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Updated: 2005-09-29

Article by Christina Dimitrova, Sofia Echo (28 July 2004)

So you’ve been to Bansko in the winter. You’ve tried to walk its crowded streets and tried to find a parking space. You’ve been skiing in the day and drinking in the mehani (taverns) at night - if you found a table - and you probably think there is nothing much to do in Bansko in the summer and it is nothing but a sleepy town.
Well, you are wrong.

In the summer Bansko resort is very peaceful and quiet indeed. Unlike the ski season, when it gets very crowded and is booked for months in advance, in the summer the town is empty except for the locals who are always willing to rent rooms in their homes. All mehani are at your disposal and chances are you may be the only patron.

In other words, it is the perfect vacation spot even for a weekend escape from summer in the city.

Apart from the more traditional entertainments and sleeping late and sitting in the cool mehani, there are quite a few things to do to avoid getting bored during a longer vacation. The proximity of the Pirin Mountain and its easy accessibility by car makes it perfect for a picnic or a hike.

Residents have explored the suitable picnic sites and have constructed hearths covered by thick stone slabs on which you may roast anything that takes your fancy. Usually the hearths are located at meadows or clearings near cold pure mountain streams or springs under the thick shadows of beeches and oaks.

Even though the water is not purified artificially, it is of the purest and coldest kind and is perfect for drinking or using to cool your drinks.

These barbeque sites are favourite places for the locals who load their cars with food and home made rakia and spend a day in the woods. One of the “specialities” they prepare on the stone slabs, apart from the almost mandatory pork chops, is green peppers stuffed with white cheese and bacon and roasted on the slab, which is greased with bacon in advance.

If you do not fancy heavy meals in the woods, you could take a hike in the woods and feast on the abundant berries, which ripen in late July and August - although, beware of the nettle in which the most delicious berries conceal themselves. Another thing to do while in Bansko is to climb the highest peak of the Pirin Mountain, Vihren (2914 m). From Bansko you drive to the Vihren hut, which is at the foot of the peak, leave your car there and climb the peak. Bear in mind, however, that it is not one of the easiest hikes, and quite often the weather changes suddenly. The peak is known among avid hikers as the “peak of storms” as is evident from its name, which means “of the gale”. Sometimes even in the summer, a light rain can turn into sleet.

If, when you arrive at the Vihren hut you decide you are not up to climbing peaks, you can visit the nearby Lake Okoto (The Eye). It is a 40-minute to one-hour hike from the hut and is easily accessible. Like the famous Rila Lakes, Okoto is of glacial origin and its water is very deep and extremely cold.

The view of the jagged peaks surrounding the lake and the nearby alpine meadows is truly amazing. If you are lucky, you will have a chance to pat the small mountain horses grazing in the meadow. On your way down from the Vihren hut, you can take a small detour to visit the Baikusheva white fir. It is known as the oldest or the tallest tree in Bulgaria - or both. Either way, it is a very impressive sight because its wide deeply wrinkled trunk is wider than the embrace of six men with arms wide spread.

Back in Bansko, you can visit the nearby micro dam, to enjoy the sun setting behind the forest and the high peaks reflecting in the still water. It is a half-hour pleasant walk from the northwestern edge of the town, but it is essential that you ask the locals for directions. If you long for a soaking in the water, you could visit the nearby village Banya, which has an open-air swimming pool with hot mineral water or the pool in Dobrinishte, also with mineral water.

If you are a fan of train rides, you could catch the narrow gauge train from Bansko to Dobrinishte. If you think this ride was short, board the train for a fun ride to the village of Avramovo in the Rhodope Mountains, the highest train-stop in Bulgaria. The ride takes about two hours and is one of the most picturesque in the country.

If you are an animal lover, you could visit the reserve for dancing bears in the town of Belitsa, sponsored by Austria’s Vier Pfoten Foundation and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. Belitsa is a 40-minute drive from Bansko and the reserve is a further 16 km away. The last few kilometres are on a winding steep dirt road, which tends to turn into a muddy slide after serious rain. Currently the park hosts 13 dancing bears, which have been bought from their owners and moved into the park, which is designed to offer a near to-natural habitat for the bears. The near future plans of the two foundations include to buy the remaining 12 bears from their owners and to put an end to the barbaric tradition of dragging wild animals in the city streets to make them dance for money.

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