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Bulgaria Now a Place of Style and Culture

Sofia News Agency- January 26, 2008

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Bulgaria, once a place that attracted bargain-hunting tourists looking for cheap booze and fake watches, is becoming 'la boutique Bulgaria'.

According to Quest Bulgaria, words associated with Bulgaria such as cheap, bargain and low-cost, are slowly being replaced with boutique, luxury and designer.

In its February issue Quest Bulgaria, English monthly magazine about Bulgaria and Bulgarian property, says the country is ditching its cut-price image in favour of one associated with style, culture and opulence.

With developers chasing a wealthier clientele and Bulgarians become richer, a different type of tourist is exploring the treasures of the country.

Chris Goodall, managing director of Quest Bulgaria, said: "The evidence for this is overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are boutiques, designer shops and even the wine industry is taking on a new look.

"The evidence of Bulgaria's re-branding is all around. Golden Sands, once the darling of discos and "kiss-me-quick" tourists, has undergone a dramatic change - and it's good to see." One driving factor is the construction of professionally designed golf courses from the Black Sea to the capital, with associated properties built to a lavish standard.

But watch out, says Quest Bulgaria. The cost of properties on these complexes is much higher than equivalent properties in neighbouring towns and villages.

The Gary Player designed Black Sea Rama golf complex provides a luxurious gated community with apartments and villas surrounding the 18-hole course. There are numerous on-site facilities and access to a wide range of elitist sports including tennis and horse riding.

The cost of a four bed-roomed cliff-top home is up to about £330,000 but this has had the effect of pushing up prices of high quality property in the area. But there are still bargains to be had in the villages.

Marinas are another classic example of re-branding. Last year the country's first private - and biggest - yacht port, the Marina Dinevi, opened in St Vlas on the Southern coast.

This state of the art port has moorings for 300 boats and can even accommodate the enormous King Class craft of over 75 feet. Boat International, the leading magazine serving the yachting industry, included the port in its annual catalogue of leading marinas which features similar complexes in the Seychelles and Paradise Islands.

In major cities, such as the capital Sofia, boutique hotels like the Maria Luisa, offer stylish surroundings and luxury living. Last year the Association for European Boutique Hoteliers held its annual conference in Sofia in recognition of its efforts.

Even the wine industry has taken on the mantle of boutique wines. Take a winery like Todoroff: in the last two years it has won numerous prestigious awards including medals at the world-renowned Vinalies Internationales Wine Tasting Show in Paris.

Last year Thomson Holidays and First Choice announced they would no longer feature Bulgaria's Northern coast resorts in their brochures. And the reason? The resorts have become too expensive for their budget travellers.

Robin Barrasford of estate agency Barrasford and Bird said: "Since Bulgaria entered the European Union confidence in the country has grown. The demand for bigger, more luxurious front-line accommodation has increased enormously."

And Lance Nelson of Jet2Let believes spa tourism is the way forward for a more exclusive Bulgaria. "The spa town of Sapareva Banya is under an hour away from Sofia and, surrounded by lakes and high peaks, offers an unspoilt year-round destination.

"And on top of that, it has the hottest spring waters in Europe and the only active geyser in the Balkans," he added.

Change for the better is happening at a rapid pace in Bulgaria, now better placed to take its fair share of the luxury market. But those who still want traditional rural Bulgaria will not have to travel far to find it - although, says Quest Bulgaria, luxury tourism is about to reach there too.

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