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Bansko Ski resort seems to be growing in popularity. The town accesses mountains which form part of the Pirin mountain range through a network of new and efficient lifts and a large eight seater gondola.
Bansko town is not able to boats great heights above sea level however following a 20minute gondola ride you reach the slopes which are stated to be 2000 to 2600 above sea level.
I visited at the begining of January this year (2010) and it was cold!!! I have been on two holidays previously so I was interedted to know how Bulgaria would measure up to the more traditional alpine resorts.
I have to say, it didn't. Here's why....
The town is split into two, new town and old town bansko.
New town: A blur of neon lights, erotic shops and the lap dancing bar is offset by mock English pubs which are filled with unruely drunk tourists!
Old town: much nicer but its out of the way, its a good fifteen minutes from the gondola and you have to be careful not to fall into the tourist trap resturants and bars who charge you twice if not three times as much as some of their neighbours!
Over crowded and full of nutters! I was completely wiped out twice on this holiday, I saw three people being stretchered off in one day and a lot of very irresponsiable skiing.
Grooming of the slopes was terrible, hidden humps from the snow cannons were not marked and had people flat on their back every day.
The mountain resturantes...
Horrible! If raw chicken is your thing you might enjoy it.
Our brochure said two and a half hours, it took us five.
Would I go back?
I went to bansko to give it a go last christmas and only that there were a group of fifteen of us we would not have had such a great time.
Skiing: very unsafe in comparison to other european and much more established ski resorts. There was a distinct lack of health and safety in the complete resort and things like guards on the end of the drag lifts were no where to be seen so your fingers could get pulled into them quite easily.
There is only one gondola to the base where everyone skiing has to queue and it took forever every morning if you were to wait, we got local taxis to take us up and it worked out quite cheap between the group but it defeated the purpose of having the lift pass in this respect. People were very rude and it scared the kids when there was so much or a squash at the station.
In terms of the skiing there was a limited amount of runs in comparsion to Westendorf/ sol areas and Val D'isere in France, very few options and not alot of lifts either.
Bansko Town: was a building site for the most part. there were alot of foundations poured for new hotels and appartments etc but they were not sealed off at all and this was very dangerous after a heavy snow fall as your perception of the depth infront of you at night was hard to guage and one could be on the edge of a ten foot drop and not realise this. There were alot of steel sticking up from the ground and not fenced or blocked off.The town itself in the old part is charming alot of character and the local church is beautiful. There are alot of lovely old buildings and the town would be a nice place to visit during the summer. As a ski resort though it left alot ot be desired
Food: the friendly Bar/ Resturant was the best place to eat. We like to try the local food as much as possible and have to total experience if we can however the local food is served luke warm and is quite greasy, its not that it was horrible, it was just not for us is all. the amigo bar also does lovely food but it is a bit of a walk from the centre. there was a lovely pizza hut by the friendly bar and we depended on this little place to feed us.We all got tummy bugs and were all unwell for at least one day and some toilets were very primitave outside of our accomodation!!
We were there for new years eve which was an experience in itself as there were pockets of fireworks going off all over the place which was nice but they seemed to be going in all directions which would make you wonder about who was setting them off!!!
In general we found people to be quite cold and rude. .
I say this as someone who has been to France, Austria, Switzerland and Colerado skiing. We thought it would be nice to go somewhere developing and check it out seeing as the flights and accomodation were so cheap and it was presented really well in brochures etc.
we were very disappointed with the night life and the trip in general.
I am sorry if i sound like a right crank but there were 14 others who felt like me in my trip. When we got to Plovdiv airport, 5 hours away, we met many many more that vowed never to return again and everyone wanted to be on the plane out of there.
Pompadoro resort seemed to have been a better experience for people.
We visited Bansko in February 09. My Dad's friend has bought a studion flat in the town, about a 10 minute walk from the Ski centre and above a lively bar.
We arrived at Sofia airport and took a prebooked minibus to Bansko. The trip took about 2.5 hours along mainly motorway, cutting through some pleasant scenery.
