Founded in the 10th century, by the 18th century Bansko was a prosperous place due to its location on the overland caravan route between the Aegean and Danubian Europe.
Nowadays, Bansko is one of the shiniest jewels in Bulgaria's tourist crown with good winter sports and summer hiking and climbing. The mountain, the numerous lakes and the old pine woods make it a popular site for recreation. In recent years, the town has gained international popularity after the start of the annual Bansko Music Festival. The nearby village of Banya is known for its 27 thermal mineral springs.
A new gondola lift was built in 2003 to replace a minibus ride up to the ski slopes of Todorka. Several other gondolas and ski lifts are also planned. These developments, along with the construction of extensive housing and recreational facilities around the gondola have made Bansko a popular and growing destination.
28 Feb 2009 - Bansko (Zehtingievata Mexana), BulgariaBeing an owner of an apartment in a complex in a foreign country it helps to know the other owners and if possible to form some kind of owners group. In the months before this visit I helped to set up such a group and the exchange of experiences and ideas has proven invaluable. Derek, one of the other very active members of this group visited at the same time so it was good to be able to support each other whilst thrashing out the issues with the management company. Although nothing was achieved we at least learned just exactly what our position was.
In the evening I shared a few meals with Derek and his son and on some occasions I went out alone. I love the traditional feel of the Bulgarian Mexanas and the roaring fire which greets you when you step in from the snow lined, cold streets. My particular favourite tavern had nightly Macedonian songs and live music to add to the atmosphere and feeling of being somewhere deeply removed from my usual surroundings.
Bansko - An evening in the Zehtingievata Mexana
This dates from 1869 and provides great atmosphere. It is located some way outside of the centre of Bansko, a little way off the beaten track and is frequented by Bulgarians which is a good sign. Money goes a long way in Bulgaria although the prices are inflated in Bansko compared to other parts of Bulgaria. Still, I ate well - good quality and quantity as well. This meal is the 'Pork knuckle' which surprisingly is pork, with potatoes. I had a salad starter and washed it all down with a bottle of red.
Bansko - Time for some gluttony
One of the aspects of Bulgaria I don't like is that smoking is permitted indoors. It will only be a matter of time before laws preventing this are drafted to bring Bulgaria in line with the other EU countries.
The pork knuckle is one of my favourites. The meat is very tender and flavoursome. And there is lots of it. I'll worry about bowel cancer later.
Bansko - How much can you eat for in Bansko?
Bankso is considered expensive by Bulgarians but to a westerner it still presents good value. The pork knuckle cost 25 lev which at today's recession rate exchange is about £11.20. This is fairly pricey but good value for what it is. The other meals such as chicken fillet is only 11 lev, £4.90 which in a restaurant is on the low side compared to the UK but would have been much cheaper before the pound slid in value against the Euro (which the Lev is pegged to).
26 Feb 2009 - Bansko (Alpine Ski World Cup 2009), BulgariaThis trip was the first time I had stayed in my apartment. That is my apartment. If my time wasn't spent skiing it was spent inspecting the apartment complex and in talks with the management company. It turned out that what they say is not what they do. Adding to the difficulty is their claim to certain rights which cannot possibly be true. Hours of talks and negotiations turned out to be fruitless. Since coming home and consulting with the owner's group and a solicitor our legal position has become much clearer and with the power of acting as a group rather than as individuals, we have got the upper hand. It is such a shame it has come to this as the complex has a lot of promise.
Bansko - Vichren Mountain from Bansko town
During my time here the conditions were fantastic; plenty of snow, very little ice to come a cropper on, clear skies and sun. It also coincided with the Ladies Alpine Ski World Cup, a fantastic way of putting Bansko into the world's consciousness.
Bansko - On the slopes with Bansko in the distance
Because of the World Cup some of the slopes were out of bounds as these most challenging of slopes were reserved for the competitive skiers. This did not bother me as almost exactly one year ago I had my knee rebuilt because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. I've learned to appreciate having the use of my legs even if I am a little uncertain at times and certain sports are now out of bounds.
Bansko - AUDI FIS Alpine Ski World Cup 2009
The steep Alberto Tomba run formed the final section of the course. Watching skiing on television fails to convey how fast the skiers go and how exhausting the event is. The competitors descended in a fraction of the time it took me and on this particular section, whilst I stop a number of times to relieve the pain screaming in my thighs and also because the slope is too quick, the competitors made it look easy as they fearlessly hurtled down the slope.
