Budget skiing: Inside the Bulgarian resort where a week costs £435


Bulgaria has once again topped the Post Office’s annual survey of best-value ski resorts (Picture: Colin Nicholson)

What would you rather pay on average for a week’s skiing: £435 or £1,159?

Sounds like a no-brainer, especially when you discover that the Post Office has calculated that both these prices cover ski passes, ski hire, lessons, and food and drink on the slopes.

The former is for Bulgaria and the latter for Swiss municipality Zermatt. If you scan tour operator sites, you’ll also see the Balkan country tops the list for half-
board package deals. So Bulgaria is cheap – but what’s it like to ski there?

I have slight misgivings on the drive from Sofia airport, which takes in some rather ramshackle towns.

But then, just minutes from Borovets, we climb above the snowline and arrive at the Hotel Lion, nestled in snow-covered forest and wrapped in wood smoke.

Hotel Lion is tucked away in the snowy forest (Picture: Colin Nicholson)
Despite the low price it’s got cosy rooms and a large spa area (Picture: Hotel Lion/ Crystal Ski)

Borovets has 36 miles of slopes spread over three distinct sectors. Next morning we start at the highest of them, Markudjik.

From the pleasant blue runs we have alpine-like views across snowy peaks, and I even lure my husband on to a couple of challenging reds – though after a heart-stopping, thigh-clenching button lift ride, he leaves me to ski the fresh powder off-piste above the tree line while he heads down in the gondola.

The next day we ski the Sitnyakovo sector. Here, beginner’s pistes wind through dense fir forest that suddenly opens up as you cross the steep red and black runs, giving you vistas straight down into the village.

Borovets has 36 miles of slopes spread over a trio of distinct sectors (Picture: Borovets)

But nowhere do skiers race down recklessly as they do in the Alps. We snake round the twisting trails with the learners before tackling the vertiginous reds.

It’s on the third of these that my husband decides if he is going to ski straight down the mountain, it’s right to the bar of the swankiest hotel, the Rila, where even the mixologist-worthy dry ice cocktails are just £5.50.

Surrounding this masterpiece of 1980s communist architecture is a mass of wooden shacks where even cheaper drinks can be found.

Now, just as back then, a parallel economy caters to everything that doesn’t fit the lofty ideals – bars, strip bars, late-night eateries, curio and souvenir shops.

The resort is a magnet for the stag-do crowd, as we find at 3am when a man in a G-string starts singing in the corridor.

Retro gondolas take you to the top (Picture: Borovets)

Also straight out of the 1980s is the egg-shaped fibreglass gondola. From the top, you can ski to Yastrebets, the third of the sectors.

Here, we have spectacular views across the plain, though these are fast disappearing as snow begins to fall.

After enjoying fantastic views and cheap food and drink, Colin was pretty impressed with the resort (Picture: Colin Nicholson)

Now, with each run punctuated by a coffee stop, we’re grateful for the low prices – cappuccinos for £2.50, pints for £3.50.

The meals are also good value but after the big breakfasts and generous buffet dinners of meat, fish, vegetables and salad at the hotel, we have no space.

The forest is home to wolves and bears, and excursions are affordable –
sleigh rides for £17, horse riding past beautiful, crumbling old buildings for £21, or snowmobiling for £37.

But, with fresh snow on our final day, I convince my husband we should tick off the black runs, now made more manageable under a cloak of fresh powder.

Celebrating the achievement calls for more cocktails, of course – softening the blow of returning to Western European prices.

Crystal Ski Holidays has seven nights’ half board at Hotel Lion Borovets from £402pp, including flights from London Heathrow, crystalski.co.uk.

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