Travel Guides

Bansko | Adventure Destination Guide

Anyone looking for an affordable snow adventure needs to get Bulgaria on their list

Featured Image: Mike Brindley

If you’re bored of having so much fondue every winter that medical professionals have starting warning you that your blood is now mostly melted Gruyere, then you might just be bored of skiing in France. And while we’d never ever tell you to permanently stop skiing and / or snowboarding in the mountains of our neighbours across the channel, we definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a year off and going somewhere else for a change. Step forward Bansko in Bulgaria; a curveball that’s cheap, cheerful, and anything but the ‘same old same old’ type of ski resort.

How To Get There

Bansko is served by two airports – Sofia (around 160km away) and Plovdiv (around 180km away). One of the most visually interesting ways, although definitely not the most efficient, is to get to Bansko is via the narrow-gauge train from Septemvri. It takes about five hours, and traverses postcard-perfect mountains and valleys.

Buses to Bansko depart regularly from various stations around Sofia and cost 16 leva each way (about £7). There’s not a whole heap of room for luggage on these (many of them are essentially vans) so you might encounter issues if you’re bringing your skis / snowboard with you. The timetable for these buses can be found here.

Things To Do In Bansko

Only someone who’s never been to any other ski resort before would try and tell you that Bansko is the best place on earth to go skiing and / or snowboarding. But that’s cool, Bansko is best enjoyed when you look at it simply as an extremely affordable way to grab yourself some sliding time on the white stuff. It’s not Whistler, it’s not even Morzine, it’s Bansko; it’s own distinct, weirdly charming, thing.

“An extremely affordable way to grab yourself some sliding time on the white stuff”

Nestled in Pirin National Park, in southwestern Bulgaria, Bansko offers visitors 75km of piste to get their teeth stuck into (as well as some very fun tree runs, and backcountry, if that’s more your thing). There’s 18 ski slopes (six blues, 11 reds, one black) in the main snow sports area, with two long, quite flat, ‘ski roads’ (orange) that’ll take you back into town. The snow is usually pretty reliable between January and April but even when it’s not the fact that 90% of the runs are equipped with snow-making facilities means your time here is never a total blowout.

Photo: Mike Brindley

The 400 square kilometres that make up Pirin National Park are, for the most part, incredibly beautiful. As well being home to stunning peaks such as Mount Vihren (2914m) and Todorka (2746m), the park is also where you’ll find almost one third of the country’s plant and bird species. The views in this place, when the weather’s playing ball, are truly excellent.

Touched upon this briefly already but one of the factors that makes Bansko a no-brainer on the winter adventure front is the low cost of things. You can, for example, easily get a pint of beer for £1.80. Did someone say après-ski? Bulgarian resorts like Bansko and Borovets consistently top surveys looking at best value ski holiday destinations.

“You can… easily get a pint of beer for £1.80”

These surveys look at factors like ski and boot hire, lift passes, ski school cost, and food and drink over a one week holiday. The Post Office’s Ski Resort Report, which is produced in partnership with Crystal Ski Holidays on an annual basis, calculated the overall cost of all that stuff in Bansko to be £453. This was cheaper than every other resort apart from Borovets (£448), the other Bulgarian one on the list.

While Bansko is known first and foremost as a winter sports destination, it’s also a nice place to visit in summer (it’s definitely a lot less busy). The mountain scenery we’ve mentioned above looks just as good in the hotter months, and there’s plenty of opportunities to go hiking and mountain biking if you’re all about getting active. Whether you’re here in the summer or winter seasons, exploring Bansko’s old town area is a must; especially if your Instagram’s all about that fairytale aesthetic.

Photo: Mike Brindley

Where To Stay

Because of Bansko’s all-round affordability, you won’t have to sell your vital organs in order to afford somewhere particularly fancy. A room for two at the very nice five-star Premier Luxury Mountain Resort, for example, could be yours for around £120 a night in winter. Not pocket change by any means but if you’re in a couple, and want to treat yourself, a stay here won’t be beyond the realms of fiscal possibility.

Other hotel options, worth a look, include the cosy and centrally located Rahoff, the incredibly relaxing Trinity Bansko Spa Hotel, and the very comfortable Uniqato Boutique Hotel. If you’re looking for somewhere cheap and cheerful to stay in Bansko, Le Retro Hostel is situated in Bansko’s UNESCO protected old town and another decent shout.

Eating and Drinking

Pictured: A quiet night at Amigo Pub in Bansko. Photo: Mike Brindley

No visit to Bansko would be completed without a night, or two, or three spent soaking up the atmosphere at Amigo Pub. Home to arguably the most fun cover band in Europe, with their extremely fun “Whisky time? All the time!” catchphrase, it’s the kind of place where one quick beer after skiing can rapidly descend into a full on session. Cheap beer, decent pub grub, sports on the tele, pyromaniac bar staff, ‘Sex on Fire’ sung at you in a Bulgarian accent; what more could you possibly want?

For tasty and authentic Bulgarian cuisine, head to Matsurev Han. As well as the grilled meat and barbecue options, this place also offers vegan and gluten free options (something that can’t be said of every restaurant in Bansko). If you’re chasing a real  “mehana” experience in this Bulgarian mountain town, look no further than this traditional establishment.

Check out our other adventure travel destinations for 2020.

This destination guide was brought to you in association with outdoor fashion retailer Blackleaf.

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