Bansko is a charming mountain town in the Pirin Range of Bulgaria. Above Bansko the pistes start at 2600 metres and fan down the mountain with a stimulating range of runs
Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria is a value-for-money option which leaves nothing out. Budget airlines Easyjet and Wizzair fly to Sofia, and the transfer to Bansko is about 100 miles. The road to the resort has been rebuilt with EU grants, is well-surfaced and signposted clearly enough for self-drive to be a good option. Package holidays are run by Balkan Travel and they will put you in one of the big hotels, with swimming pools, saunas and half-board. The Lion, the Perun and Strazhite are popular choices. If you are the type of traveller who likes to take more control of your holiday though, book a flight on the internet, car hire or transfer ditto, and stay in one of the many apartments or small local hotels. Mamin Kolio at 8 Bulgaria Street is a lovely little family run hotel with a great value restaurant attached. Alexander Services (www.alexanderservices.co.uk) can provide apartments all over town for couples, families or groups. Glenys and Nigel at Devonshire Lodge on Stephan Karadja Street will take fantastic care of you and you will be able to enjoy their outdoor hot tub too. Chalet Orbelus provides delightful cuisine and Simon and Joy are brilliant hosts.
Ski top to bottom in Bansko
The Gondola at the southern end of town offers a twenty minute scenic ride for the skier or boarder to apply suncream, adjust socks and mitts and maybe stuff down a banitsa breakfast before being deposited at Bundaritsa Polyana. Go straight ahead and take the fast chair up the side of the challenging Alberto Tomba black run. Half-way up the mountainside the chair will drop you just above another chairlift, and this one takes you right to the top. The scenery at the top is breathtaking, and now is a great photo opportunity. If you want to float down, there is the opportunity to paraglide from here. Seasoned snow-lovers will want to pit themselves against the bumps, steeps and ice sheets of the Alberto Tomba run. However, the less adrenaline driven are by no means obliged to take the chair down (how humiliating would that be!) but they have the choice to follow blue markers all the way back to town. That’s 16 km of run. Even on the easier side, there is still plenty of choice.
Above the treeline, ride the powder alongside the wide cruising pistes, and lower down, take one or more of the braided red runs which take a more direct route down. Plato area, where further ski-lifts arrive and depart has a wooden-built cabin restaurant with a large fireplace and a sunny terrace. It’s a great place to meet, have lunch or just a drink. Further down the mountain is the Chalin Valog area with a wide nursery slope for beginners, two short black runs and a red run where I was overtaken by a troupe of seven-year-olds carving at great speed (Bulgaria’s Olympic hopefuls for 2020).
Bansko town is about 936 metres above sea level, and the ski area tops out at 2600 with Todorka peak just over 100 metres above the highest chair lift. About 70 kms of ski runs are regularly cared for with snow cannons and piste-bashers, and the variety of runs allows for all grades of snowsport enthusiast. All the runs are accessible by chairlift or gondola, although there are some draglifts on the shorter slopes. Tuition is easily available for all grades, both in ski-school or as private lessons. Even for experienced skiers and boarders, there is always more to learn. Good quality skis and boards can be rented from Dimitri at Banskosport http://www.banskosport.com/
The resort is prestigious enough to attract major snow-sport events. We watched part of a three-day biathlon competition, where whippet-thin young men and women skied on long narrow skis around a 2.5 km undulating course, before lying prone or standing to shoot out five small targets at 50 metres distance. For each target missed they had to ski the ‘loop of shame’ as a time penalty. The award ceremony included music, posies, and young women in Bulgarian National Dress.
Apres-ski in Bansko can be as high octane or low-key as you like. The larger hotels have swimming pools, saunas and steam rooms available to non-residents for a small charge. Any one of the many Mexanas or taverns in town will provide tasty food, cheap beer, roaring fires and (probably) a band to serenade you over your Katino Meze or pizza and chips! The Happy End, right by the Gondola, is the place to dance in your ski-boots until late.
If you want a day off from skiing or deserve some pampering, the Kempinski Grand Hotel opposite the Gondola has a superb swimming pool and Jaccuzzi, and a wide range of saunas, steam rooms, warm relaxation benches and even an ice room! You could also treat yourself to a luxurious massage.
Bansko is not just a modern ski resort. It is also a thriving mountain town where the local people continue their traditional way of life. The Sunday market runs all year round and sells clothes, honey, horse’s bridles, rugs, shoes, freshly cooked meatballs and all manner of hardware. You can see chickens and goats in the small back gardens and wooden carts pulled by horses, mules or donkeys are a common sight to add charm to the stone-cobbled alleyways of the old town. We met three delightful ladies spinning wool with a drop-spindle, ready to knit into ski-socks!
We have been skiing in Bansko for several years, and though the resort is small, compared to Western European Alpine resorts, the range of runs and the facilities on offer make it the real deal for us. Blue skies, red runs and hot wine make for a winning combination.