of the lake pretty much all the way up.
Chilly view at the top
The word breathtaking just doesn’t do it justice. This view is higher than Ojstrica and is just truly awe-inspiring. It’s from a cliff edge, so there is a protective fence here, and three benches. It can feel a bit colder here because it’s backed by the forest. Therefore this section is in shade and also a bit of a wind trap, so be sure to have an extra layer or a windcheater with you. After you’ve sweated your way up that hill, the wind feels a lot chillier.
It can be tricky to get a selfie here in the afternoon when it’s sunny, because the section where you stand goes in the shade as the sun moves west. Therefore, you get a huge difference in contrast between where you are standing in the shade, and the sunny lake behind you. Try to take your selfie when the sun goes behind a cloud, or hike up earlier in the day.
More space for tripods
For photos of the lake however, fire away. There is a little more space here for a tripod, or several tripods actually. This is a great place for sunrise. In the winter the sun rises off to the right, casting beautiful side light on the island and lighting the castle from the front. In the summer the sun rises behind the mountains behind.
From here the island church, castle and Mount Stol, the highest peak in the Karavanke Alps are in perfect alignment.
You won’t want to come down.