A weekend in Bansko? Typical you might say! And you are probably right, because it has become a frequent destination over the years. For us, it was the first time and this was our motivation!
The 300 km of distance were covered in a 5 hours’ drive, on a rainy Friday afternoon. Six friends on a seven-seater Opel Zafira. We were not in a hurry! Therefore, the stop for coffee at the borders lasted a little longer!
As soon as we passed the Bulgarian control (neither the Bulgarians nor the Greeks gave as a glance!!) we stopped to exchange euros to levas at the currency exchange office by the taxi rank on the right. 1: 1.93 parity. When you do it for the first time you always exchange more money than you need. For sure! Eventually 50 euros (100 leva) per couple would be enough for the weekend.
Our next concern was to get on the road to Sofia. A little adventure, since there are detours due to the construction of the road to Petritsi. The guidelines, given by friends who knew the area well, noted: From the borders follow the signs to the right and as soon as you enter Petritsi turn right at the first traffic light and take the street to Sofia. After 300 meters, at the next traffic light, turn right again. You stay on this route; you pass by Sadanski and when you reach Simitli, take the right turning to Bansko. Beautiful nature! ( reminds you of “Tembi”). It was nine o’ clock when we finally reached Bansko.
The municipality of Bansko (Blagoevgrad region), the Pirin Mountains and parts of the valley of Razlog, is of great natural beauty. Especially now, that it’s autumn, the leaves of deciduous trees have incredible colors!
So, Bansko, at an altitude of 925 m. is a vast hotel. Everywhere hotels in a western architectural style, equipped with spa, sauna, swimming pools, massage facilities……… 5 star accommodation units , but also smaller ones, guesthouses for all tastes and budgets are built and constantly being built in and around the city with direction to the mountain. In many places there are construction sites. The starting point of the lift is behind hotel Kepinski, right in the centre of the town! Very convenient! We stayed at Asteras Hotel.
The problem was we had no idea how to find it! We stopped at the first gas station we met at the city entrance. It was an ECO Gas station. When we asked for directions, a very willing lady offered to take us there, so we followed her car. The hotel was impressively illuminated in the darkness of the night. And big! They had even cared to hand us a dinner package, as we were late and the dining room had closed. The rooms were pleasant. Large spaces, tidy, with full mini bars, all the necessary amenities and spacious bathrooms (bathrobes, slippers), satellite TV and a balcony with a view.
After so many hours of travelling and since we had food supplies brought from Greece, we stayed all in one room until dawn playing “taboo”.
Saturday morning started with the city tour (right after breakfast of course! Which, by the way, was very satisfactory). We headed to the town center on foot. Small shops with souvenirs, traditional products made of roses (they have a long tradition in making creams, perfumes, even sweets out of rose pedals) and many taverns, «Mexanas» in the Bulgarian language, with Bulgarian folk color on the way to the main square. We reached the paved Square «Nikola Vaptsarov» with the park with the fountains and small lakes below. We visited the church of Agia Triada with its unique carved iconostasis and icons painted by the famous Bulgarian masters Dimitar and Simeon Molerovi. The exterior of the house -Museum of Neofit Rilski, founder of Bulgarian education in close space was picturesque, too. Many houses in the old part of the town have retained their traditional architecture with decorated facades in the cobbled streets. The coffee in the only modern coffee of the square did not satisfy us.
We continued our stroll driving uphill, on the street leading to the ski center and shelter Vihren. The mountain is only a ten minutes’ drive far from the city! So just a few meters from the last houses on Pirin street, to our surprise, we came up against the city river, with its rushing waters flowing down the slope among tall trees. The National Park “Pirin”, a protected area of outstanding natural beauty, with a clear alpine character, travels you into movie scenes with featuring elves, dwarves and fairies! Very attentive, clean, with waterfalls and alpine lakes at higher altitudes, it is ideal for touring through all seasons. That’s for sure! Even on such a cloudy day, with the raindrops shining on each leaf, it was nevertheless attractive. From what we learned, a number of activities are planned covering all tastes, all year round. Besides skiing, you can do cycling, hiking on numerous marked trails, climbing, rafting, horseback riding, paintball, even paragliding! The ski centre though, was closed due to lack of snow, during the days of our visit!
Naturally, the next scene was written in the “Log House” tavern, where we tasted delicious dishes. Bread loaf stuffed with a variety of meats and vegetables, roasted on a cast iron cookware that came to our table sizzling!! And a number of other local dishes. We ate, drank regional wine and we left delighted.
After such a meal, our only possible destination was the hotel and later the spa, hammam, sauna and all the services of the hotel. At night, during this season, (the season had not started, yet; that’s why many shops were closed) there aren’t many options other than eating. We were informed that the club in the square was the only one open. However it played only Bulgarian music at night. It wasn’t a pick for us! The room hosted us again and the night passed with movies and showdown in taboo. One more winning night for the girls!!!
The next morning, after a proper coffee in the “Traditional”, found us in Razlog, a town nearby, with a large oriental type square, meaning lakes, park, and works of art here and there under trees, with golden-yellow leaves. Autumn colors in all their glory. Here, as well a river crosses the town, which was very quiet in this Sunday morning.
On our way back home, we had a necessary stop in Sadanski, to take a bite and spend our last levas. And one more stop on the border for chocolate and coffee!
Two days of calmness and relaxation. Exactly what we were looking for!
Bulgarian drivers run like crazy and overtake on bends!
The only good coffee we drank was in “Traditional” . The Greeks that own it import the coffee they use from Greece.
There is a very informative city guide that is distributed for free. See about finding it in the beginning of your trip there. It’s quite handy! Unfortunately, we came upon it in the end!