New Year family skiing holiday that doesn’t break the bank – Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

Skiing over Christmas and or New Year can be an expensive endeavour. These are peak periods for taking to the slopes, as Europe and many other parts of the World are on holidays. If you add one/two children to the mix, a short week on the slopes can take you back a few thousand Euros if you count accomodation, meals, ski schools, equipment  and passes. Especially if you think at popular destinations like Switzerland or Austria.

Together with Mr, we have been skiing in Austria (Kitzbuhel) in our pre-kid days. I have also been with friends in France (La Plaine). Clearly they are both perfect winter sport destinations, with great infrastructure and plenty of slopes to keep you busy for days. Of course, on both instrances we stayed well clear of Christmas/NYE as well as the February week when European schools take their intersemester break and half of Europe travels to France or Austria. This year however, as we are planning longer holidays in March and May, we decided to book our ski break sooner, already after Cristmas and over New Year. By the time we decided, in late Summer, many popular places in Austria were already booked (especially families travelling from Germany book about one year in advance)  and the remaing spots as well as flights to Vienna were crazy expensive. Asking around in our friends’ circle, we got good feed-back on a destination that was not high on every skiier’s radar but had all the facilites for a snow filled family getaway: the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria.

Finding accomodation proved to be quite easy in late September. The resort town we were aiming for was named Borovets, at the foothills of Rila Mountains and about 1.30 hour drive from Sofia (and the airport). It has easy access to about 60 km of slopes, of varying degrees of difficulty, enough to keep you busy for a few days. They also had a number of affordable hotels proving shuttles to the lifts. As it was over New Year, the festive dinner was included in the price of all accomodation packages. Best of all, it was not the most popular ski resort in Bulgaria (that would be Bansko), meaning that we could expect less crowds and qeues at the lifts. We decided for Radina’s way, a newish hotel, located a bit outside the city center but with easy access via shuttle. Due to the location and to make the logistic of meals easier, we booked half board.

  1. Getting there

As we were spending Christmas in Romania, the easiest way to get to the ski resorts in Bulgaria  was by car. It takes between 6 and 7 hours drive from Bucharest, depending on traffic so better start early, especially if travelling with kids. Crossing the border is rather straightforward and it takes about 5 minutes. If you are renting a car from Romania,  keep the car documents handy for the border control. Once you pass to Bulgaria, the first thing would be to buy the Bulgarian vignette (toll for using the national roads), costing about 10 Euro for a week. They do stop cars to control the vignette.

Our little guy is well used to rather long hours in the car but we still had to forsee about 2 -3 breaks, inlcuding a short one after the border for a light breakfast and two longer ones for checking the diaper situation, having a light lunch and breathing a bit of fresh air.  The last stop before reaching the ski resort was in the town of Samokov. They have a well stocked Billa supermarket to stock up on water, diapers and snacks. There are a few small shops in Borovets as well but the Billa has by far the largest selection of essentials and the best prices too.

2. Accomodation and meals

Once we reached the town we went directly for check in. The family rooms in Radina’s way were very clean and generous in size. We had a double bed and a foldable couch. Our LO prefers to sleep in his travel cot, so we had this set up too. In our travelling party, there was a couple with two pre-school children and they also found the family rooms more than adequate for a family of 4. The hotel had a nice indoor pool and some baby flotation devices for sale. It was nice to swim for a bit after a long day on the slopes. They also had a kids room with some toys and a lady to supervise the older children. However, she  seemed to be a bit inexperienced with smaller children and had limited understanding of English. Our LO was happy to play there with one of us present but we could not leave him for longer periods.

The breakfast offered was decent athough awfully repetitive, with the same choice of warm dishes, cereals and sweet cakes. Coffee came from a machine. Same comment for dinner. Nothing outsatanding but a decent choice of pasta, fries and salads with a couple of meat options and deserts. During dinner however, the personnel seemed completely overwhelmed by the number of guests and it became evident that, during rush hour, getting beer and a glass of wine will take some time. We appreciated that most of them were nice and really making an effort given the circumstances. So was the staff at reception.

3. The best part: the skiing

Thoughout the next five days, we used the well run shuttle of Radina’s Way to get to town in the morning as well as to retun to the hotel after lunch. Mr would often go earlier for breakfast and hop on the shuttle at 10AM to do a few slopes by the time I would join with the LO. Despite the good offer of ski kindergarden and ski schools services in town, they would only take children as of 3-3 1/2 years. This meant we had to arrange taking turns at skiiing or sledging with the LO. It helped that the sledge slope was a short walking distance from the ski lift. Also, we rented our equipment for the entire period from Alpin Ski Rental (about 7 euro per day) on the main slope and could check it back in when we stopped skiing for a couple of hours rather than carrying it thoughout the village.

Ski passes were quite affordable  and about half the price of a similar pass in Austria. A one day full pass was aprox 28 Euro that included access to several ski lifts and a gondola to reach the 2000 m.

The entire domain had about 60 km and was well suited for beginners and more advanced skiiers. Half day passes (as of 12h) and family passes were also available. Compared to other ski resorts, we found  that the slopes were well maintained and well marked. Snow cannons were operating at night to compensate for the lack of snow in some parts and only very few slopes were closed. Mr CTT, the main skiier in our family with more than 20 ski trips under his belt, was impressed with the organisation and the good conditions for skiing.

Even if we did not get to use it, the ski kindergarden at the Rila Hotel looked really nice and well organised. You could leave the child for a few hours or the entire day. Part of the day, they were spending outdoors, playing in the snow and getting introduced to movements and actions involved in skiing.  The other part they were indoors, at the ground floor or the Rila Hotel. Definetelly a good alternative for the ones too young to be in the ski school (starting at about 5 years old). The staff spoke good English.

4. Lunch time options

At lunch time, after trying a few alternatives, we discovered the Alpin Restaurant. Prices were reasonable, waiters were nice and quick and food was  tasty. Unfortunatelly they had no high chairs but we managed by using a normal chair. The LO was already pretty tired after all the sledging and playing in the snow so keeping him still was not an issue. Lunch for two people plus drinks was between 20-30 Euros.

A beautiful (though very popular) place to have an apres-ski cocktail or beer is the open Terrace at the Rila Hotel. It is located on the second floor of the hotel and has beautiful views of the slopes and mountains. In a sunny day (like our last day) this is the perfect place to lazzy around and get a bit of a tan too. Food and drink prices are higher than most places in Borovets but the views are unmatched.

Bulgaria’s Borovets ski resort was a great discovery and a bargain compared to popular destinations on New Year. If your child understands English to follow the ski instructors’s indications, it would be a vrey affordable place to learn skiing and a fun destination for the entire family.

What is you favourite family ski destination?

Happy travels!

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