Bulgaria became synonymous with bargain beach and ski apartments during the boom years but then the global downturn hit the market hard. But if you are looking for a laid-back lifestyle in the sunshine at an affordable cost, this region is well worth consideration, says Andy Turver of Yantra Homes. Here he explains why...
The British Embassy in Bulgaria estimates that there are currently 3,000 British expats living in Bulgaria and that 650 (over 20 per cent of them) of them are permanently resident in the region of Veliko Tarnovo and Gabrovo. This makes it the most popular region in Bulgaria for permanent living.
And it is not just the British that are flocking to live in Veliko Tarnovo (VT); the region also attracts expats from all over Europe and is also a very popular destination for holiday makers and those that want to have a second home within the EU.
Of course, the main thing that attracts foreigners to Bulgaria is the fact that it is the cheapest country in Europe, but Veliko Tarnovo has so much more to offer than that, in this short introduction we try to point out just some of the countless reasons for this migratory phenomenon.
Veliko Tarnovo is the historical capital of the second Bulgarian Empire, the Medieval Bulgarian state which existed between 1185 and 1396 and as such was the dominant power in the Balkans at that time.
As a consequence of such a rich past, the region is steeped in history and ancient monuments abound such as the Tsaravets Castle and the Patriarchal Cathedral, which are in turn surrounded by ancient monasteries and churches.
Geographically, Veliko Tarnova is located in the very centre of Bulgaria and is almost equidistant to international airports at Sofia, Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv and Bucharest in neighbouring Romania.
Veliko Tarnovo itself is an unusual town that clings to a high hill overlooking the Yantra River. It has a modern town centre with all the facilities of any town in Bulgaria, but it is its rich historical area that attracts thousands of tourists annually from all over the world.
Veliko Tarnovo is a contender for European Capital of Culture in 2019, in the town there are museums, art galleries, theatres, an audio visual visitor centre as well as the many famous areas in the old part of the town close to the castle.
The town has many sport facilities and there are leisure complexes with swimming pools and tennis courts dotted throughout the region where a whole day out costs around €2.
Veliko Tarnovo has two shopping malls selling Bulgarian products along side internationally recognised brands, as well as many local stores; there are many modern supermarkets, electrical stores, furniture and DIY stores etc.
In the centre of town there is an amazing green market that open every day of the week supplying some of the tastiest fruit and vegetables to be found in Europe, and there are hundreds of restaurants serving local and international dishes, cafes, bars and night clubs.
The lifestyle in the region is much less stressful than elsewhere in Europe, the local people are friendly, the air is cleaner, the streets are safe, there are no political or religious conflicts and the weather is great.
As part of the EU, it is permitted for expats to receive their pension here and it goes a lot further.
Other towns in the region that have significant expat populations include the rural town of Elena, south of Veliko Tarnovo and situated in the the Central Balkan Mountain range 300 metres above sea level with a substantial number of small rivers and brooks set in deep gorges and oak lined valleys.
The surrounding forests are home to indigenous deer, wolves, wild boars, foxes and hares.
Elena is a delightful town that has managed to preserve the vast majority of its Bulgarian revival architecture.
Another significant town in the south is the beautiful town of Tryavna with its stunning renaissance architecture that was defined after the Ottoman invasion, when master builders constructed beautiful houses, schools and churches and artists ornamented the churches with icons and mural paintings and wood workers contributed by designing and carving magnificent ceilings, altars and windows.
The property market in Bulgaria peaked during 2008 following the country's ascension to the EU, since then prices have fallen significantly, reaching their lowest point in 2012. Prices are now stable and represent amazing value for money.
The area to the North of Veliko Tarnovo is a little flatter and the scenery is not quite as spectacular as the rest of the region, but it also offers the lowest property prices.
The most popular municipalities in this area are Pavlikeni and Polski Trambesh, where it is possible to buy a large, fully renovated house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for under £40,000.
Or a renovated two-bedroom bungalow with more than ½ an acre for under £25,000.
The area to the South of Veliko Tarnovo is more mountainous and offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Bulgaria, the prices tend to be a little higher, but there are many bargains to be had such as the lovely three-bed house in Dryanovo municipality for less than £40,000 that comes with more than a ½ acre garden and the most stunning stone barns that are just waiting for conversion.
Or the mountain retreat close to the town of Elena, fully renovated with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, but keeping the traditional Bulgarian Renaissance style for just a little over £30,000.
Of course these are just a few examples of properties available on a budget, there are properties for renovation available for less than the price of a new car.
Get help buying a property abroad
If you're seriously considering buying a property in Bulgaria, A Place in the Sun Live is a great place to start your journey to owning a home there. Taking place at the NEC Birmingham on 27th-29th September, A Place in the Sun Live features around 150 exhibitors selling property abroad and free advice sessions where you can learn about the process of buying property abroad, the things to watch out for.
Meet the starts of the TV show Laura Hamilton, Jasmine Harman, Jonnie Irwin and Amanda Lamb and hear their top tips and advice learnt from many years of presenting the show.
Tickets to A Place in the Sun Live are on sale now at two for £15. Click here to book.