Pamporovo, Bulgaria Resort Review
GUEST POST FROM PIPPA WILSON
Our Pamporovo Ski Resort Review is brought to you by our resort contact Pippa Wilson. Pippa has been running Snow White Skiing in Pamporovo for some years now. She loves the resort, as well as the beautiful yet fairly unknown Rhodopi mountains, straddling the Southern Edge of Bulgaria, and Northern Greece.
PAMPOROVO SKI RESORT REVIEW
Pamporovo ski resort is located in the heart of the Rhodopi mountains of Bulgaria and is reputed to have more hours of sunshine than any other European ski resort. Set amongst Norway spruce forests and based around the peak of one mountain; Snezhanka (Snow White) at 1928m high, it has a charm and many quirks that you will grow to love. The smell of woodsmoke burning from restaurants across the piste is a warm and friendly aroma and the drone of bagpipe and traditional songs conjures an image of tradition and folklore. It is a family friendly resort and suited to beginners and intermediates. That being said, a competent skier would find enough challenges and excitement to enjoy what Pamporovo has to offer for more than a few days. Pamporovo is located 260km from Sofia and 85km south of Plovdiv and The Greek border is less than an hours drive away.
On the Snezhanka mountain itself, there are around 55km of runs and 38km of cross country tracks served by 18 lifts. The lifts are all chair lifts apart from one T bar and apart from the peak periods, there are few queues. It is not a huge resort but this means that it is easy to get around and most of the bars and restaurants in the resort can be served by any grade of run which means that the area is perfect for groups of mixed abilities. There is no saying goodbye to the beginners and breakfast and not seeing them again until supper – you can meet up at numerous times during the day for snacks, lunch or a hot wine as there are plenty of independent bars and restaurants on the mountain offering a variety of good quality food and drink. Most of the runs are tree lined and sheltered and almost all of the resort is served by snow canons making it very snow sure particularly for beginners. Occasionally the steeper runs may suffer if there is insufficient natural snow but the rest of the runs are pretty much guaranteed to be open from mid December through to around 20th March.
20 minutes drive away is the resort of Mechi Chal, located above the working town of Chepelare and the ski area here is also covered by the Pamporovo lift pass. Free shuttle buses operate between the two resorts every 20 minutes (with military precision and GPS tracking so you can see when the next bus is coming) Here there is a single chair lift to the top and a few runs down of varying grades so perfect for a days variety. More of a ‘locals’ resort you’ll experience some of Bulgaria’s quirks and more traditional food. You are less likely to find English spoken here and not much in the way of Western Toilets either so use the ‘sit down’ variety in the depot at the bottom.
Pamporovo is a perfect location to learn to ski and the Pamporovo ski school has an excellent reputation throughout Europe. The instructors are well trained and the school well run and English is spoken pretty much everywhere. During peak periods the size of the groups can be large but there are also many independent ski schools in the resort offering private tuition or smaller groups.
Accommodation is Pamporovo is mostly hotels or apart hotels and they are located either in the town or on the mountain. Some offer pools and spa facilities and some are more basic so there is a huge variety of options and prices. If you stay in the town then your accommodation will provide a shuttle bus to the slopes each day which only takes a few minutes. If you are located on the mountain then many of the restaurants in the town will offer a free shuttle service from your accommodation to their restaurant in the evening providing you book a table with them so it is easy to get around. Taxis are also not expensive and easy to find.
Bulgarian cuisine is fabulous and varied. Barbequed meats and vegetables are prevalent and most places offer traditional dishes as well as western fare so even fussy eaters are well catered for. Vegetarian and gluten free options are catered for in most places but you might be advised to get the words translated so that your server understands your requirements. Prices are very reasonable throughout the resort and so for families it is not an expensive holiday. There are some fabulous restaurants in the resort so even if you stay on a half board package you should try and get out and experience some of what the local businesses have to offer. Drink measures are double UK measures and free pouring is used in most places. The local wines and spirits are not at all expensive however imported spirits can add up.
Lamb cheverme is a local speciality where lamb is turned slowly on a spit in front of a fire and gives off the most incredible aroma while cooking. Highly recommended as the meat is so tender after cooking for hours and hours.
There are many festivals and traditional nights with dancing and music which you can get involved in and really experience Bulgaria if you want to embrace the culture. Some of the restaurants will also get you up and dancing after your meal.
Nightlife is limited in Pamporovo however there are a couple of bars with live music and a dance floor where all are welcome and you can have a great night. As a result, you won’t find any strip clubs or stag and hen parties here. If you are with a group of friends you can be entertained and have fun in most places here and people do come back year after year. There are other apres ski activities you can take part in after skiing such as snow tubing or ski doo-ing. There are hot springs where you can spend an evening in amazing thermal pools under the stars with a glass of wine in hand and a hot meal.
Luxury is not a word used to describe Bulgaria on the whole and 5* Bulgarian accommodation is similar to 3* western however places on the whole are clean and comfortable. As standards improve there are some amazing places opening with beautiful rooms. The recently renovated Perelik and Orlovetz hotels have fabulous rooms. However, you are not there to spend much time in your rooms so the lower priced options are also generally fine; clean and comfortable. Many apartments have kitchenettes so self catering is an option however it is such good value to eat out that it is rarely needed.
You may find a general snobby-ness towards Bulgaria from seasoned Alpine skiers but on the whole this comes from those who have not actually given it a try. It is a different sort of ski holiday where you are not trying to cover as many km of piste during the day and skiing from dawn to dusk so as to get the value from your lift pass. Here you can relax and enjoy time with the family or friends without worrying so much about the cost of things. When your children ask for ‘another hot chocolate’ or ‘another crepe’ it is lovely to be able to say ‘yes of course’ without thinking about taking out that second mortgage to pay for it.
There are many flights to Sofia from most countries and the transfer time is around 3.5 hours in a car or small minibus. If you are on a coach with an enforced Macdonalds stop you can expect this to take between 4.5 and 5 hours. If you take a private transfer then you can break this journey with a meal on your way up to the mountain. There are also some flights into Plovdiv where the transfer time is only 1.5 hours however from the UK it is currently only RyanAir that fly there from Stansted.
Recommendations and more information can be found on www.snow-white-skiing.co.uk