OVERSEAS CROATIA: It Knocks the Spots off City Life ; Ginetta Vedrickas Meets a Family Who Ditched the the Grimy City in Favour of a Freer Life in Dalmatia
Vedrickas, Ginetta, The Independent (London, England)
Stressful city-living, working all hours and having a young family is enough to make the hardiest of us dream of a total life change. For most of us it remains just a dream but Charles, 38, and Carol Southgate, 37, have exchanged their frenetic London lives for a more peaceful existence in a small fishing village on the Dalmatian coast.
The Southgates have two small boys, Thomas, aged three and Ben, aged one, and, until March this year, were struggling to juggle family life while working in the City as portfolio managers. Charles explains what prompted their radical move. 'I'd been in the City for 15 years. It got to the stage where I realised that, if I didn't change soon, I'd be there for the rest of my life, and I didn't fancy trotting into the City each day aged 60.'
The couple's long hours (they frequently worked 12-hour days) were bearable pre-children but afterwards they began increasingly to question their hectic lifestyles, despite being successful and living in a desirable part of London, 'We didn't want the children to grow up without knowing us because we're both at work all day, every day,' says Carol.
After talking to a Croatian friend at work, Charles hatched an escape plan. 'He was so enthusiastic about the country and the potential of its property market that we started to think that there had to be an opportunity out here for us.' The Southgates visited and quickly fell in love with the central Dalmatian coastline and decided to move permanently " and have started up their own property agency, A Place in Dalmatia. Initially drawn to the romantic islands which line much of the coastline, practicality soon won out, says Charles. 'With small children your priorities change and you have to be within easy reach of things such as hospitals.'
The couple sold their 'betwixt the commons' Battersea home and rented at first. They have now bought a 200-year-old, large, stone property overlooking the sea at Kastel Novi, one of a string of villages known as 'kastela' after the small castles built as country retreats by Trogir nobles. They paid EUR300,000 (pounds 200,000) and are busy transforming the period building into a five-bedroomed family home complete with pool, large kitchen and office space for their business. 'We hope that it will prove to be a great investment and should even be worth 60 per cent more on completion,' adds Charles.
The stressful buying process has made them determined to offer a better service. 'Information was dreadful and the agent we used didn't seem interested in helping us, which has made us keen to use our experiences to provide something better, such as floor-plans for every property.' Most buyers head further south to around Dubrovnik or to Istria in the north, both of which have greater accessibility, but central Dalmatia is growing in popularity. This year British Airways introduced more frequent flights into Split, and now that Croatia has signed the Open Skies agreement in the run-up to EU accession, low-cost airlines will soon be able to operate.
So far, the couple have no regrets, their business is firmly established and their eldest child has settled at nursery school where he is the only British child: 'He is picking up Croatian far quicker than us. …