I don’t really ski. Or snowboard. I did when I was a kid, and remember it being kinda fun. But even then I never remember loving it so much that I was willing to make 3.5+ hours long trek each way with my dad from Fremont to Lake Tahoe. That’s what ya gotta do if you wanna find snow in California, anyway.
And staying in Tahoe is expensive so we often did day trips, which meant super early mornings and a looooot of time in the car. Then we had to rent everything, and wait in line at the chair lift (and don’t try and tell me that getting on and off is not the most nerve racking thing ever), and because we didn’t go often there was always a learning curve during which I’d fall a lot and stare down a giant hill and wonder how EXACTLY I was supposed to get down that thing in once piece on 2 toothpicks of plastic strapped to my wobbly feet.
I remember it eventually being fun, but was always relieved when the day was over.
I also had a couple sledding accidents when I was about 8, which were bad enough to pretty much scar me for life (luckily only figuratively). So that’s out, too.
Around age 12 I stopped going. It felt like too much hassle, and by that age I just wanted to be at the mall anyway.I came to Bansko in December, and honestly just needed to get out of Schengen and wanted to join to coworking space here to meet some other digital nomads. I genuinely didn’t even realize it was a ski resort!
But anyways, since I was here, I decided to try skiing again…And hated it. I like doing other adventurous things, but when it comes to hurtling down steep hills on plastic I’m kinda out. I’m more of an ice skating or snowshoeing person – anyone with me??? Like, still kinda adventurous but a lot less likely to end up with all the broken things.
To be fair, it’s kind of my own fault as to why I still hated skiing this most recent attempt…
I tried a couple bunny slopes, got overconfident, went all the way to the top, and realized I’d made a HUGE mistake. I pretty much fell down the entire mountain, then sat in a restaurant for 2 hours nursing my bruised body and ego, and took the chairlift down to the bottom.
I’m also just going to throw it out there that it was super icy, too. So trying to stop was slightly terrifying.Ok, ok, I know I’m just making excuses. But anyways! The point is that I’m not really into it.
And the people who are really ARE. After introducing myself to new people in the coworking space, their second question is pretty much allllllmost always, “So, do you ski OR snowboard?” Not asking IF I ski or snowboard, but rather, which one.
When I say I do neither, they look at me like I just told them I’m a puppy serial killer. Then they proceed to ask, “So then what do you do in your free time?” or my other favorite, “So then why are you here?” while proceeding to try and convince me to try it again.
Like, can I just be left alone in my snow sport hatred??? I don’t bug you about travel journaling or doing yoga with me. (Although, I have finally been convinced to try snowboarding again tomorrow…Let’s see how that goes…)
Ok, end rant. But my point is, I’ve had a lot of time in my 2 months here to try out different activities. There’s lots of other cool things to do in Bansko in winter!
LEARN ALL ABOUT BANSKO ON THE FREE WALKING TOURThe Bansko Free Walking Tour was so fun! I really enjoyed learning more about Bansko’s history. It was created by several different local people who wanted to educate people about the town. The tour is in English, but of course the guides can speak Bulgarian as well since they’re locals.
We also learned about different culinary specialties – helpful to know what to order when you’re in restaurants!Plus they gave us a cute little booklet with discounts for a bunch of different restaurants afterwards.
And of course, it’s advertised as “free” but kind of expected that you leave a tip. Walking tours are usually 1.5-2 hours long, so at least giving the guide a little something at the end is the kind thing to do.The meeting spot is under the tree by the church – look for someone holding a sign that says “Bansko Free Tour”. We almost missed it because we were waiting right outside the entrance to the church – turns out the guide was waiting under the tree just opposite of us!
GET YO ASS OUTSIDE & GO HIKINGThere isn’t a TON of snow right now, so it’s pretty easy to do some nice walking/hiking outside of town. To find the area in the photo above, walk up to the Gondola, then turn right and walk parallel to the river. The trail ends after about 10 minutes, but it’s still really pretty! You can also try the trail on the other side of the river – I want to do that next!
