When is Bansko at it’s best?

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When is Bansko at it’s best?

The simple answer is from the 20th of December to the 20th of April and then the 20th of June to the 20th of September.

The complicated answer is much longer. Bansko has huge appeal all year round. There are a few hundred foreigners who are now living here full time because there is so much more to our little mountain village than the two peak seasons. For those of us who live here the changing seasons just mean a change of activities!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Winter!

I came to Bansko to ski, Alpine, Backcountry, Touring and Telemark. Back then (2003!) I really wasn’t interested in much else. Winter meant fun and fun meant strapping on some skis and hitting the white stuff.

The Resort opens Around the middle of December and closes around the beginning of April. Some years there is enough snow for Bansko to be skiable on the 1st of December and close on the 20th of April. If you are thinking of doing a season here aim for Christmas to Easter.

During the winter season there are a fair few variations in the flow of JOY! Peak periods like New Year and the Feb half term holidays can be just awful. We’ve seen queues that would make you weep. For those of us that live here there is always a work round, drive up to Chalin and ski there, ski tour into the Backcountry or even just take a few days off to rest the bones.

The other side of the coin is the moments that mass tourism forgot. The back end of Feb? Not a soul! March? What, March, when it snows and snows and snows and no one is here. Yes March!! In a good year April can be epic, this year May was Epic. This year I was even skiing in June!

If you are here for the winter, Stay a little longer, go touring , go to Dobrinishtay earn some turns and ski some great spring lines. When is Bansko at it’s best? If I was coming to visit I’d be here from  Mid December to the 1st of May!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Summer

A bit like the winter the summer months have their moments. Some years Spring hangs around in Greece for way to long. This year winter refused to leave. Normally Summer  proper starts around the middle of June and rolls on and on well into October with warm dry days back to back. The only real exception to that rule is the middle of the Jazz fest. For some reasone there is normally one massive storm in the second week of August!.

there are some events in the summer that you really shouldn’t miss. The jazz fest, Opera fest and a few other musical and cinematic wonders. Unlike the winter the resort really can handel these crowds and no matter how busy Bansko gets it is always a joy in the summer.

When is Bansko at it’s best? In the Summer it is probably best for most people to be here between the 15th of June and the 1st of October.

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? All the time!

So why do we all live here? Why the hell do we live here all the time? Bansko has something to offer , something awesome, every month of the year.

My year is an ebb and flow of what gear am I using now. The basic quiver of gear matches this ebb and flow beautifully! There are alpine skis, there are Telemark skis, Big Bad Powder skis and Touring skis. The CycloCross Bike, The Mountain Bike. The Big Boy Mountain boots, The Mountain Boots, The Approach Shoes and  those hellishly tight tools of torture called climbing shoes.

At the start of the winter when the piste is ideal for  Alpine skis and the Telemarks. When it properly snows the powder skis come out then it’s back to the Telemarks and Alpines until the next dump.

Once the season starts to wind down and the tourists are heading home. We head into the hills with the Touring gear. Pirin is amazing for touring. With few people in the hill, we have access to face after face of creamy spring goodness.

Spring means one of three things, sunny days are for touring or rock climbing. Cloudy days are for Biking. The trails around Bansko are ideal for Enduro, Mountain Biking and Cyclocross. From the middle of April to the middle of June we just mix it up.

From Mid June it is unlikely that the skis are coming out again so the mix is now full summer mix. Hiking, Climbing and Biking. The flow is from big watherproof mountain boots that you can attach a crampon to super lightweight hiking trainers back to big boots! June and July you can still expect some patches of snow in the hills. ByJuly and August you are unliekly to get your feet wet, September and October it is getting cold again so the big boots come out again. All the while we just mix it up on the bikes and the climbing crags!

By November and December the climbing is over, and it is getting too cold for biking. I tend to spend these months doing less than the rest of the year. Fully geared up it is still a joy to go into the hills but it is harder when you have to carry so much gear. There is a bills like no other to be found in the high mountains at this time of year. The world is holding it’s breath.The silence is almost deafening compared to the clamour of Spring. The gods are close and the soul soars over the empty valleys and barren peaks.

The wheel turns and the seasons come and go. Every one of them has it’s own joy and so we stay.

When is Bansko at it’s best? Bansko is always at it’s best!

 

 

 

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need when you are off into the Backcountry

Freeride Backpack

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need!

I LOVE POW! We all love pow! To be honest Pow is what it is all about. Sick lines in fresh snow are just flipping awesome. There is a long learning curve you need to nail to really enjoy baccountry skiing/boarding. There are skills to be honed, fitness to be built up. Don’t forget the whole KBYG thing, safety, risk assesment, avalananche awareness courses blah blah blah. There is a butt load of info to be aquired before you head out into the POW!

