Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort

Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort

The Independent, Stephen Wood, 3.01.05, *with excerpts

Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort Stephen Wood reports from Bansko, the Bulgarian resort hoping to replace Andorra as Europe's budget skiing capital The ride up the mountain is quiet and very smooth because the 6.3km-long lift is barely two years old. I am alone in the eight-seat gondola, since, at 9.30am, still the "rush-hour", there was no one else waiting at the base station. I am heading for a ski area that has a network of recently installed high-speed chair-lifts with "hands-free" ticket scanners and a snow-making system armed with 53 cannons. The hotel that I have just left offers large, comfortable bedrooms, bathrooms with baths (by no means a given in four-star-hotels in this part of Europe) and all mod cons, plus piped music (until I find the switch that silences it). Admittedly, the ride up the narrow, rutted road the previous evening told a different story; but come the morning, Bansko, in Bulgaria, 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. 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". Maybe the criticisms had an impact. Certainly, Bulgaria languished in the following years: its share of the UK skiing market fell from eight per cent in the mid-1990s to a little more than two per cent at the end of the decade. Now, however, Bulgaria is promising to make a comeback. This season, eight British tour operators are offering holidays there; just a couple of seasons ago, only two were. Why the sudden change? It's thanks partly to Bansko, a resort created in the 21st century, but mostly to Andorra. In the late 20th century, the Pyrenean principality took a firm hold on the market for budget skiers from the UK. By the 2002/3 season, Andorra attracted 14 per cent of UK skiers. But then it decided to go up-market. With its new, stylish hotels, Andorra began to price itself out of the budget sector. That presented a problem for British tour operators. Where were they to provide cheap holidays for new skiers? The answer was Bulgaria. The established Bulgarian resorts are Pamporovo and Borovets: it was their shortcomings that prompted the 1994 Good Skiing Guide's criticisms. Bansko barely existed then, but now, thanks to an investment of ??18m, it is the country's most modern resort. Even two years ago, Bansko, set on a high plateau 150km south of Sofia, was a town of 10,000 people with a ski area loosely attached. Then, access to the main part of the ski area - which rises from about 1,700m to 2,560m - was via a long and winding road; now, the gondola runs straight up from Bansko's south-western extreme. The result has been greater convenience for skiers, and a huge opportunity for property developers. Alongside the gondola base is a new five-star Kempinski hotel, and beyond is a vast construction site dominated by other new hotels (among them the Lion, only 10 days old when I stayed there last week). Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet. But almost all Bansko's property marketing is in Roman script and in English. Why? Because the British account for the biggest slice of the resort's 950,000 skier-days per season, and because, by comparison with Bulgarians, we are very rich. Andorra's rejects are welcome to ski here, and they are even more welcome if they fancy spending ??34,530 on a furnished studio apartment. Bansko's ski area opened on 17 December. I arrived three days later. It's risky to ski so early in a season: few guests come before Christmas and most get their holidays cheaply, so resorts often feel justified in opening the pistes progressively to reduce labour costs. Although I did get the gondola to myself, only three other lifts at the resort were working. Barely a third of the pistes were open. I regretted not being able to ski the 16km run from the top of the slopes to the base of the gondola, but skiing the pistes that were open and "visiting" a couple that were technically closed at least gave me the measure of the area. Its lifts and piste-grooming are good; the terrain is adequate for beginners, and more than adequate for intermediates;
     
