bansko | diaries of a digital nomad in bulgaria's adventure capital
'this resort is fast becoming a digital nomad hub'
if 2020' taught me anything, it was that anything can happen no matter how farfetched it seems. i have been traveling full time as a digital nomad for the past five years visiting over +100 countries in the process.
lately i have found myself looking for a slower pace of travel staying longer in places. one of these places is bansko, a ski resort in western bulgaria fringed by the pirin mountain range. in recent years this small resort has seen an explosion digital nomads from all over the world seeking a low cost of living, from housing to taxes bulgaria offers some of the most appealing prospects for those living a nomadic life.
bulgaria has somewhat of a stigma around the world, i've been asked many times why i would live here in wintertime let alone at all. well i hope this post will help you understand why i have chosen to live in this resort for the past two winter seasons & hope to return for the next one.
just over two hours' drive from the capital sofia, bankso is a small resort town at the foot of the pirin mountains that's home to one of the most famous ski resorts in bulgaria.
the town itself has two distinct areas. the old town situated further away from the mountain & the new town closers to the gondola station that whisks excited skiers up to the pistes.
the old town with it's cobble stone streets & medieval architecture is my favorite part of town. It truly feels like you are stepping back in time from the authentic mehana's (restaurants) that serve up some local dishes famous in the region to the walled church where storks make their home atop of the bell tower in the spring time. this is where most of the locals live, they have called this mountain town home for generations.
as you wander your way up pirin street towards the gondola, the vibe changes to that of a tourist town where every building has been transformed into a souvenir shop, ski shop, restaurant or bar it's a vibrant scene in the winter months with tourists from all over the world coming to visit one of the most affordable ski resorts in the world.
rampant over-development has left many places closer to the gondola either empty or never finished. there are so many accommodation offerings that is not uncommon to see studios for around €12-30 a night for short term rentals & €250 a month for those staying a little longer. this makes it a compelling place for tourists & digital nomads that are sick of the ultra-high prices of the famous ski resorts in france & switzerland.
the ski resort
bansko is one of the largest ski resorts in eastern europe with over 48km's of slopes, the highest lift taking you up to 2560m. found in the pirin national park, a unesco world heritage site this resort has a lot to offer visitors.
for beginners, intermediates & pro's alike i believe this resort has everything to offer all levels from blue, red & black runs to off-piste through the trees it's difficult to get bored here even for season pass holders like me that go up at least 6 times a week, i was always excited to get on the slopes. The best time for huge dumps of snow is around mid to late march, powder hunters love march.
one of the many reasons people choose this resort is undoubtedly the cost. with daily tickets starting at (€35) to season passes from (€600 - €750) it is less than half the cost of most major resorts around the globe, all the DN's that i knew went for the season pass or the 20 day.
the 2021 season was only slightly affected by covid restrictions. the resort was open as normal the whole season & all lift were running but the bars & restaurants were closed for seating indoors but a few of the main places where open for takeaway food & drinks. it was remarkable when you arrived on the mountain it seemed that covid no longer existed.
the explosion of digital nomads in the last few years has brought life back to this resort outside of the busy holiday periods.
so why have they come here? there are a few reasons, cost of living is the main one with a studio setting you back less than €180 a month, i never spent more than €600 a month for all living costs.
taxation is another huge draw with one of the lowest corporate taxation schemes in the EU (10%), it makes sense for startup's & freelancers to use bulgaria as a base. lastly, it's the outdoor adventure lifestyle & nomad community that has been built up over the years. i find most nomads arrive here alone & with the multitude of co-working spaces available it's super easy to connect with people & find a friend base within days.
the best resource for information & events is the bansko notice board. you'll find a lot of super useful information from apartments to rent to events like hiking & communal dinners.
a new player to the co-working scene in bansko opening its doors in 2020, altspace is by far the most beautiful space to get work done while connecting with other DN's that have made bansko their home.
i spent a few months at the space working on my free investing in cheap usa property guide, get yours here. i also gave a presentation to eager nomads wanting to diversify their investment portfolio with usa property.
i loved the light & airy feeling of the space & with free access to their conference booths, whenever i needed to make a private zoom call it was just a quick tap on the app to book them.
located on the most charming street between the gondola area & old town the space is perfectly placed for both the winter season where most people live near the gondola & the summer months when most nomads & locals gravitate towards the old town. in march the new 2nd location on pirin street was inaugurated with a social area upstairs, the communal working desks & meeting room can be found down in the basement.
