Exchanging a Life in Spain and France for Bulgaria
Published in Quest Magazine , 8 May 2009
Many would-be expats scour the internet looking for the ideal host country; one that suits their personal dreams of a warm climate or year round skiing, a country with investment potential and a population that at least understands English but the defining factor in choosing a new host country ultimately comes down to the cost of the property there and the cost of living. Most people think of emigrating without a country in mind and some, desperate to never return to the UK try more than one country until they find the best to suit their needs.
From the UK to France
Don and Mary Newson tired of life in the UK. They had lived in Essex all of their lives but had always harboured a dream of retiring to warmer climes. Over the years they grew to hate the cold UK climate, which hindered them from doing all of the recreational pursuits they dreamed of doing if the weather was warmer. They also found that increasing inflation and a high cost of living would erode their pensions and leave them with little money to enjoy their golden years. They had holidayed in France many times in the past and whilst they loved their home in Essex and being close to their family, they decided that their lives would be richer if they moved abroad. In 2001 they packed up and bought a village property near St Malo in Brittany.
The couple spent six years in France and enjoyed every moment, Don reminisces, ‘We spent our days gardening, playing petanque and pursuing our favourite hobby – dining out. We also enjoy sightseeing and spent a lot of time at first exploring St Malo. It is a beautiful walled city with a fantastic chateau and a nice cathedral. The town is the most visited in Brittany and we just felt so privileged to be able to pop in there whenever we wanted.’ Mary continues the story, ‘I think Don and I are wanderers at heart. We really loved exploring France and started to take regular camping trips down to the south coast. It was great, France is full of beautiful scenery and the roads are good, too. People were so hospitable to us and we found the French way of life very relaxing.’
From France to Spain
In December 2006, Mary got sick and gradually her health grew worse. Her French doctor said she needed a constant, warm climate. Brittany had four distinct seasons, so the couple looked at moving to the South of France, but property prices were astronomical, Don says, ‘There was no way we could afford to move there and the cost of living in France had risen significantly since we first arrived here, so after much discussion we started to trawl the internet and by June 2007, we were on our way to Almeria in south eastern Spain.’ The climate here was certainly just what the doctor ordered; located on the Mediterranean Sea, Almeria has a desert-like landscape and many westerns have been filmed here because of this. It is in fact the driest region in Europe and also one of the warmest with 330 days of sun and average temperatures of 19 degrees.
The climate and lifestyle suited both Mary and Don and Mary began to recuperate from her illness. There was plenty to see and do in Almeria and the couple began to sample traditional Spanish cuisine and explore the delights of the city, Mary enthuses, ‘Almeria is a great place to visit, like St Malo it has a lovely cathedral and some spectacular palaces and of course there is the beach too.’ Unfortunately the couple’s sojourn in Spain was fraught with problems, Don explains, ‘We originally rented a house here, but decided to buy a property. We found one in a small village and put down a deposit. Then our solicitor informed us that the house had been built illegally, but the estate agent insisted it wasn’t! We felt like the goal posts were constantly changing and that we were being conned and this made us start to dislike Spain.’
From Spain to Bulgaria
The couple looked around for more Spanish property and eventually met an agent selling property in Bulgaria as well as Spain. Mary continues, ‘This man was so enthusiastic about Bulgaria, that we decided to drive over and take a look for ourselves. We could see from his portfolio of properties that it was much cheaper than Spain and the pictures he showed us of the countryside reminded us of France, so we got in the car and took off for Varna. We fell in love with the country straight away and we couldn’t believe how cheap everything was.’ The couple spent two weeks exploring and were surprised to find that there was an established expat community. In November 2008, when their Spanish rental contract was fulfilled they moved to Bulgaria, where they found an apartment to rent in a small coastal town called Kranevo.
The couple settled into their new Bulgarian life very quickly. Don recalls, ‘Our first instincts were that life here was very much like France. The hills and countryside reminded us so much of France and this time we have a beach right on our door step. People were so welcoming, too, and our neighbours made so much effort even though we could hardly communicate. We found an English bar in a village nearby which made us feel comfortable and there were plenty of places to buy English food – it doesn’t matter how long you have been away, you still miss it!’ The couple couldn’t have chosen a better time to move to Bulgaria. They noticed that property prices had fallen a little since their first visit and that if they hung on for a little longer they would be able to grab a property bargain. Mary says, ‘We really like this country and have so many trips planned for the summer and we are looking at houses in the area. Our pensions go much further here, so I think it will be a long time before we up sticks again!’