A Slovenian Gourmand’s Delight
It would be hard to beat the romance of Venice, or the beauty of its canals and, if you read the travel pages as avidly we do, you will remember it being called the jewel in Italy’s crown. If one is fortunate in this life there comes a time when a ‘jewel of a place’ makes its way unexpectedly into a travel itinerary. Such a destination for us was Lake Bled in Slovenia, a halfway stop on a journey from glistening Venice to the ‘city of music’, Vienna. For nestling in an extinct volcanic crater, near the Julian Alps that border Austria through the Karavanken Mountain Range, is a small place right out of a childhood fairy-tale book.
Lake Bled itself is quite small; an easy stroll around its banks would take up a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Its island centre is unique in that it is Slovenia’s one and only island. Famous for weddings, both local and international, there is a lovely little church occupying its tiny crest. This place must surely have been plucked from a Walt Disney ‘Fantasia’ film. I say this, not to confuse the location with something from Disneyland, only to explain its perfection in both appearance and proportion.
Our arrival by tourist coach was in the cool of the evening, when the town lights winked like diamonds circling the lake-shore neckline. We had travelled all day and were deservedly tired, having walked for quite a distance through the city markets of Ljubljana and there was not much more on our minds except having a pleasant meal and getting a good sleep in preparation for our touring activities of the following day. When we walked into the restaurant however the huge glass windows opened up an amazing vista. Lake Bledlay placidly in the hollow of the mountains, surrounded by thickly forested slopes. Brooding over all was the castle sitting atop a karst cliff that looked down over the town’s cathedral far below. We went to bed certain that a treat awaited us for the following day and we were not disappointed. In the early hours of the morning, clad only in my nightdress, I crept out onto the balcony and from three floors up looked down over a village of gingerbread houses surrounded by the soft glow of little gate lights here, a little roadside shrine there; veiled in early morning mist and a pale pink glow rising up from behind the mountains.
Our morning destination was the castle overlooking Lake Bled. Ageing bodies and arthritic knees huffed and creaked their way up the curling path to the entrance gate. Once there however a wondrous view awaited us from the terrace. As an orchestra we would have done a conductor proud. In unison we lifted our cameras to play the age old tune, ‘click, click and flash’.
|What mystery awaits? Read more to discover the treat waiting for Brian Walker.
The tour guide, a native of Slovenia, in going through points of interest, had described many of the attractions of Lake Bled, not the least of which was a cake with the very appropriate title of “The million calorie cake”. He strongly advised the group to take the opportunity during lunch, of tasting this culinary masterpiece. A quiet terrace overlooking the lake held our own lunch table. The maitre de had been welcoming and very pleasant. The waitress who took our orders was friendly and helpful. In short we looked forward to our meal with great anticipation as we enjoyed the scenery and sipped on local wine. The soup, chestnut and mushroom, was served in the most interesting bowls we had ever seen. Manufactured from dough and cooked until it was crisp and dark brown it was hot to the touch as we lifted the little chestnut knob on the lid and a rich steamy aroma wafted upwards. We looked at one another and smiled a conspiratorial smile. This would be a story to tell when we were back home. It would be the story to top all others. The creamy mushroom and chestnut broth was delicious and the bowls and lids tasty also. Every single morsel disappeared. What a shame we could only bring a photograph home and not a bowl with its little chestnut knobbed lid.
Sunday afternoon slowly trickled by, as one by one we saw the Pletna boats carrying up to twenty passengers and propelled by a single oarsman standing in the bow, make their way across Lake Bled, to and from the island and the charming church. White swans and flotillas of ducks disturbed the stillness of the lake surface with their reflections and below our terrace restaurant a small local band played an interesting folk-tune.
Our resistance was diminished by wine-spritz and along with it our better judgement. We each ordered a piece of the “million calorie cake”. Totally sinful, absolutely delicious, light as angel’s wing, creamy and unforgettable; obviously we wouldn’t have indulged in such a poor choice in food had it not been our sole opportunity to do so. Or would we, I wonder? Whatever the answer to that question, the impression Lake Bled made on us was indelible, and Slovenia is definitely on our future travel wish-list.