Every time my friend Johnny Karloff looks at something written about Borovets, he’s freaking out. “Look at those fools. What is it with them to write the same crap over and over again? Borovets is the oldest Bulgarian ski resort, right? So what? When you go skiing, you want a vintage 1948 chairlift hanging from a rusty wire? Borovets is located in virgin pine forests and the air is healthy and pollution-free.” Johnny keeps making fun of some hotel flyer. “You better, with all the cigarette smoke and alcohol in your system, you don’t want to inhale tailpipe exhaust walking back to your new ski apartment at 2 am, right?”
Unlike Bansko, Borovets is not an old Bulgarian town showcasing its new ski resort and real estate investment ambitions. Numerous new developments and ski condos are being built as we speak, but everything is more sparse and subdued. And there are the old bourgeois villas from the time it was called Chamkoria, the time when Simeon’s father Boris and his grandfather Ferdinand ran a place called the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Sometimes hard to find, these mountain chalets, tucked away among the towering pines, feature cozy private apartments, sunny porches graced by beautifully sculpted porticoes. And then, unmistakably to the trained eye, voilà… the palaces of today’s rich Bulgaria. Minimalistic simplicity is not his thing. Some of their owners did not live long enough to raise children and grandchildren among the balustraded terraces tastefully adorned with golden lions and gargoyles. The fatality rate tends to be high among palace owners, shot on purpose or by accident. Bad luck? Borovets guidebooks have no clue on the subject. (Click here for the map of Borovets)
Borovets is an hour’s drive from Sofia Airport on a well-maintained two-lane road that follows the Iskar River for the most part. Then you enter the vast potato landscape of the Samokov Plain. There is little to see in Samokov except for the old Bairakli Mosque. It is a jewel built in the 15th century during the Ottoman times and rebuilt in the 19th century by local craftsmen. The exterior and interiors are luxuriously decorated following the architectural tradition of the time, with a spiral minaret pointing to the sky. Looking around that marvelous structure, one can’t help but feel regret for the city’s past glory. It seems the wild Ottoman era hit a high point and from there it all went downhill for the local builders: ugly disfigured five-story concrete buildings, peeling paint, cubical nightmare of inhuman proportions.
Drive 10 km up into the Rila mountains and there is Borovets. Above the tree line or deep in the pine forests, winter or summer, on foot or on skis, the scenery is majestic. There is a gondola that takes you almost to the top and a speedy quad chair to the lower slopes. The 20-minute gondola ride is worth it even for non-skiers. The view from the Yastrebets peak where you get off is really impressive. This is the exit of several ski slopes called Markudjik, which offer various levels of difficulty, from beginner to advanced. Experts can try the Yastrebets race which takes them back to the station but on the west side where they can use another new and fast quad chair. When the gondola was built in the 80s, it had two major drawbacks, the waiting line and the wind. Since the top of the mountain is often exposed to strong winds, the gondola has to be closed and skiers have no choice but to opt for the second best, lower slopes. However, when the weather conditions are good, you can still find waiting lines up to 200m long outside the gondola station, at least in the morning.
That’s where some deep-pocketed real estate investors are coming in. Two months ago, a UK investment fund announced a partnership with the municipality of Samokov to revive the Super Borovets project after the death of one of its early promoters, the banker Kyulev (shot dead in Sofia last year). The development of Super Borovets is actually an ambitious plan to drastically change the face of old Chamkoria. 80 km of new ski slopes and up to three new cable cars will serve skiers and mountain lovers. The property market is on the rise and Borovets, with its quick access to Sofia airport, will give Bansko a run for its money. Still, developers will need to focus on improving services in the off-season to increase occupancy rates.
Borovets may also become Sofia’s favorite weekend playground when the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is completed and the spa and wellness centers around the mineral hot springs of Dolna Bania and Pchelin receive a decent facelift.