House hunting in Bulgaria

When ‘the virus’ exploded across the world stage, we were house hunting in Bulgaria. A bit random you might think, but we’ve had this idea for a while – or more of a ‘wish’ really – to set up some sort of base in Europe. Australia is still home but it’s so far from everywhere. At this nomadic stage of our lives, we’ve been thinking how good it would be to have a little bolthole in the centre of the world. We were thinking of somewhere in Southern Europe, where it’s not too cold, maybe Portugal, Spain, Italy or Greece. I started learning Spanish and then switched to Portuguese. JH was really keen on Portugal but even the bargains were too far out of our reach. We kept on dreaming and casually looking at property sites.

When I got my final tax refund from my last proper job, I figured it might be the last lump sum I ever get – unless, goddess-forbid I ever have to get a real job again. So, we thought we’d better spend it wisely on something solid rather than fritter it away on credit card debts or good times. We started looking seriously for bargain properties online and discovered that the cheapest property in Europe, by far, is in Bulgaria. Who would’ve thought? We came through Bulgaria last year and the little bit we saw looked great. We try to avoid flying, for the environment and that, but feeling pretty guilty (we paid the carbon offset, honest) we booked a cheap WizzAir flight (£50 each return) and set off to Bulgaria on a house hunt.

Spring blossoms in Bulgaria

We lined up heaps of properties to look at from the online real estate sites before we left. People say that you can get much better deals by just rocking up at a village and asking the mayor which local properties are for sale. Every village has a mayor apparently, no matter how tiny. With no knowledge of the Bulgarian language yet and no idea which village we wanted to live in, we thought we’d better stick to using a proper real estate agent. The price of houses is unbelievably cheap – just a few thousand euros/pounds/dollars. I’ve even seen them advertised for £1000. Many of them are total ruins though, so you have to go and look. Bear in mind that in this price range you’re buying an old house in the country in varying stages of disrepair, rarely close to a city or big town, and usually with dirt floors, an outside toilet and no bathroom. They tend to have huge gardens though and are solidly constructed of stone.

Standard outdoor dunny (pit toilet)

With mountains, ski-fields, lakes, rivers, wetlands, beaches and forests, Bulgaria is not a big country but it’s very diverse. There are bears and wolves in the mountains and it’s known for bird watching. It’s one of the least known, least populated and last wild places in Europe. The more we found out, the more we liked the idea. With borders to Greece, Turkey, Romania, North Macedonia and Serbia, it’s the perfect central location. Like most of Europe, the winters can get bitterly cold, so we decided to go for the warmer zone as close as we could get to the Black Sea coast.

Sunset on the Black Sea at Balchik

Property in Bulgaria is so cheap because the population is declining, especially in rural areas. It’s relatively poor – the poorest country in Europe (together with Romania) – and wages are very low. It’s also identified as the most corrupt country in Europe, due to organised crime and government corruption. The people themselves are, by all accounts (and from our own experience), very open, honest and friendly. It’s a struggle for many Bulgarians to make ends meet even though the cost of living is incredibly cheap. Young people are moving to the cities or to other European countries where they can earn much higher wages. This has been happening for decades. This exodus of people from the countryside has left whole villages abandoned and in most villages there seems to be as many abandoned and ruined houses as there are inhabited ones. There are literally thousands of houses for sale in rural villages, all over the country. The locals want people to move to the villages to keep them alive.

Bulgaria is a country in transition. There’s a real contrast here of the old and the new. Shiny new cars pass donkeys and carts. There are excellent highways and others are just goat tracks. Big European shops like IKEA are juxtaposed with traditional vegetable markets. People work by hand in the fields, yet there is super fast internet. Huge wind turbines sit amongst lavender and rose farms. It’s a beautiful country. Life in the villages is still slow-paced but the cities are modern and vibrant. I can’t wait to explore more of the small groovy cities like Ruse on the Danube (known as ‘little Vienna’) and Plovdiv – one of the oldest cities in the world and the European Capital of Culture 2019.

Wind farm

As one of the oldest countries in Europe, Bulgaria is so rich in history. There are remains and ruins from almost every period of its past – tombs of the Thracians, buildings and artefacts from the Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and the Bulgarian Tsars. So much to explore!