To save you some time, effort and lessons here is what I should normally take as a Freeride Backpack.  I say should and normally a little shamefully. I have been know to go out with no bateries in my transciever, an empty water bottle, no gloves no food , even an empty backpack. None of us are perfect and I am less perfect than most. The list is what I would take if I remembered and what you should take as a minimum.

26 years I’ve been at this so hopefully by now I’ve got it about right.There is other stuff, like parapet rope, crampons and axes that I sometimes take but only for special reasons. This is my everyday carry for a day freeriding. I hope it helps!

Clothing

A few choice items of spare clothing are a must in every Freeride Backpack. The weather can turn quickly in the mountains. We often go from a long hard run, to standing around waiting and having some spare layers makes a lovely difference.

Ortovox Swisswool Piz Cartas Vest

O.K. this really isn’t cheap, well north of a hundred euros for a vest is a little bit silly. But we have to do out bit. Mountain sports wear is environmentally a disaster, the whole industry is shamefully polluting so I try to do my bit. Ortovox, Picture and Patagonia are all pretty green so I buy from them and pay the price.

This vest is awesome, lined with the wool of some special, happy, loved, European sheep. It keeps you warm and wicks away moisture beautifully!

York Beanie and Buff

The weather can change, you can end up hanging around whatever the reason it is always nice to have a beanie and a spare BUFF in your bag! BUFF are versatile, warm and have some cool patterns. Picture are eco-friendly and painfully cooooool!

Hestra Gloves

You will think me mad now but experience has really taught me that you need 4 pairs of gloves! Hands can suffer really fast in low winter temps and fingers fall off easily. Spare gloves are an essential: –

1) The gloves on your hands that you are skiing in

2) A spare pair of similar gloves to your everyday ones in case you drop one, rip one, get yours wet or a friend needs a pair.

3) Thick glove liners if it suddenly gets windy or cold thick wind stopper liners are brilliant, also can be used as reserve gloves if someone n your group has a problem.

4) Silk gloves. I am obsessed with these little beauties. So thin you don’t even know you are wearing them and increase you finger warmth by 100%. I promise you if you buy a pair, you will thank me for ever.

Hestra are a company beyond any other, I LOVE THEM! Gear that lasts for years and looks cool and does the job better than you hoped for. GO HESTRA!

Glacier Sunglasses

Opinion is divided on these. Are we going for the cool bearded explorer look or are we just a wally? I’m on the bearded explorer side of the debate but I fear I might be in the minority.

Fashion debates aside Category 4 lens glacier glasses are a must. If you are hiking for an extended period in the snow goggles just don’t work. They are hot and fog up in seconds. Glacier glasses on the other hand are perfectly designed for the job. With lenses that are so dark you aren’t allowed to drive in them, they protect your eyes from glare beautifully. Those silly/awesome little leather blinkers also keep the glare from the sides of your eyes.

Hardware

There are some basic bits you will need in your Freeride BackPack. If anyone doesn’t have this minimum amount of kit do not ride with them. They are either stupid, ignorant, suicidal or an egotistical psychopath. Whatever the reason for them to be without this BASIC level of safety equipment don’t ride with them.

  • A Backpack,
  • Shovel and Probe
  • Transceiver

Deuter Freerider Lite 25 Backpack

I’ve tried a lot of brands at a lot of different prices and this little beauty is just right. Not too expensice, not too cheap, loads of space and really well designed. It has a huge top pocket for easy access for snacks , cigarettes and maps. inside appears to be way bigger than the 25l advertised and it carries skis perfectly

Ortovox probe and Shovel.

Good quality gear not made in china. Up to the job and somewhere in the middle of the price range. I use K2 at the moment as you can see in the picture. I got them for a stupidly low price as part of a set with the bag included. If I had to replace them now, I would go Ortovox.

BCA Tracker2 Avalanche Transceiver

This is probably your most important piece of hardware. I wont bang on about transceivers and mortality rates as it’s boring. Simply put this 300 euro bit of kit could, will and very often does save lives. Learn how to use it, practice a few times a year.

It also has the added bonus that wearing one instantly makes you the sexiest guy in the room. Babes will throw themselves at you if they catch a glimpse of one so for the sake of modesty wear it under your jacket!

Hardware II

Optional extras in the metalwork category really depend on what you are up to. I keep the below in my Freeride BackPack  because, well why not! The touring crampons are super light and take up no space, a head torch just in case, water because I am fat and sweaty and the finest sun creams on earth because I’m ginger!

Sigg Aluminium traveller water bottle 1L.

I have had my Sigg water bottle since 1995. It has been on thousands of days of adventures and even though it is battered and bruised it is still in perfect working order.

Piz Buin sun cream.

Basically, I am allergic to the sun. Like a vampire I catch fire as soon as the clouds clear. I am ginger but I do have a soul so I use the blue Piz Buin. Mountain sun cream and it actually works. Great for the lips and skin it’s a little bit expensive but well worth the money.

Dynafit speed crampon

Lightweight and as grippy a a honey badger’s claw. A great little back up when you are touring and encounter ice.