Bansko - Ladies Downhill acthion
At the finishing line, unless you have paid to go into the stand at the finish line I decided to find a spot not too near the track and on a corner allowing good views of the competitors as they whizz past.
Bansko - Time out for a pose
Here I am, squinting into the sun,
Bansko - Casa Carina swimming pool
Casa Carina? Yes, my apartment complex is no longer called the Victoria apartments. From now on, or at least until when the management company decide to rebrand, it will be the Casa Carina.
25 Feb 2009 - Bansko (Up the Vihren), BulgariaBack to Bulgaria for a spot of business and skiing. The world recession has been particularly cruel to world property but even worse to those who bought by overextending themselves and now find that they either can't get a mortgage or can't afford it. Fortunately I'm not in that position but the unfortunate ones are panic selling; that and the general reduction in credit, overdevelopment and underdevelopment of the infrastructure has pushed down prices. On the plus side, the infrastructure is catching up and the location is good. The resort is good but the management company are unprofessional, untrustworthy and cannot be worked with. This was the business reason for my visit. This was also my first stay in my apartment.
Bansko - From the gondala to the mountain
Beautiful crisp, deep snow in the town means a functioning ski road allowing skiers to a pleasant 16km ski back to the town. Some parts of the route are very steep in places but thankfully there are more gentle routes as well.
Bansko - On gondala to the mountain
The start of the 15 minute journey to the mountain takes the traveller over the ski road heading to the town and gondala. It's going to be a great day of skiing.
Bansko - At the top of Vihren mountain
The Vihren is the second highest mountain in Bulgaria, at 2914m, only 11m shy of Musala, the tallest in the Balkan Peninsula - but the Pirin range as a whole is a lot higher than Rila - there are two summits above 2900m, Vihren and Kutelo; seven above 2800m; 17 above 2700m; 32 above 2600m and 40 above 2500m and the highest granite peak in the Balkans is the Banderishki Chukar (2732m).
Bansko - Looking WNW from the top of the Vihren
At the top there is silence only broken by gusts of wind. People talk about the sense of awe and peacefulness of the mountains and standing on top of the Vihren is a humbling experience.
Bansko - The Pirin Mountain Range
There is the possiblility of off piste skiing from here or walking across the thin ridge. I saw ski tracks in places I wouldn't dare to go.
28 Sep 2008 - Bansko, Bulgaria
The ski season in Bansko runs from December to April and during this period the resort is very busy. There is also an active summer season as which lasts from June to August. Outside of these times however Bansko is a quiet mountain town and if you want to enjoy the great outdoors plus have some lively evenings then this isn't the best time to visit though that is not to say you won't have a good time here.
Bansko isn't just a tourist resort but is also a town so this ensures that a still considerable number of bars and restaurants stay open though this is in no way comparable to when the tourist season is in full swing.
When I arrived at my apartment to inspect it I came across a furious English buyer. Furious because the apartment was not complete and buyers were led to believe that completion would be the end of 2007. Whilst this delay is annoying and seems to be another Bulgarian tradition - tradition being what I am fond of - the remaining spa, gymnasium and swimming pool areas are not too far away from being completed.
Bansko - Entrance to the grounds of Sveta Troitsa Church
The beautifully constuctucted stone walls and roads typical of Bansko. Through this gateway is the church that I have described in earlier blogs.
Much of Bansko is a maze of winding and often cobbled alleys flanked by high walled compounds and wandering the streets can often throw up a surprise of two.
Bansko - On the grounds of Sveta Troitsa Church
Behind the walls and inside the grounds of Sveta Troitsa.
Bansko - Rural Bansko
I stayed in a hotel away from the new tourist hotels and in the 'real' Bansko. From one of the windows of my hotel could be seen this view from what should be from another age. It appears to be the 1st floor of a barn and has vegetables hanging outside. Beneath it were animals. This traditional aspect of Bansko is a large part of the appeal.
Bansko - Another view from my hotel
This is another typical view of Bansko away from the well trampled tourist areas.
Bansko - Feeding time
Outside of the house pictured above was also this horse being fed what looked to be corn.
