For years they have been cheap and cheerful, but the next generation of Bulgaria’s resorts are among Europe’s finest.
What country is this? At its top ski resort, prospective property investors check in to the Hotel Kempinski, one of the world’s top brand names. The rooms are Wi-Fi equipped, and there’s a cigar lounge, vitamin bar and spa. Nearby, one of Britain’s most up-market estate agents, Savills, is selling apartments for more than £320,000 each.
In the same country’s most popular coastal area, Obzor on the Black Sea, exclusive interior-design company Yoo has created a spa resort. The 257 apartments are on sale through another top-end British estate agent, Knight Frank, for up to almost £200,000.
Is this Italy? The US? Maybe France? No - it’s Bulgaria. “We feel that Bulgaria is one of the most exciting new frontiers in the property market today,” says John Hitchcox, who, with the French design maestro Philippe Starck, launched Yoo in 1999.
“It took us a while to get into Bulgaria because there were transparency issues over who owned the land. But the country’s made significant leaps in this regard in the past year or two, and the market is ready for the sophisticated kind of product that Yoo is associated with,” says Dominic Hassell of Knight Frank, which is selling the apartments for upwards of £55,000.
British estate agents are at the forefront of transforming the hitherto flaky image of Bulgaria’s property market into a much stronger investment and lifestyle proposition.
“Due diligence - that’s proving the ownership of land and ensuring there are legal deeds when homes are sold - had been a weak point, but we’re introducing British standards,” insists Charles Weston-Baker, head of international sales at Savills.
His company is selling the most expensive new-build properties available in Bulgaria at the country’s premier ski resort, Bansko. St George’s Lodge is a five-star ski and summer leisure complex, with 149 apartmentsranging from £48,500 to £322,000.
The shift in Bulgaria’s reputation has come as a result of high expectations about the country’s accession to the EU last month.
“Our sales in the country quadrupled in 2006 from the previous year,” says Antony Aguado of Our Home Abroad, a British estate agency selling homes in Bulgaria.
“This was no surprise. Many countries over the years have shown dramatic increases upon EU accession,” he says.
Liam Bailey, Knight Frank’s head of residential research, describes Bulgaria as “one of the big winners” in capital appreciation since the millennium. He says: “Slowly you’ll see its properties and amenities going up-market. It’s a place to watch.”