Review: Bulgaria's Coworking Bansko
Nestled in the foot of the Pirin Mountains, this co-working space is rapidly becoming one of the most popular in Europe — and one of the world’s best hubs for digital nomad.
COST: As of July 1, 2019, Coworking Bansko is raising their price from €99/$117 USD to €129/$141 USD. Even with that price bump, CWB is still one of the better values around. And it gets even better if you sign up for two or three months, the discount provided making it even more affordable. CWB also offers “landing packages” that include an airport transfer from Sofia, your first month’s rent and co-working membership, a SIM card, and a few other benefits. (Check their website for prices.)
Brent and I did sign up for the landing package, and while the airport transfer was great, the apartment situation wasn’t so hot. We wound up having to move twice due to noise issues, and then a third time when CWB couldn’t find a place that worked for us. But they gave us a partial refund and we wound up getting a very affordable place we really liked. (Okay, we had to move a fourth time when our third place caught on fire. But, hey, travel adventure!)
As for the cost of living in Bulgaria, if you’re coming from North America, Western Europe, or Australia/NZ, you’re probably going to find it remarkably affordable. For $280 USD, we had a pretty fantastic two-bedroom apartment about two kilometers from the co-working space. That didn’t include utilities, which ran about another $15.
Food was also super cheap in Bansko, and much tastier than we’d been led to believe. Eating out for $5 USD per meal was pretty easy. And the cost of drinks? Super affordable. Even better, during the summer, Bansko has a farmer’s market where fresh fruit and veggies are a bargain (and freshly grilled sausage patties aren’t to be missed). Don’t worry, if you miss the farmer’s market; the local fruit and veg stands were just as affordable.
It was pretty easy to eat well in Bulgaria!
AMENITIES: Coworking Bansko has most of the usual amenities: super-fast internet, all the tea and coffee you can drink, printing, kitchens with refrigerators and microwaves, 24/7 access to two locations (up the mountain and down the mountain; more on that later), and there are other add-ons including receiving mail, locker storage, bikes to rent, and a fixed desk if you need one.
What isn’t extra — and this is one of the things we loved about CWB — are ergonomic chairs and large, custom-made desks for digital nomads. Given some of the rickety pieces of junk we’ve had to spend eight hours a day sitting in, the chairs here are awesome.
CWB recently expanded to include a second location up-the-mountain. (Technically, their original location down-the-mountain is two separate spaces, but they’re less than ten meters apart, so I count them as one space. Brent counts them as two, but I’m writing this review and he isn’t.) We haven’t seen the second location, but the original location includes a small outdoor section with a BBQ, two hammocks and long picnic table that made a nice spot to eat lunch.
COMMUNITY: Bansko was our first experience with strictly co-working, as opposed to “co-living” (where you work and live in the same location with the same people). Without the co-living aspect, we were a little worried about feeling isolated at Coworking Bansko.
Turned out to not be a problem. Not only was the CWB community really active, there is a vibrant expat community to plug into as well. Official CWB events included game and movie nights, a weekly BBQ every Friday night in the summer, Mastermind, show-and-tell, and other sorts of networking events. And members were constantly organizing events on their owns — lunches and dinners, trips to other nearby towns, bike rides, and hikes up into the beautiful Pirin Mountains. (If you’re nervy enough, check out the Knife’s Ridge!)
And we have to mention Bansko’s many hot springs and mineral baths. Almost every Thursday, a group from CWB piled into a van for a short drive to the Izgreva Hot Springs to soak for a couple of hours, followed by some delicious food (transportation was $2 USD, entry another $7).
LOCATION: Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is served by most European airlines, which makes it easy to get to. Once you’ve cleared customs and immigration, Bansko is an easy two-hour drive away, and buses regularly make the trip.
Now a word about “up-the-mountain” and “down-the-mountain” — the two parts of Bansko. The town is located in the Razlog Valley at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. In winter, it’s a bustling ski resort, especially “up-the-mountain,” where the ski lift is located. There you’ll find bigger hotels, more “western” restaurants, and shops catering to the European ski crowd. A lot of stuff up here tends to be closed in summer. “Down-the-mountain” is the old town, which is much more oriented toward the locals and non-ski-related tourism, and most everything is open in summer. It’s also where the original CWB is located and was definitely the part of Bansko we liked best.
Old town is oriented around a wonderful public square that is half amphitheater, half-park with lots of benches, grassy spaces to stretch out on and catch some rays , and gorgeous trees. (Just a little farther on is an even bigger park that we loved working out in.) The streets here are mostly cobblestone and one of our favorite things to do was walk along Delchev Street.
Just a few years before, this street had looked more like a junkyard, but now it’s been transformed into a delightful walkway with a burbling stream running through it, spots for kids to play, or to just sit and stare up at the mountains.
In old town, you’ll find the farmer’s market, tons of restaurants with great affordable food (including one with a very surly waitress; no tip for her!), women selling fresh steamed corn (a Bulgarian specialty), crepes, ice cream, and so forth. CWB is less than a five minute walk from here, which made it a great location. Brent and I loved getting sandwiches from next door, and then walking up to the plaza for lunch.
And if you’re looking for a more active life-style, Bansko is definitely for you. There’s a ton of outdoor stuff to do including biking and hiking. The gondola will whisk you up into the heart of the mountains where you can head out for hikes in most every direction. In summer, the gondola will run you about $12 USD. (It’s slightly cheaper if you go one-way.) In winter, its part of your lift-ticket.
Speaking of winter, Bansko is one of the few destinations that pulls in digital nomads when the weather gets cold. We haven’t been there for winter, but we hear the skiing is great, even if the gondola lines are long.
VISAS: For Americans, Bulgaria is a pretty great deal. It’s in Europe, but not part of the pesky Schengen Zone, the bane of all non-EU digital nomads. You get three months on arrival, though extending it is almost impossible.
WEATHER: We arrived in Bansko in the middle of July from southern Italy where the temps were hitting the high thirties. Tucked up in the mountains, Bansko was wonderfully cool, summer highs rarely reaching into the 30sC/80s F. The days were bright and warm, the evenings almost never quite cool enough to need a jacket, but perfect for sleeping. We’re told even in winter, Bansko itself stays pretty moderate because most days are sunny. But we probably won’t be checking it out for ourselves.
So should you come to Coworking Bansko?
BRENT AND MICHAEL SAY: Hell, yeah! Of all of the places we’ve been to so far, CWB is probably our favorite, if just by a nose.