Bansko – Cheap ski holiday, beautiful nature and great community

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

Bansko. Where or what is that? The first thing that comes up is probably, cheap ski holiday, Coworking and nomad communities. Coming from the northern part of Europe, we had never heard of this small Bulgarian town before our travel, but it is a fantastic place!

It was actually the only place we booked way before setting out for our travels, and the only reason for this was that we could ski through the winter. And also because we saw that it could be a really cheap ski holiday for us.

We went there straight after our winter holiday in sunny Greece and started out in Bansko with minus 8 degrees. So quite a change.

In this post, I will tell you why you should come here and why you should not. Cause you really can get a cheap ski holiday, and this place is super affordable if done right. But there are some downsides.

Mount Vihren seen from Bansko
Beautiful view at mount Vihren in Bansko. All of Bansko is surrounded by marvellous mountains.

What and where is Bansko?

Bansko is a small city with a population of around 9.000. It is close to the Pirin National Park / Pirin Mountains, where you are also skiing. Beautiful mountains surround it, and if you are an outdoor person, you will find the perfect conditions at this place. You can go hiking, climbing, mountain biking and a lot of other thrilling stuff.

The capital, Sofia, is a two-hour drive north of here, and the Greek border is only a one hour drive to the south. We were only here in winter, but have been told that it is also lovely in the summertime.

If you are from the northern or western part of Europe, you might find Bansko a bit poor. The roads are often in bad shape, and many houses and hotels are not completed. Some are even collapsed.
Wood-burning stoves heat the town in most areas, and this can be a bit uncomfortable for your lungs. And some places seem to be a bit overrun with street dogs that bark all night.

Other than that, it’s genuinely a great place. People are friendly and relaxed. It also seems that the Bulgarians or the Banskonians don’t care much for Covid. It was really not a thing here, and that way, we felt it was very accessible and unrestricted, unlike many other parts of the world (at that time).

Christmas in Bansko
We were invited for a Christmas party at Banskolab downtown with a group of other nomads and locals.

Community

There are many reasons to visit Bansko. As mentioned earlier, our main reason was skiing, as you can easily get a cheap ski holiday here. But it’s certainly not the only one.

Before coming to Bansko, we joined the Bansko Notice Board – a group on Facebook. This is THE group to be in; if you want to stay updated, ask questions about everything in Bansko and the surrounding area and meet new friends. We hadn’t been here for more than a few days before being invited to a Christmas party with other travellers and locals.

We met some lovely people here who we saw throughout our stay in Bansko.

worldschool
Liva and Emma were skiing 3 times a week with some of the other kids from world school.

Bansko World School

One of the biggest surprises for us was the World School. It’s an initiative that took place in Bansko while we were there, but you can find something similar in many other places around the world. It’s too big to cover in this post but feel free to check it out here.

Liva and Emma were enrolled in the programme in January and February, with several other children from twenty or so different countries. There were activities like card games, skiing, ice skating, cooking, Spanish for beginners, feeding homeless dogs and much more.

As well as activities just for the children, there were communal meals, trips to the hot springs in Banya, and a weekly mum or dads night out.

We had a great time at World School and met many new friends and exciting people. They were all families travelling in the same way as us and sharing many of our values.

Predela 2 in Bansko
On our way to the slopes from our apartment in Predela 2. There were still construction activities (to the left), but none bothered us.

How to get a cheap ski holiday in Bansko and what to avoid

There are a lot of accommodations in Bansko, and whether you are looking for a cheap apartment or luxury five-star hotel with all the bells and whistles, Bansko got you covered.

Before coming to Bansko, we had booked an apartment for three months through banskonomadapartments.com.

It wasn’t luxury by any means, but it was relatively good located, had good space and was well equipped. In addition, the price was more than affordable, as we only paid about 500 leva per month for it (€270), plus utilities.
We have since learned that electricity consumption is something to be particularly aware of. Especially this winter (2021-22), electricity was costly in Europe.

Most buildings here in Bansko are poorly built. They are poorly insulated, and you have to heat up the stove or radiator to keep warm.

In our apartment, we had radiators that ran on electricity, and we ended up paying 600 leva for a month. But we heard stories about others paying far more. So you have to be careful.

If you’re staying here for a long time, I’d recommend getting an apartment where utilities are included.

If you’re staying for a shorter time, use Airbnb or Booking.com to be on the safe side. Even though you book with Airbnb or Booking, you can still get a very cheap ski holiday accommodation compared to other destinations in Europe.

Avoid buying food on the slopes if you want a cheap ski holiday
Eating in one of the many restaurants in Bansko is quite affordable. However, on the slopes, be prepared to pay up to four times as much.

Food and drinks on the slopes and in the city

We generally found that going out to eat and drink in Bansko is cheap. There are around 130…ish restaurants and bars, and you can have a nice family dinner with beer and soda at about 100 leva. There are many good ones to choose from, so take your pick. If you need help, try looking in Bansko Notice Board on Facebook. A lot of people talk about food here.

Prices vary a lot depending on where you eat. It is undoubtedly the most expensive on the slopes. In fact, so expensive that we didn’t eat there at all.

