Travel review: Winter Sports in Bansko, Bulgaria
- Credit: Archant
I refuse to believe I’m the only one in this situation. Winter sports enthusiast of many years standing, who hasn’t ventured near a piste for ages due to girlfriend whose ideal holiday is more beaches than boarding.
It’s tough, because if you’re investing close to a grand on a trip away together, you have to be sure you’re both going to enjoy it. And if I remember learning to ski like I think I do, you go through a few miserable, damp days before you really get the bug.
So for the past few years I’ve been stumped – but this winter I was determined to hit the slopes.
The way I saw it there were two main criteria:
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? It couldn’t be gut-wrenchingly expensive, as skiing holidays have a tendency to be
? There had to be plenty to do in the day to keep the girlfriend amused should skiing not tickle her fancy.
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Bansko hit both of these nails squarely on the head.
Pricewise, although things have gone up a bit recently, Bulgaria is still a darn sight cheaper than Alpine equivalents; flights, accommodation, lift passes and particularly the après ski (80p a pint in some places) all score highly in this regard.
And in terms of non-skiing activities, there is lots going on; from the gorgeous old town to the thermal springs, snow-shoeing, shopping, spas and more.
I enlisted the help of a friend, whose wife was similarly new to snow sports, and off we went.
Through Wizz Air we managed to find flights at a reasonable time on a Friday afternoon and took the opportunity to have a night out in Sofia on the way.
The Bulgarian capital is the classic east European combination of grim suburbs, but very beautiful old town – and well worth a visit.
So after a bleary-eyed, but otherwise incident-free transfer, we arrived in Bansko itself (worth checking the driver has the right chalet though – we almost has a mishap).
In common with many resorts, the new bits of Bansko are fairly functional, but the old town, a world heritage site, is incredibly picturesque; all cobbled streets lined with little shops and quaint taverns.
We were staying at Chalet Diana, a very attractive, full-board kind of place available at reasonable rates. By some kind of divine providence we were the only guests, so the hot tub, sauna, cosy lounge and expert cooking of Sofia and Russell (our chalet team) were ours to enjoy alone.
While the girls curled up in front of the real log fire with a slice of home-made cake and a cup of mulled wine, we raced up the slopes to have a look around.
Although the piste map is smaller than more established resorts (about 70km) there is more than enough to keep you amused from easy blue runs to hair-raising blacks, a snow park and plenty of off-piste.
Plus, most of the runs are carved through pine forests, so they all look gorgeous and there is lots of tree skiing to be had.
Plenty more piste has been planned for Bankso, as well as a second gondola – the need for which became evident on our first morning when we had to wait about 45 minutes at the bottom of the mountain.
Although a massive nuisance, the queues on the mountain are virtually nil – so I suspect the average waiting time is similar to most resorts. The gondola also enables non-skiers to come straight up to the mountain restaurants to meet skiing chums for a bite.
Not that we needed this as the girls gamely got involved from the off, having a quick 30 minutes of falling over a lot before their lesson began.
Booking lessons, hire and so on in advance was a complete cinch thanks to banskoblog.com – a website set up by an ex-pat living in the resort.
The site lets you book accommodation and transfers, and has restaurant reviews and even snow reports to whet your appetite prior to the trip – all available in a downloadable app - which made us feel like locals as we strolled merrily through the medieval streets looking for a meal.
Eating in the old town mehanas is a must; they tend to be incredibly warm and welcoming, dishing out hot spiced wine as soon as you sit down.
Food wise, Bulgarian fare is as uncomplicated as it is brilliant; huge skewers of meat grilled in front of you, hot and hearty stews, big salads (chunkier than you get at home) served with lashings of local wine and, if you’re lucky, live accordion music.
At more than 2,500 metres at its peak, Bansko gets some good snow. We had massive downfall on our second night and the sun came out the next morning creating perfect conditions.
Chalet Diana provided a ski guide who showed us some beautiful fresh off-piste powder, whilst steering us clear of any potential avalanches.
After a couple of days of lessons and bravely tackling the 7km ski run home, the girls were ready for some down time.
Luckily hour-long massages start from around £15, so they were well looked after while we went off looking for some silly jumps to do.
Although to be fair, my legs were feeling the pinch by this point – so the four of us grabbed a cab to neighbouring town Banya (about £10) which is literally bursting with thermal springs.
The Romans had cottoned on to this hundreds of year ago, and we were happy to follow in their footsteps, wallowing and soaking our weary bones in the 38C (100F) water bubbling up from the depths of the Earth.
Bansko delivered exactly what we wanted – the girls had a good go at skiing, without feeling there was nothing else to do, while we got a much-needed fix of powder.
Was it enough to make my girlfriend want to go again next year? I’m working on her already...