The village of Brezje (which you will also find spelt ‘Brejze’ in places), in Slovenia lies beside the Julian Alps. Although only a small village, it is well known for the Church of St Vitus, otherwise known as the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. The original church, dedicated to St Vitus, was thought to have been built on this site in the 14th or 15th century. By the end of the 18th century it had undergone some renovations and a chapel dedicated to St Anthony of the Desert was added, followed by the Chapel Mother of God soon after.
In 1814, Leopold Layer, one of eight children himself, was a painter from the town of Kranj who had been saved from prison and in gratitude, merciful painting of Mary Help of Christians in the Chapel of Mary. The painting began to attract more and more visitors to the church and, after two separate visits within the space of two weeks in 1863 reported miracles occurring after prayers were made to the painting, the church was no longer large enough to cope with the thousands of pilgrims it now attracted. In 1900 the was further expanded, the Franciscan monastery having built next door to it two years earlier, and the pilgrims still flock to this small village to this day.
Lake Bled was a short 15 minute drive away and so we set off to make our visit. Whilst not a small lake at all, it certainly was not as large as I had thought it would be. Even the sight of the scaffolding upon the island’s church could not detract from the lake’s beauty and so we set upon finding a parking space in order to take a walk around.
Lake Bled is part glacial, part tectonic lake which means that its origins are from a combination of melted glaciers and the earth’s natural activity which led it to create a basin within the mountains. The lake surrounds Bled Island, home to several buildings including a church with the famous ‘wishing bell’. Story has it that whoever rings the bell, thereby giving honour to the Virgin Mary, will have their wish granted.
It was cold but the air was still and the sky was clear, so we could greatly appreciate the beauty of Lake Bled during our visit. The lake is overlooked by Bled Castle, the oldest castle in Slovenia. It was first mentioned in a 1011 donation deed as castellum Veldes, and sits on a clifftop above the lake at a height of 130 metres.
As we walked around we saw several boats lined up at the side of the lake. The boats are known as ‘pletna’, made locally and are unique to the Bled area only. The pletna boats are thought to go back as far as the 1590s, their flat bottom design thought to be behind their name, deriving from the German word ‘plateboot’, translated to ‘flat-bottom boat’. Each boat holds up to 20 people and is operated by a Pletna oarsman.
Our visit was short but sweet and we had seen what we wanted. With the air becoming notably chillier, we set about returning to our minibus, watching a pletna boat glide across the water with its passengers as went. We, in the meantime, had an eight hour drive to Montenegro to the following morning, and so we decided to head back to Brezje to get the children off to bed and enjoy a glass or two of wine with our hosts. What better way to prepare, after all?