The ‘all season’ resort of Bansko, is situated in the south west of Bulgaria at the foot of the Pirin mountains 936m above sea level and has a population of around 10,000.
The old town, dominated by the church’s beautiful bell tower is situated near the centre and is most picturesque with narrow cobbled streets and quaint old buildings. It is worth exploring the local restaurants or taverns and the approximately 100 mehanas, which are nearly always atmospheric and attractive. There is plenty of nightlife, especially during the ski season, including a number of night clubs.
The Pirin National Park area, where the ski slopes are situated, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and encompasses some 60 alpine peaks which rise above 2,500m. A number of almost extinct animal species can still be found here.
Winter is when the town becomes fully alive. It is Bulgaria’s top ski resort boasting some 75 km of runs. The resort has state of the art lifts and piste maintenance equipment. Snow cover is maintained by the use of snow cannon and the seven kilometre home run from the top of the gondola is floodlit. This run is gentle but attractive, a great finish to a day or a pleasing and enjoyable achievement for a beginner. Our 3.5 year old granddaughter amazed us with learning the basics of skiing in one week and at the end of it skiing all the way back to the apartment exit on a leading rein.
With the highest ski altitude at 2600 m and the bottom of the gondola being at 990 m, Bansko's longest run is a massive 16 km. Cross-country trails, a snow-board fun park and an ice rink add to the fun. For the adventurous skier there are off-piste possibilities. Children are catered for with a nursery area served by a carpet lift, hand drags and one of the most gentle button drag lifts I have ever experienced. For more details visit the Bansko ski area site www.banskoski.com.
With temperatures reaching the low 30s centigrade at times, in summer Bansko becomes an outdoor community. Café awnings proliferate and the old ladies dressed in traditional style sit along benches gossiping awaiting the cows who, in the evenings, amble their way along the roads to their individual homes.
On Sundays there is a large market and every year there are a variety of festivals including folk and beer festivals as well as the popular international Jazz festival in August.
The gondola is open most of the summer and lots of fun activities are arranged at the top. http://www.banskoski.com/en/attractions
Mountain Biking: There are marked routes for mountain bikes both in the valley and in the National Park. Guides are available to show you the best routes.
Narrow Gauge Railway: This offers a lovely day outing along the valley to Velingrad.
Bear Park: Referred to as the Dancing Bear Park it is actually a well laid out sanctuary for all of the 23 former dancing bears that were once exploited in Bulgaria. The Bear Park is funded by two charities and currently charges no admission fee merely seeking donations. We recommend you to take your own refreshments with you as we found only limited drinks available and no food. There is, however, a pleasant room with tables, chairs and displays. For those without a car, trips can be arranged from Bansko.
Hot Mineral Springs: This natural spa is in Dobrinishte and we are told it is reasonably priced and well worth a visit.
Rila Monastery: This ornate monastery is one of the country's most visited cultural sites with a museum and frescoes and is well worth a visit.
Summer Activities include:
Walking/hiking in the mountains: Many marked paths (some long distance) wind their way through the UNESCO Pirin National Park with one starting from almost outside Mountain Dream. By turning off the Mountain Dream access road just before passing under the gondola one accesses the 'Blue' route and within seconds can be enjoying the mountain forest atmosphere. The Blue route may be followed up a beautiful river rich in wildlife, flora and fauna to a high mountain hut but alternatively, one can branch on to one of many side paths making one’s own circular walk or perhaps just simply enjoy a picnic at one of the many prepared areas.
With over 130 lakes the Pirin mountains offer some of the best walking terrain in Europe. Beautiful high mountain hiking routes connect huts and refuges providing long distance walking opportunities.
The Vihren hut, reached either by car or a very reasonably-priced mini bus (time table available at the Hotel Strazhite), is a start point for high level mountain hiking including the assault on Mount Vihren which at 2914m is the highest peak in the Pirin mountains. A pleasant short walk is from the Banderitsa hut (which is on the route to the Vihren Hut and has more parking) up to the Vihren hut and back (about 30 minutes each way). A short distance up and beyond the Vihren hut are some mountain lakes.
During the peak summer holidays the gondola operates giving access to other marked routes.
Alternatively take the car up the 11 km road above the next village, Dobrinishte, to the chair lift (open during the summer 8 am until 4 pm) which opens up other walking possibilities. Don’t forget to stop at the Trout farm on the way back down to Dobrinishte for either a fish or a drink.