TRAVEL: Our friends in the north

Kyrenia Harbour, North CyprusOn
Kyrenia Harbour, North CyprusOn
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WE all know there’s something special about living up north.

The same applies for the inhabitants of the upper third of Cyprus – the Turkish-speaking section of an island that has long been a holiday favourite.

As virtually anyone who lives in North Cyprus will tell you, this is the “unspoilt” part of a destination that remains divided by politics and nations, but is seemingly drawing closer together.

Since 2003 it has been possible to cross the border into the Greek-run south. But why would you bother when so much of the north remains undeveloped inland and along its coastline, meaning you’re more likely to see the sea and nature’s attractions than hotels.

Get the right room at the family-run Pia Bella Hotel, Kyrenia, for instance, and you can view the ocean.

A short ride on a shared dolmus minibus from the car park – and a few Turkish Lira (around £1.50) – will get you closer to preened sandy stretches such as the trendy Escape beach to the west or Acapulco beach, east. About £6 secures entry to the former and a sunlounger for the day next to clear waters and a range of water sports.

You could, of course, simply tan up and cool down with one of the two pools at the Pia Bella where waiters will happily serve you chilled pints of Efes lager.

In fact, they make it very hard to tear yourself away, especially with half board giving access to an extensive dinner buffet of cold traditional mezes and cooked food.

When you do fancy a change, Kyrenia’s lovely old walled harbour is lined with waterside dining choices as well as boat trip opportunities, some boasting a sunset with dinner option.

Central to this historic part of town is its extensive fort, which puts the long history before the 1974 island division into perspective. From Byzantines, to Richard The Lionheart and the Ottomans, Cyprus has always proved attractive and strategic to many different would-be owners.

These days there’s talk of a fresh water ‘peace’ pipeline from Turkey to help further heal the division between the current inhabitants of north and south.

One of the draws to some – notably Israeli, Greek, Russian and mainland Turkish visitors – is gambling. Here it is allowed and 24 casinos, some linked with hotels, flourish, although locals are not allowed to use them.

Some 80 different nationalities come to the north for something more wholesome, namely the university at Famagusta, with many Brits among the 50,000 students.

Others visit the town for its genuine, and copied, designer gear while fans of history and Shakespeare make for St Nicholas Cathedral, now the epic Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, and the Lusignan-period fort with its famous 12th century Othello Tower.

There are more ‘ghosts’ a short drive away where fences at Varosha keep everyone out of a resort once considered the Monte Carlo of the region.

For 40 years streets lined with luxury hotels, smart homes, mosques and orthodox churches have lay abandoned, a no-man’s land annexed by politics, and a sobering reminder of this island’s recent past.

Tour Plus, whose reps call daily at the Pia Bella, run coach trips to this area, taking in the monastery of St Barnabus with its ‘room of icons’ and archaeology museum and the stunning beach-side ruins at the Roman city of Salamis.

For the same price a day-trip to the rugged but stunning Karpaz Peninsula, leading to the tip of the ‘panhandle’ at the top of Cyprus, is worth the time and money.

Also including lunch overlooking the sea, it takes in a fairly forgettable fishing village on the way to a co-operative olive pressing plant and the remains of the 5th century church of Ayios Philion. The Apostolos Andreas Monastery is a more impressive sight, as is the clear warm water of Golden Beach, in Karpaz. Your schedule allows a much-needed dip.

In the full heat of summer – just two weeks ago it was hitting 45 degrees – it’s a civilised way to acclimatise. Once you or it cools a little, Nicosia also demands a visit.

The last divided capital in the world, this vibrant, fascinating city retains much of its old charm, blending cultures on narrow streets, some ramshackle, others clearly prospering.

Grab your map to discover the UN’s Green Line, the city walls, the grand serenity of Selimiye Camii Mosque (St Sophia Cathedral) or the bustle of the Closed Grand Bazaar, Bandabuliya.

The Great Inn (Buyuk Han) also warrants attention and you can’t help but be intrigued by the ‘forbidden zone’ close to the border.

A shared taxi is a cheap and comfortable way – the Pia Bella reception will call for one – to get to a place locals call Lefkosa.

It seems here and beyond some of the scars are fading in favour of a future that can only draw more Brits seeking a holiday as relaxing, or as fascinating, as they desire.

Elsewhere you can see where Lawrence Durrell found inspiration for his book Bitter Lemons Of Cyprus, namely the pretty village of Bellapais in the foothills of the Five Finger Mountain range.

Or the place said to have flavoured Walt Disney’s Snow White – the ruins of St Hilarion Castle.

High above Kyrenia’s coastline, you might just find the view inspiring you to book for longer next time.