As I pulled the car up outside the Kempinski Grand Arena, Bansko I was greeted with a smile, and an offer to take our bags out of the car. When asked about parking, I was offered a 5 lev a day option. This is summer time and I replied… “Alternatively I can park across the street for free.” The man smiled and agreed. In the ski season, I must add, if you park on Pirin street you will be towed away. Then, like so many others have seen, you’ll need to pay a fine get your car back.
There are times to save money, avoid the tourist traps, experience the deeper things that really matter in life. And there are times for luxury. Times to be pampered. I confess I am an absolutely succour for the upscale, the luxurious, for fine dining and great service. So the famous Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena in Bansko was my target for the first of a new series of Bansko video hotel and restaurant reviews. I’ve been warming up to the Kempinski experience ever since I reviewed their tea. Innovative stuff. But this time I am reviewing the Kempinski junior suite, with mountain view. This room currently costs €268 (via booking.com) for two nights for two persons.
I must add that the Kempinski are a Bansko Blog sponsor. But this fact in no way influences my review here. BB is a no BS zone.
Check In Any Time You Like
Check in is the time when first impressions count, and can set one’s mood for the day. A good start here, including a nice relaxed attitude to producing my ID. “No rush… when it’s convenient, maybe when you come down from your room” Up towards the lift, past the in hotel Max Sport shop (noting the ski fashion and the genuine Banana Moon swim gear for the ladies) and hit the button for the third floor to room 133 – a junior suite. First impressions count and there’s just one chance at these.
Do you browse internet sites, check out the hotel picture gallery, devour the brochures and generally research a hotel or restaurant before trying for the first time? Well I do. All this pre holiday research activity helps build an image. But on arrival the hotel; its rooms, facilities and actual location, can reveal stuff invisible from the internet and brochure photos. In years past, I recall when I organised all inclusive holidays playa blanca, the information was sparse. The capacity for surprise was even greater then.
Let’s Look At The (Video) Evidence
My GoPro Hero HD camera was at the ready to reveal the truth. The video captures my impressions of room 133. You’ll see a large bathroom with both bath and shower, lots of towels and a high quality finish. German quality in the form of decent Grohe taps and neat tiling matched my expectations. The wooden fittings, wardrobes and side tables provide ample storage space. Solid, rather than stylish or elegant. The smart rustic design of the Kempinski seems right for a mountain hotel. The nicely angled roof line makes it arguably my favourite building in Bansko. Small glass bottles of Bankia branded mineral water are provided. A kettle beckoned for “in room” tea and coffee making facilities. However for the life of me, I could not open the packets containing the instant tea and coffee. I could also not find a convenient place to plug the kettle into. A nice glossy Bansko magazine advertising with some articles in English was a nice touch. A Sofia Echo newspaper however could not be located anywhere during my visit. A well stocked mini bar and additional bottles of spirit were available to purchase. A rather vulgar display of these seemed a bit unnecessary. All at a price and added nothing. A reasonable selection of TV channels, good free WiFi and a comfortable seating area made completes the scene. A place that could be lounged in and luxuriated in for a good number of days. A tasty plate of homemade cakes were set out thoughtfully on the in room table. I was far too greedy to leave those for more than a few seconds. Delicious – a nice touch. General room cleanliness and space did not disappoint.
Room Overall: 18/20 It would be difficult to beat the view of the Pirin from the both the room window and the balcony.
Bed Comfort: 19/20 Noteworthy in both the bed comfort, quality of the linen and the huge size was the bed.
Hotel Spa 17/20 Guest routine here seems to be to don the thick dressing gown and slippers and walk to the Spa. I followed the rest. My criticism of the spa is that this journey, well from from room 133, seemed to require drifting across the main reception area. Not ideal. However, it’s all worth it.
A quick tour of the facilities by the smiling receptionist and I was straight into the good sized indoor swimming pool. Then flopped into the outdoor jacuzzi. Things were looking good. Lockers in the changing room and decent showers with a cool swimming costume spin dryer, completed the picture. On day three, the day after Saturday’s 32km Road To Nowhere Mountain Bike rally, I took a massage. Ms Ruskova gave me probably the best massage I have enjoyed for a very long while. Her offer to press hard and deep for a sports massage was just the ticket – my MTB rally exploits were hurting. I emerged relaxed and feeling much better. Even after three weeks since the massage, the tension in the neck and shoulders have not returned.
La Veranda Bar & Lounge 16/20
I have spoken before about La Veranda Bar & Lounge, and still think it offers the best upscale bar experience in Bansko for the summer. Plenty of shade from the parasol and comfortable cushioned seating were making this a popular late morning meeting place. I tried a cool frappe (iced coffee) and this was excellent. However, a disaster came in the form of a a mohito cocktail. Some friends who were joining me for dinner found these almost undrinkable. Naturally they complained. Out came Larry – the Kempinski’s head of food and beverage. He insisted on making the next round himself and I volunteered to try one. These were now very good, but still I would like to see the mint ground up some more. I’m being picky now.
Come Prima Restaurant 3/20 There was a special on the time I was there. A limited choice three course menu for 30 lev. Sounded fair. We all went for this option. A reasonable soup and salad – but not really up to standard. The followed the big let down. My main course pork cutlet was woefully overcooked. Dried out and pointless. The pasta dish had a slightly synthetic taste to it. The pasts was just slightly over cooked. An all too familiar problem here in Bulgaria. Service was actually rather good. Puddings, a sorbet was actually quite okay. Wine prices are on the high side 50 lev for a bottle of Uniqato (from Melnik) was good. A deep rich and heavy wine — not the best choice for a a pre MTB rally evening!
Overall Rating 16/20 The Kempinski, Grand Arena, Bansko provides a genuinely luxurious overall experience, in the prime location next to the gondola lift. Sitting out around the outdoor swimming pools on both the lower spa area and La Veranda area is, for me, a perfect way to spend a lazy summer’s day. Others seem to agree, as there was a slight shortage of loungers. Overall, however, this one of the best places to be. A summer time day spa entry at 30 lev person, this is a great deal for non Kempinski residents. Service and general helpfulness I experienced was consistently good. This was the biggest surprise as my previous experiences had been variable. In particular the time it took to get served on La Veranda Bar & Lounge.
The biggest disappointment was dinner at the Come Prima restaurant. Previously in my top 12 Bansko restaurants, Come Prime needs to deliver every single time for the premium prices charged. Other negatives that need attention is the lacklustre lobby bar – devoid of atmosphere, but at least it is a no smoking zone. If this lobby bar space was made more of a destination venue, then I think the success with La Veranda could be repeated here. This is probably a consistency issue, as my last visit in February would rate a 14/20.
Finally, a special note of the Kempinski buffet breakfast. I have to say I normally loathe buffets of all types. You know the scene… some overweight lump heaping enough food on their plate to feed Bulgaria for a day. But the Kempinski breakfast is just simply wonderful. Some really nice local produce, no smoking and excellent service with a smile. All tastes catered for — from full English breakfast to light yoghurts, muselis, cereals and so on. Not forgetting some really fresh breads and croissants, cakes and first rate jams, honeys to go with them.
When I was there the weather was just sufficiently warm to enable breakfast to be had outside. I chose not to go for this option so as to avoid any possibility of second hand smoke from an outdoor breakfast smoker.
What do you think of the Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena, Bansko? Have you been there? How do you rate your stay? Please add your review in the comments below.