After four years in Austria, we worried that skiing would never be the same. How nice to find that skiing is fun anywhere! Bulgaria is full of mountains and ski slopes, and this winter we were lucky to spend a few weekends surrounded by snowy fir trees drenched in sunshine.
Bulgaria’s classic ski resort is Bansko, an apres-ski village of restaurants and chalets south of Sofia in the Pirin Mountains. The lifts are modern and the culture lively, attracting visitors from the rest of Europe. We stayed at a nice hotel called the Regnum because there was a pool and a breakfast buffet, and the rooms were big enough for all of us to gather around the table and play Boggle.
The skiing was so much more than we were expecting! We queued with the Russians, tried out the sauna, spent a few hours at the ice rink, and found a little store selling cappuccino and crepes.
The view from our room was this peaceful vista, overlooking mountains and a sunrise rolling over the clouds.
Borovetz is in the Rila Mountains, a little over an hour away. During the drive we passed hiking trails and mineral springs and shared the road with horse-drawn carts. At this time of year the trees are bare, but the sky is the most beautiful blue.
Our hotel was a small, family-run place that welcomed us with smiles and the smell of roasting onions. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was dubbed into Bulgarian on the TV, and we were upgraded to a cosy apartment with a fireplace and a bathtub.
It was not fancy but the whole place oozed Bulgarian charm. The boys didn’t love the food so much, and I agree, it’s a little weird to have a bowl of beets and a platter of pre-fried eggs staring at you for breakfast. Where is the Wiener Fruhstuck? But part of the adventure is seeing what other people do, before they’ve learned to change into what foreigners “expect.” Dinner was very Bulgarian with creamy mushrooms, roasted peppers, and all colors of marinated, vegetable things. The TV was playing VH-1 videos from the 80’s, and Eli and Jake were good sports even though they would have rather had pizza. A whole bottle of Coke helps, too.
I don’t have any pictures of the skiing because my hands were too cold to take off my gloves, but the sun was bright and the Rila peaks glittered in all directions. Most of the slopes were gentle and easy, and at some point we stopped for hot soup and spaghetti. This will be the trip where Jake obliviously ran over a guy and his skis who had fallen in the snow. Jake didn’t really see the humor at the time, but I think one day he’ll look back and share our fits of laughter.
Our best weekend this year was Pamporovo, where we spent the weekend with friends and Jake learned to snowboard. On the way we stopped in Plovdiv for lunch and took a spin on the ice-skating rink. It’s weird to ice-skate all by yourselves in a mask, but I guess it keeps the COVID away!
The Pamporovo ski resort is in the Rhodope Mountains, along the southern border of Bulgaria only a stone’s throw from Greece. The road was a twisting 3-hour drive causing Eli to suffer from “mountain fatigue,” but we passed the time listening to music and nobody got sick enough to throw up. Pamporovo doesn’t have the height or the grandness of the Alps, but the ski slopes are wide and welcoming. From the lifts we made up stories about the animals who left tracks in the snow, and wondered if anyone would be trekking back to pick up those dropped gloves?
At the top was a lively scene of music and lounge chairs, just like Italy, except that instead of gnocchi and Aperol spritz the huts sold meat kebabs and “hard rock beer.” And of course, doughnuts. Everyone seems to love doughnuts! Although to be honest, I don’t really like cold doughnuts. I’m not sure they’re the best treat on a ski slope.
We stayed at the Hotel Kamelia because we could ski right out the door to the lift, but in truth, it is never quite as easy as that. Getting everyone into their ski pants and gloves and putting on all the skis without scattering poles everywhere is still an effort! But it’s nice when all that is over, to just get out the door and get started. I understand now why people pay extra money to ski in and ski out.
Dog sleds? They have dog sleds here!
We were not expecting that, but then, we were not really expecting any of this. Like so much that has happened this year, we are rolling along with the good and the bad, grateful to have dropped into this little corner of the world. We are here for two more years and if we can ski and eat doughnuts, I think everything will be fine.