Borovets (it means Pine Tree Forest) is the most convenient of Bulgaria’s ski areas for Brits, less than an hour by road from Sofia airport, a journey of hills and valleys, passing through the little town of Samokov with the purpose-built resort at the end of the road.
Borovets mountain dates some 120 years from when King Kniaz Ferdinand had a summers here, then called Chamkoria. His example was followed by aristocrats and members of the Bulgarian elite. Nowadays it’s a mix of modern Alpine architecture and charmingly unkempt, shops.
Centrepoint, with its big, Les Arcs-style contemporary Alpine architecture, is Rila, named after the local mountains. Around it is a seemingly home-made sprawl, kebab shops, pizza and dance clubs, single-storey and, mostly, fashioned from timber.
Busy with both weekend skiers from Sofia and the genial crowds of Brits looking for a great value place to learn and to party, Borovets is fun central. Much of the centre might have the air of a Turkish beach resort in the snow but there’s a goodly array of skiing.
Two chairlifts (including one six-person affair) and several baby drag lifts sit outside the sweeping rear of the Rila from where a traffic-free main street stretches to the Yastrebetz gondola a five-minute walk. The runs served by the two entrance points stick pretty much to themselves although it is possible to sneak across from the Rila side to the Yastrebetz half-way station and from the latter to the Rila base. The top point is the 2,550m Markudjik.
This is a place to learn – easy slopes, bargain lessons, lift pass and equipment hire – although it’s pleasing enough for intermediates. The Rila side has a collection of green and blue runs, with a couple of short reds, through the trees. Pretty much all have snow making and novices can head up any lift without fear, safe in the knowledge that the pistes are gentle and all funnel back to the village.
The gondola and the Yastrebetz Express quad chair open up an array of longer, mostly red runs – although there’s even the short Fonfon black. Different again is the Markudjik area, which keeps to itself at the top of the gondola. Here a chair and a handful of draglifts serve an open expanse that, when the snow’s at its best, is an off-piste playground between the runs, and at other times offers tree skiing through the blanket of thigh-high pines. There are two snow parks for boarders and adventurous skiers, one of them right by the Rila, where there is also a children’s ski area with magic carpet lifts. Instructors speak good English, so a good place to learn
Why go to Borovets?
Easy and cheap: The closeness of the airport (and the fact that it’s an open road rather than the hairpin bends of some journeys in the French Alps) would appeal to those with youngsters. And the reasonable prices are perfect for those wanting to get children skiing as well as groups looking for a fun getaway.
It’s different: There’s something that says you’re in Eastern Europe even though you have the comforts you’d find elsewhere. It might be the strange mix of architecture, it might be the unfamiliar scenery or it might be the culture that encompasses the whole family, but it’s there.
The nightlife: Casual and plenty of it as Mamacitas, Spanish themed and with very decent guitarists and singers, is a favourite but there are many. And the Rila’s After Eleven goes on late. Good local include Kamenitza beer and the rakia, take on schnapps, made from grapes, plums and other fruit.
The X Factor: Everything’s here from dawn till dark. From a mammoth breakfast at the Rila to the ski lifts to late-night partying, nowhere’s more than several minutes walk away.