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A Tale of Two Villages

Five years ago most Bulgarian villagers farmed their small tracts of land using traditional methods, grew all of their own food, raised livestock for domestic consumption and lived in run down cottages without double glazing, central heating or indoor bathrooms. Today, the property boom has had a positive effect on village life by enabling many people to release capital long tied up in land and property that previously nobody wanted to buy. Westerners came in unprecedented numbers and started to build luxurious villas or renovate and extend existing buildings to a standard previously believed impossible. They cleaned up the streets that they live on, put in roads and often set up village shops, bars and restaurants employing the local population, many of whom were unable to find work before the construction boom started.

Today many villagers across the country have reaped the benefits of foreign investment and have started to renovate their homes and set up their own businesses, whilst their municipalities improve the roads and general infrastructure. Certain villages have found that their location has turned them into something of an attraction and what were once sleepy hollows with populations of less than 500 have turned into desirable locations with a host of lavish amenities.

Bulgaria’s Beverly Hills

Set on a hillside overlooking the Black Sea, the tiny village of Rogachevo has seen an extraordinary amount of development making it one of Bulgaria's most exclusive coastal locations. Set between the mountains and the sea, the combination of the two geographical zones gives the village extraordinarily clean air, which makes it a healthy place to live. In addition to this, its hillside location means it is sheltered from the winter elements and has more sunny days than other nearby areas. It lays 5 kms and 8 kms respectively from the beach resorts of Albena and Golden Sands, is a 15 minute drive to three Black Sea golf courses and is only 25 minutes away from the cosmopolitan city of Varna. There are rumours that in the future, Rogachevo too will have its own golf course.

The village, which ten years ago housed a few stone-built properties now consists of endless opulent villas belonging not only to foreign investors, but to wealthy Bulgarians. Not surprisingly, property and land prices have increased rapidly; land costs around 55 Euros per square metre and you would be lucky to find a western build property here for under 125,000 Euros with many costing in excess of 200,000.

New developments here do not consist of small villa complexes by independent builders; the largest construction site at the moment covers a 13,000 sq. m. site and is the project of AIM listed Bulgarian Land Development PLC. The company, which also has large ongoing projects in Sofia, Borovets and Balchik, raised £40 million in stock listed capital to finance the builds and count companies like Henderson Global Investors, Jupiter Asset Management and the Union Bank of Switzerland as major shareholders. Their development in Rogachevo is called Harmony Hills and consists of 180 apartments and 23 high end villas enclosed in a resort complex setting with bars, restaurants, swimming pools, a gym and a wellness centre. The development, which will be completed in spring, is located on former agricultural land, just outside of the old village and borders a beautiful pine forest and vine plantations. The complex recently won the Homes Overseas Magazines gold awards for “Best House” and “Best Affordable Development”.

There are two other significant large scale projects in Rogachevo, again built on the outskirts of the village close to the Harmony Hills project. Ecostar, part of the Bulgarian owned Ecoproject company are constructing a holiday village on 15,000 sq. m. of land, comprising of 34 villas with shared area, a restaurant, swimming pools, a fitness center, and a playground. Once this project is complete the company will go on the build two more adjoining complexes.


 

Bulgaria’s Alpine Wonderland

Madjare, a scenic village close to Borovets has seen an explosion of developers particularly over the last year. The village lies in a stunning pine valley alongside the River Iskar. This tranquil village is only 50 minutes from the capital and a mere 10 minutes from Bulgaria’s largest ski resort Borovets. The Super Borovets Project, which will receive 300 million Euros to improve and expand the resort and its surrounding areas; Beli Iskar close to Madjare will benefit from a brand new lift system which will transport skiers into the Rila Mountains. The village itself is set to get its own lift system as part of the project enabling residents and visitors to travel from their front door right into the heart of Super Borovets. By 2009, Madjare will look very different to the way it does today and tourism here will flourish as the area starts to attract year-round visitors with the construction of hiking trails for walkers, horse riding and mountain biking as well as the marketing of hunting and fishing. In nearby Borovets and Samokov, golf courses are being constructed which again will enhance tourism in the area.

Award winning construction company Zoldi Ltd has several projects in the village. The company was set up in 1990 with a simple strategy in mind, “to choose sites of natural beauty which can be sympathetically developed to a high standard of build and finish.” The company has offices in Bulgaria and the UK and development projects in Borovets and on the Black Sea coast. The company is responsible for many stylish complexes in Madjare. The latest, Trout Creek, offers outstanding designs in an exclusive setting overlooking the pine forests. Trout Creek benefits from infrastructure created from the company’s earlier projects, namely, Iskar Chalets, Pine Ridge and The Bear. Such was the success of these projects that Pine Ridge was sold out on completion. Zoldi’s developments offer ski facilities, gyms, shops and restaurants as well as an inexpensive shuttle bus into the centre of Borovets during the ski season. Zoldi also have other construction.

Zoldi’s developments are not the only ones changing the face of Madjare. The Riverside Development is a beautifully designed complex consisting of 24 luxury apartments equipped with a ski locker room. The complex has been designed in keeping with the traditional architectural stone and wood style, which dominates Borovets and the project designers have worked hard to preserve and protect the nature of the Rila Mountains.

Successful development leads to higher investment yields

Whilst many expats lament the development in their villages, most locals welcome the changes, because for them it brings business and in turn money and an improved lifestyle. Thanks to increased property prices, locals in these villages are sitting on small fortunes. Boris Atanasov from Rogachevo has sold 3 dekars and has another three to sell as well as owning a property in the centre of the village. He is the norm, not the exception. His opinion on the developments, “Let them come, I have plenty of land to sell! The foreigners bring good business to the village and the young people here need jobs. Some of my best friends are English and some of my worst enemies are Bulgarians!”

Martin Davies from Cheadle in Saffordshire bought his property in Madjare two years ago and has witnessed the development explosion here at first hand. He is two minds about the increase in construction here. He believes that most locals have welcomed the influx of building because local labour is used in the construction process and afterwards there are jobs for local people maintaining and cleaning the properties. He also acknowledges that there have been some positive changes to the village infrastructure; the road has been upgraded and street lamps added. Connection to the internet is coming as is a bar and restaurant, which will employ local people and upgrades to the electrical and water supplies are muted. However, Martin maintains that, “We forget we did quite well without so many changes to the infrastructure some 20 years ago and I wonder if we would have as many headaches now if we did not have a mobile phone or a better car or an electric shaver! It’s a hard call, do the Bulgarians have to change or do they want to change? Did we have that choice? I believe not.”

Ultimately, no one wants to see their village decimated beyond recognition, but construction and development in Bulgaria is a fact of life, which we all knowingly bought into when we joined the property rush. Developments in villages like Madjare and Rogachevo are improving the infrastructure, bringing much needed business and best of all raising property prices.

Pictures courtesy of www.zoldi.com and www.harmony-hills.com