Ski Adventures in Bansko, Bulgaria
IF SOMEONE had asked me to create a list of dream European skiing destinations before this trip, I doubt Bulgaria would have featured.
Though by no means an expert, I have plenty of love for the alpine sport and often daydream of toasting my frozen toes by the fires of picturesque chalets in Switzerland, France or Austria.
In my mind, skiing should involve a minimum of time on the piste, and long hours drinking schnapps, buying cuckoo clocks and eating fondue in a mountainous haven straight from the cover of a Swiss chocolate box.
So the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the post-Cold War charms of Bulgaria surprised me immensely.
The journey to Bansko was no barrel of laughs, a four-hour flight and three-hour minibus transfer from Sofia through treacherous mountain roads is enough to test the nerve of the most passive of travellers.
But when we arrived in the slightly sparse, snow-covered town we were immediately treated to a friendly reception at the charming Amigos bar. After a long trip, and slightly concerned that my one week of skiing experience more than eight years earlier may cause me serious embarrassment or injury in the morning, I predictably over-indulged in the local spirits and cocktails.
As dawn broke, and my hangover began to take hold, we headed from our warm, cosy hotel, to the slopes.
Despite the crippling headache, the words of our friendly, yet firm, instructor sunk in and I was soon ready to tackle some of Bansko’s challenging ski runs.
With more than 70km of courses, there is plenty to keep skiers of all abilities entertained. My lack of ability restricted me to the intermediate tracks, there are more than enough risky “blacks” to test the most talented of skiers.
The resort has one slope that will set pulses racing for those willing to risk life and limb for a snow-soaked thrill. Named after legendary Italian skier Alberto Tomba, the Tomba black run is a test of skill, nerve and stamina.
Which is exactly why I gave it a miss! Just watching the effortless swooshing of talented skiers as they flew down the signature course was enough to send me scuttling into the main gondola station area, where I confess I spent much of the afternoon.
There are a range of cafes and snack bars to suit all tastes at the base, with most of the food on offer rich, filling and perfect for hungry skiers. After relaxing in the gondola area, we headed for a real treat – a leisurely ski down the resort’s stunning Ski Road.
Leading from the top of the gondola lifts back to the base of the mountain, the beautiful seven km-long downhill trip offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and is nicely designed to accommodate both beginners and intermediates.
The skiing takes a back seat to the glorious scenery, and the Ski Road offers a perfect end to a day on the piste. For the rest of the trip, the slopes continued to offer fun and frights in equal measure. With plenty of runs and routes to explore, there is easily enough at Bansko to keep even the most dedicated ski enthusiast satisfied.
Our accommodation proved a comfortable and homely respite for tired limbs and frostbitten faces fresh from the piste.
Hotel Strazhite’s sauna and heated swimming pool helped reinvigorate our group to enjoy the surprisingly lively evening entertainment in the seemingly sleepy Bulgarian town.
Tasty food at local tavernas was complemented in most restaurants by musicians, roaring fires and plenty of cut-price wine.
The bars of Bansko all share a relaxed atmosphere, but offer plenty of variety in terms of music and clientele.
Although this may not be the party capital of the skiing world, there is more than enough apres-ski action in Bulgaria to please committed revellers.
It is a cringeworthy cliché I know, but there is something for everyone in Bansko.
Families, students, couples, beginners, experts, intermediates, drinkers, thrill-seekers and those looking for a quiet life can all find what they’re after.
The only real disadvantage is the travel time. It would be quicker to get to New York than to transfer from Birmingham to Bansko, but for the most part the trip is worth it.
And that’s because the major bonus for any skier to Bulgaria this season is the incredibly reasonable cost of everything. For half the price of some American and Central European locations, you can enjoy all the fresh powder snow and exciting slopes you could wish for. And the accommodation is surprisingly comfortable, with plenty of lively apres-ski thrown in.
In the end you just feel that by taking a week in Bansko, rather than splashing out on seven days in a more illustrious destination, you have got yourself a very good deal indeed.
Next time I update my dream ski destination list, Bulgaria will certainly be on there.
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- Bansko Opens the New Winter Season on December 16
- The Starchevata Festival to be Held for 7th Year in a Row
- Folklore Festival to Gather Fans at Eleshnitsa
- Tourist Boom in the Bear Park Near Belitsa
- Summer Theater Begins in Bansko