Bulgaria Ski Resort Bansko Won't Break the Bank
By Jacqui Thake<< Back to list of articles
Bulgaria's ski capital
I might have a dodgy knee, a ceramic hip and be the wrong side of 50, yet, try as I might, I can't shake off the skiing bug.
That heady mix of terror and exhilaration as you launch yourself down the mountain on two narrow strips of carbon fibre is a powerful drug.
And who couldn't be dazzled by the scenery when the sun hits those snow-covered slopes and sparkles as bright as Kate Middleton's engagement ring? Bulgaria's ski capital Bansko might not be as smart as Banff in the Canadian Rockies but for sheer value for money it takes some beating.
It's only a three-hour easyJet flight from several UK airports and once there you'll find a huge choice of affordable accommodation.
Lift passes and equipment hire won't break the bank, and you won't choke when you pick up the bill after eating out as you do in some French ski resorts.
Ok, the range of skiing may be a bit limited for experts, but for beginners, intermediates and old crocks like me the 70km of pistes were still challenging.
And Bansko still hosts a men's World Cup downhill on an awesome black run that looks more like a cliff than a slope.
It's shut to the public two weeks before so it can be watered every day and turned into one long sheet of ice. Once the race is over, it's open again for the fittest - or should that be the most foolhardy.
Access to the slopes is via a main gondola. Queues are lengthy first thing in the morning but you're never kept waiting for long as it can cope with 2,500 skiers an hour It's a 20-minute ride so there's plenty of time to psyche yourself up for the first run of the day, or you can just sit back and take in the scenery.
A total of 185 snow-making machines make up any shortage of the white stuff and the skiing is said to be particularly good in March.
One thing Bansko isn't short of is restaurants and Molerite Mehana and Baryakova Mehana are both worth checking out.
A typical three-course Bulgarian meal with copious amounts of wine costs less than £20 a head.
Be warned, the local "music" groups can crank up the volume to match anything pumped out by Iron Maiden.
One of THE places on the Bansko night scene is rather oddly, The Irish Bar. A regular quiz night is a big draw and I'm proud to say our party, the easyJetters, were the runaway winners.
According to the younger members of our group, who continued partying at the Bacardi Bar and the Oxygen Bar, our £26 winnings went a long way in rounds of beer and cocktails.
Eating and drinking on the slopes is a little dearer but still an awful lot cheaper than you expect elsewhere in Europe.
The restaurants tend to be pretty crowded, but thanks to some inside knowledge from a friendly ski instructor, we discovered the little-known Hotel Izvorite.
It can be a bit of an effort to get there when there's not much snow, but well worth the effort as you can get a slap-up lunch with wine for less than £10.
Souvenir hunters won't be disappointed in the shops. Fridge magnets that cost £6 in the French resorts are only a couple of quid here. It's also a great place to find good-value ski equipment and stylish clothing, although there are some ultra-trendy shops which are up there with Courchevel in France for prices.
After a hard day bending those knees, bargain hunting and apres skiing, it's important to have somewhere comfortable to stay.
We chose the three-star Spa Hotel Villa Roka on the outskirts of town.
It's a brisk 15-minute walk from the gondola - we left our skis and boots in the hire shop near the lift! Alternatively there's a shuttle bus which runs every 20 minutes.
It's a lovely hotel, very modern and tastefully decorated but the lighting is very subdued, even in the bathroom. I looked more like Alice Cooper after one misguided attempt to apply my make-up!
But the low lighting in the spa is just right for easing those screaming muscles in the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi.
There's even a pool for those who feel in need of a little more exercise...
What's the deal
Return flights from Gatwick to Sofia cost from £112.98 or from £103.08, Gatwick to Thessaloniki with easyJet (www.easyjet.com).
Transfers to Bansko cost from £15pp each way, depending on how many people travel through www.banskotourist information.com
A single room including breakfast, dinner and use of the spa at Spa Hotel Villa Roka, costs from £45 per night (www.villaroka. com).