Bled Days: A Fairytale Festival
You can’t go to Slovenia and not do Bled. Really. It has a fairytale castle and a picture book lake. It has a summer festival that lights up the horizon. It has the best cream cake in all the land. And a unique eggshell recycling policy…
Bled Lake is enchanting. We peer onto it from the castle walls. And the windows. And the terraces. It’s impossible to look away; we are under its spell. Circles of ripples and glitter push outwards as bathers dive bomb the fish. And we are Rapunzel. Looking down from on high.
But then, if you had to choose a castle to be Rapunzel in, it would be Bled. I can’t think of any that fits a fairy tale better, with its whitewashed façade and mediaeval cones perched high and isolated on a rock above the blue. Everywhere you look there is beauty. Although the castle is pretty to wander around, it is all about location and it’s worth the entry fee just to stand and look down from its heights.
And then it’s worth heading down the hill and looking up at it from earth. Because Bled Castle is just as stunning from beneath.
And going down is easy. We switch from Rapunzel to Hansel and Gretel as we follow an atmospheric trail of steps through the wood. At the bottom of the stairs a little train goes by, carrying passengers into town. But our narrative doesn’t take us that way. We are heading for the lake.
Within minutes Matthew and Stuart are in kayaks, paddling out to a tree lined island with a picturesque church, while the rest of us are bathing in a lido on the lake.
A story of co-operation
All seems perfectly everyday? Well here’s a strange twist. If we had taken a plunge in this very same lake only twelve hours before, we’d have come out covered in shells. Not the cockles and mussels kind; this isn’t a story about little mermaids. I’m talking egg shells.
Going to work on an egg
This morning twelve divers went into the lake and retrieved up to 10,000 of them. The kind you boil for breakfast. But with tiny candles embedded into the shells. Because for just one Saturday every year in Bled, the lake becomes a floating light show. 10,000 candles are released into the night, lighting up the horizon. Every candle is handmade and set into its eggshell cradle. And get this; all the candles are made by one man. If a dream maker ever existed then this is the guy.
Lighting up the festival
This beguiling ceremony of light marks the end of the Bled Days Festival that spreads over a week every year. It’s a mixture of craft stalls, food and live bands, all scattered around the edge of the lake. This festival has been a tradition for hundreds of years, and in its current form for the last 50. Unsurprisingly it’s the most popular event in the town, bringing in 15,000 visitors. “It’s a special evening in the national calendar,” explains Eva Štravs Podlogar, Director of Bled Tourism, who organises the festival.
A story of town co-operation
“But what happens to the egg?” I hear you cry. Does the castle stand on a food mountain of yolk? Indeed not. “The chefs in the town pay a lot of attention to how they break their eggs. They save the shells in crates,” Eva explains. Now in a normal town, that wouldn’t be all that many eggs. Because how many omelettes can a town realistically eat?
But this is where the plot twists again. Because the town is famous throughout the land for its cake. Bled has been making a particularly delicious cream cake for its residents and visitors since 1953. If you do the maths, you’ll find it is currently celebrating the 60th anniversary of when Head Chef of the Park Hotel Istvan Lukacevic cracked the first egg and mixed flour, cream, sugar and butter and the egg content into a vanilla custard, pastry and whipped cream treat. The Park Hotel now makes batches of 35 in trays, and in the summer months chefs don’t just bake every day, but sometimes every hour to meet demand.
The end of the fairy tale
Of course, this story can only go one way. We are, after all, a family who would climb to a high castle on a steep mountain and fight an angry troll if there was a piece of cake going. But that’s not necessary tonight. We sit on the terrace in the balmy evening, overlooking the lake, with the castle lit up on its rock, the sun going down, and an almost full moon.
And we eat cake. The most delicious, light, airy fairy cake that ever existed.
Could there be a sweeter ending to this tale?