The two sides of Borovets

30th January 2020, by Nicky Holford

The central hub of Borovets, the first winter resort in Bulgaria

The central hub of Borovets, the first winter resort in Bulgaria

The northern slopes of the Rila mountains were glazed in sunshine as we arrived in Borovets. It was busy. A six-man chair was whisking skiers up the Martinovi Baraki express while a group of tiny tots were nestled under a large Beginner sign. In the distance a flashing neon sign beckoned the way to the Black Tiger bar, while to the right a large red shack promised a VIP erotic show. Borovets would need some thorough investigation I decided.

Our hotel, the Rila was in pride of place, right on the slopes. Its daunting size is deceptive. Once inside it’s like a small, self-contained village. There’s everything from a choice of restaurants, bars, disco and even a casino. The whole resort is very family orientated and it’s easy to see how it works. Everything is nearby, and there is lots to do, including many activities for children of all ages and a spa with large swimming pools. The common spaces are well thought out and the rooms have been systematically upgraded to a high standard.

The view from my room in Hotel Rila

Then there’s the cheap beer and football set. Bars such as Mamacita’s, a Mexican venue shows major UK matches on TV and offer a live band most nights. Somehow the families and the revellers seem to give this resort a unique but workable character. Fun predominates and the skiing is everything you could want for learning, family fun and graduating to higher alpine runs to push the envelope.

Our visit in early January coincided with Russian New Year, bringing a mix of Macedonians and Romanians often travelling with an extended family. Ski and après fashion was geared towards bulky metallic down jackets with colourful moon boots and faux leather trousers for women, with black as the dominant colour for men or large print camo jackets and ski pants.

Then there’s night skiing from 6 to 10pm. Every day throughout the winter season at 5pm a number of slopes are pisted and ready for the 6pm kick off.

We hit the slopes early to cover the two main areas. It’s barely a couple of hundred yards from the hotel to the chairlift with a small detour to circumnavigate a group of tiny Shetland ponies saddled up for munchkin rides.

The skiing here is geared towards giving confidence. There are many green runs that form the Sitnyakovo ski way so intermediates naturally gravitate to a selection of blue runs away from this area. These runs start at 1780m and cruise through lovely forested terrain. The more challenging slopes are accessed from the rather ancient Yastrebetz gondola a 10-15 minute walk away. But once up at Markudjik the skiing is scenic and steeper.

Our most challenging experience was an off-piste route across the mountain to cut across to another piste. Our impromptu path involved steering through closely knit baby firs trees (that normally our guide said were covered by snow). It was easy to get a ski in between a branch and fall into a well of new snow and hard to extricate oneself once buried in snow with a ski stuck under a root.

We navigated over these baby fir trees – normally covered in snow

Lunch was a little disappointing. We settled in a rather grim, dingy spot with a ghastly outdoor toilet, called Bonkers. It reminded me of basic student watering holes. Such a contrast to Victoria’s, a slick brand new high-ceilinged posh alpine restaurant with roaring open fires at the base of the ski area where we had lunch the day before. But that is Borovets, a resort of contrasts.

At après ski time I set off to research various bars and found it was possible to get anything from an “American style” tattoo, which apparently is an old traditional style, to an espresso martini. At the Black Tiger a group of guys asked me join them for a round of Jaegerbombs. I obliged and they were witty and good fun. Then it was fine dining at the à la carte restaurant Samokovi which had secured Bulgaria’s renowned chef Veselin Kalev, who has worked in 2 star Michelin restaurants. The menu was exquisite, with soup poured into a bowl from a teapot and a desert of pear filled with chocolate. It’s incredible affordable fine dining: three courses with wine costs about £30 a head.

Après-ski is full of variety in Borovets

Borovets is an ideal beginner and intermediate resort with options to try cross-country or ski touring, snowmobiling or biathlon. There are nearby hot springs and a longer excursion to the spectacular monastery of Rila is worth doing on a bad weather day.

It’s Bulgaria’s first winter resort which opened in 1896. Before that it was known as the destination for the Kings of Bulgaria, Ferninard I and Boris III hunting palace Tsarska Bistritsa, which is open to the public and located above Borovets in Rila.

Borovets is Bulgaria’s first winter resort

There are not many Bulgarian downhill racers but it’s worth checking out Borovets’ ski history on the wall of fame at the Rila. Pride of places goes to Petar Popangelov who won the first Borovets Cup in 1977 and has a run named after him.

As we left early in the morning there were still the last diehards struggling home as the lifts cranked into action. We drove through the older town where large derelict villas are gradually being renovated and some natural springs had formed statues of ice.

Borovets may have a duly deserved reputation for cheap beer and skiing, but there is much more to this resort and discovering its secret side adds a whole new dimension.

Nicky Holford went to Borovets with Balkan Holidays staying at the four-star Hotel Rila in Borovets, which costs from £625 per person departing 7 March to include return flights from Gatwick, transfers and seven nights’ half board in a twin with slope-side view. Lift pass, full ski pack and tuition costs £202. Flights available from nine other UK airports. Visit

Back to all blogs

Recent blogs

Share |