On arrival we found our apartment which was in a newly built block. The first thing to strike you is the amount of building work going on. There is clearly huge investment in the town and there are many estate agents. Building aside there is an "old town" which is quite pleasant and more what you would expect from an eastern European town, with a church and main square and narrow streets. Most of the shops are ski related and I have to say quite pricey. There are also a lot of Bureaux de Change which are worth comparing as the rates differ slightly from shop to shop.
In terms of things to do, there are a number of bars and restaurants including an English Pub. Most places show live football. At the time the exchange rate was £1 = 2 levs. Depending on where you drank, a large (500ml) bottle of beer ranged from 6 levs down to 1.75 levs. Obviously the clubs were most expensive but also watch out because many places serve Tuborg (yuk!) rather than the local brew. A meal ranged from "5 Levs down to 8 or 9. All the restaurants were good but look out for the restaurants where the locals eat. They have a good range of food and beer but they are far cheaper than the bigger, more central places. You will also find a casino and a strip bar but they are about a 15 minute walk from the centre and to be honest, the area of the town is very quiet and a bit dismal.
Now the skiing. This was my first time so I didn't know what to expect. As lessons start at 10am, you need to be at the ski centre to get your equipment by 8.30 as it takes 20 mins to get up the mountain on the gondola. There are many places to book ski hire in the town but we did it on line from Penguin Travel. When we arrived we found the rep easily and she was very friendly and helpful. We got our equipment sorted and then headed for the gondola. At that time there is quite a long queue so we subsequently started going about an hour later when it is much quieter. The gondola is modern and takes six people in each pod. I suspect that as the town becomes more popular they will need another gondola to get the crowds up.
Once at the top there is a nursery slope and another, slightly more advanced slope. I stuch to these but my 2 friends who had skiid before went off to the blue runs. The instructors were friendly and I picked up some good tips which helped. The weather was quite mild - about 14 C and sunny and at this time they hadn't had snow for a while and were worried about the piste melting (it did snow a few days later so all was OK). There is a bar/restaurant at the top but it is really expensive - about 20 levs for soup - so take your own food up.
If you get fed up of skiing there is a small ice rink which is quite good fun. Also, visit the Hotel Avalon (www.avalonhotel-bulgaria.com). The owner is an Englishman called James. He runs the hotel with his Bulgarian wife and he is a really nice bloke who is a font of all knowledge. His hotel is nice, clean, friendly and appears to be a meeting point for ex pats and regulars of the resort. You can eat and drink there cheaply and ask any questions about the locality. The hotel also has a masseuse which is cheap - about 20-50 Levs depending on the treatment. James also told us of a spa in one of the big, modern hotels which we made use of. It was 16 levs for a days pass and had a pool, sauna, steam room, gym, jaccuzzi and juice bar. It was great to ease all the aches and pains.
I am planning on returning next Feb with my wife and 2 kids because for the money I don't think you can beat it. (Heathrow to Sofia on BA was £140 return; hotel Avalon was £25 per night for a massive room with balcony; Ski hire was £230 for 6 days including instruction, ski pass and equipment; transfer was £50 each return).
We visited Bansko (Bulgaria) a year ago for a beginner snowboarding holiday. The town itself is a hub of activity, with a charming mixture of reminants from its communist days in the form of statues, plaques and memorabila, combined with delightful architecture and traditional restaurants. If its clubs your after, there are plenty catered towards the ski industry, with lots of 18-30 pub crawls and a wide array of night life. The piest itself is reasonable - as beginners we found there was sufficient to be challenging yet not too intimidating. However, if you are an advanced skier/snowboarder, the more challenging runs were somewhat lacking. There are plenty of additional snow-based activities to be on with, however, and these range from ice fishing to tobogganing. The food and alcohol is cheap, and the hotels (at least the one we stayed in - Hotel Gardinier) are excellent value for money. If your looking to improve your skiing skills and experience a great nightlife at the same time, I would recommend this as a destination!
My colleague and I were looking to invest in some overseas property but found the popular European and American areas too expensive.
After holidaying in the ski resort of Borovets in Bulgaria I decided to visit a local estate agent to browse through the properties they had on offer.
I was amazed at how low the prices were for some of these places and vowed to do more research when I returned to the UK.