  • Ana Whitton From UK
    Sent on 06 March 2019
    I wanted to write a proper review of our hotel and experience while in Pamporovo, so this is the addition to my email. We flew to Sofia and the pre booked taxi transport was waiting for us. The driver (Kosta) was wonderful and we felt really safe with him driving. Our flight was late and we arrived to the Dafovska hotel after midnight. The reception was open and they were waiting for us. We were given sandwiches and water and shown to our room. The rooms were spacious and warm, the beds comfortable, bathroom lovely and clean. Plenty of hot water, the towels were changed every day and bins emptied. The hotel has Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room which is 12 leva per person with towels. I would have liked the water in the Jacuzzi to be a bit warmer. We went in every day after skiing, apart from one when we tried a different hotel. Snezanka hotel has a swimming pool too. Its ok but it was too busy for us and we decided to stick with ours. Their changing rooms are very very small and you have to pay extra for the towels. We chose half board. There was many things to choose for breakfast, hot food, pancakes, fruit, cereal & toast. Apple & orange juice as well as many teas and coffees. I have to admit I always take my own tea bags . Not having to cook dinner after a day skiing was very welcome. There isn’t really a great choice for strict vegetarians, but I always managed to find tasty food to eat. You can buy drinks from the bar, or bring your own. There is a free shuttle bus that takes you to ski centre Malina. Very busy ski centre. We met with the representative Nelly there. I would have preferred to have the information on what time to be where when we arrived. Nelly organised our helmets (you need to rent this separately, 5 leva per person), ski equipment and our instructor. Well! I cannot give more glowing review for our instructor! Alex was amazing, very patient, very friendly and knowledgeable. We had lessons in the morning, then lunch, which he was very good to organise with the local bar, then another set of lessons. The food in the bars by the ski school and at the top of the slope was very good. Big portions, quickly delivered. I only needed soup at lunch time which were homemade and delicious. Staff, at the ski centre and gondolas, didn’t always speak a lot of English or smile enough but they were never the less very helpful especially with children and beginners. We skied on our last day too and we were picked up from the hotel by a taxi to be taken to the airport. This taxi driver was not so careful and good at driving and we could not wait to get to Sofia and get out of his car. The whole organisation of our trip with BulgariaSki was excellent! Thank you all
  • Richard From England
    Sent on 10 February 2019
    Have just spent 5 nights at the hotel for the second year. Still same high standards. Had a after ski massage with Kateriua, spot on girl knows her stuff. Highly recommended her.
  • Tommyboy From Scotland
    Sent on 07 April 2018
    5th time skiing in Bansko, have been here over Xmas period and Easter break, hasn't always been a lot of snow but enough to ski for five days. It is a good value for money skiing holiday for those on a budget, food very good value and varied depending on taste, some restaurants better than others, again depending on personal taste. Not to sure what the nightlife is like as we stay in our timeshare resort The Balkan Jewel which is 3 > 4 miles out of Bansko, they operate a free shuttle bus but the last one back from town is at 4.30pm therefore going back into town would require the use of taxis. I am sure we will be back in the future.
  • Mitko From Bulgaria
    Sent on 28 February 2018
    Dear all, Borovets is a nice place to be, but it is risky to ski there. The slopes for advanced skiers are crossing the slopes for beginners and the slopes are negligently prepared with icy spots and snow heap places. This all is a precondition for accidents. The ski lifts are maintained all on the surface, they stop frequently and the gondola had to be scrapped years ago. So be careful when skiing in Borovets!
  • Lene willsea From N.i
    Sent on 28 February 2018
    I love Pomporova. Its our home from home.We first went in 2008, the airport was a portacabin and the lifts were a dangling wooden chair.. The place improves year on year. I would highly recommend it. VERY CHEAP once ur there. But with all upgrades the prices to travel are clinbing. Jumped 200 in two yrs.
  • Neo From United Kingdom
    Sent on 15 February 2018
    The hotel it’s a brilliant idea however there are aspects you would be surprised to stumble upon We arrived late at night about 10pm. Greater by a very polite hostes she kindly provided us with prepacked sandwiches as the restaurant closed at 9pm ( we called in advance to ask if such is possible especially when you have young ckranky from long travel hours in multiple travel vechicles The room very spatious. Bed cover had some suspicious sticky stains that absolutely horrified me at the thought that my children could possibly put their tiny hands on to that. One of the bath robes provided had a black stain on its back, the other bath robe had its pocket thorn out and just hanging. There was a massive flaky, mouldy, damp patch in the corner on the ceiling. The toilet was leaking on the floor. Breakfast food was cold and rancid with a queue for pncakes quite long and very impatient as pancakes was the only food that you could have still warm. Boiled eggs were cold and so hard the yolk was dusty . Fried eggs were dry... won’t even go to details about the rest of the food. As the drinks offered to be purchased by the restaurant aren’t the healthiest of choice for children (all the juices on choice contained added multiple preserving agents and colourants) we asked if possible to have some tap water. It proved to be a terrible mistake, we were told that yes but we would have to pay for it, then told that if they bring a jug for us everyone else will be asking for it, then he brought a manager who was more rude than the server and plainly put it that even if we have children asking for water we would have to buy bottled water and she is not prepared to give us water for free, unnecessarily often stressing the ?free’ word. There are far more many good things that are good about this hotel. It’s main let down it’s restaurant staff who are poor hospitality professionals and frankly plain rude.
  • Nigel Buckle From United Kingdom
    Sent on 17 December 2017
    I have stayed at the Orlovetz for 6 out of the last 8 years and will be returning in 2018 for another week. It has become my 'Winter retreat'. A modern hotel that stands out due to its prominent position and its design. The rooms are comfortable and warm with plenty of wardrobe space and an area to relax. The safe is in the wardrobe, which is really useful for your valuables. There is a decently equipped gym, a small pool (though you can also use the larger pool in the Perelik as well) a Sauna and massage treatments, great for those aches from the first days of skiing ! The restaurant was made larger a couple of years ago and now accommodates more guests. Both breakfast and dinner are buffet style, the food, in general, is of good quality and there usually at least four different options at dinner. There is a small bar in the lobby area and a Piano Bar on the top floor that has stunning views across the surrounding district. As it is the sister hotel to the Perelik there is a tunnelway that links the two and saves you going out in the snow if you choose to use the alternative facilities provided there. One of them being 'The Pub' (previously known as the Pampi Bar) plus a couple of night clubs and a bowling alley. Also as the Orlovetz is just across from the Schnezanka it is only a short walk to Daks Bar, often used as the first mornings meeting place for your ski passes etc.,which is a lively night spot with live music and very popular. In all a great Hotel within a great small town, try it , Pamper yourself !
  • Liz From England
    Sent on 19 November 2017
    I went with my daughter January 2018. I was a cheap half board flights included and we wasn’t expecting much.... but what a fantastic week we had!! Stayed at the Lion hotel which is about a 10-15 minute walk to the slopes/town. A free shuttle is provide by the hotel. The hotel and staff are lovely. The food was always varied and hot. My daughter and I are vegetarians and in only two nights were we disappointed with the choice - but we heaped up on pudding so didn’t go hungry. Am lucky enough to be going back in 2018.
  • val From United Kingdom
    Sent on 15 February 2017
    group of us just back from borovets.we arrived 4th feb 2017 and departed 11th feb.had a great time.hotel rila was fab.great gym and spa.food was good.ski school was great.we had a really good instructor Martin Hristov.he was really good with everyone took time to try and learn everyone.we all had a great time thankyou.will be back next yearx
  • Alison From England
    Sent on 15 January 2017
    I wonder if the poor review is really about the Winslow Elegance. We have been going for years. It does not serve food and never has done. However, the spacious accommodation is for self-catering. We have always found it to be clean and we have always found that the reception staff can not do enough for you. We are looking forward to our next visit in February, 2017, Bring it on!!
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