Cyprus has always been a popular tourist destination, particularly with sun seekers. Visitors have flocked to resorts, or soaked up the culture the south of the island. Flora Thompson discovers why growing numbers of holidaymakers are venturing over the border to experience North Cyprus.
DUSK slowly falls over Kyrenia Harbour.
The silhouette of the towering mountains behind rise up in the glimmer of lamplight. Fishing boats jostle in the light breeze with jingling bells and waves gently lap at the sea wall.
Carob storehouses still hug the cove, but now play host to a handful of restaurants offering candlelit tables looking out to sea.
Take a trip to North Cyprus and this charming spot awaits you.
The area's unspoilt pockets of natural beauty steeped in history with friendly, welcoming people and an abundance of good weather is attracting a growing numbers of tourists to holiday in the top half of the island, according to Go North Cyprus.
The travel company said its currency of Turkish Lira makes visits around 30 per cent cheaper than Euro zone countries - giving it all the allure of a Mediterranean holiday but at half the price.
Take in the striking views of the Karpas Peninsula, visit long stretches of sandy beaches and secluded bays, drive up into the mountains to get a true sense of the island’s scenery and soak it all up in tucked away postcard-perfect villages. Bursting with wildlife, you can spot turtles nesting and wild flowers including orchids adorn the landscape.
The weather will not disappoint. It is an ideal for a late spring or Autumn break and - for those seeking highs of more than 30 - the summer.
This makes for plenty of tasty, fresh produce. Sweet and juicy oranges, pomegranate, honey, cherries, lemons, and olive oil are abundant. Family-run tavernas each have a different take on delicious traditional dishes like kebab, stews, freshly-caught fish and moussaka. The flavours in spreads of meze – a variety of small hot and cold tapas-like morsels often served as a starter – will differ subtly but a few staples like houmous, halloumi and tzatziki reoccur.
Politically, the country’s history is tumultuous with a handful of empires vying for ownership over 2,000-plus years. Exploring the landscape is a fascinating journey through time, with examples of Roman ruins, the remnants of the Crusades and striking Ottoman architecture.
In places the country is rough and ready - there has been a flurry of development – but this has little impact on the beauty it has to offer.
The quality of the tourist accommodation is good with clean and modern budget options, comfortable self-catering and luxury five star hotels. There are good resorts for the beach holiday, spacious and secluded villas for families and convenient hotels for couples. Many feature spas and casinos for those eager to relax and indulge. But for the more active there is everything from hiking and water sports to golf.
The physical divide between the north and south remains – with evident differences in currency, predominant language, faith and some regulations. But since 2003, crossing the border has been quick and easy. Now life on both sides of the island can be experienced in a matter of footsteps at the capital city’s pedestrian checkpoint. The Green Line (so called when a coloured crayon marked the split on a map during negotiations, tour guides will proudly tell you, rather than the pen referred to in travel books) is freely acknowledged.
Its position is discussed fairly openly. Although no major incident has been recorded since the crossing opened, the tensions which resulted in the divide some 40 years ago can be a sensitive topic for some, particularly older generations. Tact is advised when broaching the subject but there is a clear desire from both quarters to co-exist peacefully and welcome visitors with open arms.
• We flew with Easyjet to Larnaka and stayed at the five star Grand Pasha Hotel in Kyrenia in a package booked by Go North Cyprus. Hotels from £17 a night, tours from £25 per person and holidays from £200 can be found at gonorthcyprus.com.
Predominantly Turkish Cypriots live in North Cyprus, and Greek Cypriots in the south, which is in the European Union and still known as the Republic of Cyprus. English is widely spoken. North Cyprus enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year.
Flights are available from Gatwick and other airports. It takes around four-and-a-half hours to fly to Larnaka in the south or six hours to land at Ercan airport after a short touch down in Turkey. Straight forward private transfers to your final destination can be arranged.
The currency of North Cyprus is Turkish Lira and prices are reasonable. 100 TL or around £35 (at April 2016 exchange rates) would buy a generous two/three course meal in a harbourside restaurant with drinks.
Euros are used in the south. Sterling and other currency is sometimes accepted.
Top five things to do:
1. Soak up the atmosphere in Kyrenia Harbour.
2. Hike your way up to the Richard the Lionheart mountaintop castles of St Hilarion and Buffavento for unbelievable views.
3. Discover how the history of the island helped formed its identity today and see the ghost towns left behind with the introduction of the Green Line. There is the Roman city of Salamis, the remnants of the Crusades in mountaintop castles and striking Ottoman architecture in the northern part of Nicosia. The old town of Famagusta – what was Cyprus’ most lavish and important city – is enclosed by Venetian walls and dotted with Gothic churches.
4. Cross the border between two countries on foot to see two completely different sides to Nicosia, the world's only capital to remain divided.
5. Venture out in a hire car to find the mountainside village of Bellapais and tour the coastline, enjoying the beaches.