When you get further down the slopes, there are some local restaurants. Here the price drops by 25-35%. If you go all the way down, the price is just below half.

Because we were in Bansko for three months, we didn’t have to ski so many hours every day. So we often got up in the morning and headed home to have lunch in the apartment. But we also brought packed lunches sometimes.

If you are used to skiing and paying for food on the slopes, I guess you won’t mind the prices. They are probably not that different from Austria or France. Beer is still pretty cheap everywhere.

friends from Denmark on ski holiday in Bansko
Our friends from Denmark joined us for their ski holiday in Bansko. They visited us in early February. Probably the busiest week all year. But taking a taxi each morning made it much easier to get up on the slopes early.

Getting up the mountain in less than 30 minutes

This is the part of the ski holiday that many people are sick of. Waiting in line. In peak times, even 2-3 hours! There is only one gondola from Bansko to the area where you ski. This is why there is always a bottleneck here during the peak season.

You have to take the Gondola lift from the bottom and up to the mountain. This ride takes about 25 minutes, but there is often a queue to get to it. The gondola opens at 08.00, and the first lifts on the mountain open at 08.30.

However, there are a few ways to avoid the queue, so pay attention:

  1. Buy a season pass like we did, and enjoy the fastlane. A 20 day pass will also get you fastlane.
  2. Choose one of the five star hotels, like Kempinsky. They offer fastlane skipass for their guest (costs some extra money though).
  3. Be sure to buy your liftcard at least the day before you go skiing, to avoid standing in line twice.
  4. Get up really early or late.
  5. Take the car or a taxi up to the ski area. Often others than official taxis offer you a ride.
  6. Go on your ski holiday when everyone else isn’t.

If you want to find a cheap ski holiday, you probably don’t want to pick a five-star hotel. Therefore, the best advice is likely to go here before Christmas and from weeks 2-4 and again in March. In addition, you could take a taxi early in the morning.

cheap ski holiday in great apartments
Predela 2 apartment complex. Our apartment is facing east, with a nice view of the mountains. More images are available on Airbnb.

Our new appartment in Bansko

I found this video about Bansko, which explains what we have also experienced. We won’t be staying here permanently ourselves, but we’ll definitely be back. In fact, we loved the town, the people and the nature here so much that we bought an apartment. It is just 300 metres from the ski area, and the plan is that we will be here in winter to ski. But we will definitely be here from time to time in the summer too.

We found our apartment when we had only lived here for three weeks. But it felt right to have a place we could come back to again and again.
After we signed, we set about renovating it a bit. I broke down a wall, installed a new kitchen from IKEA and painted some of the rooms. We also changed the curtains and some of the furniture.

We will list the apartment on Airbnb for rent while we travel.

Another good thing to know about Bansko is that you can drink the water from the tap. We have been doing so for three months, and we have not had any stomach issues.

…And a fun fact: if people in Bansko say something to you and nod, it means “No”. If they shake their head, it means “Yes”.

homeschooling in Bansko
Emma doing schoolwork on our balcony and Liva in their room in our apartment at Predela 2.

Home schooling, family life and plans for the future

On 22 January, a follow-up article was published in Midtjyllands Avis about our travels, and in February, an article in Finans.dk. During the first interview, we talked about the atmosphere in our little family. We are challenged – especially with our two big girls, who fight a lot.

Still, we don’t think it would be any different if they were at home, except that we adults would then not have to witness it during the day because of our day jobs.

We’ve been pretty torn on how to resolve it. And actually, we’re not at all sure if we can or should. Maybe they’ll have to handle it themselves? If you have kids, feel free to comment on that 🙂

These conflicts have also led us to try World School to see if being with other children would do them any good. At first, it didn’t but eventually, we felt it got a bit better. This is probably why the article that appeared on Finans.dk a month later had a different theme.

A full schoolyear in Malaga, Spain

Emma, in particular, has talked a lot about being at school with other Danish children. Not because she wants to end our adventure, but mostly because she still doesn’t feel confident enough in English to play with other children she doesn’t know and understand.

Since the plan has always been to experience Spain and as Covid is still making Asia inaccessible, we have decided to spend a year in Malaga. We found a Danish school, Bifrostskolen, and a Danish/Nordic kindergarten, Minibierne, which the children will attend from September 2022.

They will be in the same class but are not forced to be together. We hope they will mature together and become more robust in both Spanish and English, which are taught at school.

While we live in Spain, I plan to work full time, and Rie might work part-time, if possible, to support the kids better.
My job will be remote, and I’ve slowly started looking into setting up a company so I can take the business with us later on. But it’s still pretty early, so more on that once the pieces fall into place.

Batman in Bansko and traditional Bulgarian clothing.
Both Batman and Superman can be found on the slopes. On another occasion, we had some fun dressing up in traditional Bulgarian clothing with our World Schooling friends.

Do we recommend Bansko?

Whether you’re looking for a place to work remotely, seeking new friends and experiences or want a cheap ski holiday, you should come to Bansko.

It is without comparison the place on our trip so far where we have socialized the most. It is such a great community, and both locals and foreigners alike are very friendly.

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