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Bargains In Bulgaria

Not so long ago, the very idea of taking a holiday in Bulgaria would have seemed far-fetched. Buying a home there would have certainly meant you received strange looks in the street.

Yet the former Eastern Bloc country has gained popularity to such an extent that tourist numbers have soared and it is now seen as not only a good place to invest in property, but somewhere to live. Property is cheap, the climate is good and the beaches and mountains offer a spectacular backdrop.

Visitors are often shocked to discover that Bulgaria, once a favoured holiday haven of people from the Soviet Union, has 137 miles of Black Sea beaches and more than 130 peaks over 2,000m (6,560 ft) high. The country is an excellent destination for those who enjoy skiing and hillwalking.

If there is a time to invest, it is now. Bulgaria is due to join the European Union in 2007 and the slow pace of economic development will undoubtedly begin to quicken. Currently, it is one of Europe’s poorest states - Gross Domestic Product per head of population is less than a third of the EU’s average - but the Bulgarian economy is growing faster than just about anywhere else.

Slow development has meant low prices for those savvy to the charms of Bulgaria. A three-course meal for two with wine can cost as little as Ј6 or Ј7 and a pint of beer can be drunk for around 50p.

Mark Schubert, co-founder of one of Bulgaria’s top real estate brokers,, says: "What’s happening here is what happened in Spain around 20 years ago.

"You can still buy beach front property for 20 (roughly Ј14) a square metre on the Black Sea, but prices now also range up into the millions."

Schubert, whose firm sells around 100 houses to Britons a month, says small houses about an hour from the sea can be had for under Ј15,000 - although another Ј3,000 plus is often necessary to install indoor plumbing and a kitchen. Alternatively there are new developments springing up where a brand new fully fitted apartment in the upmarket Bansko ski resort can be had for as little as Ј23,000.

Although the prices may seem modest, they are a boon for many Bulgarians who - stranded in rural areas after a collapse of industry during the last decade - are eager to move into cities to find work or live closer to their families.

The Bulgarian embassy in London says it is flooded with dozens of calls a day from Britons searching for information on how to buy property, and the number of long-term visas it has issued has jumped 100 per cent over the last year.

John and Lita Bailey, recently-retired teachers from Kent, came on holiday to Bulgaria a year ago and bought two houses for a total of less than Ј10,000.

They were drawn by the sunny weather and the rugged charm of their village, where indoor plumbing is rare and neighbours keep animals and grow most of their own food. Like most newcomers, they have been astounded at how friendly people are. "We’ve had dinner in a different house every night this week," laughs John. "But, of course, a neighbour translates for the time being."