Bulgaria has recently become one of Europe’s hottest (not literally!) winter sports destinations, and there are many reasons for this success. The country boasts the highest mountains between the Alps and the Caucasus, ensuring a reliable snow cover throughout most of the season. And with a variety of quality ski resorts to choose from, the stiff competition ensures the best value for money on the continent!
From the internationally-famous host of Alpine Ski World Cup races to the ski resort you can easily reach by public transport from the capital, kashkaval tourist presents 9 exciting Bulgarian ski resorts for your winter holiday!
Brought to you thanks to the invaluable insider tips of hardcore winter sports enthusiasts Ani Manova, Max Pirsky and Martin Bonov.
1. Everything under the winter sun: Bansko
Perhaps Bulgaria’s best-known ski resort, Bansko (Банско) was a quiet Bulgarian town until it developed rapidly as winter destination in the 2000s. These days, the resort regularly hosts rounds of the Alpine Ski World Cup, and deservedly so. With a total of 18 slopes of varying difficulty and length, 10 lifts and 5 tows, Bansko has something for everyone.
And while Bansko’s prices may be some of the highest in Bulgaria, the top price of a quality ski holiday in Bansko remains the best among Europe’s famous resorts. To avoid the tourist traps though, it’s a good idea to make friends with the smiling locals. In terms of accommodation, the options are practically limitless and the specific regional cuisine is absolutely fantastic! Though beware of the days around New Year’s, when there are massive queues for the main cabin lift.
A super convenient way to get to Bansko is booking a private transfer with Around Bulgaria, whose English-speaking drivers and online payment options are a real convenience.
2. Low-cost freeriding paradise: Kartala
Update: As of 2018, the Kartala lift isn’t functional.
In recent years, Kartala (Картала) near Blagoevgrad has established itself as a favourite low-cost resort for Bulgarian freeriders. Kartala has a cabin lift and a single but rather long and difficult run, but the best part are the breath-taking freeriding possibilities along the piste. As long as you watch out for avalanche hazard (definitely check with the experienced mountain rescue professionals), you can enjoy some memorable rides down from the vast white meadows above the slope.
What’s more, in Kartala you can lodge or have a meal in the very same building as the lift station – which also hosts an inexpensive hotel and pub. In the morning, just make your way to the upper floor and board one of the cabins!
3. Stone’s throw away from Sofia: Vitosha
Incredibly, the capital Sofia has its own ski area in the nearby mountain Vitosha (Витоша). Two of Vitosha’s 5 lifts can take you from the big city’s southern neighbourhoods directly to the slopes! And with its 14 pistes of any difficulty (not all working at the same time, however), the resort has some considerable variety on offer too.
If you prefer sleeping up in the mountain, the Aleko ski area would be your best bet for accommodation. Though with the slopes so close, there’s no reason to disregard any of Sofia’s charming hotels either!
4. Royal rumble: Borovets
Borovets (Боровец) was founded in 1896, which makes it the oldest winter resort in Bulgaria… and to this day, it remains among the most popular. Borovets boasts the amazing 27 ski slopes for every experience level, serviced by 5 lifts and 7 tows.
Bulgarian ruler Prince Ferdinand built his winter residence, the Tsarska Bistritsa Palace, in Borovets in 1898. And whether you’re looking for a hotel fit for a king or an unpretentious bed and breakfast, you can be assured you’ll find that among Borovets’ towering pine forests.
5. Hardcore culoirs: Panichishte and the Seven Rila Lakes
Fancy practicing winter sports near one of Europe’s most beautiful lake groups? Then Panichishte (Паничище) and the Seven Rila Lakes (Седемте рилски езера, Sedemte rilski ezera) ought to be the perfect spot for you! The area boasts a few typical Bulgarian mountain huts, a somewhat slow chairlift with a piste underneath and some great deep-snow backcountry riding in the forests along the ski run.
However, the Seven Rila Lakes’ standout feature may well be the steep culoirs which look like they’re straight out of an extreme winter sports movie! If you’re a very experienced skier or snowboarder and feel like taking up this unique challenge, just make sure you’re properly equipped and well prepared and don’t ride the culoirs on your own.
6. Down from the TV tower: Pamporovo
The leading ski resort of the charming Rhodope Mountains, Pamporovo (Пампорово) features 37 kilometres of ski slopes supported by 7 chair lifts and 8 ski tows. The scenic cross-country ski route will lead you on a pleasant ride through the gentle mountain ridges.
Pamporovo’s symbol has to be the gigantic Snezhanka TV Tower. Don’t forget to have a fragrant Rhodope tea in the panorama café on top of the tower, taking in the scenic vistas of the vast ski runs below.
7. Classic Bulgarian winter experience: Dobrinishte
Nested at the foot of the imposing Pirin Mountains, Dobrinishte (Добринище) remains an authentic Bulgarian mountain town and a refreshing getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Bansko. Dobrinishte’s guesthouses and the Bezbog mountain hut directly above the ski run are a cozy and very affordable place to stay and check out the delicious local cuisine après-ski.
While the chairlift servicing the only official piste may be rather slow, your patience will be compensated with an amazing price and a chance for some great powder. And the surrounding deciduous forests provide for some unforgettable riding just as well!
8. Extreme riding spot: Osogovo
A small winter resort near Kyustendil with a single beginner’s slope, Osogovo (Осогово) may not sound like much… until you consider Fun Park Osogovo, Bulgaria’s only dedicated freestyle winter sports venue! The extreme park attracts hardcore snowboarders with its variety of kickers and rail combinations.
Otherwise, the Osogovo ski run is normally open on weekends. If you’re considering a weekday visit, make sure you check with the company operating the ski tow to make sure it will be running. The resort features a tearoom and equipment rentals by the piste as well as a few very affordable huts and hotels to stay in.
9. Riding the burned-out forest: Malyovitsa
A no-nonsense ski resort near the spectacular Malyovitsa (Мальовица) peak of the Rila Mountains, this place is equipped with two proper slopes with T-bar lifts. Of the two slopes, the big one is quite fast and not recommended for newbies. However, beginners can learn the ropes at the two additional training runs.
In a good snowy season, the woods around Malyovitsa are an amazing place for freeriding. Head for the burned-out forest, which has turned into a great playground for skiers and snowboarders. There’s some good accommodation near the ski runs and in the nearby village of Govedartsi.