You can’t really go up the mountain unless you want to hit snow, but near the bottom it’s totally doable!You can walk under the gondola or parallel to the ski road. There are some nice trails up there. There’s even a monastery (not a big one) that you can walk to. The second you get out of town, it literally feels like you’ve stepped back like 10 years in time. To find the trail, input “Belizmata Dam” on Google Maps, then scroll a little left to find the monastery. You’ll also see lots of eerie abandoned buildings around town, and they get more and more numerous as you get closer to the edges. On the way to the monastery you’ll see a bunch!
STRAP ON SOME TENNIS RACKETS & GO SNOWSHOEING
I’ve been really wanting to do this, but there hasn’t been as much snow this year. It looks really awesome, though!
Uhuru Trekking looks like a great company to go with – you can go on a group or private tour £25 per person including snowshoes, or a night snowshoe adventure for £15 per person!
GO ICE SKATING & LET YOUR INNER MICHELLE KWAN OUTThere’s an ice skating rink up by the gondola. It’s not the best ice in the world and it’s a little small, but still enough for a couple hours of fun! It can get quite crowded in the evenings – but I recently went at 1PM on Saturday, right when it opened, and it was empty. So, maybe try for midday rather than evenings if you want a less crowded rink! It costs 30 lev (about $16 USD) for 2 hours, and is open every day from 1-10PM. It’s an outdoor rink, so it does have a season – in the spring/summer, it becomes a tennis court, haha.
GET ADVENTUROUS & GO SNOWMOBILING
You can also try your hand at snowmobiling if you’d like! Again, there wasn’t enough snow at the time that I was here, but maybe you’ll be luckier.
Two Heads looks like a good company.
SOAK IN SOME HOT SPRINGSThere are SO MANY natural hot springs near Bansko! There are some ‘secret’ ones I’ve heard about in the woods, but haven’t actually been there myself. So all of these are actual establishments and manmade pools but with natural mineral water!
I LOVE SPA Hotel Izgreva, not only because their pools are made out of natural rock and pretty, but also because my favorite dish lives there.
I’m talking “potatoes three cheese” baby. Promise me you’ll look for it on the menu. I get it EVERY TIME. They make the potatoes in some sort of milk and then add cheese and every bite is pure heaven. Plus it’s only 5 lev. Which is a little less than $3 USD. IT IS SO WORTH IT.
They also have really good cake! It’s the “Izgreva Special” on the menu and only 3 lev ($1.50 USD). So good. Plus entrance to the hot springs is only 7 lev (like $4 USD!).
There are separate changing rooms for men and women, but no lockers. I usually leave my coat and clothes in the locker room, but put my bag with valuables on a chair next to the hot springs so I can keep an eye on it.Villa Victoria is also nice, and a little fancier than Izgreva. I don’t find the food as good as Izgreva, though, and there’s no “potatoes three cheese” meal there. I’ve found that it’s unique to Izgreva – I haven’t seen it on the menu anywhere else in Bansko!
Villa Victoria does have lockers, but the changing room is unisex. However, they do have private stalls you can use to change. Entrance fee is also 7 lev.
Both are in the neighboring town of Banya, so you kind of need a car. Or, you can try to hitchhike! My friend came to visit for 2 weeks, so we rented a car because we wanted to go on some day trips in the area. On our way to Plovdiv, we picked up two hitchhikers!
ATTEND THE LOCAL MARKETOk, ok perhaps this sounds lame, but I swear it’s not!!! The local market is a VIBE, ok? It could be that I’m just market obsessed (back home, going to the farmer’s market was my weekend ritual) and love to support local farmers/businesses when I can – BUT it’s also just really cool!
Fresh fruits and veggies abound, and so does tons of homemade wine, sauces, pickled vegetables, honey, nut butter, nuts, fresh cheese, and what I think is oil but haven’t figured out yet lol. It’s really cool to at least see!All the sauces I’ve tried have been amazing, the cheese is delicious, and the wine is…Well…Let’s just say I bought the merlot from one stand and I ended up using it in salad dressings instead? It was pretty much just sweet vinegar at that point. By all means, try it again and prove me wrong, though! The big market day takes place every Sunday, starting in the morning and lasting until about 1 or so. There are vendors present every day of the week – but it’s just a few of them rather than the 30+ (I think?) that attend on Sunday.
