They say the only thing is better than mountains, are mountains. Today, I am going to take you on a journey to the Alpine ski resort in Bulgaria. You will ride snowy slopes with me, will know what it looks like and what to expect. I’ll also take take you to the ancient places around there – the history of this is incredibly rich.
Bansko is a small town in the South West of Bulgaria with a mountain ski resort. The highest peak of Pirin Mountain is about 3000 meters. Bansko is located 160 km away from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
When you arrive to Bansko, especially in the wintertime, it looks very different from Sofia. Lots of cute houses and an alpine kind of architecture and cute white and brown decors. It’s like a winter fairy tail.
You will find around you a fairytail-like looking landscape, alpine style architecture, fresh mountain air, clean spring water, which are one of the great reasons to stay in Bulgaria for a while!
So where do you arrive if you go to Banksoo?
The nearest airport to Bansko is located in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. While browsing the airplane tickets, you can also consider a flight to Thessaloniki in Greece – it might be cheaper.
Sofia to Bansko drive takes about 2 hours, while a trip from Thessaloniki to Bansko is about 3 hours.
Majority of the airlines allow you to bring your ski equipment for free in addition to provided luggage space.
While you are driving from the Sofia airport, you can already see the mountains. The road starts with some modern buildings and then continues with some rural and abandoned houses and construction areas.
Sometimes you can see that it is far from a fairytail, with feral dogs around, broken roads, abandoned hotels, frozen constructions and ruined houses. But along with that, there are fancy hotels with the well groomed landscapes near by.
Bulgaria has a very rich history, which refers to ancient times. There are many historical and cultural places and in some of them archaeological excavations are still in progress (you can find those in the middle of Sofia city).
There is a number of hotels in Bansko. Closer to Gondola it is – it is busier and more expensive. There are also lots of apart hotels in nice complexes. These kind of apartments usually are with kitchen and more facilities, which are a good alternative to the hotel.
We stopped our choice on a nice apartments in Ivan Rilski hotel complex –read my review of this apartment hotel in this post. It is located only within about 15 minutes walk from the actual ski slope, or only a couple of minutes driving. Hotel also provides a free shuttle bus. It is a nice and quiet place with a beautiful alpine architecture style and mountain view. There are lots of benefits, such as a swimming pool, SPA, jacuzzi, sauna, pool table, bar, restaurant, wifi, kids room and everything you basically need for a relaxed stay. Apartment rental is available here.
1) Ski resort, prices, lifts etc
The ski resort is quite good, and it suits for both beginners and continuing riders.
A full day ski pass price is currently 58 LV (about 29 Euro). If you wish to get a half day pass – you can do so, and it will be discounted. You can buy it after 12:30 PM for 45 LV. They also offer variety of family passes and season passes.
In general, prices are cheaper then in others European ski resorts.
However, Sundays are very busy and you might spend about an hour in a queue for a gondola. So I personally did not like going skiing on Sunday, unless you go very very early before everyone else wakes up :)
Car Park prices in Bansko Ski resort:
Where is it better to rent ski equipment in Bansko?
Obviously, it is more convenient to rent a pair of ski with the boots and ski poles on top of the gondola.
But you will need to spend double the price if doing so. Your benefit will be that you do not need to carry your equipment with you all the way up and down.
If you rent anywhere else in town, it is two times cheaper (30 LV vs 15 LV per day), so you can decide what is better for you if you do not have your own.
There is no hourly rate and if you are a beginner and only would like to try to ski for an hour – you have to pay for the whole day.
In town, you can also buy all the necessary equipment. There is a large variety of shops and prices that will suit anyone.
The halfway adult price is 48 LV and you get 5LV back when you return your card (so it’s 43LV in total). If you have your student ID card, you also get a small discount – 5 LV. I’ve used my Australian student card and it worked.
The price for ski instructors on the slope is 70-60 LV for an hour (about 35 EU).
Majority of stores offer cheap skiing clothes and gear, if you do not care about cool and famous brands. You can buy cheap ski pants for about 90 LV (~45 EU) and cheap goggles for 60-90 LV. Quality and design would be very simple, but they do the job, especially if you going to use it only temporarily. People who ski only on occasion are happy with simple equipment.
I normally prefer to get US brands and I could only find those in a couple of stores. For me it is worth it to invest a bit more money for the good googles. The sun in the mountain can be harmful for your eyes and your vision is extremely important, especially while skiing or snowboarding. I used to use Electric and Oakley, but now I feel like Scott goggles give me better visibility and I picked those.
3) Skiing in Bansko
If you are coming on a Weekend – make sure to come very early to avoid queueing.
There are bathrooms in the cafe on top and there is wifi connection. We got coffee up there, but I honestly would not recommend it. If you go to that cafe – do not buy coffee there – it is the worst coffee for 8 LV (4 Euro) you can find (average prices are about 2.5 – 3.5 LV for the coffee in town). As soon as you drive a little bit away, price drops by up to 200%.
