food / travel

Ski Eastward: Budget-Friendly Bulgaria Now Among Europe's Top Ski Destinations

Think ski holiday in Europe, and most people imagine the Alps. But what about Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains? The skiing is great, the scenery is spectacular and lift tickets are refreshingly affordable.

A winter panorama at Bansko ski resort (Lenta Moebiusa)
A winter panorama at Bansko ski resort (Lenta Moebiusa)
Jörn Lauterbach

BANSKO -- There are some soccer fans who prefer the whole experience of going to a game to actually watching it. Rather than follow the action on the field, they'll spend their time taking photos of their friends, or standing in line to buy snacks. They might also buy a T-shit – just to prove they were there.

There are skiers who are like that too, "resort collectors' who care less about the actual skiing or the atmosphere of a place and more about just having been there. Instead of the Alps or Aspen, they prefer "exotic" destinations like New Zealand, Australia, the slopes of Etna in Sicily and…Bulgaria.

Home to the Rila range, which contains the sixth highest peak in Europe, as well as Bansko, a popular resort in the Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria also has beaches, amazing hiking trails and a long list of other alluring attributes that help it stand out against more traditional ski destinations.

But that's not to say the skiing is somehow second-rate. On the contrary, for downhill aficionados, the country is a veritable gold mine. Even the capital Sofia has its own "house" mountain: the Vitosha massif, which can be reached by scheduled bus in under an hour. A particularly spectacular time to go is the evening, when the slopes at 2,290 meters (7,514 feet) are lit and the city lights twinkle below.

Bussing it to Bansko

Vitosha is not a place to go if you want mountain quiet (pop music blares, it's a favorite of the young). But it is fun if it's just for an outing from the big city. And it's ideal for resort collectors. For those who are keen for a real mountain getaway, try Bansko. Located in the Pirin Mountains about 160 kilometers by highway from Sofia, the resort is easy to reach by bus or rental car. Twenty years ago this was a sleepy resort, favored by Bulgarians because of its beautiful slopes. In recent years – thanks to international investors – it has become a European-class ski resort.

Bansko also has a historical center that dates back to the Middle Ages, along with stores, churches, and restaurants. But the tone is set by the resort's contemporary apartment houses and chic wellness hotels.

Bansko is still growing, as the many construction sites attest, although the economic crisis has slowed things down. Unfortunately – as many a skier has discovered – the infrastructure has not kept pace with the increasing number of hotel beds. Lines and waiting times at the lifts are long, but the lifts themselves are rapid and enjoyable – it takes no time at all to rise to 2,600 meters over varied and gorgeous landscape below. Once you're up there, you have a choice of 75 km of slopes - not overly challenging, but varied and beautiful.

Hiking and world heritage

Visitors would do well also to spend time taking in the surrounding scenery. Most of Bansko is in the Pirin National Park, which is on UNESCO's list of world nature sites. There are centuries-old trees, small lakes, waterfalls and caves to be discovered. A highlight for top-fit skiers is the 16-km slope that links the Todorin peak with Bansko and takes you past many of the natural splendors.

Bansko is also a top destination for biathlon, but the less athletically driven will find it an ideal hiking spot. Cultural excursions to the world-renowned Rila Monastery also leave from here. The monastery is a national monument and a UNESCO world heritage site, and is one of the top tourist attractions in Bulgaria. The same goes for Melnik, population 275, known for its red wine and medieval architecture. Only 20 km from the Greek border, the whole site is protected, and 96 buildings are listed in the Bulgarian cultural heritage register.

Back to the slopes. Resort collectors may want to head for Pamporovo to the southeast, popular with skiers and snowboarders alike. The climate is particularly favorable, averaging 240 days of sunshine per year.

All of these places have one big advantage over their Alpine competitors: they're inexpensive! A day ski pass costs 25 euros at most. Rentals of top brand equipment cost 15 euros per day or 75 euros for a week. Compare that to the price of a one-week ski pass in Switzerland, which can cost more than 250 euros. Prices at hotels and restaurants are 30% lower than they are in Central European resorts. And the hectic atmosphere you often get there is utterly absent here – the pace is relaxed. And the food, by the way, is delicious.

Read the original story in German

Photo – Lenta Moebiusa

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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