Roman baths in Varna

On the first day we looked at three properties and thought either of the first two would be fine but we fell in love with the third one. JH wanted to buy it on the spot but I thought we should look at some more first. So, we spent a few days looking at more places but really we already knew. So, with a bit of half-hearted bartering we agreed on a price and are in the process of becoming the proud owners of a cottage in Bulgaria. Well, actually JH is. As a foreigner I’m not allowed to buy land but JH can as he’s still European until bloody Brexit really happens in December. To be honest, the owners are the sweetest old couple and we would happily give them more money if we had any.

Our cottage (front)
Our cottage (back)

Our little stone cottage has a concrete veneer on the front, lots of tiny rooms and a red tiled roof. The floors are packed earth and there is a pit toilet and a sort-of shower. It needs lots of work but it’s going to be such fun. The best part though, is that it’s on half an acre, at the end of a dirt track with no neighbours. As a ‘girl from the bush’, I like my own space. I’m not really keen on having my nose pressed up against other people.

Our street (track)

The garden is well maintained with an established vineyard. The lovely old couple have already planted out the entire garden with seasonal vegetables.

Vegetable garden with garlic bed at the back

Every household here grows grapes and makes their own wine and rakia (the pokey national drink). They grow their own food and make their own bread and cheese. Like most ex-soviet countries, sustainability is alive and well in Bulgaria. The soil is reportedly very rich and everything grows in abundance (except citrus). We were seeing the landscape at its worst, at the dry end of winter. Spring is just beginning and the predominantly deciduous trees are all poised to burst into flower and greenery.

Our vineyard in late winter, with a small wheat field behind

The other best thing about our (almost) new sometimes-home is its location. Our village of Neykovo (population 90) is in the north east of Bulgaria, just 12km from the tiny fishing village of Krapets on the Black Sea and 20km from the Romanian border. This undeveloped and mostly uninhabited patch of coastline has a 6km sandy beach, protected lakes and wetlands, the oldest lighthouse in the Balkans and the remains of a temple to the Goddess Kibela from 260 BC. About half an hour away is the lovely seaside town of Balchik with many bars, restaurants and a marina. From here you can sail to the Mediterranean.

The Black Sea at Krapets
Old lighthouse at Shabla
Balchik Marina

When the virus hit Europe, everything changed so quickly. Bulgaria responded decisively and went into instant total shutdown. We tried to get an earlier flight back to England but no luck. We couldn’t complete our purchase so are now doing this by email. Some of the legal systems we need are closed, so we’re kind of in limbo for now. In Bulgaria we were isolated in holiday apartments. Everything was shut and the few people we saw were wearing face masks and gloves. In Dobrich we could order takeaway food delivery via ‘foodpanda’. It was surreal ordering online (in English) and having gourmet food delivered to our apartment by a guy in full protective gear. Then we drove our rental car (no contact with anyone) to our pre-booked apartment in the 3000-year-old seaside town of Nesebar. It was beautiful but deserted. There was no food delivery, except breakfast provided by our hosts who had no idea what to feed people who didn’t eat ‘normal’ food, so yet again, it was many days of cucumber sandwiches.

Old Nesebar

On arrival in Liverpool, it was a shock to see people behaving as if nothing was happening. No one was wearing masks, not even the airport staff. We went straight home to Bignall End and haven’t been anywhere since. JH still goes to work every day on a renovation job where he only sees one person. Luckily, I can still work online. I’m ordering everything I can online but the supermarkets have no delivery slots available for months, so we’ve had to go to the local shop twice. The first time we got most things we needed. The second time there were no vegetables left.

Since I’m a huge reader of dystopian fiction and JH is a catastrophist, we’ve been preparing for the zombie apocalypse (or its equivalent) for years. How terribly inconvenient that it’s arrived while we’re in Bignall End, with nothing but a fridge top mini-garden, caught between our self-sufficient armageddon-ready home in Australia and our not-yet home in Bulgaria.

