Snowboard and skiing heaven in the Balkans

IT’S a common misconception that you have to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy a winter sports holiday abroad.

Bulgarian resort Borovets, however, is proof that it doesn’t need to cost the earth to get out on the board or skis.

Let’s be clear: this is no Chamonix, Kitzbuhel, or Whistler, with hundreds of kilometres of runs and the very best accommodation going. But then Borovets doesn’t claim to deliver those things.

What it does provide is excellent snow and après-ski entertainment in comfortable surroundings that is sure to please the vast majority, whatever their level on the slopes, and at a price that is altogether more affordable.

The other big plus travelling to Bulgaria is that, because they are not part of the euro, a favourable exchange rate keeps additional expenditure well under control.

My week’s package at the Hotel Samokov – ideally situated opposite the main gondola up the slopes – included half board accommodation, flights and transfers.

As a relative beginner who had been boarding abroad just once before, the lessons also included came as something of a godsend.

But it need not be that way. My travelling colleague, an advanced skier, was free to explore the 58 kilometres of runs himself.

After a flight of just over three hours from the UK to Sofia Airport, the trip up into the mountains to Borovets was a reasonable one hour 15 minutes. And instruction began the next morning after a pre-breakfast welcome meeting.

Fresh overnight snow made for ideal first-day conditions in helping overcome the rustiness of more than a year out of the boarding boots.

The slopes in Borovets are separated into three main areas: Stinyakovo, Yastrebetz and Markudjik.

Most of the runs in the resort are intermediate or easy, making it ideal for those just finding their way or getting that little bit better, but there were some black runs for the experts too.

The pistes were well looked after, being groomed nightly and there was also the chance to go off-piste too, which was great fun, plus a lot softer when falling!

At the highest point of the runs, at some 2,500m-plus, excellent panoramic views for miles opened up and the highest peak in Bulgaria and the Balkans, the Musala, was visible just across the valley.

It’s easy to see why Borovets – pine tree forest in the native tongue – gets its name, too, as green of conifers dominated the beautiful scenery.

Of course, after a tiring day twisting and turning your way through the snow, there is no better way to unwind than with a beer or two with friends made in your group of fellow instructees.

Borovets had a good selection of bars that were frequented by healthy numbers during our stay, but by no means packed.

Happy hours – where drinks were served as two for one – were often in the early evenings, but several places were advertised to stay open until 4am to satisfy the serious party-goers.

Beer was generally priced at four levs (less than £2), while no drinks we purchased were more expensive than when in the pub back home.

For those who want to eat out, both for a snack at lunch-time or at a restaurant in the evening, there was plenty of scope. From Italian to Mexican there was no shortage of options on offer.

Other, optional entertainment was also offered by the Balkan Holidays rep at additional cost and included a torchlit walk, pub crawl, a meal at a traditional Bulgarian House, day trips to local sights and a quiz, among other things.

The hotel itself had a whole host of amenities, including several bars, a nightclub, a 25-metre swimming pool, a ski shop, a newsagent, a bowling alley, games room including pool and table tennis tables and a gym..

For those who like something to show for their efforts, the final evening saw an awards night where each group were handed certificates by their respective instructor charting their progress.

The real delight, however, came from a memorable week that was the perfect way to shake off the January or February blues.

A return trip is most definitely on the cards.

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