Set scenically at the base of the Pirin Mountains, Bansko has quietly emerged as one of the world’s newest remote working hubs in recent years.
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Arriving in Bansko for the first time, you might feel you’ve been transported back to a simpler age. Storks nest on telegraph poles, gaggles of head-scarved grandmothers gossip beneath apple trees on street corners and Roma on horse-drawn carts whip their steeds along the road. Above the red rooftops, the marble peaks of south-west Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains march over pine-clad slopes, looming over the town and its ski resort like the outstretched wings of a crouching dragon.

But on a warm day earlier this summer, more than 700 entrepreneurs and freelancers packed the cafes of this provincial 10,000-person town in south-west Bulgaria, as languages from Hebrew to Japanese filled the air. Inside a building on the central square, a young German extolled the virtues of a four-hour work week to a packed auditorium, while in the local park hundreds of digital nomads watched their peers speak on topics ranging from AI to networking strategies to health tips. In the evening, a heaving mass of festivalgoers danced and drank into the night at an outdoor bar.

Now in its fourth year, Bansko Nomad Fest has grown from a small gathering into the world’s largest annual celebration of digital nomad life. This week-long jamboree features dozens of live-streamed talks, group dinners and activities such as bonfire parties and rafting, all organised by a small army of volunteers.

Like Bansko's digital nomad population, the Bansko Nomad Fest is growing each year (Credit: Bansko Nomad Fest)

Like Bansko’s digital nomad population, the Bansko Nomad Fest is growing each year (Credit: Bansko Nomad Fest)

Bansko’s growing digital nomad population is at its most visible during the festival, but that’s only half the story. According to online resource Nomad List, the town is the world’s “most-consistently growing remote work hub” of the last five years. Since 2018, it has grown by 231%, more than Warsaw, Madrid and tech media darling Tallinn.

This seems somewhat anomalous: surveys suggest digital nomads generally favour coastal cities (Lisbon, Barcelona), islands and beach destinations (Madeira, the Canaries, Bali). So, why are more and more people heading for a small inland mountain resort in Bulgaria?

The story begins with Matthias Zeitler, a German entrepreneur who came to Bansko in 2016 while researching places to set up a coworking space. Zeitler was attracted by the area’s natural beauty and its practical benefits: fast Wi-Fi, affordable living costs and low taxes – which, at just 10% personal and corporate, are among Europe’s lowest.

“We came here in the summer with a few friends, rented a house and decided this could be a good place for us to have a base,” said Zeitler. In 2016 he opened the town’s first coworking space, Coworking Bansko, which grew rapidly, and in 2020 he launched Bansko Nomad Fest, whose 729 available tickets sold out in 2023.

Bansko's location next to the Pirin National Park is a huge draw (Credit: Alastair Gill)

Bansko’s location next to the Pirin National Park is a huge draw (Credit: Alastair Gill)

Bansko is now home to more than 300 remote workers in any given month, with the population surging during ski season. Although spending the morning on the slopes and being at work by lunchtime is certainly part of the appeal, Bansko ticks other boxes, too. Once the snows melt, the forests, turquoise lakes and rugged peaks of the adjacent Unesco-listed Pirin National Park offer plentiful opportunities for outdoor recreation, from hiking to cycling and horse riding.

“What really sets Bansko apart is how laid-back, friendly, and welcoming the community is here,” said Camille Poire, a French marketing manager who has been coming here with her partner since 2018. “We’re reminded of this every time we come back from our travels and plug back into the Bansko social life.”

The array of social events is bewildering, including salsa classes, dinners, board games, sports, hot springs trips, quizzes and barbecues. Many are open to everyone – digital nomad or not. “When they first show up, lots of people say, ‘Oh, it’s a little bit quiet. I’m not really sure there’s anything going on for me’,” said Becky Bottjer who runs the coworking space Altspace. “Within two or three days, they’re saying ‘I can’t go out anymore. I need to take a day off’.”

“The people of Bansko like this international atmosphere,” said Deputy Mayor Sashka Vuchkova, who explained that the increasing number of foreign and mixed families in the town – including Ukrainian refugees – is creating a multicultural atmosphere in schools. “We have one class in which there are pupils from eight countries. All of them speak Bulgarian, some of them not so well – but they’re kids, they will learn.”

Digital nomads report that for a relatively small town, there's a big social scene in Bansko (Credit: Altspace)

Digital nomads report that for a relatively small town, there’s a big social scene in Bansko (Credit: Altspace)

Some long-term digital nomads are building ties to the local community, such as Dutch-Colombian entrepreneur Jose Fiallo, who runs BanskoLab, a cafe and cultural centre where children can take language classes and educational workshops.

Bansko’s expat community includes plenty of the “crypto bros”, life coaches and wellness gurus for which the digital nomad movement is often mocked. But there are also developers, videographers, stand-up comedians, designers, English teachers, artists, translators and even scientists, representing dozens of nationalities.

As the nomad population grows, the ecosystem is expanding. There are now nine coworking spaces in town, operated by four companies, from the colourful, socially oriented Coworking Bansko to the industrial office spaces operated by Nestwork and the holiday-camp atmosphere of Four Leaf CloverCoLive.

Nestwork, which recently opened a vast second space, is Bansko’s newest coworking space. Bulgarian IT workers Dimitar Durchov and Dimitar Vichev returned from abroad to start the business after spotting a niche for a smart, corporate-style coworking space – “a welcoming place where you feel like home, but not home enough so you’re distracted from work,” said Vichev. As they explained, Bansko isn’t only luring foreign digital nomads – Bulgarians are also taking advantage, decamping from Sofia or even relocating from overseas.

Bansko holds on to its roots, but some locals say they like the increasingly international atmosphere (Credit: Kristina Chernikova/Alamy)

Bansko holds on to its roots, but some locals say they like the increasingly international atmosphere (Credit: Kristina Chernikova/Alamy)

I’d been living in London with my family since I was 12 and thought I’d never live in Bulgaria again,” said Bulgarian-born Vladimir Dimitrov, who moved to Bansko five years ago after realising he could combine online work with snowboarding and mountain biking. “On top of that, the cost of living was much lower, so it was a no-brainer.”

Dimitrov’s case illustrates a growing trend: some nomads enjoy Bansko’s relaxed lifestyle so much that they are putting down roots. Property is cheap by Western standards, and while prices are rising, they remain affordable – a one-bedroom apartment costs €40,000-70,000. (Anyone can buy an apartment in Bulgaria, though only those with residency can buy land.) Monthly rent is also relatively cheap (one-bedroom apartments cost €300-500).

According to Eli Tsoneva a local estate agent at Plus Property, nomads account for around 5% of sales in Bansko, with other foreign investors dominating the market. “Thirty percent of our agency’s buyers are Bulgarian,” she said.

As for Zeitler, he is pursuing his own dream: transforming a vast, abandoned Communist-era hotel in the nearby forest into the ultimate communal residential space for digital nomads. Featuring 200 units, a multi-level lobby, swimming pool, auditorium and panoramic views, the Coliving Semkovo co-operative will be “a community for the community”.

"There's a kind of magic here", one Bansko resident said (Credit: Bansko Nomad Fest)

“There’s a kind of magic here”, one Bansko resident said (Credit: Bansko Nomad Fest)

Coliving Semkovo will be an adult-only space, but Bottjer is already noticing a trend for “digital nomad families” moving to Bansko. “I think that’s going to be the next big thing, especially with the cost of living going up in places like the UK and the US,” she said, adding that once people have experienced life in Bansko, they tend to return.

“There’s a kind of magic here,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but people seem to keep coming back.”

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