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Bulgaria's Tourism Comeback "Thanks to Bansko"
Updated: 2006-01-02

Bulgaria's Tourism Comeback "Thanks to Bansko"


Bansko defies most of the stereotypes of Eastern European skiing, renowned for its inefficient, outmoded equipment and accommodation. Add the bright weather and plentiful snow, and one might, just, be in Colorado, the Independent wrote in an article about Bulgaria's winter resort of Bansko.

"A decade ago, things were different. With striking frankness, the 1994 Good Skiing Guide recommended that "anyone planning a holiday in Bulgaria should first find out what they are letting themselves in for". Many changes had taken place in the preceding year, the guide said, but the country's skiing still bore no comparison with that in the Alps. It warned sternly that "no comparison should be attempted".

Among the guide's concerns were the quality of the food ("washed-out tastelessness"), the medical services ("hospitals reported to be very basic, unclean and lacking facilities"), and the ski equipment for hire ("locally made, not of the quality you would find elsewhere in Europe"). The guide concluded that anyone concerned by these matters - presumably, most skiers - "should perhaps consider a holiday elsewhere".

The article draws a number of comparisons between Bulgaria and Andorra, which made British tourists discover Bulgaria after pricing itself out of the budget sector.

"In terms of the ski slopes, there's no contest; Andorra's skiing is linked into areas that are bigger and better. In terms of cost, Bulgaria has the advantage: in Crystal's 2005/6 brochure, the cheapest week in Bulgaria, at Borovets, is priced at ?319, while the equivalent holiday in Andorra is 10 per cent more expensive, even though the flight to the Pyrenees is much shorter. Compare an average four-star holiday in Bansko with one in Andorra, and the differential is about the same. Skiers' spending power in Bansko is high: half a litre of beer costs around 1 pound on the slopes, and I had lunch at a basic cafe in town for 2 pounds.

Aesthetically, there's not much to choose between Bansko and the Andorran resorts. The former is grim, the charm of its old centre being nominal at best and compromised by the English-speaking hustlers outside restaurants; the latter are architecturally challenged and set in narrow, often dark valleys. About Bansko's cuisine, I have nothing good to say; and, fortunately, I have no experience of the medical facilities. In contrast with the situation in Bulgaria a decade ago, Bansko's rental equipment is fine."

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