Bansko - ski resort and hiking region in Bulgaria

A trip to Bansko takes you to the southwest of Bulgaria, to one of the oldest places in the Balkan country.
The mountain town has become an important resort, which in winter turns into the largest ski resort in the country.
During the summer season, it is popular as a starting point for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities in the Pirin National Park.
The well-preserved old town houses about 130 architectural-historical cultural monuments that tell about the eventful local history.
Museums, great cultural events and mineral springs in the surrounding area also make the destination interesting.
General information
Bansko is the northern gateway to the Pirin Mountains, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The town itself is situated 925 meters above sea level, the peak of the local mountain Todoroka is 2746 meters high.
The municipality of Bansko includes seven other settlements in addition to the core village, including the spa resort of Dobrinishte.
Several bus lines connect the region with neighboring towns as well as the capital Sofia, which is about 150 kilometers away.
In addition, Bansko is well connected to the supra-regional road network and is a stop on the Rhodrop Railway.
Climatically, the region is characterized by a transitional climate with Mediterranean influences.
There is snow for up to six months of the year, at least at high altitudes, and the average temperature in January is -1.9° Celsius.
In midsummer, temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius are common.
The old town of Bansko
Until the era of the National Revival of Bulgaria, Bansko was a village of cattle breeders and craftsmen. At that time, in the 18th century, an economic and cultural boom began, which also produced a unique architecture.
For protection from the Ottomans, the wealthy inhabitants built themselves richly decorated stone houses with fortress-like walls.
The "golden age" of the now urban trade and craft center ended in the middle of the 19th century.
But in the old town of Bansko the flair of that time is still perceptible.
Five of the listed buildings are considered cultural monuments of national rank.
These include the Church of St. Trinity, the Velyanova House and the Neofit Rilski Museum.
Trinity Church - St. Trinity
The Church of the Holy Trinity (St. Trinity) is surrounded by a thick wall of Leste stones, its thirty-meter high bell tower is the landmark of Bansko.
It is one of the largest churches in Bulgaria and impresses with colorful murals, unique carvings on the almost room-high iconastasis and the carving of the dome.
The three-nave hall church was built around 1835.
It was built by the first Protestant community in Bulgaria in a then non-Christian country under the rule of the Turks.
Its considerable size is said to be due to the cunning and diplomacy of the builders, who secretly, in the darkness of many nights, enlarged the building site piece by piece.
Two Turkish crescents next to the cross above the entrance supposedly saved the new church from demolition by the Ottomans.
The Velyanova House
In the Velinova house lived the artist and master of the Debar Art School Velyan Ognev, who painted the wooden ceiling of the Holy Trinity Church.
He also embellished his residence with wonderful frescoes and fine carvings.
It is one of the most beautiful representatives of the preserved fortress houses of Bansko and is open to visitors.
The latter can still discover secret escape passages and hiding places of the former inhabitants who sought protection there from Ottoman invaders.
Neofit Rilski Museum
The house where the clergyman and enlightener Neofit Rilski was born is also a typical Bansko house and hiding place.
Today it serves as a museum, the exhibition of which is devoted to Rilski's work.
It is one of eight stations of the museum complex of the town.
Experiences and excursions
The road to the south leads away from the old town, to the bottom station of the mountain railroad, which brings passengers up the mountain all year round.
It is divided into two sections and equipped with modern 8-seater gondolas.
It takes about 20 minutes to reach the top station, which is located at an altitude of 1664 meters.
The gondola covers a distance of 6233 and can carry a maximum of 2400 people per hour.
The southern part of town is touristy, with hotels, apartment buildings and restaurants nestled in the end of the valley.
On warm days, the city park with large, shady trees is a popular place for locals and guests to spend time.
The twenty-acre park holds, among other things, a playground, a small lake, and a fountain.
It is located in the city center, near the central Nikola Vaptsarov Square.
In its vicinity, various restaurants and cafes invite you to linger.