Bansko - Vapcarov Square
There are two closely located squares in Bansko. This is the largest and main one. Nearby is Vazrazdane Square which has Sveta Troitsa Church, mehanas and a number of clubs.
Bansko - Pretty street in Bansko
This street is typical of many in the old town.
Bansko - Overbuild in Bansko
Standing behind by the Glazne river looking South West, I was amazed by the level of new development compared to when I was here in March 2007. Back then this area was just a building site and foundations although that tag still applies as much work is still going on.
Bansko - Authentic 19th century build mehana
Bansko's signature feature is its many mehanas that offer regional delicacies. Many of them occupy authentic 19th century stone and timber buildings such as this one.
Bansko - Charming Bankso
Pirin Street can be seen at the far end of this road.
Bansko - Attractive Bankso
Imagine the place covered in snow with the smell of wood burners on a cold night. Dinner, raki and wine after a day on the slopes - I can't wait!
Bansko - Looking up the mountain and at the Kempinski
This road leads up the mountain and I took a short walk up there on my last day. I wish that I had a number of days free after the business of completing my purchase was complete to enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
Bansko - The Victoria from the Kempinski
I took a photo of my apartment complex from the same spot in March 2007. See the photo below 'Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 20th March 2007'.
Bansko - Lack of roads around the Victoria
Whilst the complexes in Bansko are going up the infrastructure and in particular the roads still need to be laid. This understandable whilst the buildings are completed as they would only need to be dug up again - which I saw happen on some stretches of road.
Bansko - Close up of the Victoria
I nearly bought the corner, middle right apartment. I chose not to in the end because it was slightly smaller than what I bought, had an unusual internal shape and being exposed on two sides rather than just one meant that it would be colder and more expensive to heat. On the plus side, the views would have been nicer though having said that, the area in front is going to be busy road.
Bansko - Stocked firewood
As you walk around Bansko, particularly in the evening, burning wood in the woodburners of houses or mehanas can be smelled. This smell of wood smoke is most comforting especially in winter when cold and hungry, you step into a mehana and are seated close to a roaring fireplace for an evening of good food and good drink.
Bansko - The ski road
I might have mentioned elsewhere that instead of coming down the mountain into the town by gondala a ski road exists that offers a long and gentle ski back. Before I left for Sofia I spent an hour or so walking up the mountain road and enjoyed the smell and feel of autumn. At one point I left the road and slipped through the trees onto the ski road which can be seen here.
Bansko - Autumn forest fruits
My macro photography has room for much improvement.
Bansko - Mountain stream
Bansko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the mountain is a protected national park. For this reason, Bansko has a summer appeal and hiking, mountain biking and horse riding are popular activities. Plus there is also an annual summer music festival. The temperature in the summer is often in the high 20's and is known to reach 30 degrees Celsius.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 26th May 2006
The following pictures show my apartment in its stages of development. In May 2006 it is just a hole in the ground but at least I can see the Kempinski in the background which proved that the work was actually happening!
Just behind the Kempinski are the ski lifts but everything behind the hotel is shrouded in mist which gives a strange impression as the mountain should be in full view.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 28th February 2007
Almost a year later and the building is recognisable as the ones in the plans and artists impressions. The complex is in a V shape and this is the 'inside' of the V. However, I discovered in September 2008 that there is going to be an extra wing to make it a Y shape. Thankfully, this will not affect my view. Compare this photo to the one taken on 31st January 2008.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 20th March 2007
I went to Bansko in March 2007 to check out the progress of the building and to make sure that the building was in the location specified. After all, if I'm paying top dollar because of its prime location I want to make sure that it is where it is supposed to be. This photo is taken from the 5 star Kempinski hotel. Compare it to 'Bansko - The Victoria from the Kempinski' above.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 28th May 2007
Bansko has plenty of summer activities and I look forward to visiting in summer for some mountain biking and to enjoy the town in very different conditions to what I have been used to.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 31st January 2008 I
I think that my apartment is the centre balcony on the right wing of the complex. Even when the apartments are built, the resort has still much left to do as the connecting roads still need to be laid down.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 31st January 2008 II
The latest photos from the solicitors show the complex looking nearly finished - at least from the outside. I imagine that the inside is still a bit of a bomb site. This is the inside of the 'V' again.
