STA, 31 August 2020 - The 15th Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) boasted the most high-profile turnout in its 15-year history despite the coronavirus pandemic. Two presidents, seven prime ministers, six foreign ministers and many others attended in person, plus a number of high-profile panellists remotely. The debates focused on the future of the EU and the region's role.
The main panel featured seven Central and East European leaders, who highlighted the region's growing influence in the EU. They stressed the importance of true solidarity between all member states, noting that double standards were being used for the region.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said it was "dangerous to use double standards". He said the real challenges that Europe faces are different than challenges that are being discussed, a reference to extensive debates about rule of law proceedings against Hungary and Poland.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki noted that thirty years after the democratic transformation began in the region, there was still "a very peculiar approach" to the region. He said the region needed to maintain solidarity and unity, and at the same time be part of the European Union.
As for the state of the rule of law and democracy, Morawiecki rejected the notion of polarisation arguing that this was normal democracy. "We're not nationalists, populists ... it's simply a different approach in the post-communist world."
Similarly, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, asked about the state of democracy in his country, said Hungary's democracy was just as good as Germany's or Italy's by objective measures, the country just has a conservative, Christian democratic approach as it strives for "intellectual sovereignty".
The need for close cooperation, communication and the relaxing of restrictive EU state aid rules in the face of the global pandemic were in the centre of a panel debate featuring top foreign policy representatives. The broadly shared view was that the EU provided valuable support, still, the key, initial, response to the pandemic was mounted by member states.
Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok said that the EU "absolutely" provided help in addition to what was already being done by his country at home. He illustrated that while the EU was not able to provide masks when the pandemic hit, it is now leading member states out of the crisis with the recovery fund.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomaš Petriček highlighted another aspect of the crisis, saying it showed how fast the EU could revert to nation states. He illustrated that people did not complain much when the Czech Republic closed its borders at the start of the crisis.
However, when asked whether nation states or the EU would emerge stronger from this crisis, panellists expressed reservations about putting these in antagonistic terms.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbignew Rau labelled this an artificial conflict, adding that only strong member states made for a strong EU, while Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said member states and the EU need each other.
The Western Balkans was another major topic of discussion despite the absence of the traditional regional panel with foreign ministers.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, participating in the leaders' panel, thus dismissed the notion that Serbia was not keen on joining the EU. He said Serbia remained committed to the European path but expected respect from the EU.
Miroslav Lajčak, the EU's special representative for Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue, said in a special panel that the Western Balkans are part of the European story and the region's problems are also the bloc's problems. "If the EU wants to be a global actor ..., then we have to start demonstrating that we can help organise things in a European way on European soil."
There were also debates on European security and asymmetric threats, digitalisation and the future of cyberspace featuring mostly experts.
The security panel for example heard that a lot of adjustments to the European defence and security policy will be needed, including because of cyber threats and the Covid-19 pandemic. China was also discussed as an element which seeks to direct countries in the region more towards the east.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar said the forum provided an introduction to the coming debates on the future of the EU, which will be conducted under the German, Portuguese, Slovenian and French presidencies of the EU as part of the conference on the future of the EU.
According to Logar, these debates showed that "the leaders of individual countries see the EU and the consequences in which we are differently", which he said was "an excellent starting point for an open and lively debate".
Moreover, Logar said Slovenia was "returning to the diplomatic map" after a period of pursuing a distinct foreign policy. He rejected the notion that Slovenia was leaning more to the East now, arguing that "one country is not more important than another ... a community of equal countries provides a good platform for all countries to assert their interests."
Ljubljana Castle reopened 4 May, and another of Slovenia’s most visited sites, Bled Castle, will be welcoming visitors again from 14 May on. However, note that you’ll not be able to visit the island until 18 May.
In other news, Postojna Cave, by some counts the most popular tourist attraction in the country – since Ljubljana Castle gets multiple visits from locals each year – will not be opening until at least 1 June, although this date remains to be confirmed.
According to the United States Tour Operators Association annual survey, Slovenia is high on the list of emerging tourist destinations that “promise a fuller sense of discovery”.
Slovenia made the list for the first time at second place, indicating the fast growing interest in the country by the international travelers seeking more authentic, off-the beaten-path experiences.
While Egypt, Croatia and Colombia tied for first place in travel trends, Slovenia is followed by Thailand and Vietnam, with Morocco and Ethiopia tying for fifth.
An example tour of Slovenia was presented in combination with Croatian Istria by countrwalkers.com, a hiking and walking travel agency promising “places you’d never find on your own”. The seven day tour includes pletna boat ride across Lake Bled, a tour through wine and olive oil region and an excursion to Croatia for a Mirna River Valley truffle hunt. Rates start at $4,448 per person.
Royal Bled already appears on the list of the best and most beautiful golf courses in the region of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and now it has another recognition, named as among golfscape’s top 100 courses in the world. The largest and oldest course in the country comes in at #86, just after The Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami, USA, and before Golf de Spérone, France.