The car-free square hosts events such as the opening of the season and during the Advent season the Christmas market is set up there.
The illuminated fountain is not turned off even in winter; when it is freezing cold, the bubbling water freezes into bizarre ice sculptures.
Cultural events of various kinds contribute to a varied stay in Bansko.
During the winter season, these include the International Ballet Festival, World Snow Day, and skiing competitions.
In summer, the International Jazz Festival and the Bansko Opera Festival attract music lovers. Other summer events include the Summer Theater Festival, the Summer Cinema
Summer Cinema and various local events.
Ride the narrow-gauge railroad
A leisurely ride on the Rhodrop Railway is an experience not only for railroad fans.
The narrow-gauge railroad runs between Dobrinishte in the Pirin and Septemvri in the Rhodrops, passing also the Rila Mountains.
This is 125 kilometers through beautiful landscapes.
Four hairpin bends, winding sections, bridges and tunnels, and the Avramovo station at 1267 meters above sea level make the route spectacular.
At an average speed of 25 kilometers per hour, the railroad takes five hours to cover the entire distance.
Bansko station is a stop on the Rhodropic Railway, which is fondly called the "Alpine Railway of the Balkans" because of the route.
Dancing Bear Reserve
Animal lovers should plan a trip to the Dancing Bears Park and see bears up close.
In the twelve hectare area of forest lakes and caves, tortured dancing bears have found a refuge.
They were cruelly trained as cubs to become so-called dancing bears, paraded in traveling circuses and rescued by animal rights activists.
The park is located near the town of Belica, about twenty kilometers from Bansko.
Guided tours take place from April to October, the rest of the year the bears hibernate.
Rila Monastery
A car ride to the famous Rila Monastery takes about ninety minutes, but it is worth the drive.
After all, it is Bulgaria's landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture of the individual buildings alone is a feast for the eyes.
They received their current appearance mostly in the 19th century, only the Hrelyo Tower dates back to around 1335.
Today the complex serves again as a monastery and houses a museum.
Its exhibition shows historically valuable artifacts.
In addition, there is the monastery economy exhibition, which includes the water mill, the old monastery kitchen and the old monastery bakery.
Wellness vacation: thermal springs and baths in the surroundings
Mineral bath in Dobrinishte
About six kilometers from the main town of Bansko, the district of Dobrinishte invites you to relax.
The climatic health resort is known for its mineral springs, from which warm water of 30 to 43 degrees Celsius gushes.
For bathing in the mineral water, there is a large mineral pool and an outdoor pool to choose from.
In winter, the resort additionally scores with a ski resort.
This is accessible by a double chairlift and offers four slopes with a total length of seven kilometers.
Bathing resort village Banya
About six kilometers north of the old town lies the historic village of Banya.
With its 72 thermal springs, it is the spa of the region, so to speak.
The mineral-rich water is between 45 and 70 degrees Celsius, with a total mineral content of 364.71 mg per liter.
Even the Romans and later the Turks appreciated the beneficial effects of this warm mineral water.
The old Roman bath and the Turkish bath, both of which are protected monuments, still bear witness to this today.
Today, the mineral water fills the outdoor and indoor pools of the hotels and the municipal mineral bath.
Between June and September, an outdoor pool with mineral water is also open.
Winter vacation in Bulgaria: Ski resort Bansko
The winter sports season in Bansko lasts approximately from the beginning of December until April.
If there is not enough snow falling from the sky, trails and slopes are covered with technical snow.
The Bansko ski resort is designed for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon and snowboarding.
It offers perfectly groomed slopes with a total length of 75 kilometers and 22 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Modern, high-performance lifts bring snow lovers to the starting points of the trails.
About 30 percent of the slopes can be skied by beginners and 25 percent are only suitable for advanced, experienced skiers.
A snow park with half pipe, the fun park and paragliding add variety to the ski day.
Especially for the ski tots there is a rolling carousel and children's lifts as well as a kindergarten.
