If your idea of a dream holiday entails barrelling down an alpine ski run, dangling precariously from a cliff face or hiking across challenging terrains, then may we alert you to the endless possibilities of holidays in Bansko. However the hugely popular Bulgarian destinations isn’t all about daredevil leisure pursuits, as those seeking more genteel and specifically, cultural interludes away from the trials and tribulations of everyday life will be equally well catered for should they opt to venture in this Eastern European direction for their summer 2019 holidays. With a history and culture which can easily be traced back to the 10th century, a vibrant folkloric tradition and special culinary treats which mark it out as somewhere completely different, Bansko’s general look and feel will doubtless appeal to many tourists looking for something a little off the beaten holiday path.
Discovered nestling in the foothills of the Pirin Mountains, the ski resort of Bansko has curried a lot of favour with both new and seasoned travellers to this region of Bulgaria in recent years, and it’s not difficult to see why. Effortlessly combining more snow-orientated endeavours with those of history and culture-absorbing, Bansko is proving the perfect blend of destination for those seeking out an expansive – and indeed, eclectic – mix from their holiday itinerary. Despite skiing arguably being the main draw (and snowboarding, just for the record), there’s a raft of alternative attractions to be experienced in one way, shape or form when visiting Bansko on holiday. Take for example Rila Monastery, Yagodinska Cave, the Dancing Bears Rehabilitation Park and the sandstone pyramids of Melnik; all of which are within a short travelling distance for those holidaying in Bansko.
There’s a veritable array of local delicacies as such which to sample when staying in this part of the Balkan region, with starets (a thick sausage) appearing pretty high up anyone’s list in our opinion. Naturally, this alone doesn’t make a dish, but adding lyutenitsa and kyopoolu (two vegetable relishes featuring peppers and tomatoes – the first -and aubergines – the second) helps. And typically crops up in many restaurant dishes. Kapama is another one of Bansko’s preferred main meals, which is, essentially a combination of rice and sour cabbage. A traditional desert would probably be ‘Banitsa’s lokum. Which to the uninitiated is a sweet variety of a very popular Bulgarian pastry, banitsa; however unlike the usual banitsa (which tends to be salty) this variation on a culinary theme is soaked in syrup and contains pieces of Turkish delight and candied fruits for good measure. Naming names, and the restaurants you should be keeping your eyes peeled for when enjoying a Bansko holiday are any one (or multiples of) the following; VIP Room Ristorante, Wine Bar 25, Come Prima and Amvrosia; where you’ll find a bountiful selection of Italian, Mediterranean, eastern European and international dishes from which to choose.
Away from the more normally gravitated toward ski slopes, there are a vast array of alternative adventures to be had for families taking in the sights and sounds of Bansko this summer. Mountain biking and horse trekking are just a couple of fun ways to explore what’s considered by many to be one of Europe’s most unspoilt nature reserves, where you could easily find yourself enjoying lunch beside a clear mountain stream or sat among the forest glades. Speaking of running water, with the resort being geographically located a significant distance above sea level (and close to the Mesta river) the area surrounding Bansko is rich in natural spas and hot mineral water springs, some of which can be dated to Roman times. If you and your family wish to let another mode of transport take the strain while travelling around Bansko (or at least, in very close proximity to) then maybe hop on board the Bansko to Velingrad or Belitsa narrow-gauge mountain train. Snaking its way through the mountains and the spectacular scenery which is observed from every immediate compass point, you can take the trains to visit the aforementioned bear park too. Oh, and if all this coming and going proves to be too much, why not check out the local shopping scene in downtown Bansko, where the shopper will find a wide variety of retail establishment selling everything from clothes, ski and snowboard gear (quel surprise) and souvenirs through to electrical goods, bikes, and, er lamps amongst every else under the sun.
Did you know that some of Bulgaria’s accepted best downhill ski runs are situated near the resort of Shiligarnika, which is not many minutes skiing time from Bansko’s more alpine skiing territories. Well, you do now. All of which makes this terrain perfect for ski-doo safaris in our book; and which would result in holidaymakers taking up the invite to do this looking for all intents and purpose like James Bond himself, as you plough through the snow-covered woods accompanied by a local guide. And if you wish to mix things up a little more, then consider cross-country and ski-shoot, which for the more athletic is quite the challenge. If you’re wanting to up the adrenalin-pumping ante even more, then how about taking a short helicopter ride away from the resort and deep into the Pirin Mountain range, with a view to take on some of the backcountry slopes. And if you want a break from the white stuff for a while, then you can always throw yourself into a spot of white water rafting on the Stuma or Mesta rivers. Which is particularly encouraged in the summer months, when the melted snow from the mountains contributes greatly to the flow of said rivers.
OK. We hold our hands up here. Perhaps unsurprising to learn, the ski resort of Bansko (situated approximately 925 m above sea level) doesn’t have access to a beach. But hey, sand is sooo overrated when you’re instead surrounded by snow and ice. So let’s not get hung up on this admittedly inescapable (yet very small) detail; and jump to the ‘Wine and Dine’ section beneath.
If you’re looking to be entertained as if you were in Las Vegas while you holiday in Bansko, forget it. The Bulgarian ski resort is not about THAT type of raucous nightlife. That said, parties can be started and furthered long into the night at the likes of Jack’s House and Flash nightclubs for those in the mood to paint the town various shades of red. More ordinarily though, those visiting Bansko will be more than happy to indulge in the local tipples and treats offered by the areas numerous low-ceilinged taverns. Which are geared up to cater for those off-piste moments, and heavily feature a roaring fire. It’s also here where you’ll be exposed to even more traditional Bulgarian cuisine.
Couples can rejoice at many things which make Bansko holidays what they are, including thermal hot springs, Turkish baths and a multitude of additional relaxing pastimes in which to immerse themselves as they switch off from the rat race. And of course, when they’re taking a break from the slopes. On which note, you may be tempted as a couple to try your hand at night skiing (you know, just in case you haven’t had your fill during the daylight hours!). The route from the top of the mountain down to the town is floodlit one day a week so that you tourists can ski the last 6km from Banderishka Polyana down to the gondola station. From there you can have something to eat or drink in the Happy End Bar. Elsewhere a jeep safari might be more your cup of tea, where a unique off-roading experience takes holidaymakers down narrow dirt tracks and rugged rural vistas where you’ll encounter both river and mountain terrains. And lest we neglect to mention the caves at Yagodinska. The most popular of all the 4620 known caves which Bulgaria is home to per se.
Set where it is, Bansko is no stranger to custom, tradition and culture, the highlights of which are noted below. Amid the historically-measured stone and wood-constructed buildings discovered in the area, there are countless relics and monuments which act as a conduit to the past. Among these are the likes of the Sveta Troitsa Church (a 19th Century church which is fortified by 1m thick stone walls and houses flower-spangled ceilings and columns painted in rich shades of green and crimson, while in the churchyard a 30m-high clock tower is one of the town’s stand out landmarks) and the Bansko Permanent Icon Exhibition (which accommodates both 18th and 19th Century icons painted by the Bansko School of Art). Meanwhile Velyan’s House (an 18th Century mansion catches the wandering eye courtesy of its elaborate frescoes and intricate wood carvings of the Debyrska School, with the ‘Blue Room’ (dedicated to the artist’s wife) the most admired part) and the Historical & Ethnographical Museum (a 19th Century mansion which contains antique, medieval and later Revival period items, dating back to 6000 BC).
Looking for inspiration? Check out some of our favourite destinations near Bankso.