Банско in Bulgarian
A cozy mountain town (population ca. 12.500) in Southwestern Bulgaria, located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains at an elevation of around 940 meter above sea level. It’s a popular skiing resort in the winter and multi activity resort in the summer. The mountains around Bansko are rising to almost 3000 meters above sea level. The highest mountain is called Vihren and is 2914 meter height, the 2nd highest mountain in the Balkan. Because of the mountains, numerous amounts of lakes and pine trees, Bansko is extremely popular in summer for hiking and mountain biking while the winters give lots of opportunities for Alpine skiing. Bulgaria’s share in European winter tourism is steadily rising, and Bansko increasingly competes with resorts in France, Austria and Switzerland due to the comparative lower costs but not in quality.
The nearby village of Banya, located only 5 km from Bansko, is known for its 27 thermal mineral hot springs. This all together with the mountains, hiking and skiing activities makes Bansko an absolute must to visit. While the winter is busy with many people skiing, the summers are quiet and peaceful.
The old town center of Bansko is very cozy and worth to visit. Many different local restaurants with good local food and wine. While walking true Pirin Street, you will find many shops where you can buy all kind of products. On top of the church tower, every year a couple of storks are growing up the little birds (from May until half of August). It’s a great pleasure to see how they feed the young ones and later - learn them flying. In total Bansko is having more then 10 stork nests spread over the town.
Bansko can be reached quite easily by car (ca. 2 hours from Sofia), daily bus connections from Sofia, Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad, Gotse Delchev and Razlog. Further there is the Septemvri–Dobrinishte narrow-gauge line, a train track on narrow gauge. The line is actively used with four passenger trains running the length of the line in each direction per day. The journey takes five hours through the valleys and gorges between Rila mountains and Rhodopes mountains. This is absolutely an attraction to go on this train. Due to the characteristics of the route through the mountains, the narrow-gauge line Septemvri–Dobrinishte is also known as the Alpine railway in the Balkans. Avramovo station, situated at 1267 meters above the sea, is the highest station in the Balkans. The railway was built in several stages between 1921 and 1945 with total length of 125 km (78 miles).
Summers are warm and sunny. In summer, it generally remains a bit cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to its high altitude. Average temperature May, June and September are around 24c, in July and August around 28c. But also, April and October are very nice months temperature wise, with average temperatures between 16c and 20c. The winters are cold with lots of snow. The average temperatures from half of November until half of March are between 0c and -8c, but -25c is not a strange temperature during this period.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE
Hiking in the Pirin Mountains
Drive to Banderitsa Chalet/cafe from Bansko (14km South of Bansko in the Pirin Mountains). At the parking from Banderitsa your hike into the Pirin Mountains starts. First you walk to “Hut Vihren” via the road or via the hiking trail. From Hut Vihren you have many possibilities to start hiking. From 2 hours hike until 4 days hike. Very nice and comfortable to do is the hike to “Okoto lake” and to “Todorini lake”. These two beautiful turquoise lakes are reachable with a hike from 3-4 hours (two ways) from Banderitsa Chalet/Café. Only the part directly after Hut Vihren is a bit rocky.
For the more advanced hikers/climbers, you can go to the top of mount Vihren (2914 meters). Its not too difficult, but you need to be skilled and have a good condition. The whole trip will cost you 7-8 hours (in total both ways) According to the locals you can do it faster…. But we found out it’s not working like that. Always keep an eye on the weather situation and bring enough food/drinks and sun cream with you in the mountains. From Hut Vihren there are plenty of other hikes!
Hot Springs in Banya (5km)
The small town of Banya (5km North of Bansko) is famous for her 27 natural hot springs. Many of them became professional and good organised relaxing baths. The entrance of these natural thermal baths is mostly between 5 BGL and 20 BGL per person, depending what is included and your wishes.
“Dancing Bears Park”
In Belitza (ca. 35km). The “Dancing Bears Park” in Belitza deserves a visit from you. Around 24 former “dancing bears” are having a great time here. They are very well taking care of and you can see that they have a nice life after the suffer as “dancing bear”. Several times per day there are tours true the park with a guide. The park comprises an area from around 120.000 square meter and is divided in 7 different areas. At the moment of writing (2019) the entrance is 6 BGL per adult, and 3 BGL per child. For this little money you support the Bears in the park, and they are very grateful to you.
Note: the last 2km of the road is not the best and a bit narrow, so please drive slowly. But safe and good to do.
Gondola Lift into the mountains of Pirin
The Gondola lift is running all summer and winter (some periods not daily, please check). The Gondola will bring you up to Banderishka Polyana (this is not the same place as the hiking as mentioned before) where you can start your summer hiking, your summer mountain biking (you can bring your mountain bike with you) and your winter season skiing. For prices, please check the website from the Gondola.