In your holiday in Bulgaria you will appreciate our dramatic mountains, haven-like monasteries, Roman and Byzantine ruins, and the excellent coffee you'll be offered wherever you go!
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Situated in the foothills of one of the country's most beautiful mountains, Bansko is a charming and historic town with the stunning alpine backdrop formed by the Pirin Mountains. A climatic mountain resort, Bansko is known as an alpine skiing, hiking and climbing centre, but it combines its natural beauty and outdoor opportunities with the atmosphere of an ancient Bulgarian town from the 10th century, and boasts a wealth of culture and history, as well as traditional taverna-style cuisine and colourful folklore. The traditional stone and wooden buildings are an integral part of its charm and character and many relics and monuments survive from its past. The alpine character of the Pirin Mountains create excellent skiing conditions for all types of skiers and experts can enjoy some of the country's best downhill skiing at the nearby resort of Shiligarnika.


The Bansko ski area is particularly well suited to beginners and intermediates. The slopes of Todorin Vruh are the best spot for novices, with gentle slopes and long runs from the chair lift. The slopes also give access to some good off-piste skiing and snowboarding. Intermediates can take the triple chair lift to the top of the peak and try one of the downhill runs. Snow conditions in Bansko are good and there are seldom queues even in the height of the season. A multi-million Euro project has recently seen the installation of new lifts, including an eight-person gondola, adding to the popularity of the Bansko ski area. The Ulen Ski and Snowboard School offers good tuition, particularly for children who are cared for at the Ulen Junior Ski Club.


Shopping in Bansko is confined to the necessities of life, but visitors will find plenty of souvenirs in the form of local handwork, especially embroidered goods.


Bansko is rich on cosy eateries, with hundreds of taverns in the town serving up hearty Bulgarian cuisine. Don't expect to find McDonalds here, though!


Après ski in Bansko is not as wild as Bulgaria's other popular ski resorts at Borovets and Pamporovo. This small old-fashioned town takes its tone from the quiet locals, who prefer to while away the evenings in the large selection of low-ceilinged taverns and pubs before a roaring fire. Two of the favourites are Dedo Pene and Molerova Kushta. Most offer entertainment in the form of local musicians or folk orchestras. There are some low-key discotheques offering dancing, also frequented by the local youth who have a reputation for hot tempers. Bottom line is that Bansko is quiet and not suited to 'party animals'.


The town does not offer many diversions in winter apart from good skiing and boarding, but the area is well known for its thermal springs and these together with several excellent swimming pools, which also have saunas and fitness rooms alongside them allow for pleasant après-ski relaxation.


Bansko centres around the modern pedestrianized pl Nikola Vaptsarov, where the Nikola Vaptsarov Museum (Mon–Fri 8am–6pm, Sat & Sun 8am–noon & 2–6pm) contains a display relating to the local-born poet and socialist martyr, as well as housing a crafts exhibition where you can purchase distinctive local rugs. Immediately north of here, pl Vazrazhdane is watched over by the solid stone tower of the Church of Sveta Troitsa, whose interior contains exquisite nineteenth-century frescos and icons. On the opposite side of the square, the Rilski Convent contains an Icon Museum (Mon–Fri 9am–noon & 2–5pm) devoted to the achievements of Bansko’s nineteenth-century icon painters – a school largely centred around the Vienna-educated Toma Vishanov, who, with pupils Dimitar and Simeon Molerov, travelled from village to village decorating local churches.

Pirin National Park: Situated in the highest reaches of the Pirin Mountains, Pirin National Park encompasses rugged alpine peaks that rise above 8,202ft (2,500m) and more than a hundred glacial lakes spread at their feet. The magnificent landscape is made up of old forests, waterfalls, caves and areas of limestone that are home to the near extinct edelweiss and the Pirin poppy. Characteristic to the park is the abundance of rare and endemic species of plants and animals, and the unique environment is listed as a UNESCO World Cultural and National Heritage site, with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Alpine mountaineering and skiing are popular, and together with the cultural heritage of the surrounding mountain settlements and stunning scenery, Pirin National Park is an attractive tourist destination.

The easiest way of getting into the Pirin mountains from Bansko is to walk (or take a taxi) west to the Vihren hut (where dorm accommodation is available; £5–10 / $8–16), a steep 14km uphill. This is the main trail-head for hikes towards the 2914m summit of Mt Vihren (Bulgaria’s second-highest peak), or gentler rambles around the meadows and lakes nearby.


Cities and Towns