The Pirin Mountains take their name from the Slavic thunder god who was said to have lived on Mt. Vihren, the highest summit of the range. It is a fitting title, for these mountains are the wildest and most rugged of all the Bulgarian mountain ranges. The northern ridge close to Bansko has a truly alpine form with jagged peaks, sharp crests and numerous glacially sculpted cirques and valleys. The mountain range is dotted with long distant footpaths and allows for a complete north-south traverse from the Predel pass to the village of Petrovo at the foot of the Slavyanka Planina. The whole traverse should take about a fortnight but should not be taken lightly.
Save the Pirin Campaign. The massive scale of development at Bankso has not gone without some controversy. In 2001 the National Movement of Simeon the II (NMSII) government was alleged by other political parties and by some environmental groups to have granted building concessions of part of the National park to firms owned by party members. In 2007 a coalition of environmental groups formed a campaign called Save the Pirin. They alleged flouting of building permits, and corruption amongst local and national officials all of which was resulting in a significant threat to local wildlife and nature. Even local farmers were being warned, they said, to avoid bringing out their herds into pasture to stay away from the tourists. Buying in Bansko may contribute to significant environmental damage so pick your development carefully.
The most impressive side of Bansko are the preserved traditions and the spirit of the old quarter with its stone houses and traditional Bulgarian restaurants (mehanas). In every restaurant you one can taste excellent local cuisine and famous red wine and listen to the traditional folklore music which accompanies almost every event and social gathering.
There was a fair degree of anticipation that Bansko along with Sofia and Borovets were candidate cities for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Despite not being short listed in June 2006, the it is likely that the resort will be subject of further bids for international sporting events.
Winters are cold with heavy snowfall in the mountains with average January temperatures of 23°F (-5°C) in the valleys and ski resorts, and up to -4°F (-20°C) on the high peaks. Snow cover usually lasts for five or six months (December to April) on the north slopes of higher mountains and is over 1.5 m deep. Summer temperatures vary from 57 to 66°F (14 to 19°C) in the high mountains.
There are seemingly endless new and off-plan developments to choose from of varying quality and location. Generally the most expensive – but hard to find – are in the old town centre. The closer you are to the new lifts, generally the higher the prices. Despite the construction underway some commentators think that over development will not happen since the local authority have stopped issuing building permits. However with a large number of developments in the pipeline any investor is advised to check carefully the proposed town plan and where their development will be located within this. Agents predict that around 300 further buildings will be built to the end 2007 although some are under construction now some are not.
The town of Razlog is an old Thracian settlement. According to legend a Thracian leader defeated his enemy there. In honour of this victory he named the settlement established here “MOE MIYA” that means “my victory “in Thracian. Visiting the town you have the opportunity to look around the buildings of Revival architecture. The old town houses, the beautiful green parks and the views of Pirin and Rila create a unique feeling. The churches, the old houses and the mill of the Yiazo River are part of the many places of interest.
The city of Blagoevgrad is a combination of traditional and modern architecture. The old houses in the Varosha quarter present the best traditions of National Revival architecture. This is the abode of artists and crafts-people; here children can study modern arts and traditional folklore. Blagoevgrad is also the home of the American University – ironically now situated in the former Communist Party Headquarters. Might be worth a try for Ex-pats looking for work if you have teaching skills and a PhD.
South Pirin is where one can find the smallest town in Bulgaria - Melnik (pop. 267). It nestles in the exquisite draperies of the Melnik sandstone 'pyramids' - a natural phenomenon and protected site. Sandstone is the best environment for the production and maturing of the world-famous Melnik red wine (Winston Churchill’s favourite red wine). It is also the perfect scenery for the whitewashed museum houses preserved from the 18-19th century. The 'pyramids' keep evidence of the rich history of the area. There are the remains of many medieval buildings and churches in the town itself, and the fortress of the local ruler Alexi Slav, dating from the early 13th century on the Sveti Nikola Hill close by.