Once again it’s the beauty of the area that catches the imagination of the authors, with the noting “the course is flanked by towering mountains and the impressive valleys of the Alps. With excellently manicured grounds, many hail it as one of the most beautiful courses in all of Europe.”
If you’d like to play a round at Royal Bled then note that it’s open from March to November, with both 18- and 9-hole course, and due to its status and appeal is one of the pricier golfing options in the country – but you get what you pay for. The website is here, while our look at all the 6-, 9- and 18-hole courses in Slovenia is here.
You can now add another thing to the list of things to do in Bled, with the ski slope Straža Bled opening tomorrow, 18 January 2020. At weekends the opening hours are from 09:00 to 16:00, with night skiing an option from 17:00 to 20:00, while on weekdays there’s only night skiing, the same time as Saturday and Sunday.
You can also go to Bled, park you car, and take the ski bus to Vogel and Pokljuka, while the Julian Alps International Ski Pass gives holders access to 14 resorts in three countries and more than 260 km of ski runs at: Soriška planina, Krvavec, Kranjska Gora, Cerkno, Kanin/Sella Nevea (Slovenia), Tarvisio, Sella Nevea/Kanin, Zoncolan, Pinacavallo, Forni di Sopra, Sappada, Sauris (Italy), 3ländereck, Innerkrems and Goldeck (Austria). This pass means you can use the Bled winter shuttle transport from Bled to Krvavec, Kranjska Gora, Tarvisio (I) and 3ländereck (A) free of charge.
Between December 20, 2019 and March 20, 2020 daily visits to ski resorts are possible with a shuttle bus from Bled.
The shuttle drives every day to Kranjska Gora, Krvavec, Pokljuka and Vogel, every Wednesday and Sunday to Tarvisio (Trbiž) in Italy, and to 3Laendereck (Podklošter) in Austria every Thursday and Sunday.
Return tickets cost €10 per adult and are free for children under 14 and holders of Julian Alps winter card.
For the timetables, tickets, reservations, and a map, please click here.
The Christmas lights are being turned on in many places around Slovenia next Friday, 29 November (see here), but things are already moving in a festive direction, and one seasonal treat for those who like to glide on blades of glory is the ice skating rink in Bled.
As usual this will be set up on the terrace of the Hotel Park, where from 22 November to 1 March 2020 a trip to this must-visit scenic area can be further enhanced by putting on some skates and either sliding with the elegance of swan or holding onto the side rails with wobbly legs, a bruised behind and wondering how soon you can get off for some mulled wine without losing face in front of the cool kids.
Related - How to spend from 4 to 48 hours in Bled
The rink is open from 09:00 to 20:00, Sunday to Thursday, 09:00 to 21:00 Friday and Saturday (as well as from 21 December to 5 January). Skates and helmets can be hired for €3 and €2, respectively. For children who require a little more stability a seal can be hired for 30 minutes for €3, and note that this a plastic device and not a friendly aquatic mammal. Entry to the ice rink itself is free for children under 12, and €5 for anyone older.
Moreover, in addition to regular skating the rink also offers curling, ice dances, children’s events and more, as outlined on the official website. The Hotel Park can be found at Cesta svobode 15, 4260 Bled.
A reminder that Vintgar Gorge, one of the many attractions clustered around Bled, will soon be closing for the winter season, with the last days you can access the bridges and galleries to view this natural wonder being November 16 and 17 (2019) – this weekend. After that the only view you’ll be able to get is from the railway bridge, with the area closed until spring and the completion of any work that needs to be done before reopening, with that date usually being around the end of April or beginning of May..
Still, there’s plenty more to see in the area, including many other hiking trials, and details of those can be found on the rather slow loading page here.
Slovenia doesn’t have much of a coastline, just a small section between Italy and Croatia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go scuba diving in the country. To learn more we got in touch with Matjaž Repnik, President of Diving Society Kisik - Oxygen (Društva Kisik – Oxygen), a PADI IDCs instructor and DDI instructor (for people with a disability), and part of the team behind watersports.si.
How did you get into diving?
My first step into diving start in 2010. It was simple – I just want to see bubbles underwater. Funny actually. Later after I finished my open water course diving become like an addiction. From that time I was driven to discover more and more and more. Over the last year I’ve been focusing on cave diving here in Slovenia.
What do you offer at Bled?
At Lake Bled we can take certified divers to a few interesting places. The lake itself in summer is lovely for scuba diving, since the water is 24°C and a 5mm wet suit is all you need for one-hour dives. Until recently Lake Bled was not on the world map of diving location, but since we’ve been offering trips there it’s become more famous, and now we get people from all over.
When you’re underwater in Bled there’s lots of catfish, pike and carp swimming around you. We have special place for diving there, very hidden, and it’s only used by divers who come with us. So far no one has been disappointed, and we get a lot of positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook. Night dives are also incredible there. Many small crabs are moving around, and of course big fish are much easier to see compared to diving in the day.