Black Diamond Icon 700

It looks like over kill but when you are coming home late or going out early a head torch is a god send. On the heavy side but still not so heavy that you notice, the Black Diamond icon has a ridiculous 700 lumins that basically turns night into day!

Medical kit

I have played with what goes into the medical kit for years and I am still not 100% sure what I need to I have 3 layers in there. :-

  • A basic medical kit
  • Survival Kit

Basic Medical Kit

Buy one from any out door shop these little packs have pretty much everything you might need. Don’t think too much just grab one off the shelf and chuck it in your bag.

Survival Kit

This is what I have collected over the years as much as this is apropriate for a Freeride BackPack it is also useful for summer treking. Many adventures/disasters have taught me the vital importance of these little extras. The whole of the list below only weighs a few hundred grams but can make a massive difference when you are in a pickle.

A small piece of bicycle tyre stuffed with cotton wool that has been rubbed in Vaseline. With this you can start a fire out of anything. Fire means warmth and smoke so you can be warm and cosy while the smoke leads help to you.

Serious pain killers. The strongest you can get your hands on. A hefty does of poppies really helps when you are hurt.

Some Prussik cord. Thin heavy duty climbing cord has a million and one uses in a pinch.

A knife, something tough and sharp. I love an Opinel knife or something similar. Spend a bit extra if you want but Opinel are spot on.

Flint and steel, with a bit of practice you can start a fire easily with one of these and they don’t mind getting wet.

Compass and a Map….

Iodine, yes it stings and dyes your skin brown but it kills everything, it even works on drinking water if you can stomach the taste!

Tampax are wonderfully absorbent and expand. They make great wound dressings especially if it is a puncture wound.

Zink oxide tape is great for making splints, fixing kit and covering blisters. It’s the gaffa tape of the medical world. If you are damaged zinc oxide tape will probably be able to fix it for a while.

Space blanket. Looks like tin foil keeps you warm as toast and weighs nothing. A total no brainer. Every medical kit should have one.

Freeride Backpack

Covid-19

coronavirus-information

Covid-19

Running your own business is one of the greatest adventures in this life. Hundreds of layers of complexity merge together into this one perfect dance of success. From the outside it all looks so easy on the inside it is like juggling chainsaws!

Just like juggling chainsaws it is amazingly satisfying, happy guests, happy staff a steady income, a little glory from a job well done. It’s awesome!

Covid has thrown a few new challenges into the mix, limited capacity, limited numbers of guests travelling, restrictions and new rules really add a little spice to the game!

We have come up with a plan! Hopefully it will be acceptable to our guests.

Social distancing.

The bar and restaurant will work with 50% occupancy, there’s lots of space so we ask guests to spread out.

Testing

All our team will have appropriate and regular Covid blood and PCR tests.

Lock Down

If one of us gets a positive test we will close the Restaurant and Bar. Our guests are more important than our profit.

Take Away

Depending on the local situation with numbers of covid cases/hospital occupancy, available testing capacity etc. We will run the restaurant as take away only.

These are not the laws of the land, these are our choices. If we appear stricter than the country allows it is because we care. I would rather make a little less money than make problems for our guests. I hope you all understand if we cancel an event it is because we love you guys and want to keep you safe.

 

 

 

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains 2017

 

Most people think of Bansko as purely a winter resort. Don’t get me wrong I love the winter months from Christmas to Easter I am one seriously happy bunny. The winter is just 3 or 4  months, for me the other 8 months of the year have their own unique charm. Summer in the Mountains is a really special time for me. The spring rains and the relentless gardening that they cause soon pass and then the 6 months of summer kick in.img_20170724_164004_240

If you red back through my blog you will see that I’ve been pottering, climbing, biking and generally exploring Pirin in the summer for nearly 15 years now. It will come as a bit of a surprise to you to find that I have barely scratched the surface. The main trails I know like the back of my hand. The secondary routes also pretty perfectly. Those unmarked trails  that look like a slight discolouration in the grass? Yup I know pretty much all of them too. The goat paths that always seem to lead to the top are my stomping grounds. Occasionally, more rarely now, the climbing routes get revisited.img_20170724_164843_455

This summer I heard of a new hut built in the south east corner of Pirin. This is an area I knew nothing about and the idea to explore really excited me. The most eastern ridge of Pirin runs almost exactly north to south. We planned to hike the ridge from Bez Bog hut to it’s end and then drop down to the hut.  Dylan is bigger and stronger these days so he came along. There is also now a really cool group of ex pats who love a good potter in the hills so we managed to get together a really nice group for the expedition.img_20170731_165002_354

Leading groups in the mountains is a dark art and I am not good at it. Distances change depending on weather, group size, style of walking, number of breaks, and soooo many other different variables. I normally get it wrong. My best f**k up was what I considered a 7 hour walk becoming a 14 hour walk ! So I was prepared for some issues. I had counted for 6 hours walking to the new hut. It was closer to 9 by the time we had had a picnic, swim, chat or two and sadly for poor Dylan a thousand and one breaks for him to rest!

