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Skiing on the cheap in Bulgaria

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What is it? Family ski or snowboard holiday, including lessons for the children. Lots of good skiing for beginners and intermediates but only one expert run (named after Olympic champion Alberto Tomba, who opened it). Check out www.bulgariaski.com or http://www.bansko.bg/index_en.html

Where? Bansko Ski Resort, Bulgaria. 150 km south of the capital, Sofia, and about 2.5 hours drive from the airport. Five years ago Bansko was a sleepy town known for its creamy yogurt and mineral water springs. Now it’s a modern resort where Bulgaria’s celebrities ski to be seen, and budget skiers like us can ski on the cheap.

Description: [crowds_at_the_blue_lift.jpg]Looking for a family ski holiday, but don’t want to pay a fortune in the Alps? Mary Lee and David Owen took their children Avery, seven and Hugh, eight to child-friendly Bulgaria. They had great food, great weather, and a great time

We wanted to combine a ski holiday with an interesting new destination – and saving money was a bonus (at the time, L1 was approximately 3 Bulgarian Leva; check current rates at www.xe.com) Changing currency outside the airport offered better rates and we could draw Leva from bank automated cash points using our Maestro or Debit card.

Skiing and snowboarding, of course! Also mountain treks, and cultural tourism, and shopping.

We did not check out the local bars or clubs in town or in the hotels – sorry! Several restaurants had live folk/traditional music, which was perfect with the old stone and wood décor and roaring fireplaces.

Our children were booked into ski lessons every day, two hours in the morning and two after lunch. If your children are too young to ski, ULEN Ski School also has a creche at the top of the gondola, so you can check on your little ones between runs. http://www.banskoski.com/uchilishte.xhtml.en

Bansko is known in Bulgaria for its mineral water springs. If you want accommodation with a pool or sauna or spa treatments, check out the new five-star Kempinski Hotel www.kempinski.com or the four-star Lion Hotel http://www.picturesofbulgaria.com/hotel/lion_hotel_622.html

Local activities: Between Sofia and Bansko is the beautiful Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site built in the 10th century. See http://www.bulgarianmonastery.com/rila_monastery.html. Bansko itself is a charming town with winding alleys, cobblestones, an old square (with Soviet-era monuments) and a beautiful Orthodox Bulgarian church. Naturally there are many shops selling ski and snowboard kit and affordable winter fashions, but also lingerie (!) and souvenirs.

Wish we had known: Skiing the Alps early in the season (December) is cheaper than February because there is less chance of snow. Apparently the opposite is true in Bulgaria, as they do not have a February half-term. We could have skied in high season for less money than in low season, possibly with more snow!

Our top tip: The new ski and lift facilities are very good, but the operators have not yet figured out how to handle its sudden success, specifically crowd control. Get your family to the gondola bang on opening time to avoid the crush – literally. Also, buy your lift passes the evening before you ski, or first thing in the morning.

Kids say: Avery thought trying new Bulgarian food was really nice, even if she didn’t like everything. Hugh enjoyed skiing on the last day the best, because his dad took him out of the class to “ski really fast” on the blue and red runs.

Getting There: You can fly non-stop to Sofia: check out http://www.bulgaria-air.co.uk/ or

 

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