A Winter Escape to the North

A winter escape to the North of Cyprus. Have you ever dreamt of escaping the madness of the Christmas holidays? The turkey too big for your oven, the present pile ready for refunds and the relatives who hang around like the smell of sprouts (that everybody expects but nobody eats). Imagine escaping to a place where the sound of waves lap against the shores of sandy beaches and your face is gently warmed by the setting sun.

Screeeeech! Okay, brakes on, reality check. Dreaming of winter sun is all very well but the practical reality can often equate to lightyear long flights, jet lag and a luggage load of expense. So what if we suggested a little closer to home? Don’t sigh, we too shudder at the thought of a well-trodden package tour to the likes of Tenerife.

There is an alternative though. Instead of stockpiling presents, it’s time to take stock and open the realms of winter sun possibility to one of the last remaining Mediterranean gems. Think Cyprus, and before your heart starts pounding to the mob chants of “Ayia Napa”, think Turkish, think North.

Cyprus is an island divided politically, economically, culturally and quite frankly in the looks department too. With its picturesque towns, romantic castle ruins and scenic backdrops, North Cyprus, the Turkish side of the island, is a destination not to dismiss from your winter holiday dreams. Unlike the southern Greek side where the likes of Aiya Napa offer little more than summers getting sloshed in what can only be likened to a licensed theme park, the North remains culturally rich with a host of historical attractions.

Even the tourist hub of Kyrenia, whose casinos entertain weekend visitors from mainland Turkey (where casino gambling is banned), is able to boast a wealth of natural beauty with its stunning horseshoe harbour, home to a magnificent Byzantine castle. So if gambling isn’t your thing but you’re not ready to hit the sack when the sun goes down, enjoy a cold Efes beer or a wedge of local lemon in a long gin and tonic, together with a succulent lamb filled a slice of Turkish Cypriot life. The many enticing restaurants and taverns spotted along the harbour offer not only majestic views of the mountainous bay but varied and mouthwatering cuisine.

Be warned though, once well fuelled and inspired, you are likely to find yourself suggesting how incredible it would be to trek beyond the bay to breathe in the cliff top wonders of the Kyrenia mountain range and long finger-like Karpas peninsula. Here the nearest the North will get to any hint of a theme park is the ruins of St Hilarion, said to be the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. This scarcely populated area is brimming with ancient and archaeological treasures. Even if walking isn’t your thing, rest assured your enthusiasm from the night before will not be warned once the mountainous air hits your lungs.

And whilst there is no shortage of historical turrets and towers in the North of Cyprus, due to stringent building controls there are surprisingly few highrise hotels to mar either the mountainous landscape or beautiful coastlines where turtles nest on un-spoilt white sandy beaches. Instead, there is a healthy pick of boutique hotels, villas, self-catering cottages, B& B’s as well as luxury hideaways to suit every budget.

It is therefore paradoxical that thousands of Brits continue to flock annually for a summer in the south and all other seasons anywhere but, when the north sits quietly with welcome arms all year round. Moreover, North Cyprus also happily sits outside the Eurozone and so continues to offer its wealth of rustic charm, culture and cuisine, not to mention over 300 days a year of sunshine, at superb value for money. Okay, it’s not hot enough during the winter months to get bikini-clad but you will still enjoy beautiful sunshiny days and the perfect climate for relaxing beach strolls and exhilarating mountains treks.

So just a few final words for this winter. Say no to tinsel and never-ending turkey sandwiches. Think Turkish instead. Think Cyprus. Think North.