Thursday 29 September 2016

North Cyprus: A driving tour of the Med's final tourism frontier

Northern light

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

Kyrenia Castle, North Cyprus
Kyrenia Castle, North Cyprus
Donkeys in Northern Cyprus
Hotel Olive Tree in Northern Cyprus
Grand Turkish Hamam
Oranges trees

From unspoiled coastlines to roaming wild donkeys, Thomas Breathnach finds an off-radar gem in North Cyprus.

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Set the mood

I'm on the edge. Of Europe.

Parked up on Cape Saint Andrew with the continent's first sun rays beaming down, I abandon my trusty Ford Fiesta to absorb the vistas.

Waves crash against a cliff-face capped by a lonesome monastery; shepherds coral a flock of ewes down the parched hillsides, while across the olive brushed horizon, early light is shimmering the landscape to life.

The pastoral air feels almost biblical, but the distant echoes of the Call to Prayer and the warm local greetings of Merhaba reveal a land less orthodox.

I'm in Northern Cyprus; the Turkish strands of this divided, eastern Mediterranean island. I'm exploring the treasures of a forgotten country.

Guilty pleasure

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With its official currency, the Turkish Lira, on the rocks, luxuries are blissfully bountiful in North Cyprus. For some urban pampering, head to the divided capital of Lefkosa (AKA Nicosia) where the historic Buyuk Hamam offers traditional spa treatments from 50TL/€15 (grandturkishhamam.com).

Fancy more of an eco-indulgence? Scuba-diving with sea turtles should hit the bucket list bonanza. The elusive green turtle finds its European home on the coasts of Northern Cyprus, with a number of local outfitters getting you up close and personal on boating trips (mephisto-diving.com; €70). Just call it the new swimming with dolphins.

Cheap kick

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For the quintessential calendar image of Northern Cyprus, look for the country's unlikely billboard attraction: wild donkeys.

The animals, originally abandoned by Greek farmers fleeing the Turkish invasion, act as an unlikely legacy of the conflict and a magnet for Instagramming road-trippers. On the remote Karpass Peninsula, over 2,000 donkeys boldly block roadways and pillage farmland amid glorious legal protection. In fact, their conservation is said to be one of the few things the Greeks and Turks can agree on!

Top tip

Smile, you're on camera! Speed traps are in astounding abundance in North Cyprus, so avoid hefty fines and heed warning signs and limits while driving. Also, save your koftas for your picnic: eating behind the wheel here could cost you €85!

Insider intel

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With fears that Cyprus would annex to its Hellenic motherland, Turkey invaded in 1974, occupying almost half the island. Today, the region has a safe and laid-back, Kusadasi-meets-Mykonos vibe.

The white-washed fishing port of Kyrenia is a dream base, while the mountainside hamlet of Catalkoy offers more rustic appeal. Come check-in, the four-star Olive Tree is a real bargain find (olivetreehotel.com; €24pps).

Glitches

North Cyprus is home to some of the most unspoiled coastlines in the Med - it's just a shame what gets washed up on them. Marine trash is an obvious malaise, with castaway rubbish often marring perfect panoramas.

Get me there

North Cyprus and its international airport are not recognised by IATA, so visitors must hopscotch via its only global ally, Turkey, to get there.

The good news is that connections from Dublin via Istanbul allow for minimal layover times, with return rates starting from around €276 (turkishairlines.com).

On the ground, excellent road networks plus drive-on-the-left appeal make Northern Cyprus ideal for car touring. For more info, see welcometonorthcyprus.co.uk.

Irish Independent

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