Children in the mountains are a very un-quantifiable variable. Now the little man is a beast, we walk a lot, he does a load of sport and frankly he is a tough little man. When he is tired you just feed him and he carries on. Unfortunately even this didn’t work and for the last mile I had to carry him. A good lesson for Daddy and after some pasta and sauce a happy child. I would suggest if you are taking children into the hills halve the distance you think they can walk unless you are willing to carry them!img_20170702_193847_830

The second day was a bit of an adventure. New country is always hard to navigate and the endless forests that make up the eastern marches of Pirin are littered with trails and by ways that feel right but are very wrong. After a few hours we met a shepherd who told us we were on the right path if we were going to Greece but way off if we were going to Breznitsa! Herding his flock in front he took us on an hour yomp through the woods and set us on the right road. Again another long long day. Dylan ran out of steam when we got to tarmac so we hitched a lift down to the village.

Pirin is much much bigger than you imagine looking up from Bansko. 15 summers and I think  have covered only 80% of the trails and about the same amount of the peaks. Pirin is an ideal place for a Summer in the Mountains there are plenty of lake walks and easy trails. A project I am working on to bring more tourists to Bansko for a Summer in the Mountains is what I am calling the Davies. It is similar in concept to the Munro’s in Scotland.img_20170702_193757_380

Pirin Davies

If you are looking for a challenge during your Summer in the Mountains why not try bagging all the peaks in Pirin. The Pirin Davies challenge was thought up by my friend and mentor Di Davies, that’s why I’ve named the game after him. There are 89 peaks in Pirin over 2500m. Some are easy like Bez Bog which you could hike in under 3 hours others are epic multi day yomps like the Kamenitsa Begovitsa chain 7 peaks in a day but it takes 3 days in total. We think you could do them all in 10 weeks if you took it slow 6 if you pushed hard. All the peaks are doable without ropes on their traditional routes but some are a little bit hairy with scrambling and traversing steep unstable faces.img_20170702_194026_538

There are plenty of guides who would be willing to help if you need support on some of the trickier routes our friends at Summer Bansko are more than willing to point you in the right direction. The most south easterly and North westerly peaks would probably be best accesses with a tent so you can sleep at the peak and hike back the next day. Both get you 6 peaks in two days so there is some value in sleeping out for sunset and dawn!

I’m almost there with bagging all the peaks only 12 more to go and hopefully by this time next year we will have a lovely little web page with route guides and medals for anyone who bags them all.img_20170706_153142_549

 Annapurna Base Camp

I’m not a mountain guide! I failed my U.K. mountain leader qualification due to a technicality! However I do take people into the hills both summer and winter and some very special people to the Himalaya or Arctic. Guiding is an awesome responsibility that I normally leave to the professionals. The few times I have led groups in Pirin, Nepal, Greenland and off piste in the winter it always reminds me how amazing real professional mountain guides are!20171020_080819

This year I was planning my last trip to the Himalaya and mentioned it to a few of our regulars. Before long we had a group of 6 people interested and last week I came back from trekking with them to Annapurna Base Camp. The trek itself is one of the best in Nepal, at its quickest you can be in and out in 6 days starting from Jungle and passing through every variation of alpine until you get to  Base camp perched on a shelf above a huge glacier! 20171023_081901For me the Himalaya are a home from home the slow transition of landscape travelled though at walking pace, curry three times a day endless cups of tea and cigarettes friendly faces and beautiful places really appeal to me. What strikes me most about these trips is the human element and this trip was extraordinary for that. I had my usual team of Sulu Kumbu Sherpa. With Bihre leading and Sonam looking after the back of the group. This year a new guy came along called Kadgi, he’s been up Everest a few times and was a lovely addition to the team. The group were unbelievable, by far and away the funniest and fun people I have ever had the pleasure to hike with. Every day was full of laughter and banter even some of the harder days did not phase them. I will never forget this year, giggling like children over endless games of Uno teaching Daphne to swear like a navvy in her oh so lovely french accent . Trying to work out the probabilities of Yahtzee ( and failing dismally), the beautiful Chalet accommodation and the  snow at altitude. All in all an amazing trip made all the more amazing for the team.

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Summer in the Mountains

Once again Bansko and Nepal have made my Summer in the Mountains incredible. I’ve clocked god knows how many meters of altitude gain and miles of trail. Days and days of pottering new routes and new summits. As ever the views have been incredible and the experiences awesome. What has really struck me this year is the human contact. In the mountains you are away from the phone the computer and suddenly you are thrown into this old fashioned thing of actually meeting new people and talking to them, listening to them, enjoying their company. I’m not the most sociable of people outside work, as being friendly is my job but his year has been remarkable for the number of truly lovely people I’ve met in the hills.20171023_081901

If you are in Bansko in the summer go up, have a look. There appears to be an ars***le filter on the national park, you’ll only meet lovely people up there!!!

