In the Pirin Mountains storms eclipse sunshine in a matter of moments – apt for a region named after ancient Slavic thunder god Perun. This land of giants, with more than 100 peaks surpassing 2000m in height, is greatly admired by hikers. But it’s ski hub Bansko, Bulgaria’s best developed winter-sports resort, that truly draws crowds.
From Bansko’s southern edge spreads Pirin National Park (Unesco-listed in 1983), where 176 lakes glint among 400 sq km of fragrant pine forests and granite peaks. Fang-toothed predators make their home here – bears, wolves and jackals – but hikers are more likely to spot the park’s abundant birdlife: wall-creepers, peregrine falcons and four types of woodpecker number among 170 species seen here.
West of the park, along the well-maintained route E79 running south from Sofia, lies pleasant student town Blagoevgrad; further south, encircled by dramatic sandstone towers, is wine-producing tourist favourite Melnik.