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Talking Turkey About the Beaches of Northern Cyprus

Tourism on Cyprus' northern half has remained slow in development and growth since Turkey's invasion three decades ago. What that means for the tourist though, is an island destination with lower prices and a chance to discover a largely untapped part of the Mediterranean.

Cyprus is an idyllic and historic island in the Mediterranean, but one that has been fraught with political turmoil and upheavals since Turkey launched an invasion in 1974, leading to the separation of the island into two distinct zones -- one the Republic of Cyprus (or what people refer to as just "Cyprus" or "Greek Cyprus") and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC, the Turkish controlled area). Politics aside, if Turkey wishes to become part of the European Union -- which has been on the drawing board for some time now -- one of the conditions of entry is the full opening up of ports and trade between the two parts of Cyprus and a recognition by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus, which could effectively end over 30 years of aggression. Border crossings between the two regions have been open since 2003, with crossings points at Agios Dometios (Nicosia), Black Knight (also known as Azios Nikolaos, Strovilia or Akyar), Ledra Palace (Nicosia), Pergamos (also known as Beyarmudu or Dhekelia) and Zohdia (also known as G├╝zelyurt, Astromeritis, Morpho, Morfu, Omorfo or Morfou) -- so tourists can feel free to cross from south to north, although transportation between the two sides is limited.

As a result of an across the board economic boycott of Turkish Cyprus by member states of the EU, tourism in the northern part of the island has largely remained slow in development and growth. What that means for the tourist though, is an island destination with fewer tourists, lower prices (Lira rather than Euro) and a chance to discover a largely untapped part of the Mediterranean.

Getting to TRNC isn't quite as simple as flying straight in or taking a boat like you would to Greek Cyprus. All international and intercontinental flights fly via the Turkish mainland, although summer 2007 will mark the first time that British carriers will fly non-stop between the U.K. and the Ercan Airport in Northern Cyprus.

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In general though, you are likely to start your northern Cyprus trip from Turkey (Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Adana or Antalya) with a flight (on Turkish Airlines or Cyprus Turkish Airlines -- 60 to 90 minutes) or a ferry from Antalya over to the island. Alternatively the U.K. has many travel companies that specialize in Northern Cyprus vacations, offering packages including airfare from London.

Apart from lying on mainly secluded beaches, there is plenty to do and see, including scuba diving, wildlife viewing (turtles, birds, etc.), archaeological sites featuring Greek and Roman ruins (like Soli and Salamis), mosques, cathedrals, Crusader castles, historic harbors and plentiful shopping in unique bazaars and craft shops.

The northern and eastern shores of TRNC are surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean and the coastline features bays and beaches where you can swim throughout the year. The most popular areas for tourists are the beaches of Kyrenia (Girne) -- the main resort area in the north, the Famagusta beaches in the east and the more remote areas of Karpaz in the north east -- famed for beaches like Malibu and Golden Sands, home to turtle nesting zones.

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If you are expecting accommodation in quaint white-washed villas covered in bougainvillea a-la-the Greek Isles, think again. Hotels here are predominantly modern beachfront properties, although many are boutique (under 50 rooms) in size. Almost all hotels work on a bed and breakfast basis. You can also rent a villa or stay in more humble one-star hotels and guesthouses (many without websites or online booking capabilities).

Sunny Beach Bungalows and Apartments (+90/392-821-8924; www.north-cyprus.com/sunny-beach) features 18 individual units with a central pool and a private stretch of beach, located on the coast 15 minutes west of Kyrenia. Weekly rentals in a duplex bungalow start from $290 (for three people -- maximum of six permitted) or $387 for four people in a two bedroom apartment -- basically $97 per person per week for extremely comfortable beach-front accommodations.

The North Cyprus website (www.north-cyprus.com/privatevillas2.html) also features a selection of private villas, many in mountain or rural locations with prices starting from approximately $500 per week for three and four bedroom properties.

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Also in Kyrenia, The Citrus Tree (www.citrus-tree.com) is a tiny property of only 17 rooms based around an inviting pool area. Rates here per person start at $24 per night (bed and breakfast) from April 1 to June 15 or $28 from June 16 to October 15 (winter rates are even lower). Four people staying in one of their two-bedroom villas pay even less - $20 and $24 respectively. Upgrade to half-board (breakfast and dinner) for just under $10 more per person per day at any time of the year.

Heading inland (but only four miles from the Kyrenia beaches), the hill side town of Bellpais is renowned for its 13th-century gothic abbey. It offers breathtaking views of the Northern Cypriot coast and is a step back in time with cobblestone streets, winding narrow lanes and some of the most elegant hotels in Northern Cyprus.

Bellapais Monastery Village (tel. +90/392-815-9171; www.bellapaismonasteryvillage.com) is set amongst lush gardens and has stunning sea views from a split level pool terrace. Their summer 2007 rates have yet to be posted on their website but rates per person per night (based on double occupancy) on a bed and breakfast basis for stays during the month of March are $44.

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Bellapais Gardens (tel. +90/392-815-6066; www.bellapaisgardens.com) is considered amongst the best hotels in Northern Cyprus. It features 17 studio apartments and bungalows, a cliff top restaurant, freshwater pool and five-star service. No current prices are available on their website but January 2007 rates start at $77 per person per night bed and breakfast, so expect rates up to 50% higher in peak season.

Both The Abbey Inn at Bellapais (tel. +90/392-815-9444) and The Residence at Bellapais are historic and petite boutique hotels located in the center of Bellapais. Strangely none of the hotels in Bellapais caters to children, in fact their websites make a point of specifying that the hotels are not suitable for children under 12 (Bellapais Monastery Village and Bellapais Gardens) or children under 16 (The Abbey Inn at Bellapaix and The Residence at Bellapaix -- possibly understandable based on the sheer volume and value of antiques and historic artifacts housed at these two hotels).

Cyprus Paradise (www.north-cyprus-holidays.co.uk), a U.K.-based Northern Cyprus specialist will be introducing the new non-stop flights from the U.K. to Northern Cyprus in June, 2007 and this will effectively cut a couple of hours off the travel time. Travel this summer and their airfare (from London), seven-night ocean front hotel and breakfast daily package rates include the following:

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  • The three-star Hotel Sempati, just outside Kyrenia from $752
  • The three-star Top Set Hotel, just outside Kyrenia from $826
  • The four-star Venus Beach Hotel in Paphos from $863
  • The five-star Palm Beach Hotel in Famagusta from $881

For more information about Northern Cyprus, you can get general but less than comprehensive tourism information at www.turkishcyprus.com, www.northcyprusonline.com and www.gonorthcyprus.co.uk.

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