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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Wörthersee & Lake Bled

From our base in Budapest we took another short three-day trip; this one taking us first to Austria’s Carinthia region and Töschling, a small village 20 kilometers west of Klagenfurt. It’s a
Hotel Schloss Seefels
pleasant five hours drive; we took the southern route on the M7 along the Balaton shore and through Slovenia. Our lodgings, the Hotel Schloss Seefels, sits on the northern shore of Wörthersee, the warmest lake in Austria. It is a peaceful Relais and Chateaux property, we visited here in May 2014.
View from Bar "Porto Bello"
We had a relaxing afternoon lakeside, swimming and lounging in this bucolic setting. Dinner was at the gourmet restaurant, “La Terrasse.” There is a beautiful view of the lake and the imposing backdrop of the Karawanken Alps; the food and service were not as good as we remembered.

On Wednesday July 13 weather turned against us; colder and rain threatening cloud. We made the best of things by two worthwhile excursions.
St. Primus - Maria Wörth
Cemetery View
The first was to the small town of Maria Wörth on the southern shore of the lake. It sits on a promontory jutting into Wörthsee, a church standing here since 875. The current parish of St. Primus is a small but stunning 12th century Romanesque building featuring some wonderful frescos; adjacent is a peaceful cemetery.
Altar of "Madonna"
Then we were off to the second, Maria Saal, about ten kilometers north of the lake. This village also has had a house of worship since the 8th century; the
Maria Saal Church
present one is a pilgrimage church dating to 1450 and a delight to the eye. Inside there are fine ceiling frescos, a baroque high altar with a cast stone Madonna, an exquisitely carved pulpit as well as side chapels so well done as to deserve their own chancels. On the exterior there are two well restored Roman reliefs. Opposite the church is a late gothic octagonal
Maria Saal - Pulpit
mortuary, a 15th century vault and a Saxon chapel dedicated to St. Modestus, founder of the church.
We had a rather hardy (too hardy actually) lunch at the nearby Gasthof Sandwirt; the proprietor juggling roles of host, waiter and chef.

We returned to the hotel late afternoon and rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine at the lakeside bar. Dinner was at the hotel’s casual restaurant, the “Porto Bello,” a nice tart flambé as starter and sea bass to share as a main – more Austrian Riesling flowed. The evening finished with a very strong and long lasting thunderstorm.  

We were due to leave on the 14th but decided to stay another day and tackle another sight that had long been on our list, Lake Bled in Slovenia. Just over the border and through the 8 kilometer Predor Karavanke (tunnel) it is less than an hour south of the Wörthersee.
Lake Bled - Church
Lake Bled is circular, two kilometers in diameter, and fills a hollow gouged out by the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age. With its aquamarine placid water, fairy tale island church and imposing hilltop castle; Bled has all the boxes checked for a tourist paradise. Unfortunately, the town itself, sitting on the eastern bank, is a bit tacky and overbuilt. This does not, however, impose itself on the natural beauty of the rest of the spot. We found parking and took a slowly rowed skiff to the island and visited the church. The vistas were more impressive than the structures, including a small museum. Afterward, we were
Bled Castle
back to the car for a climb to Bled Castle, an 11th century fortress, one of the oldest in Slovenia.
Finally, we stopped at Vila Bled, originally an aristocratic country house built in 1883. In the 1920s the original building was torn down for a new design, but this was a casualty of the world wars and not completed until 1947, a summer residence for President Josip Tito. In 1984 it was converted into a hotel. We had a light snack at the Belvedere Pavilion that sits precariously on stilts and clings to the cliff face – magnificent views!
Lake Bled Panorama

We were back to the hotel late afternoon, dinner was at the lakeside and very pleasant, but a bit cool. A nightcap in the bar and it was off to sleep. Up early on Friday, we checked out and drove back to Budapest, taking the northern route past Graz and then the M1. In all, a very nice little break.

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