The Balkans are known for their stunning mountains, which makes sense considering the entire penninsula is named after a mountain range! While we love exploring Balkan cities and never run out of things to do in Sofia in winter, we sometimes find ourselves itching for some good skiing and winter sports. Here are seven great options for Balkan ski resorts and other great winter holiday ideas.
Old meets new in Bansko – one of Bulgaria’s top winter sports areas. It’s the country’s most modern ski resort, set among the snowy peaks of beautiful Pirin National Park. The ski area’s a 25-minute gondola ride from the resort up at 2000–2600 metres altitude. The height means there’s great snow coverage, a long ski season and some fantastic panoramic views from the top. Bansko has around 70km worth of pistes at a mix of levels. Though good-value lessons and low-cost ski hire make it especially popular with beginners wanting to give skiing or snowboarding a try. There are off-piste and tree runs for the more advanced skiers too.
There are plenty of après-ski party options on and off the piste – the local homemade rakiabrandy is guaranteed to warm you up. For a change of pace you can explore Bansko’s UNESCO World Heritage town centre. It’s full of charm, with cobbled streets, historic buildings and cosy merhanas. These traditional taverns are the perfect place to cosy up in on a winter evening, with roaring fires and tasty winter stews. And if you need to soak some aching muscles after a day on the slopes, the thermal spa waters at Banya are only a few miles away where you can enjoy a sunset soak and massage.
Contributed by Lucy Dodsworth from On the Luce.
Last winter I took my first ever ski trip to Borovets in Bulgaria. It was something that had long been on my bucket list but I didn’t want to spend a fortune when I didn’t even know if I liked it. So when my friend suggested a last minute trip to Bulgaria, I jumped at the opportunity.
Whilst Borovets in Bulgaria is one of the more affordable ski resorts in Europe, it is also one of the best for beginners. It was not so huge that you feel overwhelmed. It is affordable so you can take plenty of ski lessons (trust me I needed them badly!) The apres ski was lively and won’t make too much of a dent in your budget.
There are also loads of other things to do in the area like taking a snowy horse trek or visiting nearby hot springs. There’s also a lot to be said for chilling in a warm jacuzzi at a spa looking through the window at a magical winter wonderland.
The friends I traveled with were a mixture of skiing abilities and it suited all of us with enough black runs to keep the best skiers happy. I’d highly recommend Borovets for your next ski trip!
Skiing is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about holidays in Greece. But it is possible to ski in Greece and there are plenty of well-equipped ski centers all over this surprisingly mountainous country. Parnassos Ski Resort is an ideal choice for a quick ski trip from Athens. The drive only takes around two and a half hours and there are regular ski buses running between Athens and Parnassos.
Parnassos is a modern ski center consisting of 17 lifts, over 35 km of slopes of varying difficulty, ski rentals and schools, and a large cafeteria. The highest point of the ski center lies at 2250 meters but if you are an experienced alpinist you can ascend the highest peak of Mount Parnassos, Liakoura, towering to an altitude of 2.457 meters.
There is no accommodation at the ski center itself so if you come for an overnight trip you’ll have to stay in one of the close by villages. The picturesque Arachova some 30 km away from the ski center is the most popular choice. Once a traditional mountain village Arachova become one of Greece’s poshest holiday destinations in the past decades brimming over with fancy cafés, taverns, and ski-related boutiques.
Except for skiing and snowboarding, Parnassos is a popular spot for hikers and mountaineers as well as snowmobile enthusiasts. And when you finally got enough of all the snow fun head to the nearby Delphi to visit the world-famous archaeological site and Oracle.
Contributed by Helena Moskova from Just for one Summer.
Poiana Brasov, Romania
Just 150km from Otopeni International Airport, in Bucharest, is the Poiana Brasov ski resort, considered the best in Romania, a country unknown to most winter sports enthusiasts in Europe but that has much more to offer what it seems like.
At 1030 meters, Poiana Brasov is part of the Southern Carpathians and is surrounded by 4 mountains: Piatra Craiului (2,238 m), Piatra Mare (1,848 m), Bucegi (2,505 m) and Postăvaru (1,799 m).
