The Mehana, a traditional Bulgarian-style restaurant.
"So, where to next?" was the general question on my peers' lips at the turn of this year. Replying 'to Bansko in Bulgaria' produced a few reactions of bewilderment caused by a lack of familiarity with Bulgaria itself, let alone the up-and-coming ski resort town of Bansko. For those in the know, Bansko has been given a sizeable facelift in recent years thanks, in large part, to the financial boost injected into the town so that it can justifiably be marketed as Bulgaria's premiermost ski resort. In keeping with the town's origins, the traditional elements are kept pretty much in place with the Old Town area of Bansko staying largely intact, and the more modern area which adjoins the main gondola from the foot of the slopes is perhaps where the main glut of the town's developments have taken place in recent years.
Souvenirs abound in the tourist-magnet of Bansko.
Staying at the highly-rated (and justifiably so) Avalon hotel tucked away down Bansko's back streets, but still easily accessible to the slopes, getting to and from the ski area proper on a daily basis was a breeze, and with Bansko's improved snowmaking facilities, it seemed that there was nothing from the outward appearance that could possibly prevent this skier from getting the most out of an annual ski break. Well, the good news is that Bansko delivered on this score, and the skiing tended to be reliable enough to put itself somewhere in the mid-range section of European ski resorts, and occupy the lower price bracket as part of the whole deal too. Blue and easy red runs in Bansko abound, which suggests that rank beginners will not fail to be lured by this choice as their first foray onto the slopes proper, and although really challenging slopes are hardly in abundance, the whole mountain is extensive enough to warrant a thorough set of test runs just to see which areas of the piste network appeal the most.
At the foot of the most gentle blue run in Bansko.
In and around both old and new Bansko, various traditional Bulgarian eateries abound, known as Mehanas, and differing in both price and quality, so perhaps a little local knowledge will help you to focus on the more reliable evening dining options. Similarly, nightlife ranges from the raucous and tourist-targeted spots to the more traditional Bulgarian-themed places, and bars cover the entire range from tranquil watering holes to packed-to-the-rafters boozers where pulsating background music and gigantic TV screens are the order of the day. Day-trip options and excursions within Bansko cover a sizeable range of possibilities, but for my money, it was the snowmobiling tour which acted as the biggest lure, and was to provide the crescendo to an already fun-filled week on the slopes. Lasting just one hour, and being conducted fairly locally, at an area where flat snowy terrain and distant mountain vistas were present, the snowmobiling tour proved that there are certainly more ways than one of getting your much-needed fix in the context of snowsports.
Traditional elements are still in place in Bansko.
Boarding a bus bound for the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia
at the very end of the stay proved that Bansko has got what it takes to be a contender for the title of Europe's most prominent emerging ski resort, and as properties spring up more frequently in the local area, it is to be hoped that Bansko is able to weather the changes well, and prove itself to hold its own in an area of a continent already saturated with ski options.