Bansko, Bulgaria: Not the Trip We’d Hoped For

A woman kneeling in snow in prayer
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Last Updated on: 19th January 2024, 07:07 am

I could picture it so well. The crisp air, the snow-covered pines, the stillness of a landscape blanketed in white. Days spent swooshing down the mountain until exhaustion sets in. Nights snuggled up in a cozy apartment, watching the snow falling outside.

After living in Florida for thirty years, I couldn’t wait to spend some time in a winter wonderland. After some research, I found the ski town of Bansko, Bulgaria. Three weeks of skiing there would cost about the same as five days at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort.

We made plans to head there in January 2020 as the first stop in our third year of full-time travel. It didn’t turn out anything like I had imagined.

All money is in U.S. dollars

Reality Rears Its Ugly Head

When we arrived in Bansko, the winter wonderland was woefully absent. The daily highs in town were in the forties, and not a flake of snow nor patch of ice could be found. The mountainside ski slopes fared a little better, but not much. Damn you, global warming!

Gondolas and melting snow
Receding snow at the bottom of the mountain

Throughout our nine weeks there, we watched the snow repeatedly fall and then melt, which made the ski slopes icy.

A woman walking through the snow in Bansko, Bulgaria
Each snowfall raised our hopes, only to have them dashed when it melted.

Even so, we tried to make the best of it. We woke up to rain on our first day of skiing. The folks at the ski shop assured us that it was not raining on the mountain, and they were right. There was a very welcome light snow all day.

Both of us had a lesson to refresh our skills and a chance to ski on our own. Then we made plans to put our rejuvenated skills to the test by taking a long but easy run together.

A Turn For the Worst

We weren’t more than ten minutes into it when I hit a steep, icy section and found myself sliding down the mountain. With repeated reminders to myself to snowplow, lean forward, and remain calm, I made it down that part. I stopped to wait for Steve but did not see him.

After a little while, I figured he either passed me and I missed him, or he was taking his time and would catch up.

When I reached the bottom of the run, he was nowhere to be seen. After some hunting, I found him in the doctor’s office with a fractured pelvis! This diagnosis meant he would be hospitalized for about a week, then require complete bed rest for two more weeks.

After being checked out by the doctor at the ski resort, Steve was transported by ambulance to a hospital in the nearby town of Razlog. He ended up spending nine days there. You can read about that experience in “Hospitalized in Bulgaria!”

A man lying in a hospital bed waving a white flag
Steve, on the day he left the hospital. I was amazed by his positive attitude despite the pain and less-than-ideal hospital experience.
A Great Place to Recuperate

Since Steve would need to be transferred to our apartment lying flat, we had to leave our Airbnb, and I had to find a place that would allow him to be brought in by paramedics.

That was no easy task because most apartments and hotels either had stairs or the elevator was too small for a stretcher. It took three days, but I finally found a place about ten miles from Bansko at the Redenka Holiday Club. They had the perfect first-floor one-bedroom apartment.

We stayed there for four weeks. It was in the country (my taxi was held up by a herd of cattle crossing the road one night), but it had an indoor pool, a jacuzzi, and a fitness room.

The indoor pool and jacuzzi at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and jacuzzi at the Redenka Holiday Club

We got half board, so breakfast and dinner were included. Whoopee, no cooking or dishes!

Photo of a salad
This was just the first course for dinner

The staff was friendly and helpful and frequently asked about Steve. I joked that he was a celebrity even before anyone had met him.

We appreciated the staff’s help and left there with several new friends.

Unexpected Delights

Even when things don’t go as planned, there is always something interesting or beautiful to see.

One day, I left the hospital to run errands. Until then, I had only seen the seamier side of Razlog. On my way back, I came across this charming scene in a small park.

Topiary of a man and woman in a lake
A little greenery in the winter landscape

When I returned to the hospital, the road was filled with people in native dress and furry costumes. They were having a grand old time dancing and banging their drums.

People dancing in furry costumes
A Kukeri celebration

A little research told me this was a Kukeri festival. It occurs between New Year’s Day and Lent. It is supposed to drive away evil spirits and provide a good harvest, health, and happiness during the coming year. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to hold it in front of a hospital is beyond me.

Making Friends

In addition to making several human friends, we were befriended by this four-legged sweetheart.

Dog bowing in play
Bansko playing in the snow

Bansko hung out at Redenka but knew better than to enter the buildings. I thought Bansko was a girl. One morning, I was telling her what a good girl she was when a guy came by and said, “It’s a boy, and he doesn’t understand English.” What ?!?!

No matter what language he understood, he was well-loved and well-fed by the staff and guests at Redenka.

In a case of serendipity, I met a physiotherapist one morning at breakfast when I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with him by asking if he spoke English. Dimitar spoke English very well and gave us advice while Steve was still bedridden. He also worked with Steve once he was up and about.

While Steve was in the hospital, I met a young woman named Aleksandra, a thoughtful and delightful Bulgarian student. After Steve became mobile, we enjoyed dinner with her.

Steve, Linda, And Aleksandra at dinner.
Steve, Aleksandra, and me at dinner.

We were also privileged to get to know Anna and Tommy at Succuk Burger House and Cafe. The food was excellent, but the service kept us coming back. These two, along with the rest of their family, took great care of their customers.

Four people in a restaurant
Enjoying our last visit with Anna and Tommy
Seeing the Sights

Bansko is a small ski town (pop. 9,000), so attractions are limited. However, beauty was everywhere, as I discovered on a Sunday morning outing.

Bulgarian girls dancing in Bansko
A Sunday morning show for charity

A visit to the Neofit Rilski House Museum taught me about this Bulgarian renaissance man. He was a monk, an artist, a translator, and a teacher. He was also the founder of Bulgarian secular education.

A room in an eighteenth-century house
One of many comfortable-looking rooms in the Neofit Rilski House
The kitchen in an eighteenth-century home
The bread-baking room

The best sight by far is the Pirin mountains surrounding the town. Wherever you go, you can see them.

Ski mountain in Bansko
Ski Mountain teasing us with her inadequate snowfall

We had a wonderful view of the mountains from our third apartment and frequently commented on how much we would miss them.

Clouds in the Pirin Mountains
The view from our balcony
Why I Won’t Ski Bansko Again

When researching ski resorts, we looked for an affordable place where we wouldn’t need a car. Bansko was one of those places.

Unfortunately, there was so much we didn’t know about skiing there. Check out our post “The Pros and Cons of Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria” to learn more.

Moving On

Our trip to Bansko did not turn out as anticipated. Even so, we left with many warm memories. As we often find, it is the people we meet as we travel that have the greatest impact on us. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual.

Because of this experience, Steve and I have skied our last slopes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy the beauty of winter.

Trip Details

Dates: January 9 – March 12, 2020
Number of days: 63
Travel costs: $8,900
Travel cost per day: $141
Additional costs – medical: $800
Additional costs – canceled plans: $900
Total spent: $10,600

Happy traveling,
Linda

Originally published on March 22, 2020

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.com

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2 thoughts on “Bansko, Bulgaria: Not the Trip We’d Hoped For”

  1. Oh no! It definitely doesn’t sound like a great skiing trip, but at least an adventure. Bulgaria is one of the few places I didn’t get to go in Europe that I really wanted to. Despite the town not being great for skiing, it still sounds like a beautiful place to spend a few weeks. Those mountains are stunning.

    1. It is an enjoyable place. It’s great for walking and has a lot of good restaurants. We’ve been to five cities/towns in Bulgaria, and it is one of my favorite countries. I hope you get there soon.

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