Page last updated at 06:28 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 07:28 UK

Brits heading east for sunshine

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Bulgaria

"It's a lot better value than Spain, definitely. We're actually taking money home with us this time, which we don't normally do," says Marie Quinn from Consett in County Durham.

Mrs Quinn, 44, is here in the Black Sea resort of Zlatni Pyasatsi, which means Golden Sands, with her husband and two teenage children.

"It's very nice. The weather's great, the food's been fine," she adds.

Brits head east
The Golden Sands even has its own Eiffel Tower

Tour operators say the credit crunch and the exchange rate between sterling and the euro is tempting more Brits seeking some sunshine to head for Eastern Europe.

"Demand is definitely shifting," says Dermot Halpin, from the travel website Expedia. "Destinations outside the eurozone which are mid-haul rather than long haul, such as Bulgaria and Turkey, are on the up."

There are 20,000 hotel beds here at Golden Sands - and with the thermometer touching 30c it's any match for Spain or France when it comes to the sun.

Tourists wander along the seafront, some heading for the wide, sandy beach, others for a dip in the Black Sea.

I've travelled here from the south of France - a traditional hotspot for British tourists in the summer. But it's much easier to find Brits here than on the Cote d'Azur.

Brits head east
Rebecca Sheridan and her family and friends are enjoying Bulgaria

Perched on a bench with her friends and family, Rebecca Sheridan, 29, from London, glances in the direction of the Ministry of Cocktails bar which stands between the sea and a model of the Eiffel Tower, which tourists stroll under on the way back to some of the hotels.

"A lot of my friends don't really know where Bulgaria is - but now it is up and coming more people are hearing about it and want to come over here," she says. "I really like it. It's hot, it's friendly, they try to speak English and it's cheap."

Price is a big factor for people here. With the economy at home heading downhill, and the cost of the euro climbing, many tourists have opted to head out of the eurozone, and out of their comfort zone. And most aren't disappointed.

A few days ago in St Tropez in France, some visitors told me the resort had failed the "choc ice test" - the ice cream cost them the equivalent of 2.50 each. Here you can have one for just over 1.

And if home comforts are what you're after, they are not hard to find. I head for a drink in the Vectis Tavern, which claims to be the only English-owned restaurant anywhere on the Black Sea coast.

Brits head east
Familiar fare is on offer in the cafes and restaurants

Named after a pub on the Isle of Wight, it sells 200 steak and ale pies every day, 200 cottage pies and 165 English breakfasts. And customers can wash it all down with a mug of PG Tips.

"We're three or four times cheaper than Spain, and the food is very nice!" says joint manager Gerry Georgiev, 32.

But, in this frontier land for Western tourists, there are those who say the place simply is not good enough.

Les and Janet Ward from Manchester travel abroad regularly, and are not impressed.

"It's very basic. The buildings are tired, and the infrastructure is old-fashioned," says Mr Ward, 69. "It's not what you're used to when you've been to Spain. We don't even have a fridge in our room. We expected more." Mrs Ward, who's also 69, agrees. "It's like going back 30 or 40 years - and we don't like it."

It is a sentiment Rochelle Turner, head of research at Which? Holiday, is familiar with. "Anecdotally, there is the same quality available in Eastern Europe as Western Europe, but you have to really look for it - you have to search harder and you have to search for longer. It is there - but there's not as much of it as in the West."


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific