While skiing holidays have become increasingly popular, they can be prohibitively expensive. In peak holiday season, a week for a family of four can easily run into thousands of pounds. And that's why the availability of cheaper skiing breaks and affordable holiday homes is attracting so many people to Slovakia.
Until recently, little was known in the UK about the central European country of Slovakia, but its joining of the EU in May 2004 brought it into the spotlight. Investors have headed to the capital Bratislava in droves, many buying off- plan apartments. But the improvements to the infrastructure at Slovakian skiing resorts in the last two years, where property prices are still low and there is a huge range of property styles available, are now attracting buyers who want affordable holiday homes.
Petra Gajdosikova, of Slovakia Investment Property, has been selling to the UK and Irish market for the last three years. Initially, most clients were pure investment buyers, she says, but she has noticed a recent growth in numbers of people seeking holiday homes with skiing potential. "The major improvements in skiing areas in the last couple of years has meant that there are now many new gondolas and hotels.
"Skiing here has been popular for years among Hungarians, Austrians and Germans. We have some of the highest resorts in central Europe, and you can ski for four to five months of the year, and yet it is still very affordable, as British buyers have now discovered."
While holiday homes in skiing areas such as the French Alps used to be the preserve of the wealthy, cheaper destinations such as Bulgaria have opened up the market to the masses. Could Slovakia follow a similar trajectory? "The crucial difference is that in Bulgaria, £50,000 buys you a flat in a block, whereas in Slovakia, you can get a two- or three-bedroomed new house that has been well constructed using old materials and in a pretty setting," says Gajdosikova.
And anyone who has visited Bulgarian skiing resorts can't fail to have noticed the increase in development, often lacking in architectural merit. So far, Slovakia hasn't succumbed to the same type of development. Thanks to government restrictions forbidding high-rise development in or near to national parkland, you're more likely to see wooden chalet-style buildings in forest settings. Slovakia also has its share of charming villages and heritage towns, where cottage-style properties can cost as little as £25,000, but buyers must gauge whether renovation costs make them viable.
Slovakian Investment Property has a range of properties for sale including traditional-style chalets in Liptov, one of Slovakia's most beautiful regions, surrounded by the country's highest mountains - the High Tatras and Western Tatras to the north, Low Tatras to the south, and Large Fatra to the west. In Liptovska Osada, wooden and stone chalet-style houses are for sale from around £50,000 for two bedrooms. The village is full of period architecture, much of it of traditional wooden construction, but new chalets also have access to the many recreational facilities being built in the village, such as a swimming pool and an ice rink.
The village lies minutes from one of Slovakia's best- known skiing resorts, Donovaly, which recently received around £9m-worth of investment. Other popular resorts include Jasna, Velka Raca and Skipark Ruzomberok, which all boast modern gondolas, snowmaking equipment and grooming machines. Last winter's record snowfalls left 300cm of snow on the highest slopes, which usually see between 60cm and 100cm. Prices for ski passes compare favourably with other European destinations, between €11-€18 for adults, and €8-€12 for children, with season passes costing between €100-€180.
Peter Seliga, of Exploring Slovakia, has been an estate agent for eight years and has watched British interest grow in Slovakian property, but feels that more could be done to alert people to Slovakia's charms. "We need to advertise more but that's down to the government." He sells all kinds of property but has a passion for fine period buildings. Properties currently on sale include a six-bedroomed baroque house with mountain views, 40 minutes from Poprad airport in Liptovsky Mikulas, at €109,000. A four- bedroomed 18th-century "chateau", once the hunting-lodge of Countess Csaky, has original ceilings and fireplaces and costs €125,000.
Many of Seliga's clients fly over to view these magnificent buildings, which often require restoration, but few, it seems, end up buying them. "It often turns out that their budgets are only around £30,000 and they have to go for something more modest."
More humble properties start from as little as €13,000, which buys a small apartment near to skiing areas. "It's so much cheaper than many countries where you can ski, and we are the country with the third-greatest number of national parks, so there are plenty of great resorts to explore."
Jessica and William Hewitt, from Colchester, Essex, are about to fly to Slovakia to look at properties near skiing resorts, and they have a budget of around £45,000. "We were thinking about buying in Bulgaria but have realised that our money will go a lot further in Slovakia." The couple intend to use the new Sky Europe flights between Stansted and Poprad airport, which is around 90km from Liptovska Osada.
"Buying in this area would certainly be very convenient, and if you factor in the cost of expensive skiing holidays over the years, we reckon that we'll save money in the long run."
Slovakia Investment Property: 020-7152 4014; www.slovakiainvestmentproperty.com
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