Victoria Apartments, Bansko - 18th July 2008
I must say that I'm happy with how this is looking now and it is certainly in in the final stage. It's actually looking better than a number of developments I've seen in Bansko. The development has been delayed for a number of reasons namely a lack of power and water supply. In Bulgaria, buildings have to pass a number of stages, the last of which is Act 16 and power and water is closely related to this. Act 16 has now been reached and it's time to pay up the final installment.
Bansko - Bus station map
In response to a request for the location of Bansko bus station...here is a map. The bus station is on the outskirts of the town, about 10-15 miutes walk from the main square which I've labelled 'A'. The bus station is on the other side of the road behind some trees so be careful you don't miss it.
24 Mar 2007 - Bansko, BulgariaNo skiing since the 20th! Why? Being laid low with flu is the reason why. As was Nick. Our room turned into a chamber of pain as we could only lie in bed and sleep such was our lack of strength, muscle pain and chills. An occasional foray out to buy some snacks, eat the awful hotel food and on one day endure a death march to a pharmacy was all we could manage. On one night we tried to go to a mehana that I know but the steak meal which was so gorgeous to the taste buds last year just did not have the same effect. In the end, we only managed to regain our strength on the day of our departure.
Bansko - Step into the past
Bulgaria is modernising but you can still scenes like this one on Pirin St.
Bansko - Above the entrance to the Sveta Troitsa Church
The orthodox images of Christianity. This part of Europe, once part of the orthodox Byzantine Empire eventually became part of the Muslim Ottoman Empire but the orthodox branch of Christianity was never extinguished. The writing says 'This is to glorify the Cross, the life giving, the togetherness, coming from The Union of the Holy Trinity, The Father , The Son and The Holy Spirit. This holy place for prayer, carrying the name The Holy Trinity was built with the help of Lazar Gerasimovitch who helped the local christians from the great village of Bansko in the summer of (year indeciperable)'
20 Mar 2007 - Bansko, BulgariaAnother day on the slopes and more glorious weather. Even Nick got himself out today but by the end he regretted learning ski boarding because of the longer and steeper learning curve. If he had used skis he would have been getting about and skiing though perhaps a little gingerly. Instead, he spent a day on the baby slopes banging his knees and backside, taking his board off, walking up a hill and sliding or falling down it again.
Eventually I persuaded him to accompany me on some easy slopes but one of the easy slopes wasn't so easy and it was a long and eventful trip back down to the gondola station. Well, at least he saw the mountain.
Bansko - Me!
A nice day and a nice spot of a photo with the mountain sloping away and the Razlog valley behind.
Bansko - Across the Razlog valley
Skiing down the mountain gives breath taking views of the surrounding area. This is even more remarkable when the snow has melted on the plains below the mountain.
Bansko - View down the baby slopes
A good place to re-familiarise yourself with being back on the snow or to learn the skills. The station at the bottom is where you can find the usual eateries but also the gondola life back down to the town.
Bansko - A novice boarder
My mate who decided to learn how to snow board on the slopes for the first time and now seriously out of his depth. He realised it was a mistake and should have done skiing. You live and learn. He will also have learned not to be convinced by me that he was ready for an intermediate slope.
Bansko - One of many bars and mehanas along Pirin St
As you walk Pirin Street which leads from the ski slopes to the square, the traveller will pass bars and restaurants, often with touts trying to tempt you.
Here is the restaurant I ate in on the last day when I recovered from being flu and bed ridden. For this reason, it gives me special memories!
Bansko - Looking across the cobbled square
A view of one of the many mehanas in Bansko. This is off the old square
In this picture you can see an old woman dressed in only I can guess traditional gear. Or is she in mourning?
Bansko - Sveta Troitsa Church coming from the old square
The Sveta Troitsa Church looking from the main square of old Bansko.
Bansko - Run down housing in the town
While walking through the cobbled streets I came across a number of old, attractive looking buildings but also the ugly modern blocks that serve as a reminder of Bulgaria's history and the fact that much development still needs to be done in this country.
Renovated, this house like many in Bulgaria would still have plenty of charm.
19 Mar 2007 - Bansko, BulgariaThe first day in resort and the weather was clear and not too cold so you could say ideal ski conditions. My pal, Nick decided to stay in bed because of late arrival the night before so I skied alone. It was always going to be like this though as I can ski and for Nick it was his first time. He had no trouble going out that evening though as the final picture testifies. Lighting a cigarette with an aerosol; now that's a gamble. Like putting a grenade with a faulty pin next to your face.
