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Of all the idiotic things I've ever done, nothing beats the occasion a few months ago when I withdrew £25,000 in cash from my bank, and handed it in a brown envelope to my Polish builder so that he, in turn, could give it to his wife (whom I'd never met) to take to Poland to buy some land I'd never seen and was technically forbidden from owning because it's near the sensitive border area where foreigners need a special permit. Why, not content with having possibly flushed £25,000 down the drain, am I now preparing to throw an even heftier wodge in the same general direction, developing my plot of land in partnership with Przamek (pronounced Shamek) the builder, in the hope that one day we might be able to sell our apartments for several times our initial investment? At the age of 41, it has belatedly dawned on me that I don't stand a chance of getting where I want to be in life on graft alone.No matter how much I earn as a writer and journalist, it never seems quite enough to pay the bills.We're clearly not the only people who think this way. Also, let's be honest, there's an element of intrigue and excitement to buying a property outside your home country." But where to invest?In the past five years, from Cape Verde and Morocco to Cyprus and much of eastern Europe, property values have soared, thanks in good part to the gold rush of British investors desperate to grab a piece of the action before everything gets too expensive."It's down to a combination of cheap air travel and the growth of the internet," says Peter Ronald, whose Sphere global property fund, with investments everywhere from Brazil to northern Cyprus, has been generating returns for its clients of 30 per cent per annum. Since my wife is half-Bulgarian, the obvious choice was somewhere on the Black Sea coast, or Bansko, the much-talked-about ski resort where early speculators have been seeing yields of 12 per cent and capital growth of 30 per cent per annum.Hardly anyone in Britain has heard of it, but for central Europeans (Poles mainly, but also Germans, Ukrainians and Russians), it's a massively popular tourist destination.
But it's an ideal place for a family holiday, it's not difficult to get to - a two-hour flight to Katowice from Luton airport, then a two-hour drive - and it's very cheap. Prices are rising; the rental market is buoyant; and the patch of land we've bought is in a perfect location in a pretty hamlet called Javornik, about 10 minutes' walk from the bottom of the nearest ski-lift, with a steep, wooded slope on one side and more gently sloping Alpine-style pastureland on the other.And suppose, all along, he's trying to rip you off.I like Przamek and I trust him, or I wouldn't have handed him that £25,000 in return for nothing more than a scrawled - legally meaningless - receipt.I like the fact that they're cheerful, hard-working and uncomplaining.I like the way, when your flight lands at the airport, everyone gives the pilot a round of applause.