Bulgaria and 'Lucky' Bansko

Dawn sun hits the mountains
Dawn sun hits the mountains
The Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria are a National Reserve and a beautiful setting for skiing. My first impression of this mountain range is of pristine, quiet grandeur. It was the third day of my trip to Bulgaria and we had arrived at the ski resort and town of Bansko. Though I was looking forward to going up the gondola to the top of the mountain to enjoy the scenery, due to my appalling lack of fitness, I wasn’t planning on skiing. Our hotel, The Lucky Bansko, probably sounds like a gambling establishment but is an aparthotel with all the mod cons you could want. Rooms were decked out with kitchenette, dining area plus living room and a completely separate bedroom. As well as having a well apportioned lobby – the adjoining reception area also has a coffee and chocolate drinks bar. The Lucky Bansko also has a good restaurant, spa and conference room that converts into a disco at night (more on that later)!
It is an early start the next day and we are off to the ski centre. The day dawns sunny and brisk, perfect weather for experiencing the mountain. I must admit, it is a faff getting everyone suited and booted for skiing, but we are finally ready. And the views as we travel up are staggering. Perfect alpine scenes. The ski facilities on the top of the mountain are excellent, with chair lifts taking the daring skiers to the very tippy top, while restaurants and rope lifts are available at this intermediate level. I spot loads of youngsters learning with their parents and being pulled about by their ski poles. Tiny tots were on toboggans and everyone seemed to be having a marvellous time. I crunch around on the snow and am at least warmly dressed for once. It was actually very relaxing and I enjoyed myself immensely.
I about to be treated to more relaxation! I race down the mountain to get back to the hotel for my spa treatment and, luckily, do make it to the appointment without being late. I am very glad, as I have decided to have a Collagen facial and it is superb. The bed I am laying on is heated (!) and I feel the stress of the last couple of days draining away. I can’t remember the name of my therapist but she is memorable because she is about 6’ 4″ tall and towers over me. Afterwards, I meet with my colleague, Sarah, and we have a good hour in the indoor pool, being blasted by the hydro jets and having a good gossip!
It was dinner time and we dust ourselves off and trot down to the town for a traditional Bulgarian meal. The Dedo Penne (loosely translated ‘Granddad’s Place’) is our destination and has been a family run business since the mid 19th century. The interior is suitably old and simple, punctuated with farming implements, scales, interesting art, wood crafty pieces all hanging from the walls and ceiling…a bit of a hodgepodge but fantastically atmospheric. There is the all important roaring fire near our table to keep everyone toasty warm. Oh, and an enormous set of bells were strung up next to each other from the ceiling by the entrance to the restaurant. The waiter would strike the first bell and then all of them would chime virtually simultaneously in a big swoosh. We had a gypsy band entertaining guests while we ate excellent Bulgarian food including Kavarma served with loads of meat, washed down with an excellent cask wine. At one point, the young waitress dons a scarf with jingly coins around her hips and dances in a gypsy style to the throbbing music. The men at our table appear to be mesmerised! The desert was, again, Baklava with syrup which was slightly disappointing. Even fruit, occasionally, would have been more refreshing.
The three village women who sang for us offered something completely unique. Dressed head to toe in typical national costume, they were a handsome sight. As they sang, the alto droned on one note, while the other two singers belted out close harmonies full of suspensions and dissonant notes. The whole performance was a bit cacophonous but very moving, even haunting.
After our meal and a celebration of one of our hosts, Atanas’, Saint’s Day (like a birthday but much more fun) we set off for the Bash Bar. This tiny bar is also quite rustic and reminds me of places I used to go to in California in the 1970’s, with almost the identical music blaring in the background. But the beer is cheap and everyone seems to be having a great time.