(Editor’s note: This post is part of our Dispatches Detours continuing series of travel stories about unconventional destinations accessible to Europe-based expats. Terry Boyd also contributed to this post, which has been updated with new information.)
By KALINA VARBANOVA
For many American expats, and even Brits and Europeans, Eastern Europe is terra incognito.
One thing is for certain: Southeastern European ski resorts are well worth checking out for 2017.
For example, Bulgaria offers some of the best skiing in Europe at resorts that are sophisticated yet affordable … among the least expensive in Europe. And, because they’re so far south, Bulgarian mountains get significant moisture that guarantees snowfalls between sunny days.
Ski season “officially” opened in Bulgaria as of today, 23 December, though some resorts have been operating since 7 December.
Average prices for a one-day ski card haven’t changed since 2016: 58 Bulgarian lev (€29) for adults, 52 lev (€26) for students and pensioners, 40 lev (€20) for children between the age of 7 and 12 and 1 lev (€0.50) for children under the age of 7. So skiing here costs about one-sixth as much as the most expensive resorts in Austria and Switzerland. (Though the big news for the 2017/2018 season is that prices have fallen across Europe.)
The largest and most developed ski resorts in Bulgaria are Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo. The resorts draw skiers from all over Europe, though Brits seem to make up the largest single visitor category. And the Telegraph just posted “Revealed: Europe’s cheapest ski resort for families,” which names Bansko as the best deal in Europe.
Bulgaria has some of Europe’s sunniest slopes, cheapest prices and friendliest locals.
Borovets is the oldest and biggest international mountain resort in Bulgaria. It’s located at 1,350 meters above sea level (with highest pistes at 2,600 meters), on the Northern slopes of Rila Mountain. The location is famous for the surrounding pine woods at the foot of Mt. Mousala (2,925 meters), the highest mountain on the Balkan peninsula.
Borovets is easily accessible to the main airport in Sofia, the capital and largest city, at about 70 kilometers, and 126 kilometers from second-city Plovdiv, which also has an airport.
The total length of the ski pistes is 58 km. The ski runs vary in difficulty. The pistes are grouped in 3 ski centers: pistes of Sitnyakovo – Martinovi Baraki region; 4 pistes of Markudjik region and 3 pistes of Yastrebets region. The best ski slopes are those of Yastrebets ski center where all winter sports competitions take place.
The Euphoria Club Hotel & Spa gets great ratings on Trip Advisor:
Hotel grounds are gorgeous with fantastic scenery. Peaceful and quiet. The hotel rooms are very spacious, with lots of cupboards to hang ski wear at the end of the day.
Prices start at about 60 euros per night. There are multi-day packages.
Pamporovo is a modern ski resort in the heart of the Rhodopi mountain. It is reputed to be the most southern major ski resort in Europe. And no surprise … it’s the sunniest Bulgarian mountain resort with wonderful snow throughout the whole season, according to tourism websites.
So, how do you get sun and snow? Pamporovo is 1,650 meters above sea level at the foot of Mt. Snejanka (1,926 metres). It’s 240 kilometers from Sofia, but only 85 kilometers from Plovdiv.
Pamporovo ski resort is located in the heart of the Rhodope mountain. It is the sunniest Bulgarian mountain resort. The ski slopes of Pamporovo are safe guarded and maintained in a very good condition. The gentle profile of the mountain with its rounded slopes and summits makes Pamporovo suitable for beginners. But there are difficult ski runs like “The Wall” for the advanced skiers.
Hotel Orlovetz gets high ratings on LuxuryHotels.com, Booking.com and BulgariaSki.
“Location was perfect, real five star hotel very friendly exceeded our expectations; nice touch at breakfast free champagne. Thank you for a lovely stay we hope to return in the future”
Prices start at 50 euros per night.
(Editor’s note: Pamporovo just announced free wifi and phone-charging stations.)
Bansko is the newest Bulgarian ski resort, recently discovered by the foreign skiers and tourists, but well known in Bulgaria. Bansko provides a superb combination of virgin nature of the Pirin mountain and the atmosphere of the ancient Bulgarian small towns. Bansko is not only a resort but also a beautiful historic spot.
Bansko the city is at 925 meters above sea level, but its skiing area is 2,000-to-2,500 meters high.
The Saint George Ski and Spa Hotel gets high ratings on Trip Advisor:
The leisure area is one of the best I have ever used at a ski hotel (including 4 and 5 star hotels in the French Alps). A fantastic steam room, sauna and pool area and enough space to relax at the end of a hard day on the skis.
Now, if you’ve been going to Gstaad, Chamonix or Val d’Isère, you need to sit down for this. The 3-day online special includes lift tickets, ski school and equipment rentals for 124 euros, or about the cost of a lift ticket in Switzerland. A studio apartment at the Saint George will run you about 200 euros … for FIVE nights!
There’s a massive amount of up-to-date information on snow conditions and accommodations here on the Bulgaria Ski website.
Best Bulgarian ski resorts for:
Snow: Don’t expect the same conditions you’d get in high altitude Alpine resorts or in the Western U.S. But most Bulgarian resorts see a good amount of snow starting at Christmas, and Bansko has the best snow record in the area.
Scenery: We love the gorgeous and famously sunny Pamporovo, which is surrounded by pine forests in South Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountains.
Families: Bulgaria is known for its family-friendly nature, and all resorts have excellent English-speaking ski school instructors, child-friendly accommodation and gentle beginner runs.
Bargains: You’ll save a bundle by opting for a holiday here – accommodation, lift passes, ski hire and eating out tend to be much cheaper than in the Alps.
Luxury: With amazing hotels like the Festa Winter Palace available for bargain prices, Borovets is terrific if you’re looking for affordable luxury.