Cyprus and Northern Cyprus ... in focus

| December 2, 2014

Have ever wanted to explore Cyprus? With our guide, you can find out more about what this exciting, divided island nation has to offer.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock

The island of Cyprus is a truly wonderful European destination – not least because it is actually two completely different destinations. Indeed, for several decades now the island has been divided into two parts: Cyprus (in the south), and Northern Cyprus, under Turkish rule.

Each of these has its own distinct culture, which means each offers a very different kind of holiday experience. And while the divide has certainly caused upheaval and friction in political terms, for travellers it can have a rather different effect in that it provides an opportunity to explore two contrasting places in a single journey.

Cox & Kings' own Michael Fleetwood, product manager for Europe and the Middle East, has shared his expert insights into this fascinating destination. Today, we will introduce you to both Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. As well as outlining their key differences, we will provide useful tips on places to visit, as well as the best ways to blend the two destinations in a single holiday.

What sets the south apart from the north?

The grassroots of the divide between  Cyprus and Northern Cyprus is governmental; for approximately four decades, the latter has been run by the Turkish, following extensive clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The results extend far beyond political differences, though.

Indeed, Michael explained that each destination attracts a different kind of tourism.  Cyprus, for instance, offers the choice of a classic sun and sand seven to 14-night break (particularly in locations such as Pafos, Limassol and Ayia Napa) or a culturally-focused trip looking at Greek Orthodox architecture and heritage sites.

By contrast, Michael describes Northern Cyprus as something of an "undiscovered little gem", with its culture very much resembling that of Turkey; everything from the food to the roadsigns is Turkish.

Does the divide create any practical problems for travellers?

We certainly recommend crossing the border and visiting both destinations during your stay in Cyprus; discovering their contrasts makes for a wonderful experience. It is also very easy to do, but Michael did highlight that there are one or two potential issues that travellers should look out for.

The first of these is hiring a car for the duration of your trip. Renting a vehicle is a great way to get around either the south or the north – but you cannot take your hire car across the border. This is purely because the insurance in the south is not valid in the north, and vice versa.

He suggested a very simple solution: taking a taxi. This way, you can go straight from the south to the north (or the north to the south) without any problems.

Adding that finding the border crossings on your own can be problematic, especially as they are rarely signposted, he noted that the biggest is in the divided capital, Nicosia. As such, it's best to arrive with information on where to go.

The relationship between north and south today

While the two destinations are still at loggerheads, Michael described the relationship between them as "growing", explaining that trade is improving and that tourism is also having a positive impact. He also highlighted that factors such as Turkey's wish to join the EU, of which Cyprus is already a part, may encourage the two places to reach some kind of compromise.

Adding that there are distinct differences in the tourism offerings of each, he explained that while the south's tourism is well established, the north's is very much still developing – and it's a particularly good time to visit this part of the island. Indeed, he noted that the exchange rate between Northern Cyprus's Turkish lira and the pound is very competitive at the moment. This, paired with the investment that the Turkish government is ploughing into the area, make for very good tourism opportunities indeed.

Cyprus: reasons to visit and top attractions

Cyprus may have a reputation for sun and sand (and it certainly has these qualities in abundance), but it also possesses a wealth of cultural and historical attractions. According to Michael, these fall into three main categories: architecture and Roman ruins, and religious sites.

In terms of architecture and ruins,  Cyprus is home to a wide spectrum of styles, thanks to Greek, Roman, Islamic and British influences. The prevalence of the Greek Orthodox religion means there are a host of churches with lavish interiors of gleaming gold and stunning frescoes – a real feast for the eyes.

Michael recommend two main areas to visit for cultural exploration in  Cyprus. The first is the Troodos Mountains. As well as being incredibly picturesque, these mountains are home to some of the region's most fascinating monasteries – including the largest on the island, the Kykkos Monastery. Also notable is the Agios Nikolaos Tis Stegis, which boasts Unesco World Heritage Site status.

The second area is Kato Pafos – also known as the Tomb of the Kings. Like Agios Nikolaos Tis Stegis, Kato Pafos is a Unesco World Heritage Site and offers a true window into Pafos's history, while standing in the midst of its modern cityscape. There is lots to see here, with its mosaics being a particular highlight.

Northern Cyprus: reasons to visit and top attractions

Easy to travel around, Northern Cyprus offers a medley of historic sites and stunning landscapes, blended with the region's quintessentially Turkish culture. Michael suggested that Kyrenia is a particularly good place for travellers to base themselves; this city has a scenic horseshoe-shaped harbour, a castle, museums and more, as well as an excellent selection of restaurants, bars and accommodation.

Among the best places to visit here is Kyrenia Castle – a Venetian fortification that also houses an excellent shipwreck museum. You will find this castle at the harbour entrance, where it has been filled with artefacts found from the sunken ships that once peppered this region's waters.

Michael noted that this area is a great place to get to grips with Cyprus's crusader past. The island was once a key staging ground for the first, second and third crusades, and is especially well-known for having hosted visits from England's very own Richard the Lionheart. Kantara Castle and St Hilarion are among the places where you can learn more.

If you are keen to discover some of the local ruins, Salamis and Famagusta are the two to seek out. Once upon a time the gateway to the Mediterranean, Salamis was the capital of Cyprus for 1,000 years. Famagusta, on the other hand, used to be one of the planet's wealthiest cities and, interestingly, is believed to have provided the setting for Shakespeare's wonderful tale of jealousy, Othello.

Don't leave Northern Cyprus without experiencing something of its natural attractions. Michael enthused about the Karpas Peninsula in particular, praising its utterly unspoiled coastline and its turtle population, both of which make for extremely memorable visits.

Cox & Kings offers short breaks to Cyprus, as well as tours to Northern Cyprus. Please visit the website for more information, or call a tour consultant on 020 7873 5000.

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