The secret ski resorts in Europe that are cheaper than you think

Bulgaria has built a reputation based on being an affordable and family-friendly alternative to famous Alpine resorts  (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Bulgaria has built a reputation based on being an affordable and family-friendly alternative to famous Alpine resorts (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Europe’s wealth of ski resorts attracts visitors from around the world, with many returning year after year to the slopes in famed mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Dolomites.

While the mountains of France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria have become some of the world’s most sought after ski destinations, more and more people are exploring further afield in a bid to save money on a family getaway or simply party hard for less on their next trip to the slopes.

One country in particular hits the sweet spot of resorts with slopes that appeal to beginners and families, great affordability and plenty of choice for trips.

Bulgaria’s resorts may not be as plentiful as those of France, but where our over-the-Channel neighbour comes with a sometimes soaring price tag for its skiing holidays, Bulgaria has built its reputation on offering a good time for less, whether you’re on the pistes, at apres or simply in your hotel. From the more renowned to the lesser-known, we’ve rounded up the eastern European nation’s best resorts.


Bansko is the country’s most popular resort (Getty Images)
Bansko is the country’s most popular resort (Getty Images)

Located in the south of the country at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, Bansko is a mountain town with a small maze of winding streets lined with terracotta-roofed stone buildings, providing a distinct mountain style with a Bulgarian, rather than Alpine, twist.

It has carved a reputation as Bulgaria’s top ski resort, with the addition of a gondola system in the early 2000s leading to the opening up of what is now a network of 14 lifts and around 75km of pistes.

Prices are still as affordable as you’d hope for from Bulgaria, but the resort has made an effort to shift its “cheap and cheerful” reputation, with consistently rising standards in accommodation, food offerings, and the general ski area infrastructure.

The ski area features World Cup runs like Tomba and some off-piste to add to gentle beginners’ runs, while those looking for off-the-slopes action should enjoy the town’s vibrant atmosphere and lively apres scene.

How to ski in Bansko

Stay at the Wellness Hotel Bulgaria – courtesy of Heidi – for a comfortable experience right in the centre of Bansko. You’ll be six minutes away from the slopes on foot, with pool, spa and sauna facilities to enjoy.


Borovets is the oldest winter resort in the country (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Borovets is the oldest winter resort in the country (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Borovets is the closest (large) resort to the capital, Sofia, located under 90 minutes’ drive south of the airport. It sits among the country’s tallest mountain range, the Rila mountains, at the foot of the nearly 3,000m-tall Mount Musala.

With 60km of pistes in total, Borovets is slightly smaller than Bansko, its main competitor, but usually offers a longer season – ending as late as May – slopes that are up to 2,500m high and the opportunity for night skiing under the floodlights.

As is fairly standard in Bulgaria, the slopes cater far more to beginner and intermediate skiers – around 24km and 29km respectively – though there is some off-piste if you go high enough, and some difficult reds around Yastrebetz.

Coming down the hill and into the pretty town centre, Borovets is a blend of large all-inclusive resorts, small bars and quirky watering holes, all offering great value and a potentially raucous apres. Other winter activities are especially popular here too, including winter walking and the opportunity to take on a 10km cross-country ski circuit.

How to ski in Borovets

Crystal Ski offers seven nights at the Musala Hotel, located right on the slopes and providing ski-in/ski-out access. This brand new hotel sits among the pine woods just 300m away from the town centre, and features a swimming pool, sauna and spacious rooms with functional interiors.


The nearest major town to Pamporovo is Chepelare, around 10km away (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The nearest major town to Pamporovo is Chepelare, around 10km away (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A purpose-built resort set in a Norwegian spruce forest near Plovdiv, Pamporovo is a popular destination that’s renowned for its beginners’ areas, with many holidaymakers coming to learn or hone their skills. Sitting at around 2,000m, the area operates together with nearby Mechi Chal-Chepelare (more on that below).

Pamporovo has benefited from recent investment in its lift system and snowmaking. Over 50 per cent of runs cater best to beginners, with only around 5km of runs in Pamporovo itself suited to advanced skiers. But off-piste routes and runs around the Snejanka peak give experts some terrain to explore.

Pamporovo has fortunately managed to retain all the appeal of a classic Bulgarian resort, with affordable accommodation and dining options and an energetic apres scene spurred on by cheap drinking options.

How to ski in Pamporovo

Heidi provides packages to the Hotel Prespa right in the town centre, and a short bus ride from the slopes. Rooms are pared-back and slightly old fashioned, but for comfort and value in a lesser-explored destination, this is a great option.

From £424pp including seven nights’ accommodation, return flights from London Stansted, one piece of checked luggage per person and airport transfers. Departing 5 February 2024.


Vitosha lies just a few miles from Sofia (Getty Images)
Vitosha lies just a few miles from Sofia (Getty Images)

Outside of the main three above, Bulgaria’s resorts start to get a lot smaller, but a combination of character, exceptional affordability and proximity to the larger resorts means that some are worth considering, especially if you can combine visits to different resorts on one trip.

Vitosha is one such place, lying close to the capital and around an hour from Borovets. It features around 20km of slopes served by seven lifts, 12km of which are blue runs catering to beginner level. With only 2km of black runs, this is not the place to come if you’re an expert who wants to test themselves, though prices – from the ski passes to the apres drinks – are adjusted accordingly, making it a worthwhile and affordable detour on your Bulgarian ski trip.

How to ski in Vitosha

Due to Vitosha’s small size and proximity to the capital, few flight and hotel packages are available from the UK, but it is a popular day trip with hotels available nearby. The Moreni Hotel, located in Aleko, is less than an hour from central Sofia and sits on the eastern side of Mount Vitosha, close to ski lifts and with exceptional bar, spa and sauna facilities to add to its stylish modern rooms.

Fly to Sofia direct with easyJet, Ryanair or Wizz Air from Luton, Stansted and Gatwick from £22 one-way.

Mechi Chal-Chepelare

Chepelare opened again in 2008 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Chepelare opened again in 2008 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mechi Chal-Chepelare is a small area, but one that has a long history of skiing, with the first ski school having opened there in 1954. Since 2017, it has partnered with nearby Pamporovo to offer an extra 20km of runs to the area, with recently added snowmaking systems giving the area better coverage and ensuring a season that runs until mid-April.

The pistes here are mainly divided between beginner and intermediate level, with little provision for advanced or expert skiers bar a few red runs. Nevertheless, the Mechi Chal 1 provides a 3km-long piste that’s one of the longest in the country. The resort is a good choice for a relaxed break, as the town is a more tranquil alternative to busier, apres-heavy Bulgarian resorts.

How to ski in Mechi Chal

Many who ski in Mechi-Chal will choose to stay in Pamporovo, so opt for a trip to the MPM Family Hotel Merryan booked through Heidi. You’ll get all the benefits of being in Pamporovo while being just 15 minutes away from the slopes of Chepelare, in an intimate hotel with plenty of alpine character and spacious, well-furnished rooms.