Want to expand your horizons and try skiing at an off the beaten track resort? This winter, consider a trip to Bansko, Bulgaria’s best mountain. Home to loads of fast lifts and reliable powder, Bansko is set in the valley of the Pirin National Park. Until recently the area was quite poky, but thanks to the recent increase in new accommodation options and the installation of brand new lifts, the secret is out.
In 2015, Bansko hosted the World Cup women’s downhill and Super-G races, leading to a surge in visitor numbers. If you are looking for great runs, a lack of long queues and a wide array of delicious, cheap restaurants, look no further than Bansko. This is well regarded as the best ski resort in Bulgaria, with plentiful snow, fast lifts and north facing slopes.
Bansko is a picturesque little town with pretty Main Square and lovely medieval architecture. While tourism is a big business here, the village has retained an authentic feel, and the hotels blend in well with the area’s homes, churches and traditional restaurants.
If you choose to stay right in town, it is a fair walk to get to the base and gondola (although some hotels do run free shuttles). There are a few hotels closer to the base. Development is in progress on a tourist hub in this area, and more high-end hotels and restaurants will soon be available.
Getting to and from Bansko
Many of the area’s chalets and hotels will help you to arrange transfers to and from the main airport hubs of Sofia (155 km/ 2 hours), Plovdiv (147 km/ 2.5 hours) and Thessaloniki (228 km/ 3 hours). Private transfers can also be arranged with Bansko Express or Sofia Airport Taxis. The area is also serviced by public bus and rail options, but remember than Bulgarian transport can be spotty.
Skiing and Snowboarding Options
Pirin National Park is a UNESCO listed heritage site, renowned for its natural beauty. It is home to 75 km of piste and altitudes topping 2500m. The region gets a reliable snowfall between December and March, and snowmaking facilities are on hand.
Beginners and intermediate skiers are well served by a wide variety of red and blue runs, and while the advanced pistes are rare r (there is only one black) they do offer some challenges.
Passes and gear rental are refreshingly affordable compared to other resorts in Europe, and while this is not the skiing highlight of the continent, it is a good and reliable choice. The prices at press time were 360 lv/ €185 for six days, with some student discounts available (with valid student ID).
Where to stay
Bansko has heaps of hotels and chalets, some located in the village itself and others located closer to the slopes. While the village is quaint and scenic, the location of the newer hotels is far closer to the lifts.
For a five star hotel, consider splashing out on the Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena. This is a luxury alpine style resort, complete with a decadent spa and other world class amenities. Looking for something a little cheaper, but still central and reliable? The Hotel Avalon is a family run property with affordable rooms and a friendly atmosphere.
If you would prefer to self-cater or are looking for accommodation for a large group or family, consider booking a chalet. Ski Chalet Bansko has many English speaking options and can help you book the best property for your needs.
Eating and drinking
If you elect to eat or drink on the mountain, you can expect to pay a hefty premium. That said, the food back in town in Bansko is delicious, hearty and best of all, very inexpensive. The traditional local taverns are called mehanas, and they serve massive portions of traditional Bulgarian food and hefty glasses of local wine. Think Greek style fresh salads, grilled meats and savoury , flaky pastries. Try the Baryakova Tavern or the Voyvadata Tavern.
If you don’t feel like eating local dishes, there are many other international restaurants to choose from in the village. Pizzas, sandwiches, steaks and burgers are all available in abundance, as are children’s options.
For your après drinks, you are spoiled for choice. The Bulgarians love a tipple, and there are dozens of bars and pubs to choose from. Of course, no town is complete without an Irish pub, and The Irish Harp is particularly good. Bar Happy End is another popular place, and its location next to the main gondola makes it a perfect spot to grab a post-slope drink.