The Black Sea (Cherno More) coast has been the subject of a staggering amount of development in the recent years, and it is here that Bulgaria's property boom is most evident. Since the Black Sea is the only sea coast in Bulgaria the area has attracted a vast amount of interest from the 'sun and sea' seekers.
To the north the sea borders with Romania, and to the south with Turkey. Its long sandy coast and rocky sheltered bays have encouraged settlers down the centuries from the early Greek colonist who built historical towns like Sozopol and Nessebar, to the more recent tourist resorts at Sunny Beach and Golden Sands. There are two main cities along the coast – Varna and Bourgas each with their own airports.
In December 2006, the market-watch magazine Property Wise reported that Black Sea prices had plateaued from the fantastic rises in 2001-2005 – though more recent reports show they continue to rise. New development along the Black Sea will normally vary between 600 euro sq m to 1400 euro sq m, though top level sales can be around 2,000 euro sq m The variation will depend on the quality and location of the development, and any thrown- ins such as rental assistance, pools, management etc. With such a variation it really does pay to shop around. Recent market reports indicate a general oversupply of units along the coast (37% increases in supply from June 2004 to June 2005). Whilst prices remain on the up, it does indicate some potential volatility in the market, especially as most buyers are British or Irish and any changes to the property markets in these countries will inevitably have a knock on effect.
The northern Black Sea Coast is centred around the city of Varna - an ancient town with roots going back to the Thracian times. Varna is Bulgaria's third largest city after Sofia and Plovdiv. The southern Black Sea coast is centred around the city of Bourgas, the fourth largest city in the country. Both cities have international airports offering direct flights from several destinations in Europe.
These dramatic cliffs of Cape Kaliakra provide one of the Black Sea's prettiest and remote beach resorts. This region is certainly less developed, compared to the much busier regions of Sunny Beach and Golden Sands to the south. However, it attracts nature lovers due to the Kaliakra National Park, the only coastal National Park in Bulgaria. Folklore tells during the Ottoman conquests of the 15th century that forty women tied their hair together and leapt from the cliffs into the sea rather than be captured and raped by the Turks. There are fewer property purchasers this far north, and the most popular town to look for property is the nearby town of Balchik 20 km to the south. Karvana has now been allocated for one of only three golf courses along the coast. Residential properties are currently being advertised at around 1,700 Euro sq m typically, the new residential estates developed along the black sea coast will include its own tennis courts, spa, gyms and swimming pools.
This northerly seaside town is about 40km north of Varna, and has become a highly favoured destination for property hunters. By reputation it is a location beloved by artists and as one of the breeziest parts of the Black Sea is a favoured haunt of sailors. The new harbour development is now underway, with moorings and sea front apartments. Behind the seafront, the whitewashed cottages and craggy cliffs provide inspiring landscapes and incredible sea views. Despite being popular with Bulgarian and British home buyers, it retains a village feel. It does not attract too many tourists, compared to the resorts further south partly due the lack of a really good beach. Balchik looks sure to retain its popularity as the proposed Golf Course progresses.
The town is most famous for the Queen of Romania's Palace and Botanical Gardens (she was actually Scottish and Balchik was once in Romania!). The Palace complex consists of a central palace with a high tower, numerous buildings, a terraced park, summer houses made of stone and propped up on marvellous columns facing the sea, a throne under an old tree where Queen Maria loved to watch the sunset, and a small chapel where her heart is preserved. The coastal strip runs for about 4km and is a great place to stroll taking in the harbour and the small streets of the town.
Prices in Balchik for older properties will normally be lower than for the new residential estates and holiday complexes but this remains a popular area. Country Houses can be bought from as little as 25,000 euro but if you want a sea view you are looking at 100,000 euro upwards. The apartments in the new harbour development will be 1,500-2,500 euro sq m.
The two resorts of Albena and Golden Sands are just a few kilometres from each other, along the coast road, north of Varna.
Albena has a much more late 60's feel with its swinging collection of pyramid shaped hotel rooms and all the facilities needed to spend your whole holiday on-site. The hotels have a terraced structure aimed at providing as much sun as possible during the long summer days. It is also one of the most expensive places in Bulgaria so if you end up here on holiday, or on a property hunting trip, don't judge the cost of living elsewhere in Bulgaria by prices here. Albena is well maintained and smaller than the neighbouring Golden Sands and is well sign posted off the main coastal road. Anyone considering buying property nearby should consider the wealth of resources that the resorts offers. Though relatively expensive, the beach, cafes and shops in the resort provide a handy place to nip and in and out of from your holiday home. Some people find it a bit sterile however, and it may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Golden Sands was Bulgaria's first international resort opened in 1956, and is the largest resort along the Black Sea Coast. It occupies more than 1,800 hectares of land. Located 18km north of Varna, the resorts hotels and apartment complexes occupy a gentle sloping forest by the area's greatest asset – a 4-km strip of soft, golden sand sloping gently into a safe swimming sea. The resort offers a wide range of activities - as well as the usual bars, nightclubs and restaurants - there are a range of activities including scuba diving, water skiing and plenty of other beach sports. Many of the hotels have been converted in recent years to cater for the growing demand for apartments. There are also numerous off-plan offers ranging from 650 euro sq m to 1,700 euro sq m. From here you can easily access Varna which is handy for both the city itself and also for the international airport with its direct flights to the UK. Inland there are many historic sights and acres of forests and rural villages to explore in the regions vast and sparsely populated hinterland.