The first time I went there I did not have a map – I simply asked an instructor which way do I go down and they pointed to the slope on the lefthand side from a gondola station. I took that way and I was wondering why everyone there was skiing and only a 2-3 people were snowboarding. After I took that path, I understood why it is more popular to ski than to snowboard, ha! It was a very steep mountain, but in some parts it is completely flat, so you are going very slow and often stop even if you are experienced in skiing.
When snowboarding, you have to jump a bit or to take one foot off and push yourself forward, which is quite annoying. In the beginning it was not too steep, but then it got pretty boring. Many skill levels and beginners were with an instructor in there. This is a good slope for people to learn to ski. Later I found out that there is another way to go down, which is more fun and less flat, but when there is not much snow, it can be quite dangerous, as it’s full of stones. So, when you are going down – do not take left (if you know how to ski), if you are learning it is ok to go to the left.
4) Bansko ski weather conditions
Can you ski in Bansko if it’s warm and more than 10 degrees C? Absolutely yes. On top of the mountain it is colder and they also add some artificial snow.
We’ve been to Bansko in February and there was no snow in town and it has been raining for a couple of days. But the slopes worked and it was not too bad. Locals say snow covers everything even in March.
After we’ve left, the sky sent more snow to the Pirin Mountains. And this is what has been happening for the last 3 years as a rule. So it is lots of snow at the end of the season – in May. Majority of people leave before 23rd of February (the end of European holidays).
As a result, the best time is at end of February and in May.
5) Food& Cafes on the slope
Many people know that the food in the cafes on the slopes are quite bad and too expensive, so you see lots of people bringing their own food and snacks. If you are going to ski – take a sandwich and take your drink with you. You will spend hours on the slope and you will obviously need to eat something. The other thing is – you will see a lot of people who only hang around the cafes and do not ski much.
When we went to ski for the second time – we simply purchased sandwiches and pancakes for 3-4 LV (about 2 Euro) downstairs at the kiosk, while the price for the same thing upstairs was more than double that.
Drawbacks. Things that you might not like there.
If you’ve been here before, you already know – and you probably won’t be surprised with this. They smoke everywhere and when we were sitting with the baby, people sat next to us to have a cigarette… Everyone smokes while others are having food and staying with the kids.
I feel like they really need to separate smoking areas from non-smoking. I also see people smoking (and drinking) in the shops and cafes and offices, even while working. It was very weird and, of course, not nice to the customers, but apparently no one cares. In the medical assistance area at the slope, the nurses were smoking all day, so the whole floor smelled like tobaco and even the elevator in the building had a strong smell.
Supermarkets & Grocery shopping.
There are a few mini-markets around the town not far from the ski resort.
We had to buy water bottles for 6 LV (3EU) and eggs for 5 LV, while it normally costs half that price in other supermarkets. If you need to do a lot of grocery shopping and if you’ve got a car (sometimes it is even cheaper to go by taxi, than pay double for groceries) – go to the Lidl, that is located only about 5-10 minutes away driving.
There is Carrefour supermarket down from the gondolas. This Carrefour looks a little bit empty, but you can buy all your basic necessities here and, of course wine and beer. It is cheaper than other supermarkets on the main streets and the supermarkets by the hotels. They offer quite a large choice of wines from Europe and even from Australia. Prices are acceptable.
Traveling with Kids to Bansko
We’ve visited Bansko with a 2-year-old boy. We’ve faced some difficulties walking around the town with a pram, as far as the sidewalks are not suitable for the prams, as well as for wheelchairs.
When we arrived to the resort on a sunny Sunday, it was extremely busy, and we had to wait for more than a half an hour to get to the gondola that takes you up. The staff kindly assisted us with a pram and took it up to the stairs, skipping a part of the queue. We arrived to the upper stop of the gondola and left the pram next to the cafe. Later we found out that there is actually a lift that can take babies, disabled and injured riders to the top. So, if you are with a small baby/infant – feel free to ask for assistance to use the lift.
There are lots of kids shops, where you can buy various toys and necessary supplies, so your precious little ones will not get bored.
Banderishka Polyana – is the biggest spot with a few cafes, bars and restaurants. It is the place where everyone arrives from the bottom of the gondola. Then, from this spot you can take the other lifts and choose other spots to stay. So, around Banderishka Polyana there are families with kids, even with infants and prams. So you can take your child if you want to.
To take a pram upstairs, you can ask the staff and they will take you to the hidden lift that is located behind the first aid room. The staff kindly said we could use the lift. However, they don’t offer this service every time, and you might need to ask. The baby lift (under 7 y.o.) costs 1 LV – to go up and down.
There is an ice rink, which is not that big and is pretty expensive, even for Europe. If you are going with a kid and do not plan to ski – you will have to rent the equipment anyways. Also, if you want to ski less than an hour (from the parent’s perspective, kids get tired in 15 minutes) – you can not get a pass for a half an hour. So you’ll have to pay about 18 Euro to have 15 minutes for your child.
