Bit Of A Tourist Trap But...
Bansko's immediate town centre must have the highest concentration of restaurants anywhere in Bulgaria, every second building seems to be one (with the in-between places being tourist shops). For the local residents this doesn't create a problem for the simple fact that nobody actually lives there.
This makes the town pretty to look at and the standard of street paving is the best I've encountered anywhere in the Country. It does however lend the place a feel of sterility which is especially apparent in the early (ish) morning whilst the tourists are still tucked away in their hotel rooms.
As the day progresses the narrow streets swell with visitors strolling, gawping and taking pics (yep me included) whilst the sporty crowd don their designer skiwear and head for the pistes.
In the evening the place does develop a sort of character, albeit still a touristy one, as the restaurants' neon signs light up, the chargrills and barbeques add their meaty taint to the already woodsmoke-charged mountain air and the strains of traditional instruments (both live and recorded) emanate from the doorways and courtyards.
Whilst there is a glut of restaurants, there's not actually that much obvious variety - they all claim to be Mehanas with variations of "Truly Ethnic", "Traditional", "Local Specialities", "Authentic Bulgarian" and etc. The menus, on first reading, all seem to offer the same familiar dishes that I've found elsewhere in Bulgaria. There are subtle differences though and the three restaurants that I ate in all had their own little unique touches - for instance the "Black Pudding" at Pri Yafata; the Sirene-filled, sesame topped, flatbread at Chevermeto and the rather tasty waitress at Dedo Pene (ooops! - I meant the tasty main course of "Banska Kapama" at Dedo Pene).
This isn't the cheapest place in Bulgaria to eat out (generally about twice as much as I was used to paying) but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the food (and the wine and the beer and the rakiya) and despite being there for the weekend, when everywhere was busy, busy, I found the service in all three restaurants absolutely excellent and friendly with it too.
Bansko is located on a plateau 925 metres in elevation at the foot of Bulgaria's second highest mountain range, the Pirin Mountains, whose peak, Virhen, reaches 2,914 metres.
The town seems to have a bit of a shady history having suddenly emerged as an artisanal and trade centre towards the middle of the 19th century. Anecdotal evidence suggests that its metamorphosis from a sleepy mountain backwater to a relatively wealthy township may have been due to the fact that the Ottoman authorities had effectively forgotten its existence. Thus it attracted tradesmen and merchants who were able to go about their business without such hassles as taxation and regulation.
Whatever the true story by the time of the National Revival it was certainly a prosperous settlement boasting some magnificent houses and its "Saint Trinity" Church was the largest in Bulgaria until the building of Sofia's "Alexander Nevski" Cathedral.
"...And Definitely A Resort For The Skiers"
Somehow Bansko managed to maintain an aloof position during the region's political and nationalistic shifts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only reappearing on the map during the Second World War when the Germans decided to complete the narrow gauge railway joining the town to the rest of the country via the junction at Septemvri. It's not clear why the Germans thought this was a worthwhile investment as the town itself isn't on a strategic route to anywhere - so maybe they were just being forward thinking and had seen the potential for development as a ski resort?
A ski resort is indeed what modern Bansko has become. The Pirin Mountains were pretty much a local secret until the early 2000's being only accessible using country roads. Since then an estimated 100 million Euros has been invested in facilities including a fast gondola transit system to the slopes, chair lifts and drag lifts as well as snow-making canons to extend the season and floodlighting to allow night skiing. 150 hotels with over 10,000 rooms, at prices to suit all budgets, have been constructed along with restaurants, bars, ski equipment shops and hire places, and all the other touristy bits of infrastructure.