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Title: Cyprush for a bargain break - (2008-09-19)

Cyprush for a bargain break



CLEAR seas, rich history, hidden beauty and cheap as chips.

North Cyprus — the little known Turkish side of the Mediterranean island — is a great bet for a wallet-friendly autumn break.

Thanks to the border opening between north and south five years ago and talk of unification, this jewel in the Med is establishing itself as a holiday destination.

The lira is still the official currency in North Cyprus and at nearly 2.35 to the Pound, it’s one of the best places to get a value-packed holiday this winter.

Because North Cyprus still isn’t officially seen as a country in its own right, flights go via Turkey.

My partner Andrew Hamilton and I were heading for Alsancak — a village near the historic harbour town of Kyrenia.

Our hotel, The Riverside Holiday Village, was a whitewashed villa complex in lush gardens, with a fantastic backdrop of the Besparmark mountain range.

You can opt for self-catering or go half-board, as we did.

The resort has an on-site farm which produces food for its restaurant, including milk, yogurt and eggs and in the gardens grow apricots, figs, lemons, bananas and grapes.

The resort has a pool for adults and a mini-water park with slides for the kids.

The pool bar serves lunch snacks and there’s a mini market and English-style pub.

Beach lovers are spoilt for choice, with several sandy shores a five-minute drive away.

A free bus service runs from the hotel to nearby Golden Beach and Kyrenia.

Watersport lovers should head to Sunset Beach where there are lots of activities on offer, including fun games for kids such as water trampolining.

But to explore properly, you need to hire a car. We got ours direct from the hotel.

We set off for Kyrenia, famous for its seventh-Century castle sitting proudly on the edge of the stunning and unspoilt harbour.

We then set out to find a cove for a swim.

We stumbled across quiet Mercure Beach on the way back to Alsancak.

The water was clear and so salty we could float.

A fantastic way to find a cool breeze is to take a boat cruise from Kyrenia harbour.

We sailed all day along the coastline, stopping at coves for a swim.

North Cyprus is so packed with history it would be a crime to stay on your sun lounger.

Two must-sees are Bellapais Monastery and St Hilarion Castle, both perched high in the mountains.

Bellapais is the perfect sunset supper location, while the 14th- Century castle is best climbed in the cool of the early morning.

Nature lovers will adore this part of the island.

The nature reserve on the Karpas peninsula is a gem. We took a day trip and were blown away by beaches of white sand.

North Cyprus is famous for its turtles, which nest on its beaches. We spent a night with volunteers on a nesting beach at Alagadi, a half-hour drive from Riverside.

To book, drive down to the information centre by the beach. The night watch is free — all you need is a blanket and food.

Back at the hotel, there’s plenty to do after sundown.

The staff put on a barbecue night with belly dancers and karaoke and the food is as good as any local eatery but we sneaked away for a romantic meal at the end of the week.

For after-dinner activity, sample a local bar or try one of the many casinos on the island.

It won’t be long before tourism hits this special place, so my advice is to catch it while you can.

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