The main business here are the ski shops and hospitality. Moreover, you can find a casino and a gaming bar. Furthermore, I have never seen so many strip clubs in one square kilometer, so that is probably one of the main businesses as well… Some of our male friends said that men on the streets offered them girls and drugs, which is… hmmm… I can’t event find the words to finish the sentence… That was one of the reasons that I did not like staying in Bali.
Weird thing – they put signs and black bows on the doors of the houses with photos of people who passed away, even if it was a while ago. Such a kind memorial.
The pick of the touristic seasons is during Christmas holidays and all of November until the beginning of February. In February, we’ve found less snow, plus 10 degrees C warmer. But the mountain peaks were full of snow. Furthermore, they added more artificial snow at the resort.
When we arrived in Sofia we ordered an airport pick up with a driver that took us to the hotel. The airport pick up usually costs around 100 Euro, but we found a friend of a friend from a Russian community who was very, very nice and helped us a lot, who took us to the supermarket on the way and helped us with a pram and a baby, charging only 70 Euro. We were very lucky and gave a big thanks to that guy.
After a few days here we decided to take a car. You actually can rent a car at the airport. It is better to book it in advance before you arrive. Unfortunately, we decided too late and there were not many cars available for rent.
We were looking for a car in Bansko for a couple of days. In fact, there were even less choices there and it was way more expensive to rent it in Sofia. After a long search and receiving recommendations from local experts, we chose between two companies (it can be dangerous to rent a car from anybody, unless you’ve checked recommendations and real reviews. There are so many fake reviews and ads on the web, that we spent hours to sort those out. Also local and experienced tourists warned us that car rental companies can cheat you and try to get more money from you for non-existant damages and so on).
So! Two companies – one that we were more sure with – toprentcar.bg and another option was rentacar.bg. Both have their offices in Sofia airport, good references and high level of trust. We rang the first one and it was already later than 6 PM, the office was closed, but someone answered the phone. This phone number was working after 6 only for the emergency calls, so they could not really help us. While we were looking for the reviews and browsing the cars and features and lost our time for other stuff, the website of ‘Toprentcar’ just stopped working about 11 PM, which was weird. I was assuming that website time was not supposed to be depending on the hours of operation and probably it is a problem with a server or something like that. However, everything was pointing out on that fact that website is not working at night, which is again – weird! But there is nothing you can do.
As we found out earlier – we could order a car delivery to Bansko, and it costs 50 Euro. However, our friends were driving to the airport and kindly offered to drop us off there, so we’ve decided to pick up the car in the airport by ourselves.
The official language here is Bulgarian. The alphabet is Cyrillic, same with Russian, so might can be slightly challenging to read it if you only know Latin letters, but you can still guess the meaning, because some words sounds similar to English.
As far as Bansko is a very touristic place, people here speak English and some people speak German and Italian too.
Many businesses here are open only during winter season. When winter ends, they close everything and move to the seaside for a summer season to trade for the beach tourists to stay busy the entire year.
What else can you do/ see around Bansko?
Horse riding – about 5 Euro (10 LV).
Mineral Springs Pool and Bath. Banya village.
St. Teodor Tirol and St Teodor Stratilat midevial churche.
Local Food & Eating Out
Bulgarian (Bansko style) food is based heavily on meat and vegetables. All kinds of meat are sometimes mixed together in one dish.
In one of the local restaurant – Mehana (written as ‘Mexaнa’), they serve soups and amazing, usually huge salads, which we usually order for 2-3 people. Salad bowls are really big and yummy, sometimes really salty though. Good ones are spinach with feta, Ovcharsky and the one that sounds weird, but it is actually good – yogurt with pickles and walnuts – definitely worth trying – this is something really different!
Many people say, food around this sea area in Bulgaria is different Bansko cuisine food is definitely better.
For vegetarians there are always vegetable and beans dishes on the menu, so you would not be disappointed. You can always find various potato or mushroom dishes and yummy baked capsicum ‘Pecheny Chushki’ or ‘Pecheny Piperki’.
I have not tried any seafood dishes, or anything that came from Greece or Italy. I don’t like to try dishes that aren’t local, because local stuff is good and there are so many things to try!
We’ve noticed that they tend to oversalt and over-sweeten everything. Apparently, too much salt or too much sugar with very rich, mixed flavors are their speciality.
They also make delicious ice cream and desserts, so make sure you order a few!
Keep in mind, that the restaurants on the main streets are more expensive (like 2 to 5 times), so I would recommend avoiding those. If you go a little bit away from crowded streets, you can find cheaper and even better restaurants. For me usually the sign of a way too expensive restaurant was when there is a way to welcoming host infront of the entrance asking everyone to come in.
Cheap and good restaurants in Bansko that I definitely recommend to check!
Karino – 2 (address 19, Dobrinishte, Bulgaria).
For the coffee or a cocktail – I would recommend to check Gloria Boutique.
We loved to have our coffee here – it is a nice place with a few tables outside to chill in the sun.
Some restaurants serve Italian, Greek, and English food. For the entire two weeks we ate only Bulgarian food and there were still lots of things to try when we left. Bulgarian hospitality offers a big variety of dishes and you will definitely find your favorite one!