WALK UP PIRIN STREETThis is the main street in Bansko. It’s really interesting to start in either the Old Town (bottom of the mountain where mostly locals live) and walk up to the Gondola area (where the gondola is to take people to the slopes, and where most of the tourists stay). You can really see the change of scenery and pace doing so! The Old Town is a lot more quiet, with traditional Bulgarian houses and cobblestone streets. The Gondola area is lit with flashing neon signs, filled with people in snow suits and/or out partying, has lots of bars and things to do. Restaurant prices also double in the Gondola area, so if you’re trying to cut costs you may want to choose places in the Old Town. It’s only about 20-30 minutes walking from the heart of the Old Town to the Gondola Area. Bansko is small, ok! I’ve been here for 1.5 months and LOVE IT but it’s certainly a bit of a bubble. You can also walk up ul “Gotse Delchev” – this runs parallel to Pirin, and has a really pretty stream running through it!
EAT!!!!!!! ALL THE BULGARIAN FOOD!!!!I honestly really like Bulgarian food. I really haven’t had a bad meal here, save for the one time at Villa Victoria that was quite disappointing.
I will warn you that all the restaurants are pretty much the same lol. And being a vegetarian makes the variety that much less (there’s a LOT of meat in Bulgarian food – there are always veggie options but I do find that I often rotate between the same few dishes).
Here’s what I recommend you try:
- Bean/veggie soup – There’s some sort of vegetarian soup at every place, and they’ve all been quite good. The veggie soup is usually blended with a creamy base.
- Tarator – a yogurt-based cold soup with dill and cucumbers. Sounds weird, but is actually pretty good.
- Parlenka – Flat, grilled bread that’s kind of a cross between pita and naan. So basically, heaven in your mouth. I always get the garlic or cheese version.
- Katak – A yogurt/roasted red pepper dip that’s best paired with parlenka.
- Lutenitsa – Another dip made of tomatoes and roasted red peppers. SO GOOD.
- Shopska Salad – Arguably, the most famous Bulgarian salad. It’s made of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and purple onions, and topped with a generous amount of shredded cheese.
- Shopski Cheese – A roasted bowl of cheese. Yep, you read that right. Tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and an egg often make an appearance but the star of the show is certainly the cheese.
- Banitsa – A breakfast pastry made of phyllo dough and cheese.
You’ll also often find sides of grilled veggies and potatoes. Just a heads up, the “potatoes with cheese” are usually french fries.
My favorite restaurants:
- Matsurev Han – PROMISE ME YOU WILL GET THE CHOCOLATE/BANANA BANITSA AND PUMPKIN CREAM. Please. They are some of the best desserts I’ve EVER had. Like I literally want to go back just to get the desserts. It’s closer to the Gondola area, so a little pricier, but still very affordable.
- Chalet Yanitsa – Very good, budget friendly food in Old Town. They have excellent garlic/cheese parlenka and katak.
- Cafe Sapid – Their quinoa/pumpkin seed salad is DIVINE!
- EMAR – Lacking a little in ambiance (for some reason it’s popular in Bulgaria to play loud, techno sounding music in some restaurants) but very good food. Their potato soup is delicious and they have an amazing salad with grilled eggplant and red pepper.
SEE THE HOLY TRINITY CHURCHThis is such a beautiful church, and it’s free to enter! When you go in the entrance, notice the icons above the door. You’ll see a star, a half moon, and a cross above it. This is supposed to symbolize that all religions are welcome to pray there – love that!
VISIT THE MUSEUM NIKOLA VAPTSAROVNikola Vaptsarov was a famous poet that lived in Bansko – this is the house he grew up in, turned into a museum!
He’s considered one of the most famous Bulgarian poets despite the fact that he’s only written one book. Crazy, eh?
VIEW THE VELYANOVA HOUSEYou can see what a traditional Bulgarian home may have looked like at the Velyanova House.
FIND A COOL SUNSET SPOTBansko has AWESOME sunsets. And when you have the mountains in the background, well, that’s a win in my book. Honestly, you can just walk up Pirin Street and wander some side streets. You’ll get a great view pretty much anywhere!
SO there’s plenty to do in Bansko if you don’t like snow sports! And if you do like them, well, then I guess you can check all of this out when you’re not up on the mountain.
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