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Smarter Buyers Bank on Bansko
Updated: 2005-12-08

Smarter Buyers Bank on Bansko

2nd December2005 

By Cheryl Markosky 

Daily Mail

Bansko is the first mountain resort in Bulgaria to build ski chalets that don't look like gulags, reports Cheryl Markosky.

UNLESS you have a secret fetish for brutalist Soviet tower blocks, ramshackle ruins or hastily assembled seaside blocks, there's not that much property on offer in Bulgaria. So buyers will be heartened by the news thiat upmarket developer Manhattan Loft Corporation is building a £17 million luxury 500-apartment scheme within the ski resort of
Bansko in the south of the country.

The developer doesn't fit the usual Bulgarian developer stereotype. Harry Handelsman, the charismatic chairman of Manhattan Loft, was the 'first to introduce Friends-style loft living into Britain in the Eighties and has won awards for his airy apartments in East London's Clerkenwell and at No.l West India Quay in Canary Wharf.

His work is so highly regarded, most of the apartments — costing £500,000 to £1.5million — in his latest project at former St Pancras Station Hotel in London sold within weeks of launching.

'Some of the architecture in Bulgaria is the pits and I have been alarmed by people rushing out to buy quickly just because prices are cheap,' he says. 'Why build mediocrity when you can give a bit more attention to detail and still make money?'

Bulgaria is cheap in many ways. For example, it's attractive to skiers unwilling to fork out £2,000 to rent a chalet, for a week in France or Switzerland, when in Bulgaria a similar property costs just £750.

”Bansko is one of the three best-known resorts in Bulgaria and although property there is up to 20 per cent more expensive than rivals Borovets and Pamprovo, Bansko is more developed and closer to Sofia.”

'Families, in particular, are attracted to Bulgaria where the "costs" — i.e. the price of meals, snacks and holiday treats — are only a third of pricier Western European resorts,' says Robert Jenkin of agent Bulgarian Dreams. 'This is down-to-earth skiing like it used to be.'

The ski resorts are also expanding, and millions of leva (the local currency) are being spent to upgrade Bansko's pistes, Install a second gondola in Bansko next year and rebuild the road that runs from the capital Sofia down to the Greek border.

Getting rid of the potholes in the roads should dramatically cut the journey time from Sofia airport to Bansko, which takes two-and-a-half hours.

ALSO, Bulgaria hopes to host the Winter Olympics in 2014. If it wins the bid, Bansko's facilities would improve further and house prices are likely to rise.

Bansko is one of the three best-known resorts in Bulgaria and although property there is up to 20 per cent more expensive than rivals Borovets and Pamprovo, Bansko is more developed and closer to Sofia.

The other great plus is Bansko village, much admired for its 16th-century architecture, old churches and cobbled streets set in a valley between the Pirin and Rila mountains — not unlike the Pyrenees. 'There are magnificent buildings,' says Handelsman, 'and Bansko is really quaint. I don't know of any other ski village like it.'

Property values in Bulgaria have been going up over the past couple of years, but you can still pick up, a wreck for under £20,000, while larger modern homes might set you back as much as half a million.

Prices at Handelsman development, The Orchard, are on a par with other schemes in Bansko (although they lack its five-star gloss and amenities) but still astonishingly cheap.

A studio apartment at The Orchard starts at £31,400, a one-bedroom apartment kicks off at £53,200 and even the duplex penthouses are reasonable at £85,200.

A five-minute walk from the ski lifts, the scheme will have its own ice skating rink that converts into tennis courts in the summer, and a spa with treatment rooms, saunas, swimming pool and a crèche. Maintenance charges are estimated at £7 per square metre a year.

'All this adds up to good value. Because materials and labour costs are low and land costs only a tenth of what you would pay in the Alps, we are able to sell the apartments at good prices,' says Robert Jenkin.

For those seduced by the Bulgarian dream, remember that it will take some time for Bansko and other ski resorts to reach the same levels of sophistication enjoyed elsewhere in Europe.

Also, flights are limited— there are two a day with Balkan Air and British Airways from Sofia. Flights to Varna are less frequent. There are no low-cost carriers, so expect to pay from £165 to £235 return.

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