Ski and Winter Resorts
While Bulgaria is more popular with its beaches (is it?), the winter is also relatively long and snowy in the mountains. Due to this the country is not so bad as a winter sports destination. Let me be honest, we don't have the Alps: neither the infrastructure, neither all the snow that's there. But we have some pretty decent winter resors with lovely nature and enough snow. The big advantages compared to the most popular ski destinations in Europe? Here you go:
- Here is cheaper. Not earth-shattering cheaper, but still significant cheaper.
- Less crowded, less popular, therefore calmer and more hip.
- Plenty of authentic nature not yet touched by commercialization - this is good especially if you look for winter treks rather than skiing.
Consider also that Bulgaria is small and it's easy and cheap to go from the resorts to the big cities and have several completely different experiences in short timeframe. Are you sold? If so, let's look into some more details.
The Season Length
First snow typically starts in November and in the mountains can continue to April. If you want to go skiing, my advice is to stick to mid-December to early March as snow is kind of guaranteed in this time frame. Winter treks in the high mountains can be done even in late October and late April if you are lucky. Some snow may be seen even in June and late September on the highest mountain peaks.
The winter in the cities is of course shorter. If you want to learn more about best time to visit the country for other than winter sports, see this article.
Sofia itself is rarely thought as a winter resort, but the proximity of Vitosha mountain in fact makes it one. So if you have only few days in Bulgaria and / or are short in budget, it's a good one to consider. Vitosha has only a couple of ski slopes but is reachable in half to an hour from the center of Sofia. Beat that if you can! And you can even get to the ski lift with public transportation. It's also good enough for winter trekking and snowboarding.
There are also several huts working in Vitosha all year round. More about mountain huts in Bulgaria can be found here.
Borovets is one of the most popular ski resorts in Bulgaria, and it's the oldest one. Borovets is located in Rila mountain at 1345m above the sea level. The place is good for winter sports from mid December to mid April. Borovets is only 75 km away of Sofia but reaching it by public transit is a bit tricky. First you need to get a bus to Samokov. These buses don't start at the Central bus station but from bus station South. To get to this station take the metro from anywhere and go to station Joliot Curie. The bus station is at 5 minutes walking from Joliot Curie. Then finally get the bus to Samokov (once each 30 mins). An hour later you will reach Samokov. There in front of hotel Samokov is a bus station - you need to take the mini bus to Borovets - again, there's one minibus each 30 mins, so at least no waiting. Confused, scared? Fortunately there are more winter resorts.
Bansko is another very popular one and one of the largest ski resorts with lots of hotels and huts in the town and around. The town of Bansko itself lost its charm due to overbuilding with hotels but the surrounding area of the Pirin Mountain is amazing and compensates for the downtown craziness. There are several ski slopes and many interesting objects for tourism and winter treks. If you are more a trekker than a a skier you may want to consider climbing Vihren peak.
Bansko is only 150 km away of Sofia but reaching it by bus takes about 3 hours. At least it's easier to go there than to Borovets because the buses start from Sofia Central Bus Station and go directly to Bansko. So no changes of buses, yay! One has to love our infrastructure and public transit.
The third most popular ski resort is Pamporovo and it's farest away of Sofia from the three. Pamporovo is 1650 m above the sea level in Rhodopes and the ski season is mid December to the end of April. Going by bus takes about 4 hours from Sofia but at least it's a direct bus from the Central Bus Station. Pamporovo is maybe the most beautiful of the three and the best resort from what I've heard.
Besides the top 3 there are several other less popular but good winter resorts or ski slopes:
- Parshevitsa is located 25km away of Vratsa (about 100km away of Sofia) at 1280m above the sea level. A popular object near it is the Ledenika cave.
- Uzana is located near Gabrovo. In this area is the georgraphic center of Bulgaria.
- Dobrinishte is a town located near Bansko, at 842m above the sea level. It's a spa resort reachable from Bansko or by the narrow-lined train Septemvri - Dobrinishte. The train ride is well worth the experience so if you have the time, do it.
- Beklemeto also known as Troyan Passage is 1590m above the sea level. It's good for both winter and summer trecks.
- Govedartsi is 13km away of Samokov and close to the Malyovitsa peak.
- Kom is 2015m high peak in Stara Planina. It's the starting point of Kom - Emine tourist trail.
- Tsigov Chark is 7 km away of Batak and 43 km away of Pazardjik. It's a bit hard to reach due to the lack of regular public transit.
There are plenty of places good for ski and winter sports or treks here. It all comes down to how much time you have to spend in the country. Money is less of an issue because our ski resorts and transportation are cheaper than those in Central Europe. Still be prepared to be overcharged in the most popular resorts.
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