Slovakia - An Eastern European Surprise
By Michael Russell
People who are looking for their own "place in the sun" might do worse than to take a look at Slovakia. It was formerly a part of Czechoslovakia, but now a republic in its own right after being under Communist rule from WWII until 1991. Few vestiges of those days remain and the Slovakians seldom talk of them.
Slovakia is divided into 8 self-administered regions, each having its own capital: Bratislava, Trnava, Trencin, Nitra, Zilina (western Slovakia), Banska Bystrica (central Slovakia), Kosice and Presov (East). Bratislava in the west (near Vienna) and Kosice in the east, are cheap-flight airports for airlines like Sky Europe. On the map you'll find Slovakia borders on its west with Austria, on its south with Hungary, north with the Czech Republic and Poland and on its eastern borders lies the Ukraine.
For the most part, the language is Slovak although a carryover from the occupation and Communist rule means that many understand Russian, but will not speak it. The trend like elsewhere in Europe is for English to be taught as a second language and there is usually someone around who wants to practice on the visitor, especially in University towns.
Most of the economic life is still concentrated in the Bratislava area, followed by other main western Slovak cities. These areas are also likely to be of most interest to a property investor. The reasons are simple - solid economy, growing investments (foreign as well as domestic), excellent infrastructure, favorable business environment along with relatively low unemployment and higher prosperity of the population. This makes Trnava, Zilina and to a lesser extent Trencin and Nitra, all in central Slovakia, into exceptional markets for those looking for untapped opportunities. Prices are low with little competition and there are potentially high returns.
Trnava and Zilina are perhaps no longer a secret tip in Slovakia, but they are still practically unknown abroad. Both of these historic cities have lots in common; great infrastructure and accessibility (air, road and rail), a fast growing economy although not out of control and a rich history and culture (as well as being main university towns). A Dutch couple who were finding Holland to be too expensive after the introduction of the Euro decided to settle in this region, buying a small farm near Levice in the Nitra district. Levice is a relaxed small sized town, situated in the midst of wine fields and to the north: mountains for skiing, walking, biking and general outdoor life. There is an excellent and punctual bus service running between small towns. This area has a Mediterranean atmosphere, without the price tag. So they feel they have the best of both worlds, with all-season holiday opportunities.
With a combination of shops like Tesco and the wonderful display of rural products, great wines, vegetables that still have the original flavour from days long gone in our western overproduced society, they also felt good about the food issue. Everywhere there are rural markets with people selling their own grown produce: fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and nuts. Can you remember tasting something simple like broccoli or potatoes so wonderful and rich, you neither want nor need any sauce on it to make it taste like anything? And meat; Slovakians like their meat and there's certainly no shortage of the freshest cuts of all varieties together with fresh poultry.
But what really won over the Dutch couple are the Spas, a great way to stay and/or get well. Spas are a naturally ingrained health tradition in Slovakia. Doctors here are highly trained, actually so are most people we met, being engineers, chemists, doctors, since education was free for everybody in the communist days. Their approach to solving health problems is a natural and more sustainable one. Instead of chemical medication, one goes to a Spa and spends a few days or weeks depending on your health problem. Every Spa has a specialty: like skin, heart or respiratory problems. Prices which include room, board and treatments are very affordable indeed.
What a great way to stay or get well again, this together with the clean air and beautiful surroundings of the locations of the Spa, the body and mind gets an enormous health boost. After spending a day in a Spa they felt this would be a great country to settle. They have been constantly pleasantly surprised by the "yes" attitude they have encountered with everything and every question they've had, even by civil servants their questions were immediately taken and dealt with seriously, an attitude so unlike one encounters in countries like France.
Slovakia will convert to the Euro currency in 3 years, so prices are sure to go up. Slovakia has one the fastest growing economies in Europe, exceeding expectations, despite the general European slowdown. Slovakia may then become too expensive for expats to buy a place, but for those who had the foresight to buy now, they should do very well, thank you!
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