The beautiful lakeside resort of Bled is, and always has been, the most important of Slovenia's sports and leisure destinations. At least this is the case as long as it has been a part of Slovenia, for a hundred years ago when tourism really took off here, Bled was still part of the Austrian empire. The resort is a fascinating mixture of old Austrian ambience, some post-war communist development, ancient history and stunning natural beauty. It sits on the shore of Lake Bled with the Julian Alps rising above the forested slopes of the Jelovica and Pokljuka plateaus behind the town. The resort's famous castle, silent witness to its former power, stands on a rock above the lake. There are spectacular views from here including, in the middle of the lake, an island of religious significance for at least a thousand years. Although famous for its winter sports Bled, which is only 35km (22 miles) from the capital Ljubliana, has a thriving existence away from skiing, offering a huge range of sports and leisure opportunities year-round and providing an administrative and commercial centre for the area. Indeed, tourism of a kind has gone on here for at least 500 years, with the first 'tourists' being pilgrims travelling to the Church of the Assumption on the island in Bled's lake. The resort was also famous for its spas, mentioned for their health giving powers in a book about the area written in 1689. It is known that a manager of the castle in Bled at that time was so fed up with the influx of tourists wanting to take the waters that he endeavoured to fill in the springs; fortunately he was prevented from doing so. In 1855 a Swiss hydropath named Arnold Rikli was one of the first to recognise the true health and tourism potential of Bled's climate and its thermal springs. He founded the Institute of Natural Healing and introduced a new method of treatment. In 1903 the resort was awarded a gold medal at an international health spa exhibition in Vienna and you can still visit thermal pools in some of the town's hotels today. Rikli, whose technique won international recognition, is still revered as the father of tourism in Bled and there's a statue and plaque to him in the town. Bled has a complex and fascinating history, some knowledge of which makes your visit more enjoyable. Settlement here dates back to the stone age, and there have been more substantial finds of artefacts dating back 3000 years to Iron Age settlers and subsequent Celtic and Roman inhabitants. Later on the area was settled by Slavs who arrived in great numbers and from whom many inhabitants today are descended. From 1000AD to 1800AD the resort was controlled by the Austrian Bishops of Brixen from the castle although there were repeated invasions by the Turks, amongst others, during that long period. In 1809 the area became part of Napoleon's empire for four years and with a change from religious to state control and back again, the demise of the feudal system and the growth of industrial power, the castle changed hands half a dozen times before 1919. This is an especially significant date for the people of Bled as it was the first time the castle was actually owned by a Slovenian, in the form of local Bled hotelier Ivan Kenda. Between the two world wars, Bled remained the most cosmopolitan spa in Yugoslavia and the summer residence of the Yugoslav royal family. During the second world war the resort became the German civic and military head quarters. After the War the resort continued its tourist tradition - its inhabitants took over and renovated the many tourist/recreation facilities which passed into Slovene hands. Since former Yugoslav President Tito had a residence in Vila Bled, it was visited by many statesmen, politicians and culturati from Yugoslavia and abroad. Vila Bled has been renovated and is today a top category hotel which can accommodate even the most demanding guests. I In 1960 Bled finally won town status. Visitors interested in winter sports have a choice of five ski areas nearby to enjoy. The small local ski hill is Strazna. Somewhat larger ski areas within 10km (6 miles) are Pokljuka - a major cross country ski area but with one drag lift for downhillers, and Zatrnik. However, most guests searching for more extensive and demanding terrain make the 20km (13 mile) journey to the areas of Kobla or Vogel.
The beautiful lakeside resort of Bled is close to three ski centres, the closest Straza is right above the old town, but has more limited terrain than better known Kobla and Vogel ski areas, 30 minutes drive away ( free ski bus for lift pass holders ) . Straza does have night-skiing however so is worth considering for an aprés - ski - ski.