 

 

Summer in the mountains.

Dylan and Daddy in the hills!

 

img_20170731_165002_354This has been our first proper summer in the mountains. I’ve taken Dylan for a few trips each year for the last two years but nothing too crazy. We had an over nighter at Sinanitsa, a scramble with a little bit of rope with Di and a plenty of jollies. I started this summer with my best foot forward and haven’t really looked back.

 

Trekking in Pirin is a really hard game to explain. For each person who goes into our hills it means a totally different thing. If we make a scale of 1 to 5 to rate mountain nut nuts it’ll be a bit easier to understand.img_20170724_164401_150

 

 

Level One:-

Here is the The Man, 175 kilos of serious mountain man. He likes to walk from his car to a BBQ spot in the woods, the 100m stroll builds up an appetite. Gallons of beer will be strategically placed in the stream with a watermelon or two. Planning is essential as keeping beer cold and chilling a 10 kg melon is slow and difficult work. There are hundreds of dedicated BBQ spots. Most people have a favourite and will loyally go back to the same one week after week. The truly dedicate will spent a few years, possibly generations, building a villa but the principal is the same. Benches and tables hewn from whole trees, shade of some sort and a water source provide the supporting roles to the main star which is the fire pit. Pirin BBQ’s are not like your big green egg or Weber.  A U shaped pit of rocks cemented together make the frame. An intricate balancing act gets the grill in place over the roaring flames. Use of a flattish igneous rock as the grill and a roaring fire to heat it makes for an interesting fried/baked/smoked cooking style. This is proper cave man stuff none of your fancy metal grills here please. Just a bloody great rock heated up and slabs of meat slapped on top.img_20170706_153142_560

 

Pork fat, is crisped, peppers roasted, onions fried and maybe some other vegetable might be induced to show up. The real star of the show is the pork. No fancy marinades here, you use your favourite butcher and he’ll knock out a selection of different sausages, meat balls and spiced steaks of different cuts of pork ( neck is a personal favourite). This mountain of artery hardening goodness will be cooked to perfection by The Man and washed down  with gallons of cold beer. A ridiculously huge salad of home grown tomatoes and cucumbers will hint at vitamins. A few hours later in a meat coma under a tree our hero will be snoring happily.img_20170702_194026_538

 

Level 2:-

DFS, Down From Sofia. No one is from Sofia, not really. Sofiantsy are all recent immigrants to the big city. At most a generation ago they were all villagers and more likely only a couple of years ago. So Friday night means half of Sofia gets in the car and heads to the mountains. These guys are earning money so the clothes are nice and the trainers are nicer. They will eat in restaurants and HIKE! They split into two distinct categories. There are the jeans, t shirt and white trainers brigade and the everything from Decathlon brigade. These guys love the mountains! They will be up at the Rila seven lakes one weekend and Vihren the next. Limited in experience and stamina they will still spend most weekends exploring the main tourist routes in Bulgaria, scattering litter along the path all day and tucking into the local beers all night. Fun people who love spending time in the mountains these guys will be mountaineers soon!

 

img_20170706_153142_555Level 3:-

Trekkers , a truly international bunch. These guys can be from anywhere. Sofia, London, Buenos Aires , Paris or Milan. They’ve heard about how wild and hospitable Pirin is and they are here on an adventure. These guys can’t lie on a beach they will spend their whole summer in the mountains. Determined to be happy, super fit and willing to rough it in the hills they tend to respect the mountain more than most and LOVE what Pirin has to offer. Normally in town for a week hiking from hut to hut and then soaking in hot springs on their last day before heading home these easy going guys really get it!

 

Level 4:-img_20170702_193847_830

Summit baggers. Not all of this little group of nutters are interested in summits but they’ve got a goal and they are on a mission to get it. It could be all about climbing every mountain in Bulgaria or the Balkans, maybe its some epic adventure from Sofia to Greece. these guys are on one. Big packs and even bigger muscles, tales of insanely long routes, huge mountains and wild places that are beyond belief !

 

limg_20170724_164843_455evel 5:-

Mountaineers! There aren’t so many of these rare beasts in Bansko but  you can spot a few. Normally on north faces of something ridiculous  tooled up to the max with ropes and metal work. Leaving civilisation hours before dawn winter or summer these nutters will be hanging on by their fingernails to some hair raising  cliff before the rest of us have even had breakfast.