There are really only two choices of location in Bulgaria Sunny Beach on the Black Sea coast or the ski resort of Bansko. We opted for the all year round letting potential of Bansko and started to search for suitable properties.
Using a site called Bulgarianproperties.com we found out that you currently cannot own land in Bulgaria as a non-Bulgarian citizen. You can get around this by creating a Bulgarian company and have the company own the property and land. This seemed like too much hassle. The other alternative was to buy an apartment. Again we were faced with two choices, buy an existing property or buy off-plan. This means that they hadnt started building yet! As this was the cheapest option, this is the way we went.
We contacted Bulgarianproperties and got the ball rolling by reserving a one-bed apartment. They have so far been excellent in that they have always kept us informed of the progress of the development they have even installed a web cam which takes a couple of still pictures each day for us to view. When the apartment is ready, for a reasonable fee, they will manage the letting and upkeep for us.
Payment is in four stages 15%, 35%, 35% and the final 15%. These are determined by the progress of the work and are paid to a bank account in Bulgaria. This does incur a small fee at both the UK end and the Bulgarian end.
We did some research on Bulgarianproperties on the Internet using the Brits in Bulgaria website for one. Everyone who has dealt with them said they where very good.
Our apartment will be ready by this time next year and we think that the price of around £32000 is going to prove to be a good little earner.
Word is that Bulgaria is set to join the Euro next year and are going for EU membership in 2007.
Bansko is in South West Bulgaria in the Pirin mountain region, a site protected by UNESCO. The transfer was just under 3 hours but it passed quickly both ways as the scenery is just so interesting.
We were skiing for the second time in February last year. If it had been last year as complete beginners I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it quite so much, although the ski school is excellent. For under £100 you get your skis, boots, sticks, 6 day lift pass and 4 hours a day tuition in small groups.
Advanced skiers claimed that the rating of the slopes is somewhat erratic. In fact they are in the process of re-rating all the slopes as at the moment some of the reds are more like blacks and some of the blues are more like reds. There are no greens, but a couple of great long ski roads so snow permitting you can ski right down to the bottom of the mountain instead of getting the gondala back down. Most of the lifts are fine but some of the drag lifts really do take the term 'drag lift' a bit too literally. You really don't want to use these ones if you have a shoulder injury! On that subject the medical facilities were tried and tested by some in our group who suffered minor injuries and they were very impressed by the attention received, especially as they treated them without worrying about seeing insurance papers first, which apparently is the norm in other European resorts.
All in all the conditions weren't bad at all. It was very sunny almost every day and the snow had melted alot at the bottom by the end of the week, making it difficult to ski all the way back down, there was some ice on the higher up slopes. The Bansko committee have invested a lot in this new resort in the last 2 years, 14 million US dollars on equipment alone - all the ski rental gear is brand new and an excellent make - Saloman. Lift passes are magnetic and you pay a 6 lev (£2) returnable deposit in case you lose them, stick them in the inside pocket of your jacket and then just lean against a sensor as you go through each gate. I loved not having the usual hassle of taking gloves off, unzipping pocket, taking out pass, swiping, then doing everything back up each time I went on a lift! Also as you wait for the gondola at the bottom (18 minute ride) there are screens everywhere showing different runs where you can spot your friends, good for a laugh!
Feedback from boarders is that it's a great place to learn/ improve but there is a lack of places to practise tricks - a half pipe is in the 'pipeline' though! The snow is a bit 'packed' but plenty of powder in the tree lined areas if you are brave enough to do that ...
Our instructor, Vasi, was great fun. She spoke excellent English and was determined that we would enjoy our holiday. I learned loads and would happily recommend her to anyone going there. On the last day all classes take part in a short slalom and you can buy a video/ dvd of your lessons during the week and/ or a group photo. On the last night certificates are presented in a local nightclub and most groups go out for a meal with their instructor afterwards. Make sure you pay for the ski school package before you go though cos it's over twice the price once you're in the resort and you may find it all booked up. Bulgarians move at a very slow pace, with a very 'manana manana' attitude like the Spanish so it's best to give as much notice as possible for anything you wish to book be it an excursion, massage, whatever.
