Winter Capital of the Balkans 2010/11
Only a few years ago, the budget of this mountain town on the northeastern slopes of the Pirin Mountains was two million euros, and today it amounts to 34. Only ten kilometers away from the city there are 17 excellent ski tracks, with total length of 70 kilometers, which can be reached by a modern cable car in less than 20 minutes. Over 150 hotels, including the luxurious ones, have been built in a small area. Therefore, we are not surprised by the title “The Winter Capital of the Balkans” and a large number of renowned guests from around the world

Text and photographs: Mišo Vujović

Ceremonial opening of the ski season at the most attractive Bulgarian ski center Bansko was marked by former world champions of the white sport: Marc Girardelli, Petar Popangelov, Maria Walliser, Michael von Grünigen, Andreas Wenzel, Josef Strobl, Michael Veit and Luc Alphand. Eight champions raced down the demanding track “Alberto Tomba”, which begins at the altitude of 2,560 meters, marking the spectacular opening of the winter tourist season on the slopes of the Pirin Mountains.
Honorary citizen of this winter resort, famed Bulgarian soccer champion Hristo Stoichkov, one of the most agile promoters and lobbyists of Bansko in the selection of candidates for Winter Olympic Games in 2014, also gave his contribution. Welcoming the guests gathered at the crowded city square, where he was received by thundering applause and ovations, the famed soccer player expressed hope that difficult times would forever remain in the past, after which mayor Kravarov covered him with a long cloak made of sheep wool, the trademark of Bansko. On the main stage, at temperature of ten degrees below zero, ski champions left their footprints for the star hall of the museum of the white sport.
Ride in comfortable gondolas up to the most extreme track at the top of the mountain provides a beautiful view of mounting white waters, tall pine trees, creeks, pastures, panorama of Bansko and nearby Razlog, known for the spa center with the same name. Our companion, a local retired professor, does not hide his satisfaction because of the fast development of the entire area, magnificent hotels, foreign investments and infrastructure, acknowledging that prices are European, but salaries Bulgarian.
At the opening ceremony, tourist workers of the Balkans, led by Branko Krivokapić, president of BAHA (Balkan Alliance of Hotel Associations), officially handed out charter “Bansko Winter Capital of the Balkans to the mayor of Bansko.
Expressing his gratitude for this prestigious award, the first man of this mountain town and, according to many, with the most merit for its upturn, thanked to everybody who had helped his city to reach the tourist throne of the Balkans, not hiding ambitions for this town to soon become a part of the world tourist ski elite. Kravarov also showed his entrepreneurial spirit as the initiator of the reconstruction of Zograf Monastery, the medieval endowment of Bulgarian noblemen on Mount Athos.


The town of Bansko, 160 kilometers from Sofia, is located on the northeastern side of the Pirin Mountains, at the altitude of 930 meters. It has 17 ski tracks, with total length of 70 kilometers, with the highest ski point at 2,560 and the lowest at 1,000 meters. The Pirin Mountain is also a national park protected by UNESCO as a cultural and natural legacy. It has numerous lakes, waterfalls, caves, mineral and thermal springs, archaeological sites.
In the past ten years, this archaic mountain town, thanks to big investments into tourist infrastructure, has become one of the most attractive European ski and snowboard destinations. The best evidence of the expansive development of Bansko is the fact that the municipal budget from the former two million euros reached, in only a few years, current 34 million.
What makes Bansko stand out among other European ski centers are excellent ski tracks, untouched nature, cultural and historic core with houses made of stone and wood, with cobblestone streets winding in between. It also has abundant offer of cuisine, souvenirs, homemade crafts, original creations of local artists and craftsmen. The old part of the town has preserved its appearance from the 10th century, and today it is enriched with modern tourist programs that offer fantastic entertainment, from small Bulgarian taverns with traditional live music, to night clubs, bars, restaurants and casinos that are open until early morning hours.
Over 150 hotels are located in a small area, the dominant one being “Kempinski Grand Arena” with 120 luxury rooms, 24 apartments, indoor and outdoor swimming pool with hot water, sauna and spa centre. In this prestigious hotel, a degustation exhibition with several dozen Bulgarian national dishes was prepared for high officials from all parts of Europe, while a humanitarian auction was held at the nearby club “Happy End”, on which athletes were giving away parts of their personal sports outfit and accessories. Hristo Stoichkov gave a “Barselona” jersey from 1992, in which he won the European Cup. The legendary number eight reached the price of 3,700 Bulgarian levs and became the property of the town of Bansko. Marc Girardelli donated his gloves, Papangelov his ski outfit, Maria Walliser her glasses, and her daughter a helmet, while the rally driver donated the winning jacket from Paris-Dakar Rally in 2006. The entire contribution in the amount of11,000 levs (about 5,500 EUR) will be donated to endangered children, who will also be provided with free accommodation during the winter season.


Modern and Optimal
Ski tracks are located only ten kilometers away from the town, andcan be reached by a new modern cable car in only 20 minutes. The beginning of this year’s ski season was marked by the opening of two new ski lifts, so that the current capacity of cable cars in Bansko is about 30,000 people per hour. The ski season on the slopes of Pirin, thanks to the snow cover, lasts from December to May, and in case of “absence” of snow, there are de 44 “Tehnoalpinina” cannons which produce artificial snow cover. Fast ski patrols with medical personnel are present on the tracks 24 hours a day.


Winter tourist capital of the Balkans nurtures the legacy of the Trachians, Illyrians, Byzantines and Slavs, the evidence of which can be found in about one hundred cultural-historical monuments. The most significant monuments are remains of the ancient fortification Staro Gradište, the nearby town of Melnik with sand pyramids, medieval monasteries Rojen, Rilski, Bačkovo, etc.

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