January is usually the month we go on a ski trip. As it is my birthday month, I joke that being a January baby, I need to surround myself with snowy, mountain views during this time of the year. And even though last two birthdays I celebrated abroad (Finland & Switzerland) and had a great time, this year I decided it was time to go back to my roots and celebrate home with my family.
But this didn't mean I had to give up my ski trip. No way! I don't know if you're aware, but Bulgaria actually has world class slopes. Plus, being one the Europe's most cost-effective and underrated countries, I believe it's a great place for a winter vacation.
There are three main ski resorts, located on the three highest mountains in the country. Borovets, is located around 100km from the capital and is the highest of them all, located in Rila mountain, just under Bulgaria's highest peak Musalá. In fact, it's the oldest ski resort in the Balkans. Bansko, is the newest, located around 150 km from Sofia in Pirin mountain. It hosts some ski competitions of the World Cup, but it's the one I personally know less, as I've been there to ski just once. However, what I like about it, is that the town was already there when the slopes were built. It just have grown and developed over the years in order to satisfy tourists' needs, but still looks very much the same (except for some newly built hotels of course). And then comes Pamporovo in West Rhodope mountain (around 230km from Sofia). This mountain is known for its very strong (spiritual) energy, specially around the site of Perperikon on its East end. But the reason I like Pamporovo so much, is because its slopes are super compact, as they are all interconnected. Do I need to mention the breathtaking snowy views?
I haven't been to Pamporovo for almost 20 years. During this gap of time it had changed significantly, but I'm happy that it also improved. A lot. Yes, the area around Studenetz hut was completely empty back then and now is full of new hotels, restaurants and even apartment buildings, but there are also new and amazing slopes and lifts, which means less time wasted waiting on lines. All skiers are spread around this bigger area.
Pamporovo has all kind of slopes to offer, so it doesn't really matter if you're a beginner or a pro, you will definitely find the one that fits you best. All of them are surrounded by pine forest, which creates a very cozy feeling of being one with nature. Besides, it also protects from the strong, winter wind that might occur sometimes. What's very typical about Pamporovo is its tower on the top of Snejanka peak - the highest peak in the area. But there's even more - 93 meters above the peak, there is a coffee shop (open all year round) inside the tower, from where you can enjoy the stunning view of the surroundings, including the near by Smolyan lakes. All three days we were skiing there it was quite foggy, so we had no opportunity to do so, but even though it was super nice seeing it sneaking between the low clouds, as part of some futuristic scene.
Prices are also super affordable - a 3-day lift pass costs only 75 euros per person and an average price we paid for a lunch by the slopes was around 7 euros per person (including drinks). For example a big bowl of yummy chicken soup costs around 3 euros. If you happen to have lunch at The Orange House, highly recommend you to try their corn cream soup. Another typical dish from the area is "patatnik" which is basically shredded potatoes with eggs and some locals herbs. It's delicious when it's done properly, as well as any other traditional Bulgarian food (I'm not bragging, believe me). However, the area around the city Smolyan is most famous for its great potatoes and the big beans from Smilyan - a traditional village near by. Whatever you decide to try with these two local ingredients, it will be a culinary journey by itself (and I'm a person who doesn't like beans).
P. S. On your way to Pamporovo highly recommend you to stop at the tiny village of Narechenski Bani (Narechen Mineral Baths). It is a great balneological resort for healing neurological disorders, as well as some cases of hypertension. If you don't need any of these treatments, I'm really happy for you, but still don't miss it, as it has a place (called "Solenoto Izvorche" in translation "the salty spring", right by the road) that serves teeny, tiny but very delicious "sarmi" - it's like a pocket made of cabbage leaf, filled with rice and cooked meat. Delicious 🤤
P. S. 2. If you're coming from Sofia, highly recommend you to pass by Carve Indoor Ski, Board & Bar while in the capital. It has really cool, mountain vibe, and if planned in advanced, you can also practice your ski/snowboard skills on their special treadmill. I tried it and it's a great way to warm up for the real slopes. Plus, they serve some delicious cocktails and mulled wine.
Are you convinced already that Pamporovo should be your next winter vacation spot?