 

So where do I fit into this crowd? I’ve played at being a mountaineer and to be honest I’m lacking in the bucket loads of manliness needed to join them. I’ve played at bagging summits and still do from time to time. Long distance walks and multi day trips are still fun but I’ll only really do that a couple of times a year. Playing at being The Man is also pretty cool once or twice a year. I’m pretty partial to pork products and cold beer. But I think the truth of it is I like the playing most of all. National Park Pirin is , for me, a giant play ground. Now for Dylan as well.img_20170625_144915_068

 

We started our summer in the mountains together with an amazing group of ex pats. A crazily long trip to the wildest corner of Pirin. The south east corner of Pirin is visited by a few locals, hunters, trials bikers and the odd shepherd but otherwise is just a wilderness for the beasties. Last year the National Park built a hut about as far from anywhere as you could imagine so we decided to visit. It’s just a simple little bunk house for 8 people set in a meadow laced with crystal clear streams. A lovely little spot other than the clouds of mosquitoes! Getting there was a little harder than expected. I think it took us close on 16 hours over the two days to get from Bez Bog to Breznitsa and everyone was a little pooped by the end. I only had to carry Dylan for the last kilometre on the first day so he was a bit of a hero really.

 

img_20170724_164004_240I learnt my lesson so our next trip was a lot more child friendly. Bez Bog to Tevno hut and then on the second day Tevno to Damianitsa hut. We swam in lakes we had picnics. I had an afternoon nap and all in all it was a near perfect weekend. Telling bedtime stories under the stars and walking hand in hand through alpine meadows are experiences I hope he will never forget.Our next trip I plan to camp on a peak somewhere, then maybe the week after by a lake. I love this way of spending time in Pirin. Seeing the mountains through a child’s eyes is enlightening and walking at a child’s pace a real pleasure. Soon our summer in the mountains will be over and I will start testing myself against the high peaks and long trails again but for now I’m kind of loving the gentle life!img_20170625_145236_216

Bread and Jam

Bread and JamBread and Jam

Bread and Jam

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I really care about what I eat, it’s really important to me. Great flavours, textures and smells get me going, so much so that some might say I’m a couple of pounds over weight! But when it comes to our guests it matters even more. Not only do I want to offer the best we can but more and more people are caring about what they eat and really appreciate quality food.

Bansko is still trapped in the grip of the seasons. Yes you can by strawberries in Feb. but they are massively overpriced and no one locally would dream of buying them. The local way, the seasonal way is the old fashioned way, when there is a glut of fruit or veg it gets preserved, dried, pickled of fermented! So mid September we got hold of some raspberries, added a little sugar left them overnight and then slowly boiled them up the next day. 240 jars of jam later we serve it for breakfast. Local raspberries and sugar, nothing else, unless you count time and love. Just fruit and sugar and it is lovely.

I’ve been on a course to make bread and this summer I have been practicing, flour, salt and water. A little time and love to get the flour fermenting and with nearly a thousand loaves made in the last 9 months I reckon I have nearly got the perfect loaf! I make 100% whole meal, two types of seeded rye, brown and white loaves.

Bread and Jam, so simple and so often ruined by the supermarkets, are such a treat when home made! I hope you guys enjoy them as much as we do!

 

 

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

 

After our little adventure on the north face of Vihren I decided that the time had come to learn to rock climb. There are some things in life that are best learnt in the heat of the moment. Climbing with all its reliance on knots and technique and fatal consequences is not one of them.

I love Alpine style mountaineering and Trad climbing lightweight climbs on unknown routes leaving no trace that you were ever there. The independence of having everything you need on your back  the freedom that comes from being able to look after yourself no matter what. A rope, a stove, some gear and a good waterproof sleeping bag is nearly all you need in life. Add to that someone you trust and can get on with no matter what and life clarifies into a simple chain of pre ordained events and their responses. I have spent many happy years of my life riding this clear chain of thought and to be honest I love it. Questions answer themselves, life’s great mystery condenses  into a kind of enlightened clarity.

All good in principle but the lesson from Kuloara is that there are some technical skills needed as well. So last weekend we went off to Peshteritay to hone some skills. Peshteritay is a cave just outside Bansko next to the ski road, in the winter you’ll pass it on your way back from a days skiing. There is a little restaurant there that offers some great local food and hospitality at properly local prices.

Rock climbing in Bansko is a pretty hairy game, as most of the big mountain rock is cast limestone. If you imagine concrete that has not been mixed properly you will have a good idea of what this rubbish is. At Peshteritay there is some lovely rock, stable and with lots of great big holds. Mountain rescue and some local enthusiasts have fixed bolts onto the rock here so it is safe and easy to attach protection. Vania, Dylan, the nannies and I have been practising here for a month now. Vania and Dylan are now very very good, I am still struggling to master hauling so much weight around but hey we are having fun! If you want to go and try it out I really recommend George and his tear at INTERSPORT

climbing centre walltopia sofia

climbing centre walltopia sofia

As the family have taken so well to Rock climbing in Bansko we recently spent a weekend in Sofia at some indoor climbing walls. Bulgaria is the world leader when it comes to indoor climbing thanks to a company called WALLTOPIA we went to one of their newest ventures called boulderland.  A truely amazing experience, Vania it turns out is a natural rock climber, at moments she was hanging upside down efortlessly moving over the walls like a gecko. I on the other hand am still struggling to move the 110kg!

