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Bulgaria Goes Bling

Source: Will Hide and Mark Frary, The Times
Published Date: 29 Oct 2005

Wonky chairlifts, draughty dormitories and watery beetroot soup? Don't believe it - Bulgaria (well, certain parts of it) will soon be the chic place to winter, giving the likes of St Moritz a ski run for their money.

This month Kempinski, which already operates the Grand Hotel des Bains in St Moritz, opened the 158-room Grand Hotel Arena in Bansko, Bulgaria, where a deluxe double room with breakfast costs GBP 103 a night (almost half the price of a comparable room at the Kempinski in St Moritz). Rooms are wi-fi-equipped, and there is a cigar lounge, a vitamin bar and a spa.

Bansko appeared in the main ski brochures for the first time only a few years ago, so the arrival of Kempinski is adding a touch of style to a country long seen as a bargain destination. The Grand Arena is one of several new hotels opening this winter, helping to boost the resort to a four-star destination.

"Bulgaria has realised that today's traveller is looking for more mod cons, so it is realigning itself with Western Europe," says a spokeswoman for Neilson, the tour operator offering the hotel this winter.

New chairlifts have been installed and though food on the slopes is not up to that on offer in French or Swiss mountain cafes, it is cheap: main dishes cost 4 pounds.