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The Independent Travel
In a season when many British skiers are going to find existence in an Alpine ski resort painfully expensive because of the continuing slide of the pound against the Austrian, French and Swiss currencies, the question of where to ski on the cheap assumes wider importance.

Anyone who keeps an eye on exchange rates (or who studies brochure prices ) will be aware that Italy, in contrast, has become cheaper. But there is no doubt that for rock-bottom prices, you need to head east.

Bulgaria and Romania have a worthwhile edge over other budget destinations - on average, a one-week package in a three-star hotel is likely to be pounds 60 to pounds 90 cheaper than Andorra or a cheap Italian resort. But it's the on-the-spot prices that are strikingly low. Lift passes in eastern Europe work out at around pounds 50 to pounds 60 a week, against pounds 80 to pounds 90 in Italy and pounds 100 to pounds 140 elsewhere in the Alps. Ski school, too, is cheaper than elsewhere - although precise comparison is complicated by variations in hours of tuition. Equipment hire, curiously, is not cheaper than in a cheap Italian resort.

Day-to-day incidental expenses are low, too; but not as low as they once were - it appears that locals have realised they can jack up prices without losing business. This is particularly true in apres-ski bars and nightclubs. You may find beer at 50p a bottle, but it's more likely to be pounds 1 to pounds 2.

Apart from prices, there is another factor at work: there isn't a lot to spend your money on. Mountain restaurants are best viewed as pit stops for rehydration and sustenance: the range of food is limited and the quality low, though many visitors seem to find the appallingly primitive loos the main drawback. Apres-ski expenditure is likely to be limited to straightforward drinks. Ruinous early-evening tours of patisseries and clothes shops are not a problem.

The most popular resorts are Poiana Brasov in Romania and Borovets and Pamporovo in Bulgaria. None offers very extensive or difficult skiing, none offers much to do other than ski, and all rely heavily on low cost to attract custom from the West; but there are differences between them.

Poiana Brasov consists of hotels dotted around a spacious wooded plateau, and little else. The ski area is very limited, and the lifts hardly adequate, even in low season (weekend queues are serious). But the locals are friendly, and tuition is good.

Borovets is similar, but has more of a village feel, partly because there are bars and restaurants dotted around - there is quite a lot of apres-ski action. The ski area is eastern Europe's biggest, although with only 40km of piste it is smaller than practically any area you will find in the Alps; and it is almost all of intermediate difficulty.

Pamporovo is smaller, quieter and less commercialised. Its ski area is about half the size, and practically all easy.

Eastern Europe sounds a good bet for family holidays. Some of the resorts, too, suit people with small children; the nursery at Borovets' Hotel Rila gets good reports. Far outweighing these considerations, to my mind, is the sad fact that medical facilities in Bulgaria and Romania are as primitive as the restaurants and the loos. I personally wouldn't want to expose my kids to the risk of being hospitalised in Brasov.

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