The Cheapest Ski Resort in Europe Is Full Of Riches…

December 2014

By Chloe Lambert

The Sun is setting, turning the cloudless sky from turquoise to pink. Making a final run down a quiet, tree-lined slope, my mind turns to the glass of fine wine I’ll soon be enjoying in front of a crackling wood fire in my chalet.

All very normal if this were the Alps – but we’re in Bulgaria, where the country’s main ski resort, Bansko, has benefited from a multi-million-pound investment that has put it firmly on the ski map.

Undoubtedly, Bansko’s biggest draw is its value for money. Last month, it was named the cheapest resort for a family ski holiday this season, with research by TripAdvisor showing that a week here costs a third of the cost of a week in St Anton, Austria.

During my visit, ski hire costs just £57 for five days, while a weeks lift pass (70km of piste) comes in at £145 and three days of lessons are as little as £76.

I’ve never skied before, but after four years of nagging from my snow-addict boyfriend Felipe, I’ve finally agreed to give it a try. And, as it turns out, I do not hate skiing at all.

After just a couple of lessons, I’ve got the bug, regardless of a large, purple bruise adorning my bottom. The resort is good for families and beginners like me – the 7km ‘ski road’ that runs to the bottom of the mountain is perfect for practising your parallel turns.

Perhaps it helps that we discover a traditional taverna half way down, with excellent smoked sausage and beer at £1 (the outside loo, however, is not for the faint-hearted).

Up the mountain, prices inevitably shoot up, but compared with the Alps, it’s still a bargain.

The resort is well-equipped with snow cannons and, because Bulgarian and Russian skiers are less interested in off-piste, the snow is often untouched.

Felipe, a keen snowboarder, finds plenty to keep him entertained for a week.

There are several hotels in Bansko at the foot of the slopes, but we’ve chosen to stay in Banya, a charming, sleepy little town about ten minutes away, where the locals still get around by horse and cart.

The Snomads chalet is run by four young British men who met while working for various ski chalet companies across Europe. They dreamt up the idea of setting up their own chalet – which means comfortable bedrooms with wonderful mountain views, board games, friendly conversation and the kind of food you might hope to find in a high-end restaurant.

Everything is locally-sourced, organic and just superb.

For breakfast, we feast on poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce, pancakes, homemade bread and jams and, each night, the guys whip up three fantastic courses.

Banya has a number of natural hot springs, some of which are pumped into thermal outdoor swimming pools attached to spa hotels – a delightful way to soothe aching limbs.

Snomads now has its own private geothermal pool, but the guys may also take you to the hot bath in the forest, which is known only to the locals.

You’ll have to walk the wobbly rope bridge to get there, but floating under the stars in the natural, steamy, hot water is special.