If your image of Cyprus is all rowdy holidaymakers and late-night clubbing, think again: head north rather than south and you'll find it is possible to have peace and quiet along with your sun
There really is no comparison between the north and south of Cyprus. You need to be aware of what has gone before in terms of the partition of the island, but it's worth putting that in context by pointing out that the Greeks and the Turks have always either argued about something or gone to war over it. I mention this to remove any feelings of guilt you may have about holidaying in "occupied territory". Don't. It's a long story and it's not your story, so let's press on.
OK, flying to Ercan in North Cyprus is not straightforward (literally), as you always have to go via Turkey. Turkish Airlines generally go via Istanbul; charters can go via Dalaman and other more obvious tourist airports. Either way, make sure that if you are changing planes, there is enough time to make the change if your first flight is delayed. You can fly direct to the south (Paphos), but then you have a long drive into the north. Check out http://www.cyprus44.com/flights/ for flight info.
None of the major car hire companies has offices at Ercan, but they will bring cars up to you and meet you, so it's not a problem. I use Arizona, who are reliable and have good clean cars. They will also collect you from the south if you go to Paphos (cost: approx £45 one way).
Where to stay
Choosing where to base yourself really depends on what your bag is in terms of relaxing. The obvious base is Kyrenia, the main resort/conurbation on the north coast, where you'll find many hotels and complexes, with lots of restaurants, shops, etc. Kyrenia has a stunning harbour around which there are plenty of restaurants, serving a good mix of fresh fish, pasta and Mediterranean dishes. They tend to be touristy, but Set Fish is good and always gets positive reviews.
If you want to stay in Bellapais, there are a number of boutique hotels there, notably The Abbey Inn. Bellapais is famous for being the village where Lawrence Durrell wrote Bitter Lemons (one of my O-level books) and his house now has a plaque above the door. It's worth dining once in the Abbey itself. Your table is set in the ruins of the abbey, service is good and playing in the background is nothing more intrusive than chamber music or a choir.
Do be aware that Bellapais is a honey pot and you will pay top price; you will also need a car to get in to Kyrenia. However, it's a holiday treat and you can at least be sure you will get value for money.
Cyprus is not as cheap as it used to be since devaluation. Forget the million lire notes - we're back to more civilised double-figure notes now. Villa rental is a good option, especially if you have a pool. Villas are springing up all over the place and there is plenty of choice out to the east of Kyrenia, towards Esentepe. We used Kyrenia Villas this time (www.kyreniavillas.co.uk), but there are lots of choices.
The road out of Kyrenia towards the airport is lined with places to eat and shop. The best supermarket is Premier, for both price and choice. You can even buy Iceland pork sausages, as there is a large ex-pat population around Kyrenia - but really, do you want to? Instead, look out for stuffed vine leaves and check out the deli counter for olives, hummus, tsatsiki, etc. Buy a big lump of fresh feta and a nice flat Cypriot loaf and you're sorted. Also along this road is the Veg Shack. This is a big, well, shack, which sells tons of fruit and veg, always fresh and always at the best price.
What to see
Explore the coast, see the mountain castles (such as Buffavento), visit a small Cypriot village and just take a coffee. The Turks are so friendly and always glad to see you. Most speak good English, so you won't be in too much difficulty.
Nicosia (or Levkosa) is also worth going to (it's quite near Ercan): find the dividing wall on the "Green Line" and check out the (old) bullet holes in the walls nearby. Drive out towards the pan handle, in the northeast of the island, and you will think you are in a wild west film - it's very quiet, with small villages and people sitting in rocking chairs on verandahs. While you're out there, turn off and go to Famagusta, the tragically abandoned city.
If you are there in August you must visit Turtle Beach, out towards Esentepe, where there's a major annual project to protect and monitor sea turtles.
Cyprus also has a lot of ancient sites, such as Salamis - your guide book can fill you in on the detail there isn't space to mention here.
When to go
Weather is good all year but if you go early (say, Easter), you may have rain. Otherwise, May to September is hot; October is pleasant.