We stayed in Hotel Bansko, a four star hotel. The facilities were good, great swimming pool/ sauna/ gym area, massage, table tennis, billiards, 2 bars including an all night karoke bar (don't worry they've sound proofed the walls well"). It was extremely clean - the chamber maids even folded up by pyjamas and practically repacked my suitcase each day! Only down side was that you have to rely on the free bus each day to escort you to the slopes - every 20 minutes, 5 minute duration. The food seemed fine at first - half board buffet breakfast and dinner, but by the end of the week we did get very sick of scrambled egg for breakfast and chicken type dishes with sticky rice for dinner. They did sometimes add extra dishes such as mousaka and chips, but be warned although they tell you the restaurant is open from 6pm til 10pm, we got there for 8.30pm one night and there was barely anything left. The food is of much better quality and there is more selection the earlier you go. Another point to note here is that Bulgarians don't believe in hot food, thinking that it is not good for the digestive system so they often leave it on the side to 'cool' before serving it to you. Some restaurants are wising up to the English preference for a warmer plate of food, but to be on the safe side like you always stress you want your steak WELL done in France to avoid a plate of blood, it's best to ask for 'hot food' in Bulgaria.
Social life - this was much better than we expected. There are a couple of nightclubs but mainly it is centred round the 'mahanas'. These are like 'tavernas' and are mostly in beautiful old buildings, traditionally decorated. We had a wine tasting night, others went on organised pub crawls and other nights just met up with friends from 'ski group' and explored them by ourselves. One 'mahana' in particular stood out, a traditional type place right at the end of the main square, along a cobbled street, it is run by a lovely Bulgarian called Dinko it was where Neilson held their wine tasting night. We went back there another night in a group of couples and he kept giving us drinks on the house, he spoke excellent English too which isn't as common as you might think in this resort as it has only been open to foreigners for the last couple of years. Other activities included 'bum boarding' - basically sledging but on a plastic tray, quizzes, bowling, karoke, day excursion to the Rila monastry, trip to Sofia (conveniently depending on your tour operator this was on the day of departure so you got 4 or 5 hours in the city before going to the airport - well worth it for the fantastically cheap markets selling everything from £1 a bottle vodka, to food, wallets and CDs. There were several non-skiers around as well and they seemed to find plenty to do, although the town itself is quite small. The ski instructors run a trip to a nearby thermal pool in the woods as well. The Dutch couple in my ski group raved about it, but can't tell you for myself since I, like most of the Brits chickened out of the naked dipping.
Bansko, like most of Bulgaria is CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP. A vodka in one of the local bars is equivalent to a triple shot at least at home and comes to the princely sum of around 30p plus the 40 odd pence for a mixer which only the foolish or very brave would go without! A large bottle of Bulgarian beer - by all accounts very good - will set you back 35p to 50p. Even the hotel bar prices are rarely over £1 and they haven't yet caught on to the fact that mini bars are meant to be an absolute rip off! Food in the restaurants is also dirt cheap so even if you're half board it's worth going out for a few meals as no doubt you'll get sick of the hotel buffets. Bulgarian food, like its culture seems to be a delicious melange of Eastern and Mediterranean with the traditional East European soups and stews combined with lots of Turkish style meze and Greek salads and feta cheese with lots of ham and chicken.
Bansko has a population of around 9,000 and is definitely 'up and coming' but at the moment, like most of Bulgaria is still quite poor - half the cars on the roads wouldn't stand a chance of passing their MOT in England! Most of the locals are really friendly but you did sense resentment of 'foreigners' among others, especially one shop I went in where I had to practically beg to be served and then was met with scowls and sighs! You can understand the few that are like this though. Bansko is bound to change beyond recognition in the next few years and they must fear it turning into another 'Benidorm of the slopes' - Boravets. They are planning to double the amount of slopes in the next 5 years but clearing thousands of trees of the mountains and building dozens of new lifts. My advice is to get there soon if you want a skiing holiday with a bit of 'authentic Bulgaria' thrown in without the lager louts cos this place is going to get more and more popular. As a clue property prices in the town have QUADRUPLED in the last 18 months. At the moment the holiday, including ski school, hire, pass and spending money should all come to under £600 in peak season staying in one of the best hotels, so you can't beat that really.
Get out there soon and experience it how it is now!!!