There the little ones are in good hands, while the parents enjoy carefree descents.
The gondolas of the cable car take skiers to the middle station Chalin Valog and to the top station on the plateau Bunderishka.
Higher up, 4-seater chairlifts take skiers to 2560 meters below the Todorka peak and to the Shiligarnika ski resort.
The Plato lift takes freestylers to the snow park.
The individual ski resorts are served by several ski lifts and connected by slopes.
Thus, persevering skiers and snowboarders can descend from 2560 meters at the Todorka peak to the village of Bansko.
It is a 16-kilometer-long route that bridges 1570 meters in altitude.
As Bulgaria's largest ski resort, Bansko also offers opportunities for night skiing.
On those days, the cable car extends its operating hours and floodlights illuminate the slope all the way down to the valley, creating a magical atmosphere. In this light, the 7.5-kilometer run down to the valley is possible after dark.
Down below, in the bars at the valley station, everything is already prepared for après ski.
Off the slopes
The snow day in the winter sports area of Bansko can be arranged in different ways.
Cross-country skiers will find excellently groomed slopes with beautiful routes.
If you want to leave your skis behind for once, you can go on a winter hike with or without snowshoes,
or paragliding to see the slopes from the air.
Several ski schools have settled in the renowned ski resort of Bansko.
Their experienced ski instructors help even absolute beginners on the boards; children and adults can learn to ski or improve existing skills.
Children and adults can learn to ski or improve their skills.
Skis, ski boots and other accessories can be rented at the rental stations, which also include sleds.
Culinary delights are also provided.
During the day, huts and bars along the slopes of the ski resorts entice skiers to stop for a break and provide them with hot and cold drinks and delicious food. During the many hours of sunshine at Todorka, the deck chairs in front of the ski huts are almost always occupied, with vacationers relaxing in the winter sun.
In addition, bars and clubs, chic restaurants and quaint inns like the traditional meyhane are open in town.
Summer vacation in Bansko in the Pirin Mountains
Summer in Bansko is full of opportunities. After all, it the main town of the Vihren National Park region, which scores with magnificent scenery and natural beauty. Many hikers use the town as a starting point for their tours, exciting hiking destinations abound.
For example, the archaeological sites of St. Nicholas in the Raslog Valley, where the foundation walls of an early Christian basilica have been uncovered.
For archeology fans, a trip to the excavation sites of the late antique and medieval fortress Sitan Kale (Kalyata) in the Mesta Valley is still recommended,
near the town of Yakoruda.
Near the mountain hut Vihren stands Bulgaria's oldest tree, the Baykuyhevata Mura.
It is estimated that the snakeskin pine has been growing and thriving in the Pirin for 1300 years, at an altitude of 1930 meters above sea level.
There are many mountain lakes in the Pirin Mountains, some of which are within walking distance of Bansko.
A particularly idyllically situated one is the glacial lake Okoto.
Seen from the air, the almost round lake looks like a blue eye in the mountain landscape.
It can be reached via a mountain road and hiking trails and offers nice picnic spots.
Even more possible activities
Climbers can, for example, climb north face of Vihren.
At this and other climbing spots, qualified mountain guides offer guided climbing tours and rent the necessary equipment for them.
Anglers can fish in beautifully located lakes.
In the vicinity of Bansko you can fish in the Belize Dam, Krynets Dam and Ribarnika complex.
For mountain bikers there are marked routes of various difficulty levels, the total length of which is about 200 kilometers.
Golfers are also catered for.
Only about 15 minutes by car from Bansko there is an 18-hole championship golf course with an area of 150 hectares.
Horse lovers are in the right place at the horse farms in the area, which offer riding lessons and even day trips with horses.
The vacation region's adventure offers also include carriage rides with folklore picnics and off-road driving with all-terrain vehicles, cayoning and rafting tours.
Bansko is not only Bulgaria's largest ski resort, but a destination with many facets, for all seasons.
It is hikeable, full of sights and allows great activities in nature.