"Wanka" means “hat” in Bulgarian, and the stag was just going to have to trust us on that one.
Me (the best man), Chris (the groom) and five of our mates were in Europe’s cheapest ski resort — Bansko in Bulgaria.
But we hadn’t picked the Pirin mountains for the £1 beers or for Bulgaria’s linguistic quirks, but because it wasn’t “most ski resorts”.
Visit “most ski resorts” and from the accommodation to the aprés-ski, it will barely matter what continent you’re in, let alone what country.
But Bansko is no cookie-cutter resort, especially if you venture out of town. We were staying ten minutes down the road in the village of Dobrinishte.
Some things haven’t changed here in decades. Central heating is still wood-fired — bent-double babas (grandmothers) brave the cold to collect logs stacked outside their homes. And we quickly learnt to shut the garden gate, as stray dogs, cattle or horses are prone to wander in from nearby fields.
But some things have changed. There’s a new thermal spa by the river, a few hotels and one magnificent hearty Macedonian restaurant — more on that later — while on the edge of town sits Pirin Chalet, an eight-bed home with an outdoor hot tub, cosy fireplace and balcony with views of the nearby mountain range.
Having booked on TripAdvisor Rentals from under £24pppn, we were met by Labrador Jack and Natasha Bamford. She and husband Douglas moved from the UK to Bulgaria 12 years ago to build a dream home, then set up chaletbansko.com and Bamro Property Management to help others rent properties.
Book their family home and they’ll sort everything from airport transfers to restaurant tables. There’s even a welcome hamper of breakfast ingredients and other essentials.
You can reach some runs from Dobrinishte but the best bet is a cheap cab ride into Bansko. Hop on the high-speed gondola and you’re looking down on Bansko in minutes.
The number of runs can’t beat the Alps, but 30 miles of piste is plenty for a weekend, with sections for all abilities, plus a snow park.
The pleasant pine-scented pistes only just stretch above the tree line at a maximum altitude of 8,400ft.
Mountain bars and restaurants are plentiful, with lunch options from slap-up meals to takeaway pizza.
Back at the villa, we all donned our swim shorts for a brisk stroll through town to Alpha Spa & Pool.
Getting there/staying there
Fly from Stansted to Sofia with Ryanair from £14.99pp one-way including one SMALL carry-on (ryanair.com).
Pirin Chalet in Dobrinishte is from £23.63pppn based on eight sharing (tripadvisor.co.uk/rentals).
It’s more outdoor lido than high-end spa but nothing banishes the aches of the slopes like warm water, cold beer and falling snow. For dinner Natasha suggested we try out a mehana, a sort of traditional inn, the best of which was Makedonska Kruchma, or the Macedonian Pub, down the road.
As well as a country next door, Macedonia is a historical region that includes part of Greece and Pirin Madedonia, the south-western corner of Bulgaria that Bansko is in.
The Macedonian Pub is a stone-walled structure built like a fortress. There are deer’s-feet coat hooks and brass kitchenware-covered walls, and meat is cooked on open hearths by your table.
There’s Macedonian folk music and dancing on a Saturday night, while the food is fantastic. Shopska salad, steamed potatoes with garlic and dill, parlenka — a flatbread with cheese, olives or garlic — cuts of hearth-cooked steak and the local spirit, rakia.
Stumbling back to the villa, we were all worn out but raring to do it all again.
Hot tub, rinse and repeat.
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