Back to Nature in Slovenia

Wellness tourism is nothing new in Slovenia. It's countryside is seriously idyllic - especially in and around Lake Bled to the mountainous nations north-west. It was here that pioneering Swiss wellness expert Dr Arnold Rikli established a 'healing institute' in 1855, prescribing a strict meat-and-booze-free diet, and a routine of hikes in the hills and swims in the lake, much of which was to be done naked for maximum sun exposure.

Things might be little less strict (or more uptight, depending on your point of view) around Lake Bled these days, but you'll still discover plenty of feel good factor. Plus there's even more of the great outdoors to experience, with a 280km trail through the nearby Julian Alps opening up in September. Time to get back nature (do pleases pack some clothes, though).

Tackle a hill

A 45-minute drive from Ljubljana on 80 minutes by bus, Lake Bled sits in the foothills of the Julian Alps. The gorgeous town and its eponymous lake are surrounded by forested mountains, there's an island with a church, and even a castle perched on a cliff. It was here that Dr Rikli suggested morning walks in the buff to his patients. Try the invigorating 20-minute climb up Straza Bled, the original 'men's hill', where gender restrictions (and nudity) are long gone. The ascent is pleasantly challenging, and your reward at the top is spectacular views over the valley, lake and surrounding mountains. There's a monument to Rikli there, too, and even a free fitness circuit with exercise machines to liven up your stroll. In the summer, take a toboggan (a kind of exhilarating one-person mini-monorail) back up for when you inevitably want a second go.

 Take the plunge 

Way before #wildswimming was a 'thing', locals and tourists were embracing the crystalline waters of Lake Bled. You'll find two designated swimming areas: Grajska Beach, with lockers, changing rooms and separate, heated pools, and a free area near the old train station. Lake Bled's island (a picture post card if ever there was one) and its old bell tower are a good target. If swimming sounds like too much hard work, you can get there on a pletna rowing boat. Inevitably, Lake Bled gets very busy in summer. For a real sense of wilderness, head west to Lake Bohinj (30 minutes by car, or 40 minutes by bus). Like Bled, Bohinj's waters reach 20C in August, and if the fancy takes you, you can go 'the full Rikli' in one of its secluded coves. 

Have a different kind of dip

Most of the hotels in Bled have gone down the luxury spa route, complete with swimming pools and massages. But the best - and truest to Doc Rikli's vision - is the Garden Village. This magical resort has tree houses and glamping tents on piers above two natural ponds, while the restaurant has grass on the tables and a stream flowing through it. There's a private Finnish sauna and a biotop pool that's perfect for a dip, with soft sand and marsh edges, plus air-temperature water filtered by rocks and algae. 

Up the tempo

Comfy? Time to jot yourself back to life. Slovenia could easily be a contender for the title of extreme sports capital of Europe, with its abundant rivers and mountainous regions an ideal backdrop for kayaking, climbing, rafting, mountain-biking and mountaineering. While there's plenty of action around Lake Bled, Stara Fuzina - in the nearby Upper Bohinj Valley and within the Triglav National Park - is more geared towards adventure, from canyoning and caving to paragliding. Its excellent information centre can direct you to equipment-hire shops and local guided. 

Blaze a trail

You can also enjoy the Bohinj Valley at walking pace on the new Julian Alp Trail, which opens this September. The 280km circuit takes 17 days to complete and skirts the edge of the Triglav National Park, providing fantastic views of the mountains while taking you through gorgeous villages filled with good food, local culture and comfortable places to stay. Be your own guide with the new site, which also helps you book accommodation along the way (there's no wild camping in the national park). Instead of hitting the heights, the rail winds along glaciated valleys and up to vantage points. That means you get all the best views but with fewer climbs and more beer stops. After all, wellness takes many forms.