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High End Tourism on the Coast

The Financial Times has reported that Bulgaria and the Black Sea are providing luxury coastal resorts, offering retreat and relaxation to a new wave of locals and internationals tourists alike. Bulgaria's Black Sea shoreline once marked the country's eastern border. Under communism, the coastal waters were effectively barred to all but licensed fishermen and small boats from officially approved clubs.Twenty years on, the secluded coastline is acquiring a special allure for the global super-rich hoping to escape the sometimes unwelcome attention they attract elsewhereon Europe's crowded beaches.


Kavarna, the northernmost town along Bulgaria's 380km stretch of Black Sea coastline, is one place where they have found a welcome retreat, says Tsonko Tsonev, mayor. Rock star Alice Cooper and members of Manowar, the heavy metal band, were seen in Kavarna recovering from marathon gigs at the Kaliakra rock festival in July. Members of the Bulgarian ex-royal family, the Saxe-Coburgs and friends, are regular visitors and so is Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, who owns a seaside resort in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is keen to encourage this trend and exploit the coastline's potential for high-end tourism, overcoming the country's image as a provider of cheap apartments for beach and ski holidays.

Only a handful of foreigners have berths in Bulgarian marinas so far, but several hundred foreign yachts called in at Black Sea ports this summer - though numbers fell in the wake of the Georgian crisis. "We get people cruising in from the Aegean for a few days to take a look," Mr Kaloianov said.

They are following in the wake of Bulgaria's new rich, who are moving their sailing boats and motor-yachts out of the Aegean to cruise in home waters. Boyko Aleksandrov, an interior designer from Sofia, says he used to keep his 13-metre sailing boat at Kavalla in northern Greece because of the lack of modern facilities in Bulgaria. But this summer he found a berth at a new luxury coastal resort. "My business partner convinced me I should make the move," Mr Aleksandrov says. "I was surprised to find a small but growing number of Bulgarians and foreigners chartering boats for a Black Sea cruise."

After several years of economic growth - above 6 per cent yearly - a new class of entrepreneurs can afford a motor or sailing yacht, says Petko Bachiyski, co-founder of Yachting, a company that imports yachts and provides crews and maintenance for owners.

Bulgaria's European Union accession in 2007 has also helped open the market. The value of new yachts sold in Bulgaria doubled last year to about EUR70m. Most were small power-boats built in Italy, Mr Bachiyski says. "People buy off the shelf because they don't want to wait a year or more for a new boat to be built," he says.

"There was so much demand this year that we chartered a small commercial freighter, filled it with new boats and sold them direct from our warehouse."

Bulgaria has only one private marina with capacity for about 350 yachts in a bay south of Varna, a large commercial port. But another half-dozen private marinas are set for construction, mostly near small fishing ports.

Meanwhile, summer anchorages are available in secluded bays or off traditional fishing ports such as Balchik, Nessebar and Sozopol. It takes about a day to sail south to Turkey and navigate the crowded Bosphorus to reach Istanbul.