More and more Brits are choosing to make Bulgaria their permanent home, and the age profile of those settling here is slowly changing. Previously, Bulgaria attracted British pensioners in their droves with its mild climate and low cost of living. Yet, nowadays, more young families are moving here, lured by the safe, relaxed environment that the country provides.

Leighanne Craven, her husband Chris and their two children moved from West Yorkshire to Rogachevo, a small village in Bulgaria, earlier this year. She chose Bulgaria because she felt that the United Kingdom could not provide the settled and relaxed environment she wanted for herself and her children. She says: “In the UK, everything was dog eat dog, everyone was out for himself. In Bulgaria, you never see young children out on the streets, high on drugs, smashing cars and robbing people. Plus it’s close to the sea and the countryside is fabulous; it’s also a safe environment for my kids.” As a full-time housewife, Leighanne’s day revolves around looking after the home and her children. Her husband owns his own import and export business and supports his family with the income he earns from it. He has a slightly different outlook of life in Bulgaria. “I don’t like the fact that the country is so run down; it looks fairly grubby.

There are always lots of stray dogs in the city, and I feel the locals barely tolerate the English. The other day I was in a shop, I got a bottle of water and pointed to a chocolate bar behind the counter, and the woman wouldn’t look where I was pointing, saying she didn’t understand. Customer service here is nothing like England,” he says. Leighanne likes it here, but is finding it difficult to settle in. “We decided to give it 18 months, then decide what to do about staying or going, but really it depends on our five-year-old son Ethan, and whether he wants to stay,” she says.

John and Joyce Lee left their life in the north of England in favour of spending their retirement years in Bulgaria. They left Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Tsurkva – a small village 10km from the Black Sea coast. The reason for their move was that John’s mother and father came to Bulgaria for a holiday 40 years ago, and they never stopped talking about what a lovely time they had had. John says: “They kept going on about Bulgaria, and suggested we go for a holiday, and after we visited we grew to love it, too. We came twice on holiday, and then decided that this was the place we wanted to spend the rest of our lives.” They purchased a small bungalow in June 2005, and since then they have never looked back. After years of running a pub back home, John and Joyce now enjoy a stress-free life of relaxation in Bulgaria.

Despite falling in love with Bulgaria, the reality of living here was different from a holiday experience. “Bulgaria reminded us of Spain 40 years ago; the way the country is run and the fact that it takes months to get anything organised. The public transport was awful,” John says. Even faced with these challenges, they never had any regrets about their move. “There are so many things we both love about Bulgaria; the people are fantastic; I trust them with anything, which is more than what I would do in England. The way of life is a lot slower, which is perfect for retired people, and everyone is so respectful of everything: space, the elderly, the English and, of course, the weather is gorgeous.”

It wasn’t only retirement that attracted John and Lorraine Banner to Bulgarian life. They moved to Oreshak, Bulgaria, from Staffordshire, England, in 2005. Lorraine was lured here by media hype which hailed Bulgaria as the “New Spain”. John, too, had become disillusioned with UK life, and Bulgaria seemed like the perfect escape. The couple purchased a small cottage requiring substantial renovation. John initially found Bulgaria to be full of beautiful countryside, but dirty in some built-up places, although he sees the EU membership as having positive influence on the country. He also dislikes the winters here. The couple is now semi-retired; Lorraine uses her experience as a chef to cook at a local bar on a part-time basis. In the evenings they relax in their newly renovated cottage and enjoy one of Lorraine’s delicious meals. In the future, John is not sure whether he and Lorraine will stay in Bulgaria – they have family in France, and they have not ruled out the possibility of finally settling there.

Sometimes it takes a drastic move to another country to realise what you have left behind. For some, like John and Joyce, Bulgaria is the perfect place for those who no longer find England safe. For younger expats like Leighanne, Bulgaria will take a little more getting used to. If it is sold as the New Spain, potential purchasers have to understand that it took many years for Spain to get the reputation of the expat haven it has today.