80 kilometers south of Plovdiv in the scenic Chepelarska Valley, Chepelare
is Bulgaria's highest-situated town. Wedged into a narrow valley at
an elevation of 1,140 meters, the picture-postcard locale claims to
have the cleanest air as well as the highest number (300) of sunny
days in the country. Yet despite all that sunshine, enough precipitation
falls to provide the area with plenty of snow.
has a noticeably spiffier look than its Rhodopean neighbors, as evidenced
by the modern new pensions and renovated former state hotels sprouting
along the steep spruce-covered slopes that rise above town. This prosperity
is largely due to spill-over business from nearby Pamporovo, one of
Bulgaria's two main international ski resorts The 3,000 residents
of Chepelare are noticeably friendlier and more eager to please than
at tourist-hardened Pamporovo. While most winter and summer visitors
to the region opt to stay at Pamporovo, which is a purpose-built resort,
Chepelare offers an authentic Rhodopean, as well as a less-expensive,
has its own ski area, Mechi Chall (Bear Peak), located at the outskirts
of town. A double chairlift to the 1,820-meter summit accesses two
runs (one advanced, the other intermediate).The summit of Mechi Chall
is more than 200 meters higher than Pamporovo's Snezhanka peak and
the 720-vertical meter drop is nearly twice as great. Winter hours
are 8:30-4pm closed Mondays; an all day adult lift ticket is $8; summer
hours depend on demand. Chepelare has Bulgaria's only ski factory,
which turns out some 15,000 pairs a year for domestic and international
customers. The town also boasts a Speleology Museum. Set inside a
cave, the museum is the only one of its kind in the Balkans .
The international ski resort of Pamporovo is eight kilometers up
the valley, with a host of large hotels and all the expected amenities.
The nightlife there is non-stop. Narechenski Bani is a major spa resort
which utilizes slightly radioactive mineral water (31 degree celsius)
to treat intestinal and metabolic ailments.