BANSKO - The citizens of Bansko, a ski resort in Bulgaria's Pirin mountains, are selling their land with gusto to buy fancy cars and replace communist-era furniture.
The same is true of other mountain resorts, as well as Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, as foreigners snap up cheap second homes, sending the price of resort and farming land to 250 euros (about R2500) a square metre from just 20 euros five years ago.
But this growth comes at a cost. The once idyllic little town with cobblestone streets and traditional architecture, which in the 1980s was popular among skiers and hikers from the former Soviet bloc, has changed beyond recognition.
It is now crammed with concrete hotels. Roads are damaged, infrastructure is insufficient and pressure over water resources grows.
Dozens of ageing, roaring trucks carry concrete and bricks over unpaved tracks to Bansko's mushrooming new districts. Dust and huge cranes mar the view to the mountain.
"Our beautiful Bansko has been spoilt. Look at all these blocks and buildings," said 83-year-old Danka Spaseva, who has lived in Bansko through world wars and communism.
The cost also includes corruption, illegal land deals and construction of ski trails involving local officials and property developers.
"Corruption is rampant. The state has abdicated its functions to exercise control and the rule of law," said Ivan Sirleshtov, 60, a member of a local civil group to fight graft.
"Bansko is being built in a very barbaric, outrageous way. There is no urban planning whatsoever," said Sirleshtov, who once published newspaper ads to lure tourists to his town.
Visitors are amazed to discover that Bulgaria, relatively unknown in the West, has 220km of Black Sea beaches, and its mountains boast 130 peaks over 2000m with excellent skiing and hiking. - Reuters