Some of what you can see in Lake Bled.
What if someone isn’t a certified diver?
For those we offer almost everything you need to get started. The first would be the Discover Scuba Diving program, which is actually most popular thing we offer at Bled. People visit the lake and of course they want to see what’s underwater. This program takes two to three hours, and you don’t need any previous knowledge of diving. We come with all the equipment, give a briefing, and by the end we make people wet and happy.
After that many people continue to the next level, the Open Water Diver course. Once you pass this you can become a PADI Open Water Certified Diver. This is a two or three day course, and after that you can go diving all over the world to a depth of 18m with another diver, and it’s easy to do, plus all courses are conducted by very experienced instructors. We also offer many special courses, which you can learn more about by talking to us, or telling us what you want, including technical programs for the most advanced divers.
How long have you been offering this at Lake Bled?
I was first one who start commercial operations in 2012. The idea actually came up a year earlier, at the local diving club, but no one was offering something for tourists. It’s still early days at Bled for diving, but the place has a lot of potential – it just needs the local community to realize that diving can become part of the tourist offer.
What do people need to bring?
Just a smile, water, a towel and a swim suit, the rest we can provide. Of course, if someone has their own equipment and they want to use it then that’s no problem, they just need to bring it.
What else can people do on the water at Bled?
Well, I should say that we don’t support fishing there, since there it kills too many fish, even catch and release. Sorry, in my opinion fish are nice to see, not to hunt. Swimming is possible all around the lake, and there are public beaches. You can also rent a boat or just take a ride on a pletna, the traditional Bled boat. Many people also explore the world underwater with a simple mask, snorkel and fins, but away from the shore you should always have a support boat.
How has Bled changed since you’ve been working there?
A lot, and the roads, especially in August, just can’t handle the traffic. Every year there are more tourists, and although that doesn’t disturb me it’s not so good for the people who live there. One problem, one of many, with mass tourism at Bled is it affects the water quality, as more people swimming there means more pollution, more suncream in the lake and so on, and this year there’s been a problem with green algae. There is an idea to try and develop a higher quality of tourism at Bled, not just mass tourism, but for that the area needs to offer more, and that’s something that diving can be a part of.
When is the diving season?
Business usually starts in June, and the busiest time is in August, when sometimes we just can’t serve all the people we’d like to. The traffic can be terrible then, if you come by car and not by train, so the best time to come is in the morning, for an 8am dive. For me the best time to visit for diving is in September, there are fewer people and the water is warm. People also come in the winter, when we do some dry suit specialty, TEC courses, and if there’s ice then we do ice diving and courses.
What other places do you dive?
Besides Bled we offer also diving nearby Lake Bohinj. There’s one unique and very beautiful diving place for advanced divers, in it’s a green area with lots of water and a slight current. We love it., although the lake itself is nothing special for diving, so we don’t do diving in there.
This week’s property is a home with options – a three-floor home in the village of Ribno with three apartments, great views and not far from one of the most famous and visited spots in Slovenia, Lake Bled.
While “holiday rental” is perhaps one’s first thought when looking at this arrangement – as each apartment is self-contained and fully-equipped – I have friends with older children and the same kind of property for whom this layout has served as a perfect family home, with enough space and facilities for privacy and independence, while keeping everyone close for communal meals and activities. That said, the house could easily be converted from three apartments to one large house.
Currently on the market for €360,000, the property is being handled by Think Slovenia, who describe it as follows:
Wonderful family home divided into three apartments in an elevated position and views on both sides in the picturesque village of Ribno, just 5 mins drive from Bled. This three-storey house is currently converted into three separate apartments each on its own floor, ideal for short or long term rental. The apartments are fully equipped and well looked after.
The ground floor apartments consists of a bathroom, kitchen, one bedroom and large living area. Large French doors in the living room lead out onto the large terrace overlooking the mountains, perfect for relaxing on hot summer evenings. The upper floor apartment consists of two bedrooms, bathroom, open plan kitchen with dining and living area and two balconies with stunning views over the village and mountains beyond. The middle floor apartment has one bedroom with kitchen, bathroom, living and dining area. An attractive 500 m2 garden surrounds the house and offers great mountain views. The house has been converted in a way so that if desired it could easily be changed back into a single family residence.
The village of Ribno offers various restaurants / bars and a bakery with an appealing secluded quiet atmosphere whilst being just a 5-minute drive away from the attractions and amenities of Lake Bled. The region gives opportunities for numerous summer and winter activities, from skiing and cross country, hiking, cycling, water sports on Lake Bled and Bohinj, or just relaxing, surrounded by stunning unspoiled alpine scenery. The highway is just 10 minutes’ drive, and with regard to skiing there are three resorts just 30 minutes away, while Ljubljana can be reached in 40 minutes. A great opportunity to purchase a spacious three-apartment house set up to make immediate rental income or as a permanent residence in one of the most sought after locations of Slovenia.