becky & mark (the owners) are awesome. always more than happy to help with any requests about the space or general info on bansko, they are a wealth of knowledge.
where to stay
most DN's tend to stay for at least a few months so finding a good apartment is key to having a comfortable stay. it's not very difficult to find a place, a good resource is the bansko notice board on facebook that i mentioned earlier. just write a post that you are looking for a place to stay & lots of property owners will get back to you within a few hours.
i settled on an apartment in valentina heights situated close to the gondola. this hotel come digital nomad residence changed its business model due to lack of tourists during the covid restricts & has now pivoted towards catering to DN's. my southeast facing studio+ apartment on the fourth floor had great views from the balcony of the national park, the central heating was a life saver along with the supermarket trips & pingpong table in the basement. a whatsapp group for the residents was a great way to stay in touch with other nomads.
tip: when looking for an apartment beware of empty apartment blocks in the winter as your heating bill can be as high as your rent for the month. this is because most blocks only have electric heating & without residual heat from other apartments it is super difficult to keep an ambient temperature. seek central heating if possible like in valentina heights.
in winter the main attraction is undoubtedly the ski resort, but bansko & the surrounding area has a lot to offer away from the slopes. here are a few of my favorite things i do when i'm not on the mountain.
melnik - about an hour's drive from bankso you'll find what is affectionally known as the california of bulgaria. this is the old wine region, producing some of the finest wine the country has to offer. melnik is the smallest town in bulgaria and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the whole country. it combines the touch of the typical bulgarian architecture with delicious local cuisine like the delectable honey & cheese with walnuts. the pièce de résistance has to be the amazing views over the sand pyramids in the region.
for wine lovers, make sure to visit villa melnik for their winery tour & tasting. they where voted one of the top 50 vineyards in the world for 2020. after the tour we where treated with some of their best wines. the hailstorm red was a revelation.
banya - famous for its natural thermal baths this small town about 10 mins drive from bansko is the perfect place to soothe away the aches & pains from a day on the pistes. there are quite are few places to choose from, if you are looking for a traditional experience then izgreva (€5) has you covered, for those looking for a little more luxury then villa victoria & regnum (both €5 after 4pm) are the places to be.
rila monastery - a little further afield you'll find one of the most ornate monasteries & top 10 most-visited cultural site in the country. the frescoes here are sublime & not to be missed.
train to velingrad - this narrow gauge train takes you from bansko to velingrad in 3 hours through the mountains & back in time as you amble along passing small mountain villages along the way. this experience is truly about the journey, not the destination.
places to eat
due to covid restrictions there wasn't much opportunity to eat out but a few weeks before i left the restaurants opened their doors due to a temporary reprieve in the lockdown. while bansko & more so bulgaria are not famous for their culinary prowess or service you can find a few gems in the town.
for coffee & smoothie bowls coconut has you covered, traditional bulgaria food with great service, it has tobe zehtindjieva kashta. in the spring there is no better place to eat than lazovir krinetz, they are situated on a reservoir that house fresh fish for their dishes.
for the last two years bansko has become my winter home, it's one of the places i have spent the most amount of time since my retirement in 2016. I find myself getting excited for the ski season months before i arrive in december time.
for those DN's who are looking for a ready-made community, fast internet, co-working spaces & adventure sports then there is no better place than bansko. every time i return i can see that the amount of DN's has exploded from the previous year especially since remote working became more mainstream.
i want to give a big shoutout to a few friends i rode with this season; carlos, kellan, dylan, mike, colm, artu, samson, maggie, cat & jen. i'm hoping to see them all back in bansko next season.
- budget (€20) a day including accommodation.
- if you're a european citizen and you travel often see my blog post on the curve card its the best travel card around i have saved hundreds of euro's using it. download the app and enter my promo code to get a free card & €/£5. click here to see the post.
- need an international bank account or transfer money at the lowest rates? i use transferwise. i make all my transfers with then and have even opened a remote eur, usa, gbp accounts for free. click here to get your first transfer for free.
country travel tips
atm: post bank offers free withdrawals. don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: A1. 30GB is (€12) for 30 days. got an e-sim enabled phone try airalo.
transport: bus & car hire are very cheap.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here