 

 

Bansko Sour Cherry Cosmopolitan

Summer fruit in Bansko

Bansko Sour Cherry, image thanks to www.tremendus-fruit.com

Bansko Sour cherry ideal for a Cosmopolitan.

You can’t rush things especially if it involves alcohol or food. The joy of our cocktail nights here at the Avalon is that they involve both. In my garden we have a young, healthy and very fecund sour cherry tree  we harvest the  fruit in July and turn it into a syrup for our Cosmopolitans in the winter. Each year we normally make around a hundred small bottles of concentrated syrup that we then dilute like Ribena at home or use neat in our Cosmos at the hotel. The Avalon Cosmopolitan uses this juice/syrup instead of cranberry juice to create one of the best cocktails I have ever tasted.

This year my life has been a little hectic with politics, cycling and trips back and forth around Europe so we called in some friends to help us bring in the harvest. In the end we really didn’t need all 6 of them as this summer has been really wet and a lot of the fruit rotted on the tree before it ripened. What we did get is now bubbling away in the kitchen, ready to be bottled and stored for the next 6 months until it gets unleashed on our guests in the winter.

Sour cherries make a great cordial.   The sour flavour of the fruit works brilliantly with vodka and triple sec and makes what I think is the perfect Cosmopolitan . 

Recipe:-

40ml Good quality export strength Vodka, I recommend Stolichnya Crystal but Savoy works!

40ml Triple sec, please don’t substitute Grand Marnier as it is too sweet you want a good quality dry orange liquor .

20ml lemon juice.

60ml sour cherry syrup.

Shaken with as much ice as you can get in the cocktail mixer and the lemon peel if you feel like it. Serve straight up in a frozen coupe or at least chill the coupe by filling it with ice and leaving it to chill while you make the drink .  Shake until frost appears on the outside of the shaker, drink and make merry!

 

The little world of Don Camillo

The little world of Don Camillo doesn’t seem to have got across the channel . On the continent it has been a huge part of peoples lives for nearly 70 years. I was introduced to the books by The Old Man and a very strange choice it was to suggest to a teenager. The stories have stuck with me for life, I have read and reread them over and over and love the characters like members of an extended dysfunctional family.

The little world is somewhere in the flat misty plains of the Po river in northern Italy, that agricultural land that gave us Parmesan, risotto, Balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta. Lush fertile land breeds a type of hardened man that knows, through graft he will succeed the Po valley is such a land. miles and miles of flat green fields, soil as black as tar, bordered by the Alps far to the north and the Apennines to the south, the food and wine, the people and the climate have interested me since I first stepped into the little world through the books of Giovannino Guaresch.

December the 26th 2013 is Avalon’s 10th Birthday and as we can’t really take a holiday right at the beginning of the season I decided to take Vania and Dylan on a trip overland through the little world of Don Camillo, the drive from Bansko to Igoumenitsa in Greece was a bit of a pain but once we were on the ferry things slowed down to a more manageable pace. 3 hours a day of driving followed by lunch and a lazy walk around whichever town we ended up in.

I wont bore you too much with details of meals eaten and wine drunk castles visited and views seen but there are some details that really stand out. The first place we stopped was just outside Modena a small nothingish little village with one bar and a couple of hotels, the main square was an exact replica of how I imagined the village of Don Camillo, arcades, a huge church tower and the whole village packed into the one barrestaurant, young and old alike eating and drinking. The food was incredible! Just a pizza and a risotto to share between the three of us but wow what a rissotto, plump white rice in the creamiest starchy sauce, flavoured with nothing more than a hint of Rosemary and Balsamic. As the evening wore on the background music changed to techno for half an hour to get rid of the olds and then back to chilled house for the rest of the night to make the place more of a bar than restaurant.

The next 14 days carried on in much the same vein, France and Italy really blow the mind when it comes to living well, we stopped a few times at motorway services to have lunch and even there you will find a better steak than anything in Bulgaria and a selection of hot cooked food that would baffle the average British motorist. The pace of life on the continent really is lovely, lots of muddling around talking rubbish, drinking coffee and making lunch a proper sit down meal rather than a rushed sandwich at the desk. Compared with the hectic 10 days we had in the U.K. our two weeks on the road were snail like!

Back in Bansko we have been plugging away at getting the hotel ready while the town hall plugs away at smashing everything up before the season starts. Sadly I do understand why our Dumb Mayor Georgi Ikonomov  has decided to attack the town with a buldozer but none of the reasons are publishable here due to worries about prosecution! 3 out of 6 of the main roads into Bansko are now shut due to building works, 1/4 of town has been without water for the student holiday which supposedly brought 11000 tourists to Bansko for the weekend. The whole area around the gondola station has been smashed to pieces in a frenzy of destruction. All this just in time for the start of the season. Obviously none of this could have been done in May, June, July, August, September or even October. I now fully understand why the leader of Ikonomov’s party refers to him as “Our Dumb Mayor from Bansko” and recently at a party meeting trying to find something nice to say about him suggested he wasn’t too bad at watering the lawns!

