This is a first: I’m writing about a press trip that I withdrew from for personal reasons last Friday. It was a difficult decision not to go, not least because I really wanted to see North Cyprus and because I knew I would be letting down the good people who organised the trip.
So right now I’m supposed to be in sunny North Cyprus basking in 29°C heat and cooling off in the warm Mediterranean Sea. Instead I’m here in the UK, on a classic grey, drizzly Bank Holiday Monday in May.
To keep the rain away and to keep to this blog’s mission of nibbling at the edges of travel journalism, I’m going to write about a trip that I’m not on and a destination I haven’t been to. My vicarious trip to Cyprus is even making it into my 31 Destinations in Time series. Yes, it is that important.
The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 with Turkish-Cypriots controlling the northern third of the island and Greek-Cypriots governing the rest. As far as their relationship status goes: It’s complicated.
On 1 January 2008, the official Greece-affiliated Republic of Cyprus adopted the euro. Turkey, meanwhile, with its membership bid to join the European Union stuck ‘in process’, still uses the Turkish lira as currency.
Whatever your view of the politics of Cyrpus – and mine are coloured by growing up with a Northern Irish protestant mum and a Southern Irish Catholic dad – there is no denying that the rise of the euro against the UK pound is making the self-declared, unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus a more desirable budget destination than its neighbours to the south.
My pitch to regional Midland press was that new flights from Birmingham to Ercan, plus the better value currency, means that bargain-seeking Brummies might like to take a look at what North Cyprus has to offer as a holiday destination.
Arrival: Saturday evening
On the down side, flights are not direct. The plane puts down in Turkey first before flying on to Ercan in Cyprus – a six-hour trip rather than a more direct four-and-a-half-hour journey time. Arrival time from Manchester is 20.50 with a 45-minute transfer to our base in Kyrenia. I note that the traffic drives on the left so car rental is an option for those British drivers with European driving angst.
The hotel (I imagine) is splendiferous and ostentatiously Turkish, by which I mean that it doesn’t do understatement. Our base is the Rocks Hotel (pictured above) in Kyrenia. It looks to be one of the best North Cyprus has to offer: the blurbs say it is ‘extravagant’, ‘exquisite’, ‘prestigious’ and with an ‘enviable location’ in the centre of Kyrenia. I note the newly renovated pool area and a private (decked) pontoon beach with steps directly into the sea. I’ll be having some of that tomorrow (or I would if I was there).
Sunday: Boat tour
Many press trips overload the journalist with a jammed diary of things to see. Which means, of course, that you never get to experience anything. Rarely, on this trip, all that is on the agenda is a scenic boat tour in the morning along the northern Cyprus coastline.
Then it’s free time to enjoy the facilities and wander into town. If it were me, I’d be looking to do some snorkelling here – there are plenty of secluded coves and bays, and snorkelling trips can be arranged from the harbour.
Today I am missing a tour of Kyrenia (or Girne) with its horseshoe-shaped harbour, 7th-century Venetian/Byzantium castle and harbourside former carob warehouses that have been turned into seafront restaurants, cafes and bars.
Getting away from the tourist trail, I’d be tempted to detour to see the RSPCA-affiliated Kyrenia Animal Rescue centre up in the nearby Beşparmak (Fivefinger) Mountain range, which provides refuge for 200 dogs and cats and seems to be run by a group of animal-loving Brits. KAR also has a charity shop in Kyrenia and has a lovely page on their website of happy endings. I love these below-the-surface scenes of a place.
Tuesday: Nicosia and Famagusta
Nicosia (Lefkosa) is the world’s last divided capital city and as such a bit of a novelty for tourists on both sides of the Green Line (seen below in 2006).
Nicosia lies inland, straddling the border and UN buffer zone with the south. It is the political, cultural and economic hub of the island – which, in tourist terms, means ‘good for shopping’. The Old City is also divided and seems to be a popular day trip destination for visitors coming from the south, while North Cyprus visitors also now get a chance to nip into the Republic of Cyprus.
Famagusta, to the east, is a historic harbour city on the east coast. It became a ‘ghost town’ and a symbol of the Cyprus conflict following the Turkish invasion in 1974. The population dropped from 39,000 to just 8,000 in a year as Greek Cypriots left in droves. Now it has risen again to become one of the main holiday centres in Turkish Cyprus. I particularly wish I could have seen this area, and the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Salamis (above). But I didn’t.
Wednesday: home & factbox
Depart Ercan 0700, arrive Birmingham 1135. The tour operator is Anatolian Sky which has online deals to North Cyprus available from £259. A one-week stay in June on a half-board basis in a five-star hotel in Kyrenia costs around £579 per person, including flights from Birmingham to Ercan plus hotel transfers. Two-centre Turkey/Cyprus holidays are also available. For further information, visit the website: AnatolianSky.co.uk or call 08445 71 91 11.
Anatolian Sky has also blogged about its North Cyprus offering: