Sampling the best of Bulgaria's slopes and apres ski
Maeve Connolly sampled three ski resorts when she travelled to Bulgaria earlier this year with Irish company Travel Solutions and found not only affordability – one tops a European poll for family value – but fun, and first-class skiing
SOME people say the best thing about a ski holiday is the après-ski. I say it’s the first steps you take after wrestling off a pair of ski boots that weigh around five kilograms.
A ski trip is the most unusual of holidays – you exercise like a demon for hours every day, fall over and pick yourself up on repeat and when you’re done you head out for the night still wearing at least some, if not all, of your ski gear.
I travelled to Bulgaria in March for a week of skiing interspersed with skidooing (tip: you don’t want to miss out on this, it's very James Bond-esque), ringo-ing (tip: don’t miss out on this, you jump in a giant rubber ring and take off down a snowy hill) and après-skiing (tip: don’t miss out on this).
Bulgaria is a great spot for skiing and is very affordable which means the days of paying over £1,000 for a ski holiday are long gone. If you choose to stay in a hotel on a half-board basis your only expenditure will be lunch and apres-ski and you can get a good meal and a drink on the slopes for around £6.
Last year Bansko resort topped a poll of 42 European ski centres for value. The Tripadvisor survey looked at the cost for a family of four to ski for a week and factored in hotel, ski pass, ski hire, ski lesson, evening meals and drinks.
I got the chance to experience three very different ski resorts in Bulgaria courtesy of Belfast-based Travel Solutions, who are a slick operation.
Truthfully once you’ve booked your trip with them all you need to do is sort out travel insurance, pack a pair of salopettes, a ski jacket, thick socks and sunglasses and turn up at the airport. They’ll do the rest for you. Included in the cost of your trip is equipment hire (boots, skis and poles), ski pass and lessons with a ridiculously patient instructor, and you can hire a helmet at the resort.
Bankso was one of three resorts I visited and each had its own charm. Pamporovo was my favourite. It’s perfect for beginners and intermediates but does have a black run known as The Wall and enough red runs if someone in your group is a more experienced skier. The longest run is 4.2km and there are 37km of piste.
Second only to the thrill of whooshing down a snowy slope are the chair-lift journeys that sweep you past fir trees leaden with snow and higher, ever higher, through clear, crisp air, to the mountain top.
Pamporovo also has enough night life to keep everyone happy along with a bowling alley, small supermarket and the like.
Daks bar is a popular spot with live music. It’s right beside the three-star Snezhanka Hotel which has a fantastic swimming pool and thermal suite as well as a pool table and shop. The hotel also boasts a lobby full of plush leather sofas and armchairs and a real fire for those who prefer a gentler après-ski experience. A bus will pick you up from the hotel every morning and transfer you to the ski school and it'll drop you off again in the evening, weary and hungry but excited about the next day's skiing.
On the night my tour group arrived in Pamporovo there had been a massive fall of snow, so much in fact that roads were near impassible and power was out on the mountain. It was no bother to our coach driver who delivered us slowly and safely to the Snezhenka hotel where the generators were on full blast and you wouldn't have known anything was amiss.
Borovets in the Riva mountains has the distinction of being Bulgaria’s first winter resort. Now it’s also one of the largest in terms of length and capacity of ski runs and lifts.
One of the coolest things about Borovets is the floodlit night skiing. Even if you’re not tempted to pull on your ski boots after dinner it’s great to watch skiers appear out of the darkness and speed down the last section of the night run which ends in the heart of the village, in among shops, bars and restaurants.
I stayed in the Lion Hotel which is approximately 15 minutes by foot from the centre of the resort. It’s worth keeping in mind that you’re walking in the cold but there are always taxis available and the hotel runs a shuttle bus during the day.
Borovets also has a tasty Mexican restaurant if you’re too tired to make it back to your hotel for dinner.
Bankso, in turn, is an alpine resort and moving around the slopes requires a cable car (in addition to your skis, of course). There are more than 70km of runs in this resort located at the foot of the Pirin mountains; the longest is 7km.
Bankso is definitely the place for you if your idea of après-ski heaven involves clubbing and drinks promotions. In one underground club I visited, bar staff put on a flame-thrower display using aerosols every hour on the hour.
To me Bulgaria ticks all the boxes and I think it’s a great choice for people who’ve always fancied having a go at skiing but don’t want to spend a fortune.
And the best and most sincere recommendation I can give is this – within 10 days of returning home from my ski holiday I had booked a return trip.
Travel Solutions offers:
Direct flight from Belfast to Plovdiv with Jet2.com
A choice of three resorts and accommodation ranging from self-catering to four-star hotels
Learn to ski packages from £499
Book with Travel Solutions on 028 9045 5030 or travel-solutions.co.uk