150km (93 miles) from Sofia
Sprawling at the base of the Pirin, Bansko is Bulgaria's fastest-growing winter resort, with a cumulative 65km (40 miles) of marked ski runs and brand-new lifts to ensure that the resort continues to attract the lion's share of foreigners to the slopes of Bulgaria's "Alps." Besides the range of runs -- ideal for a group comprising beginners, intermediate, and experienced skiers -- Bansko is also the only Bulgarian ski resort that is centered around a historic old quarter, a tangle of cobbled streets lined with thick stone walls and metal-studded gates that guard half-timbered double-story homes. Many of these are now atmospheric mehanas, their windows aglow with crackling fires in winter and the sound of lilting traditional songs wafting out along with the delicious aroma of Bulgarian fare, served up at such reasonable prices that even those forced to go half- or full-board by hotels during peak season can afford to junk these (generally awful) meals and head into the old quarter for a decent spread. But if you're not high up in the mountains or settled around a table in the village heart, the picture is a little less pretty, as Bansko's innate charm is increasingly compromised by the unprecedented growth seen in the last few years. Every season sees more concrete poured into foundations that creep beyond the "official" building line as developers try to deliver on the promise of "uninterrupted views," with prospects for the hotels left in the wake of their greed ever-diminishing. The only justice is that eventually these developers will have to face the butt end of the new kids on the block. The exception to this is the pricey Kempinski, which is situated on the western side where flower-edged balconies provide views of the Pirin, interrupted only by skiers flashing down the slopes.