22 thoughts on “House hunting in Bulgaria

  1. What an amazing story! Now I’m left wondering what ‘packed earth’ floors look like. Your blogs always send me on a google adventure, JS.

    Good luck with your purchase, and with getting fruit and vege x

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  2. Wow! What amazing interesting lives you both have…& love that you are buying a house in Bulgaria..what an adventure…love it😁

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  3. Ahhh Jeanne – love reading your travel adventures as they feel like I am right there with you and learning so much about Bulgaria and the rural villages. Super inspired about your new home in Bulgaria and the base you will be establishing there. More blogs please. Out of interest and if you don’t mind sharing, how much did you end up paying for your new home?

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  4. Such exciting and interesting lives you both live.
    I love the way you write and your descriptions bring images to life in my head.
    Australians are not taking this virus seriously either. We need a total lockdown, but the Capitalist agenda gets in the road of that. It seems too hard to put the people before the economy.
    Interesting times we live in.
    Stay safe and well in Bignall End, even if it isn’t where you expected to be. Xx

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  5. How fabulous to be buying a little cottage in Bulgaria! It looks lovely, and such a nice quiet spot! I hope it all works out well with the transaction through these Strange times..

    Life is quiet here.. People mowing on weekdays! Kids on bikes in the back street. The school holidays came in early thanks to Gladys B. Will they ever go back after Easter?

    No jams or parties or open venues. The local shops have put tables or freezers across the doors to stop people entering. Little discordant lines of people gather like Browns cows, getting their fix of toilet paper and milk before heading home again, or wherever they disappear to!

    Where is everyone? How is everyone? Being off facebook (since August last year), the disconnection might seem stronger. I have texted people and rung a few, but noone is talking. Maybe there is no ‘news’. Maybe nothing but this long lull, like the dangerous disquiet of an impending tsunami.. Maybe we are all ‘digging our troubles into the earth’. Indeed the garden has never looked so good! My school friend who has a stained glass, tiles and mosaics shop in the old pet shop in town says the DIYers are busy, which is how they are staying afloat. Small shops have closed their doors, little signs on the windows..

    My boy was one of the million Aussies who lost their job last week. The knock-on effect is yet to ripple out..

    Your post is like a breath of life among the stasis:)

    xxTheresa

    [1513755762110_PastedImage] I acknowledge the Widjabul/Wyabul people of the Bundjalung nation as traditional owners of the land on which I live and work

    ________________________________

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    • Hi Theresa! Lovely to hear from you 🙂 It’s very strange times indeed. I’m glad to hear the local shops are still serving. I think lots of people are using this time to garden. There are more people on Facebook than usual, I think people are using it to stay connected. The world seems to be on pause, waiting to see what happens next. I’m hoping it will change perspectives for the better. Lots of love xxx

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  6. Looks fantastic and love the vineyard and vegetable garden. So much history too. I do hope you both can get back there soon. Bulgaria are most likely suffering the least from the virus given they so quickly shut down but possibly many older people at risk? Stay well. Love your blogs ❤️

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  7. What a wonderfully adventurous life you lead! Best of luck with your house in Bulgaria! Shattered that we’re not able to visit you in England next month – our trip has been postponed for a year, & who knows where you’ll be by then!
    Big love to you both xx

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    • We’re having lots of wonderful adventures indeed Lisa 🙂 I feel very lucky. Shame about the state of the world though and so disappointed for you about your planned trip. Maybe we will still be able to catch up next year. Hope so xx

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  8. Lovely to hear about this part of your journey. Bulgaria looks beautiful and congratulations on your nearly purchase of your sometimes home 🙂 what a pity you cant be there while the zombie apocalypse is going on. Cant wait to visit! xx

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  9. OMG me and Ali have been doing the same thing we have been looking at Brittany in France and i have been re-learning french we were going to go there in April after being with mum in Glasto and we had properties lined up to check out – unbelievable cheap a lot run down as you say as no-one wants old houses there or want to live in the city i had one in a town called Huelgoat i am in love with but bang just as you said this horrible catastrophe has hit us all – cant wait to see you both when i eventually get there and you can fill me in on it all – have my fingers crossed for you that you get your lovely place sorted.

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