Mountain holidays are good for the mind, body and soul, and there are many great slopes to explore around the world. But for those finding their mountain love for the first time, there are few better places to try than Bansko. It’s a great destination for Bulgaria family holidays in the mountains.
High up in the peaks with fresh air in abundance, surrounded by nature in all its glory, the health benefits of a mountain haven are exceptional. The other great highlight of a mountain getaway is the year-round holiday opportunities it presents.
But how many of us think of Bulgaria when planning family holidays and a retreat to the hills? Whether it be the height of the summer, depths of winter or anything in between, a family holiday in the mountains of Bulgaria offers a completely different experience.
Bansko in Bulgaria is one of the best destinations in Europe for a mountain break as it offers an excellent range of activities all year round and is set amid beautiful scenery. Here are a few ideas to help you on your way.
Hitting Bulgaria’s ski resorts
As Bulgaria’s top ski resort, Bansko offers incredible winter sports opportunities. Situated within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pirin National Park, Bansko offers a variety of trails and an impressive 18 slopes catering for all skill levels from beginner to expert.
There is an excellent ski school for newbies, so there are plenty of opportunities for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities to enjoy the snow, plus there is also the opportunity for off-piste skiing and heli-skiing for the very brave.
You’ll find plenty of cafés close to the slopes if you want to stop for a drink or something to eat during the day and they also make the perfect place to people watch for any non-skiers in your party. There is also a fantastic row of bars near the gondola lift for après-ski partying, which is always a highlight after a day of fun on the slopes.
The resort has snow canons too, which keep the white stuff topped up and the season going well into April. As Bulgaria’s best ski resort Bansko really is a great destination for those who want to enjoy the snow.
Wander Bansko Old Town
The cobbled streets of Bansko Old Town are dotted with old buildings, which gives it a sense of a place where time has stood still. The Holy Trinity Church is well worth a visit and one of the highlights of the town, with its interior walls adorned with beautiful frescoes, and you might even spot the resident stork family that lives in the bell tower.
While in Bansko old town, you must visit one of the traditional mehanas. These are old-style taverns where you can eat Bulgarian food and enjoy live entertainment. Local dishes to try include gyuvech, a stew packed with beef, mushrooms, peppers, onions, eggs, paprika and topped with cheese, or in the summer, cucumber soup will cool you down a treat.
You can’t leave Bulgaria without ordering a banitsa – a pastry stuffed with cheese, which is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack with coffee – it’s delicious.
On Sundays, the market comes to town, so make sure you stop by and pick up a treat or two. There are always well-stocked produce stalls which give you the perfect opportunity to buy some ingredients to replicate one of those dishes yourself.
When the snow melts in Bansko
Bansko doesn’t hibernate when the snow melts, the excitement and holiday adventures carry on throughout the year. The spectacular peaks, numerous lakes and the beautiful old pine woods, make this destination a popular location for adventure holidays.
There is hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, and white water rafting, among the many other activities to keep you busy. Those who love nothing more than getting out and being active will be in their element here.
There are numerous places nearby that are great for day trips and excursions too. Those who want to rest their mountain legs should head to the village of Banya just outside Bansko, for downtime in its thermal mineral springs. You can soak away your aches and pains in the pools which range from 32–43 degrees centigrade. So whether the sun is shining, or there’s snow on the ground, it makes for a perfect chill-out day.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rila Monastery makes for an interesting visit. The monastery was established by Saint John of Rila in the 10th century and is located in the deep valley of the Rilska River and surrounded by lush forests – it is the most picturesque place.
The church within the monastery is filled with colourful frescos and is incredibly peaceful. There is an on-site museum, which is filled with lots of artefacts and information about the history of the monastery. One of the most important items held there is Rafail’s Cross – a wooden whittled and carved cross showing 104 religious scenes. It was created by a monk named Rafail in the late 18th century and was said to have taken him 12 years to complete before he went blind.
International Bansko Jazz Festival
August brings the International Bansko Jazz Festival which is the biggest summer music festival in Bulgaria. It attracts top jazz musicians from all over the world and has done so each year since its foundation in 1998. This year, Bansko Jazz Festival runs from August 6–10, and includes concerts covering all jazz music genres.
Concerts run day and night, though the evening events draw big crowds – it is quite a party atmosphere. Smaller daytime performances are held in the larger restaurants and bars, while the really big concerts are staged in the open-air at I Nikola Vaptsarov Square, each night for the week, kicking off at 7pm.
Many bands from Bulgaria, Germany and Austria will be joined this year by guest performers from the US and UK, including Maceo Parker, Ray Gelato & the Giants, and Tony Momrelle, so don’t miss it.
Where to stay in Bansko for Bulgaria family holidays
The Balkan Jewel Resort & Spa, situated between the picturesque towns of Razlog and Bansko, in the foothills of the majestic Pirin Mountain is the perfect place for a home-from-home holiday in the mountains. It’s a great base for skiing in the winter, activity holidays when the snow melts, or a spa retreat for whenever you need to get away from it all, this resort has everything for a family holiday in the heart of nature.
The Balkan Jewel accommodation comprises studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom chalets to cater to different families’ needs. Studio apartments sleep up to two guests and are open plan with kitchen facilities, for those who want to make the most of the self-catering aspect. For families, the one- and two-bedroom apartments are ideal. They have a separate living and dining room, so there is plenty of room for everyone to spread out and have their own space. And some even come with a beautiful wood-burning fireplace. This is the perfect accessory for a cosy night in with a glass of wine after a long day on the slopes.
For those who have a big family, or who are travelling with a large party, the three-bedroom chalets are definitely where you will be the most comfortable. They offer three double bedrooms (one with an en-suite bathroom), a main bathroom with bath and shower, a spacious lounge area with large flat screen TV, fully-equipped kitchen and dining area. It also has a large outside living area and garden, free Wi-Fi and a laundry room with washer/dryer. If you want a break from the kitchen, the resort has a great restaurant which serves local and international cuisine, so guests have plenty of options.
For those who want to indulge in a bit of spa time, The Balkan Jewel has a full-service spa offering numerous treatments to soothe your aching muscles after a day on the peaks. Not to be left out, therapists also offer a children’s massage, which could be a special holiday treat for the younger ones. The Wellbeing Centre also has a well-equipped gym, indoor swimming pool, and an outdoor swimming pool for summer holidays. There is also a sauna, steam bath, and relaxation areas to really make the most of your downtime.
Guests can also enjoy a drink or two at the lobby bar after an activity-filled day. For those who want even more action, there’s a fantastic games room with a pool table, table tennis, mini-football, air hockey, darts, chess and backgammon.
The resort has a free children’s club for younger guests aged from four to 12-years-old, as well as indoor and outdoor play areas to keep them entertained. Plus there is a babysitting service available for an extra fee, so if you’re looking to have a romantic evening out or a few hours to yourselves, this could be a great option.
Staff at the resort can organise day trips to nearby places of interest, including the Rila Monastery and Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, which are both highly recommended. Also, for those who want ski lessons in the snowy season, or want to take part in any outdoor and adventure activity in the summer, the resort staff can organise all of that too, so all you need to do is turn up and have fun.
Balkan Jewel is affiliated to the RCI Exchange Holiday programme. Own timeshare but not an RCI member? Unlock the potential of your timeshare and access the largest holiday exchange network with more than 4,300 resorts worldwide – visit RCI to sign up to RCI membership today.
For inspirational member stories and travel guides, visit the RCI Blog.