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The base of Bansko Ski Area

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Exhausted from an eight hour bus ride that spanned three countries, we pressed the reception desk at our hotel for an answer. “It’s after midnight, our kitchen is closed.”

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“What about other restaurants nearby?”

“Walk done the road, you might find something open. We are located in the center of town.” Wow, that was unhelpful. The swank interior decorating of bright reds set on black and futuristic minimalistic Japanese inspired lines of the hotel lobby highlighted the staff’s unwillingness to get his image dirty with useful answers. This didn’t bode well for our stay. Luckily we were rescued by a perky eyed staff member who replaced her manager. We were pointed in the direction of a local tavern, one of many, and welcomed despite the late hour.

Huddling from the rain in the Old-Town

That’s Bansko, a bit rough around the edges but friendly and accommodating at its center. And for those who want to stretch their wallet in luxury this is the place. Set in the southern Bulgarian mountains close to the border with Greece, Bankso has always been associated with cheap prices, but now it’s becoming known for world class skiing as well. A crash in real estate speculation in 2008 has helped keep the prices down, but the residents of this former communist state kept themselves busy upgrading the town and ski area with the latest equipment and amenities. The speculation years left their scars in the form of half built hotels and high rise condominiums, but the old section of town was preserved reasonably well. There is still a rare lived in feeling to the old-town which makes a charming contrast to ski area and new construction just across the

Enjoying a smoke in the old-town

cobblestone street.

While having a quaint town to retreat to after a long day on the slopes is important, the main attraction is the skiing itself. Bansko boasts modern lifts and facilities (rare in the region) and has a wide range of trails that will keep beginners to experts happy. A fresh blanket of powder awaited us on our first day which proved nicer conditions than our trip to the Dolomites in Italy. Though to be fair, the selection of rental equipment is not friendly to the advanced skier. Bring your own if you are picky.

I told you it was rough around the edges.

Yes, this is the line. There is another just like it in the other direction.

Another issue is the distance to the slopes from the center of town. While having the slopes at the higher altitudes does wonders for the snow conditions, access is a big problem. Only one gondola ferries skiers to the beginning of the slopes and the traffic jams are intense. Be prepared to fight your way into the cars. As we were putting our skies in the outside holders two others snuck in before us. After waiting in line for an hour we weren’t impressed with the local hospitality. The gondola opens at 8:30 am so if you don’t want to wait for an hour or longer get there early, and bring some muscle.

The skiing and the views make up for it. Where do the clouds and mountains begin?

Once on the ski slopes the rough edges are washed away by the surrounding mountains and impossibly long views. After a long day of fresh air and carving up the slopes slip back into town where taverns rock out to the eighties and Bulgarian pop. Don’t forget to swig back a couple of rakiya, the local alcohol like grappa in Italy. And if a local asks if you like it, shake your head from side to side. Nodding means “no” in Bulgaria and you would hate to start an international incident over a drunken misunderstanding.

Have you been to Bansko? Let us know what you thought and share your tips and local favorites.

By the numbers:

Ski Pass: Adults €25; €Children 12.5/ per day

Altitude of the resort – 990m

Highest Peak – 2,914m

Total length of slopes – 70km

Total number of lifts – 14

If you go

Getting there: The closest international airport is in Sofia, Bulgaria, 95 km away. It is about a three hour drive from Sofia. Be prepared for windy roads with a few bumps along the way.

Where to stay: There are a ton of options in Bansko. The most expensive hotel, the Kempinski Hotel located right on the slopes, will set you back €100 per person per night. Our swank hotel cost €60 per night including breakfast and dinner for the two of us. If you are staying longer rent an apartment for as little as €250 a week. To find a place you can start here.

When to go: The ski season runs from December through late May.

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3 Responses to “Bansko- Bargain Basement of Bulgarian Skiing”

  1. Old town is certainly lovely but generally Bansko has been completely ruined by so much development and prices for skiing there are not that much different from much larger, more snow sure European resorts.

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  2. Love these posts on places I will most likely never have a chance to visit :)

  3. Bali VillaNo Gravatar says:

    The old town photo surely shows a different light for a bulgarian country. Haven’t seen one place like that there before.

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