Being on the path of Romans, Franks, Slavs, and possibly even Dracula, Bled in Slovenia has some fascinating myths and legends baked into its churches and castles. But have you ever heard of the witch of Triglav?
Into the wild
Encompassing a large part of the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is named after this mountain range’s largest peak (which reaches 2,864m/9,396ft). On the edge of both the park and the mountains, Ribčev Laz can be reached by direct bus from Ljubljana in just under two hours. When the bus passed through Bled I dialled a number I’d been given by the National Park. Franci spoke just enough English to tell me where to meet him and, sure enough, he was waiting for me in Ribčev Laz beside his 4×4.
Minutes later it became obvious why a 4×4 was necessary. Franci was a National Park ranger, and he’d been tasked with driving me up to the mountain hut I’d rented in the tiny hamlet of Vogar. To get there required a drive up a very steep track which twisted through a huge pine forest. When at last we emerged into a clearing we passed a few simple wood huts.
‘If you want dinner then knock on that door.’
‘OK. Who lives there?’
Now I hadn’t been in Slovenia long enough to assess the local sense of humour, but I wasn’t entirely certain that Franci was joking. When he drove away, leaving me beside my hut, irrational thoughts began to seep into my head, in the way they can do when you’re standing in a remote mountain clearing by a lonely hut.
My mood wasn’t improved when I discovered a scorpion in the bathroom (it was subsequently yeeted far into the twilight). Grateful for the daylight which appeared the next morning, I embarked on a long hike which I thought I had planned carefully. However, good plans don’t necessarily mix well with poor maps.
I had bought the best map of the park that I could find in Stanfords, but even this didn’t provide sufficient detail. Although there weren’t many paths to follow, when the one I was on split in two I went the wrong way and ended up, miles later, at the top of some very high cliffs. Hundreds of metres below me were the frigid waters of Lake Bohinj. A stunning view, but one I couldn’t enjoy due to having to follow a particularly precarious route (I refused to give up and turn back).
Fortunately the path eventually turned away from the cliffs and I was rewarded with a view of snow-capped mountains. A little further on was a small collection of rustic mountain huts, all of which appeared to be uninhabited. When planning this hike I knew that at some point I had to get down to the lake. My hopes that it would be a nice sedate descent were dashed when I saw a series of ladders and narrow metal steps screwed into the rock.
Managing to not look down once, I white-knuckle climbed down and down and down. It was an impressive via ferrata, which I managed to fully appreciate once I was back on terra firma. Here was my sedate path which led to the lake shore. Relieved to be on flat ground, I walked a little over 2km along Lake Bohinj, before turning uphill to return to Vogar.
A magical dinner
The one eatery in the vicinity was closed for the season, hence why Franci had pointed out the witch’s home. Hence why, that evening, I found myself timidly knocking on her wooden door. I was welcomed in by an attractive lady in her 40s, as well as two handsome men who were sat at a rustic table inside.
‘Dinner?’ she asked.
‘Ja, hvala,’ I replied.
She smiled and shooed the men away into another room. From the ceiling hung a cornucopia of drying herbs, on shelves were jars of pickles and jams and chutneys. My host quickly put together a wooden board overflowing with cheeses, salamis, bread, vegetables and herbs. This was accompanied with a mug of delicious herbal brew.
We conversed in that awkward way that two people with barely any shared language do, but she (and the men who had crept back in) was excellent, friendly company. With a full belly, topped off by a fiery home-brewed spirit, I found my way back to my hut through the dark.
If my host really had been a witch (and I did spy a cauldron, although I expect it was used for cooking something considerably more palatable than eye of newt), she was one who knew how to expertly concoct a delicious meal from local delicacies. Besides, I always thought that witches got a bad rap. If anyone can pull the tastiest food from the earth, they surely can.
Under the spell of being well-fed, I slept the satisfying sleep of someone who survived perilous cliffs, and who had been bewitched by Triglav’s wild beauty.
Visit Antwerp as part of this 12-day Slovenia & Croatia itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)
Fly to Ljubljana, take the airport bus into the city to connect with buses/train to the rest of the country.
Buses to Lake Bohinj run hourly between 05:18 and 21:03 from Ljubljana Tivoli.