The Davies, Route 8

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The Davies, Route 8

Dzhangal#87

Djangal#87 Option 1

 

The Davies, Route 8 has two options. Djangal ( I prefer this spelling!) is a mighty peak made of great rock and has over a dozen routes to the summit. We think two should be enough for here!

The Davies, Route 8. Option 1.  Starting at Bez Bog Hut via Popovo lake , Djangal Summit return to Bez Bog Hut, 6 hours. As another reletively easy introductory journey in the Davies Djangal is a very impressive peak. Which somehow to me has the feel of a real mountain. This trip should allow you to return to Bez Bog for a well earned drink by the lakeside before having to catch the ( unreasonably early) last lift back down to civilisation! Please npote the times of the last lift as the walk down can be unpleasant. ( normally last lift is 16:30)img_20130801_121822

head out from Bez Bog hutalong the very well worn path to Popovo Lake. Popovo is an ideal spot to rest and gaze up at what lies in sotre. Seemingly inpregnable, surrounded as it is by a band of rock , Djangal does have some weaknesses in its protective wall. As you look up from the lake there is a very large chock stone wedged in a small gully. It looks like there is a cave below the chock stone. This gully can be climbed on the right hand side but does involve a couple of climbing moves.djangal1

The “path” goes throught this main rock band to the left of thius gully, and can be seen from below as a left and then right tracking fault. Head up towards the chock stone. Turn left towards the break that becomes more obvious as you approach.  Go up, first left and then right through interesting ground to get above the chock stone. The trail continues up pleasantly tracking right along the fault. As the terrain allows the trail straightens out.

After 150m of ascent you will enter a circus or bowl shaped landscape that sits beneath the north face of Djangal. Head due south to find a poorly marked zig zag path which heads up and then across the north face. The path becomes well defined and crosses an exposed section. Take care here. A few minutes later and you emerge onto the spectacular summit . Very definately a sunmmit on which to linger!

Descend the steep and stoney  South South East ridge path. Passthe first large pinacle on the east side. A sharp notch in the ridge line marks a descent route downto the Kraveshki (Momini) Lakes. This route is often marked with a cairn (pile of stones).  If this route feels too steep continue around on the east side of the ridge. At the col between Djangal and Momin Dvor there is another descent path that is somewhat easier. This also leads to the lakes. At the lakes you will join the Popovo lake to Tevno hut trail. Follow this trail back down to Popovo lake and Bez Bog hut.djangal2

Djangal#87 Option 2

The Davies, Route 8. Damianitsa hut or Bez Bog hut to Djangalska Porta, Descent as for Option 1 to Bez bog hut or as described below to Damianitsa hut.

Djangal is such a dramatic peak when viewed from the west that Di thought a route from this side would appeal to serious mountain walkers. It includes some very steep vegitated slopes  and a few scrambling moves in exposed positions. The difficulties are short lived and the rewards long lasting.  We would recommend a short length of confidence inspiring rope if you are of nervous disposition.

Starting from Djangalsk Porta allows an approach from either Bez Bog hut or Damianitsa hut.  The route itself starts a little down on the west side of the porta. There is an obvious cairn (pile of rocks) and a yellow route marker near by.  There is no path other than one or two route marker stones left by previous adventurers.

djangal3From the cairn follow the contour round for about 100m in a south easterly direction. You will find a notch in the rock above the klek. Contour round for another 150m to another obvious notch between two boulders. Continue round leaving a very green patch below you. Above you now towers the very impressive rocky west face of Djangal.  To the left ( north west) of the first very large pinicle is a smaller spike of rock with two angular ear-like protusions. Head up very steep ground towards this spike. Little gullies appear either side of this spike and both can be used . Di has climbed both gullies and thinks the right hand side is a little bit easier.  You will find 3 meters of the route difficult scrambling which  brings you out onto the magnificent north ridge.

The north ridge is a viable option for the summit attempt but does involve proper climbing moves and equipment. Once you are on the ridge make your way south over and around large boulders heading for the steep north face of the actual summit . Head straight up this steep vegitated slope aiming just right ( west) of the summit. Scramble through some large blocks to emerge on the summit.djangal4

Descent to Bez Bog hut as described in Option 1 or if you are heading to Damianitsa descent the south east ridge. Below and beyond the first pinicle head noth west aiming for a point just east of the first pair of lakes. The first part of the descent is hard work and requires care over loose boulders. The going soon improves and quickly you will reach the lakes. climb a few meters up and around the grassy knoll and head west then north west until you meet the main trail down to Damianitsa. This trail is marked with yellow and white trail markers.