A Guide to Bulgaria

Shaking off its image of unappealing Communist uniformity, Bulgaria has flung its arms wide open to visitors and is now emerging as a hot destination for British tourists and property purchasers. With stunning beaches and the largest unspoilt mountain ranges in south east Europe there is plenty of appeal for visitors – not least of all the price. Compared to more traditional Mediterranean destinations such as Spain and Greece, prices for food and drink in Bulgaria are an absolute bargain!

Country Profile
Capital City: Sofia
Area: 110,019 sq km / 42,822 sq miles
Population: 7,358,000
Time Zone: GMT +2
Country dialing code: 359
Currency: Bulgarian Leva (Lv)

Bulgaria has a typically Mediterranean climate with dry hot summers averaging in the low 30Cs. Winters tend to be cold with plenty of snowfall, especially at high altitudes – great for skiing enthusiasts.

Country highlights
Sofia the capital consists of a contrasting mix of architecture, from the beautiful 20th century Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (a symbol of the city) to less inspiring post World War II blocks.  Rising above Sofia is the Vitosha Mountain, the most visited in Bulgaria.  The known resort of Aleki is a popular destination for skiers looking to stay within easy reach of the capital. The Black Sea Coast is increasing in popularity as people discover the delights of its golden sandy beaches and established infrastructure for tourism.

In September 2005 Wizz Air, one of the world's newest low cost airlines, began thrice-weekly flights to Sofia from Luton airport, offering return prices from as little as £40 per person (albeit via an indirect route).  There are also a number of new routes that have started to service Bulgaria.  Bulgarian Air has started twice weekly flights from Manchester to Sofia, in addition to their routes from Gatwick to Sofia and Varna.  British Airways is adding to its Bulgarian timetable with a twice weekly flight from Gatwick to Varna starting early 2006, which will run alongside its existing services to Sofia from both Gatwick and Heathrow.

Permanent Move
Over the last decade Bulgaria has taken huge steps in stabilizing its economy and extinguishing the remnants of its communist past.  The strides Bulgaria has taken have been so large that the country is set for accession to the European Union in 2007.  This will make it much easier for anybody intending to make their Bulgarian property their permanent home. At present holders of a UK passport do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 30 days within each period of six months.  To move permanently you will need a type D long-stay visa, which you must apply for through the Bulgarian embassy.  The type D visa is for single entry only, valid for up to 6 months – it is issued to people who intend to apply for a long-term or even a residence permit in Bulgaria.

Buying Property
Bulgaria has firmly established itself as one of, if not the major, emerging property market in Eastern Europe, mainly thanks to one key point – it is cheap, very cheap.  Another of its main advantages over some other countries in the eastern tracts of Europe is that its infrastructure was already well geared for tourism before Brits became interested in the country.  This is especially true along the Black Sea coast – once the established summer holiday destination for residents from countries in the Eastern Bloc.  The coast is now very popular with buyers looking for an investment property – either capital appreciation, or rental, or a holiday home.

Bulgaria's coastal properties are not the only ones in the property spotlight.  Its capital, Sofia, and the ski resorts located in the country's mountainous west, have also attracted considerable attention, with Sofia viewed as an ROI destination, and the ski properties catering to investors and second-home seekers.  With the country due for EU accession in 2007, interest is likely to grow rather than subside.

Make sure you don't deliberate for too long though!  Property prices across Bulgaria are on the up, rising a massive 31 per cent last year and it's predicted that this trend will continue for a few years and then slow down.  While this may affect your ROI potential, with more tourists annually discovering the delights of Bulgaria's coastal and ski resorts and with a chance that the country will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is unlikely that buyers will be sort of rental clientele for some time!

Destination Hot Spots

The Black Sea Coast
With a climate similar to northern Spain and golden sandy beaches aplenty, the Black Sea coast is a popular destination with holiday makers and property buyers alike. Property prices along the coast have increased rapidly over the past 12 months and continue to do so. However, 65,000 euros will still be enough for a one-bedroom apartment on the coastal strip of Sunny Beach, less in less popular resorts.

Bulgaria's capital is where those with an eye on making a profit will undoubtedly find themselves drawn. New one-bedroom apartments can be bought from 55,000 euros, while on the city's outskirts, prices are closer to 20,000 euros. However, the cost of Sofian apartments are almost certain to rocket in the coming year, as the country moves closer to joining the EU.

Ski Resorts
About 30 per cent of Bulgaria's territory is occupied by mountain areas. Of these, the Rhodope, Rila and Pirin mountain ranges all offer fantastic ski resorts between October and March, one of which could be in the running to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Prices of apartments in Bulgaria's ski resorts vary from between 40,000 euros for one bedroom, to 75,000 for two bedrooms. Look out for the area of Bansko, which is increasingly popular with British ski enthusiasts.

The country's second biggest city behind Sofia, Plovdiv has slowly started to generate a trickle of interest with British buyers. Property prices are still extremely cheap. A two-bedroom house could cost as little as 15,000 euros, although rental potential is still limited.

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Guide to Bulgaria

Shaking off its image of unappealing Communist uniformity, Bulgaria has flung its arms wide open to visitors and is now emerging as a hot destination for British tourists and property...
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