If you are an expert skier, you can go down the Lupului, Kanzel and Subteleferic ski slopes. For skiers of average experience the ideal track is the Sulinar, and for beginners, the best ones are Stadiom, Bradul and Drumul Rosu, with a lower degree of difficulty.
Other activities that can be enjoyed in this holiday resort of Poiana Brasov are ice skating, tennis and mini golf, sauna and numerous indoor pools, a horse ride, playing basketball and even paragliding.
Contributed by Inma Gregorio from A World to Travel.
Rila Mountains, Bulgaria
Malyovitsa is a 2729 high peak in the northwest parts of Rila Mountain. It’s one of the most known and recognizable peaks, which every Bulgarian who loves hiking has conquered at least once.
Hiking Malyovitsa peak in winter is a completely different experience than doing so in the summer. The surrounding covered with snow peaks and views are astonishing. The hike itself it’s challenging and could be even dangerous.
Malyovitsa is one of the most avalanche danger areas, where sadly, many people have lost their lives. However, if you’re well prepared and choose a good weather, the hike is very pleasant and magical.
The hike takes about 4 to 6 hours, depending on your fitness level. It starts at CPS Malyovitsa, from where it takes around 1 hour to get to Malyovitsa hut. From the hut, you need an additional 3-4 hours to get to the peak. The trail is well marked.
At Malyovitsa hut, you can find food and drinks and even stay overnight. Otherwise, the closest place to stay near Malyovitsa peak is the village of Govedartsi and the town of Samokov.
Alternatively, you can also combine the hike to the Malyovitsa peak with a stay in Borovets (above).
It’s not very well, known, but indeed Croatia has one impressive winter destinations that should not be missed if you love to ski – and best of all you can ski for much less than other parts of Europe.
It’s well known that Croatia is known as a popular summer destination, and Croatia’s capital Zagreb has won the Best European Christmas Destination for three years – and not very far from Zagreb you can find Sljeme Ski Resort.
So you can head to Zagreb for the Advent markets, and get in a great weekend of skiing. or, if you want to skip the markets, plan your ski trip in January – as it is when people head to Sljeme to take part in the Snow Queen Trophy (Snježna Kraljica). That event is part of the FIS Ski World Cup and was named after Croatia’s best female ski superstar Janica Kostelić.
The length of slopes on Sljeme are about 4045 meters. It has five slopes and three lifts. The slopes include White Meadow, White Slope, Red Slope (which is the most difficult), Green Slope and Blue Slope. The Red slope has a chairlift and is also equipped with artificial snow maker, which prolongs the skiing season if you happen to come when the snow isn’t falling as much as you’d like.
Contributed by Sarah-Jane Begonja from Chasing the Donkey.
Zlatibor in western Serbia has been an important center for skiing and health tourism for over a hundred years. The highest mountain peak here is Tornik, which sits at about 1500 meters tall (about 5000 feet).
Tornik ski resort has multiple tracks, four of which have artificial snow for when mother nature doesn’t cooperate. Over seven kilometers of total ski track is situated between an elevation of 1100 and 1500 meters. There are three chairlifts which are six seaters, which keeps the line down so that you can spend your time on the slopes instead of in a queue.
The town is a great place to relax and unwind, and offers a great introduction to Serbian culture. When traveling in Serbia, you want to set aside some time to enjoy the local atmosphere and even shop for some Serbian souvenirs.
Zlatibor also offers great nature and opportunities for health tourism in summer, so if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, this area is a good choice year-round.
Going Skiing? Update Your Travel Insurance Policy
Finally, make sure you always ski with an updated travel insurance policy. Any time you’ll be doing adventure sports and outdoor activities, you want to have travel insurance to cover you in case you get hurt. One of my best friends got in a skiing accident in Switzerland and had to be flown home. Without travel insurance, she would have gone bankrupt. However, they covered her ACL surgery in full.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Have you gone on a Balkan Ski or Winter holiday? What resorts and towns should we add to the list? Leave any suggestions or travel questions below!
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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.