Bansko - View across the Razlog valley
From the lofty vantage point on a beautiful day you can see right across the Razlog valley. The nearest town that can be seen is Bansko though Razlog is also in the picture.
Bansko - The view from the gondola station
As you exit the gondola station after the 15 minute trip from the base of the mountain you are encountered with the baby slopes on the right and the Alberto Tomba run to the left.
Bansko - Looking down the Alberto Tomba run
The most demanding slope on the mountain, the Alberto Tomba competition slope ensures it has your attention and even for fit, regular rest stops at the site are needed.
At the bottom to the left you can see the baby slopes where those are found looking to renew their acquaintance with the snow or beginners can develop their skills.
Bansko - Near the top of the Shiligarnika ski area
A view up towards the top of the peak. The slope is moderately demanding and the snow is often deep with many bumps to keep the skier alert.
Bansko - Apres ski
In one of the many bars catering for the apres ski crowd, the barman shows a unique way of lighting a cigarette.
18 Mar 2007 - Bansko, BulgariaIts time to revisit Bansko to ensure that my apartment is being built in the place it is supposed to be; in fact to make sure its actually being built. Imagine shelling out all this cash to see that hole in the ground that I agreed to invest in is still a hole in the ground. Fortunately progress has been good so let's hope it continues.
This was also the last week of the ski season so it was either go now and at least see a bit of skiing or wait and then get here to nothing very much. Despite it being the last week, there was still plenty of snow but on the learner slopes the conditions did tend to get slushy by about 1pm. I have found out since that the ski season can continue into mid - late April but I don't know what the facilities and restaurants are like at about this time.
On the way down an interesting incident occurred; our coach was stopped by a policeman and I found out that our coach had been stopped because of a 'speeding' offence. I knew that wasn't true as this was the slowest coach I had ever been on. What actually had occurred was that the policeman saw an opportunity to make a quick buck by stopping the coach driver for 'speeding' and then accepting a bribe to allow him to continue.
8 Feb 2006 - Bansko, BulgariaI arrived in Bansko with the purpose of buying an apartment in this up and coming ski resort. Many agents appointments, lots of lies and much exploration of the area allowed me to eventually decide on my target but getting there was a lengthy process.
Like all property, location is king and in a ski resort the rules are: buy within 100m of the gondola, make sure it is high quality; ensure there are good facilities on site. So in the end that's what I did. There was plenty of cheaper property further away from the gondola but in the event of a downturn, these are exactly the types of properties that are going to suffer the most in value and rental potential.
As for getting out and about, the restaurants offered fantastic food at great prices and there were plenty of new sights such as the folk singers, boar heads and stuffed eagles on the wall. The world is a small place though. At my dinner table one night was another brit out here doing the same as me. It turned out we had a common friend from my university days so once the business was concluded I also had a drinking and skiing partner.
The last time I had skied was a year ago so it was good to get back on the skis again. Although I was a bit rusty I soon picked it back up and even took on the mighty Alberto Tomba black run. I also paid the price for doing this as I took a fall and carried on down about 40 meters on my stomach. Walking up such a steep slope to retrieve a ski is not fun. Two steps up, slide down one. But funny to watch I'm sure.
Bansko - Sveta Troitsa Church (Church of the Holy Trinity)
The Sveta Troitsa Church is surrounded by a stone wall 1m thick and 4m high. In the churchyard is Bansko's landmark - the 30m high clock tower, erected in 1850.
Bansko - Traditional narrow street in the old town
A nice snowy scene in the old town part of Bansko. In this part of the town, Taverns often line the road and in the evening there is a beautiful smell of wood fires and various meats being cooked.
Bansko - Buddha bar
One half of this place is a normal night club. But behind a curtain the atmosphere changes as a host of scantily clad women spin themselves around a pole or sit around on stools looking bored.
Bansko - Looking up the Alberto Tomba run
Now this is steep. Looking down is even worse. One of the first times I came down it I had a bit of a mishap and went over on my stomach, losing a ski. While the ski stayed put, I kept going meaning a hard slog back up the slope.
Two steps up and one step down, sweating and cursing, I eventually got my ski back. Funny all the same.