The town of Bansko is both ancient and modern. There’s a 6th century church named for the Virgin Mary in its old town. I walked out of this area of cobblestone streets and was staring at more than 100 mostly empty hotels, apartments, etc. When Ruth & I saw Bansko in May, 2015, there was almost no one around. This was kind of understandable. Today Bansko is basically a ski resort, but there were signs everywhere for the upcoming international jazz festival in August. Those who look at all the come-to-Bulgaria websites might think that Bansko is thriving, but the sad fact is that it’s struggling.
Lonely Planet calls it “swelled with overdevelopment”. The town’s elevation is about 3,000 feet, but Mount Vihren, almost 10,000 feet, and other beautiful mountains loom over it. The ski area has the longest runs in Bulgaria. A building boom occurred when the town launched a serious bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Boom became bust when it didn’t get it.
Until the 18th century Bansko was a thriving mountain town of artisans and lumber mills surrounded by fat cattle. Many say that Spartacus came from around here. That’s possible but unprovable. Ancient sources called him a Thracian, and Bansko is in what was once Roman-times Thrace. What makes Bansko unique today is that a centuries old village is within a contemporary ski resort town. I watched old women washing rugs in an ages-old community laundry pit and minutes later glimpsed a restaurant advertising American-style barbecue. A new Subway will open for the 2015-16 ski season.
Bansko is upbeat and trying to appear prosperous. The ski area opened for its 12th season on December 12 followed by decent snow. The entire facility was expected to be usable by December 20. Snow currently measures 16 inches at the summit. The ski area is expected to be running until the 2nd weekend in April. Opening ceremonies included the 5th annual Treasure Hunters fest during which a set of car keys to a new Audi A3 was buried somewhere under the snow.