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Post code: 2770
Intl dial code: +359 0749


Lying some 40 km east of the main Struma valley route, Bansko is the main centre for walking and skiing on the eastern slopes of the Pirin mountains. Its a traditional agricultural centre and a growing tourist resort, boasting a wealth of stone-built nineteenth-century farmhouses and a growing number of small, B&B-style hotels. Though connected to Sofia and other towns by bus, Bansko can also be reached by a narrow-gauge railway which leaves the main SofiaPlovdiv line at Septemvri and forges its way across the highlands. Its one of the most scenic trips in the Balkans, but also one of the slowest, taking five hours to cover a distance of just over 100 km.

Bansko centres around the modern pedestrianized pl Nikola Vaptsarov, where the Nikola Vaptsarov Museum (Mon - Fri 8 am6 pm, Sat & Sun 8 am noon & 26 pm) contains a display relating to the local-born poet and socialist martyr, as well as housing a crafts exhibition where you can purchase distinctive local rugs. Immediately north of here, pl Vazrazhdane is watched over by the solid stone tower of the Church of Sveta Troitsa, whose interior contains exquisite nineteenth-century frescos and icons. On the opposite side of the square, the Rilski Convent contains an Icon Museum (Mon-Fri 9 am noon & 25 pm) devoted to the achievements of Banskos nineteenth-century icon painters a school largely centred around the Vienna-educated Toma Vishanov, who, with pupils Dimitar and Simeon Molerov, travelled from village to village decorating local churches.

The easiest way of getting into the Pirin mountains from Bansko is to walk (or take a taxi) west to the Vihren hut (where dorm accommodation is available; £510 / $816), a steep 14 km uphill. This is the main trail-head for hikes towards the 2914 m summit of Mt Vihren (Bulgarias second-highest peak), or gentler rambles around the meadows and lakes nearby.

For eating, there are over forty tavernas offering traditional specialities: Sirleshtova Kashta, Bayrakovata Mehana and Dyado Pene, all grouped around the centre, are among the most atmospheric.

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