This is an example of less visited town but the rural areas around are well worth a visit and maybe of interest to people seeking to combine rural tranquillity with access to the coast. The town is situated inland from the coast in the Dobrudzha Plateau. The town, which lies 37 km away from the border with Romania, is known as the ‘capital' of the fertile land of Dobrudzha, the biggest grain-growing region of the country. Its population numbers slightly above 100,000 people. First traces of settlers in the area lead to antiquity, while remains of a Roman settlement date back to the 3-4th century BC. The modern town emerged in the 15th century as a trade and crafts centre. In the 19th century, the town was witness to the many actions of Russian-Turkish wars. The opening of the Razhdena-Dobrich-Kardam railway link and its extension to Romania in 1916 spurred its development.
Once in Dobrich, tourists can visit the Historical Museum of a renowned Bulgarian writer, Yordan Yovkov. The Ethnographic Museum, hosted by a beautiful house of the Bulgarian Renaissance period, is another interesting sight. The Old Dobrich ethnographic complex, which exhibits traditional arts and crafts of the region, is worth seeing as well. Other places of tourist appeal are the Archaeological Museum of the city, the Art Gallery, remains of a Roman settlement, the St George's Church, etc.
Things get much more interesting around cities like Varna. It is here - rather than in the resorts - that you will get to see and experience the real Bulgaria. Channel Four's 'A Place in the Sun' team came to Bulgaria in 2001 to make the first episode of the series. They scoured the coast before deciding that Varna and its southern villages provided the best on offer in Bulgaria for the British taste. As well as being a city with a long and fascinating history, it had a wide range of properties for sale.
Varna has known settlers along its shores for 6000 years and some of the oldest crafted Gold now sits in the city's Museum. However its real status as city dates back to 585 BC when Greek colonists founded the City State of Oddessus. The city survived a transition through Slav and Roman periods emerging in the Ottoman times as small port town. British troops passed through here on their way to the Crimean War. Many are buried in a cemetery nearby having died of dysentery en route. Major General Hume, a British commander, described the town as “no paradise.....a wretched place with very few shops”.
A restored Roman spa built in the 2nd century during the reign of Antony Pii and a Roman Bath dating back to the 3rd century can be found in the centre The Holy Virgin Cathedral, considered to be the most impressive monument of the city, rises in the very centre of the city. The cathedral's construction started in the second half of the 19th century and was completed in 1910. The Clock Tower, built in 1880, is across from the cathedral. The Theatre of Drama, where the first-ever Bulgarian theatre performance was held, is also a must-see place in the city centre. It was built nearly a century ago and resembles Vienna buildings of that time. It houses a theatre, an opera and philharmonic halls and stages performances during the entire summer season. Not far away from the Theatre of Drama is the Puppet Theatre, where the Golden Dolphin Festival of puppets takes place each year. The city also has a number of museums, including the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of National Renaissance, the Naval Museum, the Vladislav Varnenchik Park-Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, the Aquarium and the Black Sea Museum, the Museum of Medicine and the Museum of Art and History of Varna. The latter has a particularly rich collection including the Gold Treasure of Varna, dating back 6,000 years ago, weighing some 6kg and containing the oldest gold works found in the world. Besides, the city's Art Gallery, opened in 1950, exhibits paintings of outstanding Bulgarian artists as well as works of a number of foreign artists, donated to the gallery. There are ten cinemas in Varna with the best ones being in the city centre, including the Mustang Cinema. The Sea Garden is another favourite place of visitors of Varna. The garden lies juxtaposition between the centre and the sea. Completed in 1908, it hosts an amphitheatre for outdoor summer concerts, an observatory, planetarium, children playgrounds, and a zoo. There is a strip of lively bars and restaurants along the beach, beneath the Sea Garden Park. The famous Dolphinarium is a favourite attractions for children and hosts regular performances of performing - dolphins. The Festival Complex can be found just opposite the entrance of the Sea Garden Park. It is a slightly dated 70's building of aluminium, stone and glass but hosts many film and music festivals through the summer season.
