As a thirty (cough, cough) something year old woman, whose body didn’t fair well after having three children AND who had a prolapsed disc a couple of years ago, I never would have imagined I’d be sitting here writing about a skiing holiday.
But yes, for the second year running we have survived a half term skiing trip with the kids. Last year we only went for three days to see how we’d get on. We were all beginners and our youngest was only just four, so we were really just testing the water with the whole thing. Fortunately we had a lovely instructor, who was great with the kids and that kind of paved the way for future trips.
Pre skiing preparation this year included visits to the chiropractor and a consultation with a Pilates instructor (my husband also suffered a prolapsed disc last year and has numerous problems with his back and knees!). The poor Pilates lady was almost begging us not to go, but reluctantly gave us some exercises and stretches to do whilst we were there, which we did, religiously, both before and after skiing. Let’s be honest, neither of us would have gotten through the week without doing them.
So where did we go? Well, it is a small ski resort in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, called Pamporovo. Mainly frequented by Bulgarians, Eastern Europeans and Russians, it is relatively unknown to us Brits, however, more and more English people are now starting to venture out there.
There are many advantages of going skiing in this region:
It is one of the sunniest ski resorts in Europe (whilst we were there, it was so warm that we were wearing one base layer and skiing with open jackets (and were still too hot)).
The ski slopes are below tree level, so they are protected from the elements. Whilst other resorts in Bulgaria have been suffering through lack of snow, Pamporovo has managed to maintain the slopes, due to the nature of their positioning. The slopes are also well managed and topped up with artificial snow, if required.
The slopes are great for beginners and families, whilst equally, there is a good selection of red and black slopes for more advanced skiers. The green slopes that we skied are more of a circuit, as they connect to follow one long route that takes you on a big loop and back to where you started. This took us around an hour when with the instructor, going at a steady pace and having regular stops for our five year old. By the end of the week, my seven year old and I skied the same circuit three times in an hour and a half (not showing off or anything, just saying).
It’s not cheap to take the family on a skiing trip, but Bulgaria is great value in comparison to somewhere in the Alps. Four mornings of ski lessons (for all five of us), lift passes and ski hire, plus transfer to and from the airport cost us around 500 euros. A meal out was averaging about 100 Lev (around £40).
The accommodation we stayed in is known as a ski in, ski out apartment. This means that you walk out of your building and you are virtually smack bang on the slopes. The Monastry III apartments are situated at the Stoudenets ski base, where there are numerous bars and restaurants, ski schools, ski hire depots, plus a ski lift to take you higher up the mountain. It is so convenient being able to go back to the apartment if the little ones need a rest and if they don’t want to ski there is plenty to do, such as sledging or taking a Husky sleigh ride.
Pamporovo itself is around five minutes’ taxi ride further down the mountain. The ‘town’ is more of a purpose built strip with bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. But you don’t need to venture down there if you don’t want to, as there are four good restaurants all within walking distance of the apartment, plus a 24 hour supermarket. The Grand Monastry hotel, which is part of the Monastry III complex, also has a swimming pool, spa, three-lane bowling alley, games room and nightclub, so there is plenty to do in the evening.
Our apartment block had a small swimming pool of its own, which is heated to 30 degrees. We spent our afternoons down there, the kids enjoying the play time and mum and dad the soothing effects of the warm water! Luckily for us, there was also a hot tub down there too.
So what are the bad bits? I’d be lying if I said it was perfect. Bulgaria may have joined the EU, but it hasn’t quite managed to shake off its Eastern Block past yet. On the drive up the mountain from Plodiv airport, there is evidence all around of the poverty of the country, with run down old buildings aplenty. There is a sad ‘greyness’ about the area too, which smacks of Communism and suppression. Of course, nowhere was immune to the recession and Bulgaria is no different. There are half finished hotels and apartment blocks all the way up the mountain and in the resort itself too, a reminder of a struggling economy, trying its best to survive.
The apartment block where we stayed was built around ten years ago. On the surface it looks lovely, but the finish of the building and the interiors of the apartments themselves are poor. When you see the owners driving around in their Mercedes four wheel drive cars, you realise where the majority of the money that is paid towards these apartments actually goes. The mentality of investing money to make money doesn’t really exist here yet. There goes another reminder of a past regime that still hasn’t moved on.
English isn’t a commonly spoken language in this area, so it is difficult to make yourself understood. It wasn’t easy having a child with food intolerances to cater for, especially when eating out, so we had to be really careful about what we ordered him and hope for the best. In general though, the food was good; mostly meat and not a great selection of vegetables, but you have to remember that you are in the mountains, where deliveries of supplies are probably infrequent.
Despite all the problems, there is something about this place that gets under your skin and you can’t help but fall in love with it. For me, it was everything combined, the sunshine, the apartment, the beautiful view from the top of the mountain and seeing the kids progress so much with their skiing. I can’t compare it to anywhere else, but I can definitely say that I won’t need to, as we all can’t wait to go back next year.