Varna became the headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy in the 19th century and today plays host to the small Coastal flotilla and from time to time visiting ships from Britain and other NATO countries. During a brief period under communism the city was even re-named Stalin but this was quietly dropped in the 1950's after Stalin's death. The essence of the city is a charming and eclectic mix of architecture around a beautiful harbour with a sandy beach. There are numerous beach coves beyond the city which regulars use and busy, not crowded nightlife along the seafront.
Being a city and not a resort, there are a whole range of properties available. From older 1960's blocks on the edge of town, to newer blocks in the centre and even older houses of real architectural charm and character. However it is not cheap. Prices in Varna have doubled in recent years and it is probably one of the most popular places on the Black Sea coast – combining accessibility to resorts, the beaches and some real city charm. For long stay residents, Varna has something which the resorts lack as places to live. Prices in central area vary from 780-950 euro sq m in older brick buildings to 850-2000 euro sq m for new buildings.
Around Varna are a number of attractive and popular villages and small towns, including Kamchiya, Obzor, Avren with spectacular views, Obrochiste and Rogachevo (described as the Beverley Hills of Varna). There are a number of very popular villages south along the coast road worth exploring with good access back into the city.
Bulgaria's fourth largest city and in many ways the less glamorous relation to its northern cousin Varna, with much more of an industrial feel. It is outshone by historic coastal towns to the south and north at Sozopol and Nessebar, and lacks the resort feel of nearby Sunny Beach. With its international airport, it tends to be a city which people pass through to go elsewhere rather than a destination in its own right. The surrounding areas though are all worth exploring with the warm climate and beautiful mountain scenery. The strategic position of Bourgas makes it one of the most developed regions in the country. Bourgas Airport is now subject to a major refurbishment to cope with the increase in tourist and property owners.
North up the coast from Bourgas, Sunny Beach has probably seen the greatest amount of development and renovation than any part of the Bulgarian coast. It is a much larger and even livelier counterpart to the northern resort of Golden Sands. Its greatest asset (apart from glorious weather) is a 8km (5m) stretch of clean, safe beach . With over 120 hotels and apartment complexes, including several Macdonald's, British pubs, and 24 hour bars, it has a reputation for a fairly raucous nightlife. However between September and April much of the resort is closed and life here would be fairly quiet out of season. Visitors will be struck by the amount of construction and renovation work going on – although the ban on construction in the summer period is now being more rigorously enforced. Slightly quieter and less resort like are a string of new developments overlooking the bay at Sveti Vlas, or St Vlas, to the north. Much smaller and less developed it enjoys great views over the sea but alas apartment complexes are springing up everywhere and buyers would be well advised to check the views they see on the plans or brochure will remain. Some the region's newer developments lack creativity in execution, together with what can only be described as a limited visual vocabulary.
A few kilometers south of Sunny Beach a rocky peninsular connecting the small and historic town of Nessebar to the main coast. One of two medieval towns remaining along the coast it has a fine selection of stone and wooden buildings and an aspect of urban design which is unique. However, its is highly commercialised and in the summer access in and out the town can become clogged with traffic (the single car park at the entrance to the town is often full). Its beautiful, but packed, cobbled streets are full of souvenir shops and restaurants offering endless specials offers and Bulgarian food at its not-so-best. But it has many fine sights and whilst not perhaps a good place for that home from home, it should certainly be of interest to anyone thinking of investment only or perhaps a business in the tourism sector.
South of Bourgas this historical town was also founded in the 6th century and enjoys a stunning location but large crowds. Many people choose to stay in the nearby new settlement and walk into the old peninsular city during the day. Its distinctive stone and wooden buildings form the architectural template for many of the new developments in the area, and have provided a basis for architectural continuity in the region.
The coast line south of the Bourgas is popular for its beaches, coves and wooded reserves and is said to be amongst the nicest along the Black Sea, particularly for getting away from the hustle and bustle of the resorts. The main road to Turkey swings inland here. Hence the southern coastal road is effectively a cul-de-sac running down to a border which has no crossing point. The roads here are quiet and until recently there was very little development. Some of the most popular villages to look at here are Primorski, Kiten, Lozenets and Tsarevo (also known as Michurin by locals). The coast here offers a calmer place to relax than the areas further north although they are also suffering from the creeping development resulting from the property boom along the coast. The beaches at Kavatsi (6km from Sozopol) and Dyuni (a further 3km) are worth the trip to see. They are almost flawless and surrounded by pine forests over looking the sea.
Though not strictly along the coast the Strandzha Mountains are the home of one of the largest forested areas in the country. The villages in and around the park have become a favourite destination for British holidays makers. Whilst no accurate figures exist the British Embassy has reported that this area is particularly popular for British families settling in the area.